Why a Wonder: “The place where the land runs on forever.” That’s the meaning of the Maasai word “siringet,” from which Serengeti is derived. A magical place known for the largest animal migration in the world, where you will find, at times, 1.5 million wildebeest and a quarter of a million zebra, as well as dozens of other species of African animals. The Serengeti is also home to the largest lion popular in Africa as well as a special place to photograph cheetah.
Where: In the heart of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, East Africa.
When: Either in the Dry Season (June to October) or in the Wet Season (November to May). We explored the area in November with Unique Safaris, when all the photographs in this post were taken. I prefer the Dry Season, because I like the way the animals look against the brown color of the grasses, as opposed to having lush, green foliage surrounding the animals. That said, a Wet Season safari may be in our future!
Photography: Vehicles are not allowed to drive off the dirt roads in the National Parks. Before our trip, I thought that would limit my photography. But as it turned out, there are so many animals that I came home with a much higher-than-expected number of keepers. Many of the animals come close to the roads, as illustrated by my photograph of the mommy cheetah and her cub that opens this post.
About the opening photograph: I carefully composed the scene so the animals’ heads were not “decapitated” by the horizon line which would have ruined the photograph. I composed the photograph so that the dramatic blue sky provided a beautiful background for the subjects. For me, the background makes or breaks a shot.
For action shots, set your shutter speed to at least 1,000th of a second. That’s what I did when photographing the same mommy cheetah and her cub on the run after I took their portrait. It’s also important to photograph at a high frame rate to capture subtle differences in an animal’s gesture.
In addition, it’s important to watch your aperture. While photographing the mommy’s cub, I set my lens to a wide aperture to blur the background, which separated the subject from the busy background. In addition, I got down as low as possible in our safari vehicle so I could be as close as possible to eye level with the cute cub. I also picked my keeper from a 24-image sequence based on the catch light in the cub’s eye.
I'd suggest using two camera bodies, one with a telephoto zoom (such as a 100-600mm lens), and one with a normal zoom (such as a 24-105mm lens). Two camera bodies offer the advantage of not having to change lenses, which can slow you down when the action is happening fast, and which can allow dust to get on your camera's image sensor.
You can also get some cool photographs with your phone's camera, as illustrated by the image above that I took out of the window of our safari vehicle, and the photograph below of a lion in a tree. About my tree photo: Careful composition resulted in the lower branches of the tree framing the mountain in the background – so both elements are separated in the scene.
Below is another iPhone shot, one of the many beautiful sunrises that we experienced.
On safari, photographers need luck. Photographers also need a great guide. We had both. That combo helped me get the following three image.
As we were driving along the road, we saw one lion run up the trunk of a tree.
Once in the tree, the lion posed for a portrait.
And then there were three!
Because the lions were backlit, I had to open the shadows and tone down the highlights in Photoshop.
Learn More: If you’re looking for a safari provider suggestion, we used Unique Safaris for our tours, and they were excellent. Our friends Lynn and Meg are experts at custom designing a safari. Keep in mind that the Serengeti is not a budget destination, and a trip can cost on average around $8,000 per person, depending on how long you decide to stay.
P.S. Planning on a photo safari? Do a practice session at a local zoo or wildlife park well before your trip, especially if you have new gear.
© Rick and Susan Sammon
Do you have your own photos of this Photo Wonder? Feel free to share them in the comments below.
This post sponsored by Unique Safaris.