Friday, September 24, 2010

Equipment Used, Tips and Tricks on Safari

I made a couple mistakes with my equipment this trip, but thankfully those mistakes were bringing too much rather than too little. Thankfully, I didn't really go through any part of the trip thinking "If only I remembered..." I hate that feeling.

Camera Bodies:
Mark III 1ds
5D Mark II
canon powershot for videos and snapshots.

70-200 IS f2.8
100-400 IS f4
24-70 f2 IS
1.4 teleconverter

Other gear of course included lens cleaning gadgets, two, one terabyte hard drives and other miscelanous gizmos that I can't think of right now. One such gizmo that came in handy was a small tripod with magnetic feet. I set up my little point and shoot on video mode, stuck it to the frame of the vehicle and pressed record. This enabled me to video the birth of a thomsons gazelle as I photographed the event with my DSLR. It worked perfectly! I also set it up to video 15,000 wildebeest cross the mara river, but they never did cross until after we left the Mara. Too bad too because the plan was good. Watching the wildebeest for hours was excruciating. One would go down to the river, his buddies would follow him. He'd get a drink, look at all the dead bodies, then chicken out and run back up the bank and all of his buddies would follow him. Any time one wildebeest got an idea in its head, others would follow, but most of the time, they would chicken out at the last minute. Sometimes they would even walk into the river a few feet, then run back like a kid who miscalculated how cold the water is. In the end we saw two small river crossings of a dozen or so animals, but nothing dramatic.

Equipment not used:
I brought a flash (which I never took out of the case) and a wimberly head and tripod and tripod clamp (the kind that clamps the wimberly head to the vehicle). I never used the tripod, tripod clamp or wimberly head once during the whole trip. It was just a boat anchor that I drug around 40,000 kilometers. On our trip to South Africa two years ago, I only used the tripod once. Next time I definitely won't be bringing tripods. I also never took the 70-200 2.8 IS out of the bag once. I love this lens, but anything the70-200 can do, the 100-400 can do as well. Although the 70-200 is a better lens, it just doesn't have the reach that is required for a safari and for the few shots where it would have been appropriate, it wasn't worth changing lenses for and risking dust on the sensor. Also, the wide angle covers up to 70mm and the 100-400 of course starts at 100, so really that lens was somewhat redundant on this trip. I also never used the 1.4 teleconverter, but that wasn't too surprising. I don't like the quality that I get when I use a teleconverter and once again the few times that I could have used it, I wouldn't have wanted to risk dust in the sensor.

Juvenile lion running to greet his
Mother in the Masai Mara

Safari Season
We went on safari this time during the high season. It was their winter in September. Tanzania was bone dry. I kept on wondering when a massive fire would erupt as I would see the odd touist with his or her hand dangling out the window with a lit cigarette in hand. There wasn't anything even remotely green other than the acacia trees in Tarangire. At the Ngorongo Crater, it was much drier. I didn't think that was even possible! Our strategy was that we would catch more animals around watering holes. All animals need water and at Tarangire we were successful one day. We photographed hundreds of zebras as they game to the Tarangire river to drink. At the Ngorongoro Crater, it was dustier and for the most part, it was so dry that the pictures there weren't very nice. Everything was just too brown and dusty. That being said, although we didn't use ours, bring bandanas, tie them around your neck and any time you pass another vehicle, put it up around your mouth and nose or you will be eating dirt for two days like we were. Every time a vehicle passes you during the dry season, the dust that kicks up is pretty substantial.

Young boys from the Marsh Pride
 in the Masai Mara

Camera systems:
Due to the amount of dust that I had anticipated, I put a 24 to 70 wide angle lens on the canon 5D Mark II, a 100-400 lens on the Mark III 1Ds and a 600mm lens on the 7D. The 7D is the only DSLR camera that I have that has a crop sensor and it takes eight frames per second, so it was my bread and butter. It especially came in handy in areas where we were up to 100 meters from any signigicant action in the Ngorongoro Crater. My strategy here was to have three camera bodies on the go, each with a different lens attached to it, so I didn't have to change lenses. The last thing you want to do in that environment is change a lens. Your sensor will get full of filth and you will spend the evening at a camp with no electricity trying to clean your sensor with a loupe sensor cleaner and a flashlight. Three cameras on the go really was the perfect solution. I didn't change lenses once, so I didn't have one dust issue either.

This is going to sound funny, but if you go on safari in September, bring layers. Start with a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt and a water/wind shell fleece on top. It gets quite chilly at night and into the early morning and it is easier to strip the layers off, than try to photograph animals in the perfect early morning golden light when you are shivering. We noticed that the early mornings in Tarangire, the crater and the Masai Mara can be quite chilly. Add to that a light breeze and driving in an open vehicle and it can get downright nippy even for a Canadian! The coldest areas were down in the Ngorogoro Crater in the early morning and the Masai Mara was a little nippy as well. Not to fret though because during the day the temperature went up to 25 to 32 degrees Celcius.

Zebras at a sulpher creek in the
Masai Mara

A good, small back pack is necessary to bring with you on your game drives. Keep your lip chap, sunscreen and bug repellant in a ziplock bag in your back pack. As you get warmer throughout the day, you have a clean place to put your fleece and sweaters etc. so you can keep them clean and keep the landrover free from crap you may otherwise trip over or slip on when you see something interesting and are struggling to get your cameras appropriately set up to catch the experience.

Good camera bags can really help you out here. I really like think tank bags. The bag that I use has a cord with a combination lock, so you can lock your bag to something. In addition, the bag itself has a combination lock on the zippers as well. If I am in the airport and have a long layover and have traveled for 20 or 30 hours already, sometimes I have a difficult time not nodding off. I take the cable out, wrap it around the handle of my 600 mm lens case and lock it to the chair that I am sitting on. That way if I happen to nod off for a minute or two, I'm not concerned about being relieved of all of my camera gear. I haven't seen too many petty theives carrying around industrial bolt cutters, so until they do, I think my system is pretty sound. When I am out on safari, I have a great system for my valuables as well. The 600 mm lens case is built like a shell that seems to be meant to withstand being run over by a tank. I put any money and passports that we are traveling with in the 600mm case. I lock the case, then lock the key to the case in the locked camera bag. I then use the cord from the camera bag to wrap around the handle of the 600mm case and lock everything to the bed or something else in the room that is unmovable. If someone really wanted our passports and money, I suppose they could get them if they came into our bush camp with bolt cutters and a small stick of dynamite, but I think the chance of someone trying to discreetly get into our gear would still be pretty minimal. So far so good. I am pretty confident that I have a good system here.

Our main wildlife photography website and our main  Harvey wildlife photography blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment