The Bear

The Bear

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Shooting the Migration

I took a few days out to shoot the migration in the Masai Mara.   This event happens at various times in the year as two vast herds of zebra and wildebeest swing both clockwise and counter-clockwise following the rains as they sweep across the Mara and the Serengeti bringing with them new grass.   It's a time for new life but also for death as the herds make the perilous crossing of crocodile infested rivers and run the gauntlet of the great cats - lions and leopards.  For a wild-life photographer it has its challenges as dozens of safari trucks converge on the major crossing points.  They say all is fair in love and war - and, I would add, positioning your safari truck to maximum advantage should also be counted.

It is hard to describe the dramas that you confront in wildlife photography.  Having been to the Masai Mara three times now, I am struck by the raw elemental power of the place - the scenery is vast, the sky endless and the wild animals and birds ever present and huge in their diversity.  The emotional impact of seeing a zebra taken down by a crocodile or a hyena cub being nursed by its mother is immense and it is that feeling I try to convey in my photography.

Photographing wildlife does demand a long lens and a steady hand.  I always, if I can, shoot hand held looking for sharpness and clarity through high shutter speed and low apertures.   Going into the field I set my camera at ISO400, f5.6 and Aperture Priority.  I find it just possible to hand-hold a 300mm prime with VR and freeze motion at 1/2000.  I don't like tripods, not keen on monopods and only use a bean-bag if I have to.   There is something very intimate holding your camera to your eye, controlling your nerves, absorbing and connecting with the scene and then, taking the shot.  What I do find useful is to fold a tea-towel (one of the chunky variety) into four lengthwise and wrap it around the lens body.  This, I have found eliminates the tiny movements in the hand which can undo a shot.  Try it, you should find you can get good sharp images at considerable lower speeds than you would otherwise.

General tips for great wildlife shooting:  always look for the closest eye as the prime focus point.  Also, look for that elusive catch-light in the eye which adds vitality to any image and for reasons I will write about later in this blog chimp-a-lot.  I avoid continuous high (CH) shooting as far as possible - it does not guarantee good image capture - even at 1/2000 and 10fps the shutter is only open for 1/200th of every second.  For 199/200's it's shut so your chance of getting that perfect moment are still remote.  Be Hawkeye rather than Rambo and anticipate the moment and fire on single shot or continuous low.  It takes practice but, guess what, it maximises your chance of capturing that elusive moment.

I will post discussion pieces on the art and practice of photography as the days and weeks go by.  But here, I hope, for your enjoyment are a small selection of images from the Great Migration.

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