African photo safari

10 Countries, 10 Days, 10 Tips: Day 5 - Kenya

Rick Sammon photograph. Canon 100-400mm IS lens.
It's Day 5 of my series on travel photography here on my blog. Thanks for joining me.

Location: Kenya's Masai Mara. I took the photographs in this post on a recent trip to the Mara that was expertly organized by &Beyond.

Tip: Go in the rainy season.

Rick Sammon photograph. Canon 17-40mm lens.
I know that may not sound like a killer tip, but I think it's an important one to consider. In the rainy season, the sky can be filled with beautiful and dramatic clouds. Those clouds make a wonderful background for your wildlife and people photographs.

I enhanced the clouds in the scene above with Topaz Adjust/Spicify filter. Info on all the plug-ins I use are on my plug-ins page.

In the dry season, you'll probably get a beautiful clear sky, which can be boring. In those conditions, it's best to compose your picture without too much sky in the frame - as I did for the last photograph in this post, which was taken in the dry season. For more on composition, check out my Composition class on Kelby Training.

Rick Sammon photograph. Canon 24-105mm IS lens
In the rainy season, it will probably not rain all day. In fact, when we were on the Mara in November, it only rained in the late afternoon for a hour or so - but boy did it rain!

Rick Sammon photograph. Canon 24-105mm IS lens.
 If you go in the rainy season, you must be prepared with rain gear for your camera and yourself.

Rick Sammon photograph
Another advantage of going in the rainy season: the overcast sky makes getting good exposures of wildlife easier than it is on bright, sunny days - because contrast is reduced.

You can see more of my Africa pictures, and order prints, in my SmugMug gallery.

If you like traveling and photography, check out my workshops and photo tours.

If you want travel photography tips at your fingertips, explore my app: Rick Sammon's 24/7 Photo Buffet.

Rick Sammon photograph.

I'm leading a photo workshop to Tanzania in 2013. I hope you can join the photo adventure.

Explore the light,

Virtual Photo Safari Part II: Planning is Key

Each day this week I will take you on a daily virtual photo safari to Kenya's Masai Mara. Each post will feature a travel tip and a photo tip - or two. 

I took the images for the posts on a recent trek to the Masia Mara organized by &Beyond, a leader in African travel tours. Bateleur was our base camp for the eight-day photo safari.

Safari Tip: Plan your safari well in advance. Do a Google search on the weather, where and when most of the animals might be in a certain location, if off-road driving is allowed, medical precautions and so on. Do your search well in advance, as even taking several different meds may require specific timing.

Photo Tip: Use a zoom lens for maximum framing flexibility. All of these photographs were taken with my Canon 100-400mm IS lens on my Canon 7D. If you use a fixed focal length lens, you may run the risk of cutting off part of the animal's body in your photograph. Also, try to shoot around f/8 - where this, and most lenses, are the sharpest. Important: always sharpen selectively. In these examples, I only sharpened the animals. Here is a movie/lesson on selectively sharpening.

For more travel photography tips, see the travel section of my creativeLive class, or my ebook, Travel and Nature Photography.

Explore the light,

P.S. If you plan on going to Kenya, have been to Kenya, have dreams of going to Kenya, or simply want to read a wonderful adventure book, check out West with the Night.

Friday's Fab Photographer: Laurie Rubin

It's Friday - time for another Friday's Fab Photographer here on my blog. This week, the fab Laurie Rubin. For past Fab Photographers, type Friday's Fab Photographer in the search window of my blog.

Take it away, Laurie.

As the Education Project Manager for Nik Software, I get the privilege to demonstrate our award winning software and work with some of the giants in our industry (including Rick Sammon). 

Nature photography is a passion of mine and I seek to capture the moment that speaks to me and hopefully to my viewers. In particular, I look for behavior in animals that express emotion or action.  The key is to find the "story" in an image and not just take a snapshot because it is there. An intense connection between the animal or landscape that I am photographing sometimes just takes my breath away.  

For example, there have been times when I've photographed a lion or bird and they are as intense and interested in me as I am in them. When the sky opens up and the light falls on a single tree in a forest or when there is the perfect light, pose or a behavior that is evoked that I couldn't have choreographed if I had planned it are the types of moments I seek.

I recently returned from a trip to Africa where I was able to experience the vast landscapes and animals in Kenya. From the elephant herds dusting themselves in Amboseli to the crossing at the Mara River, it was an incredible experience that will change me forever as a photographer and as a person.

The herds in Africa are amazing and getting the environment in the shot is important. I tend to focus in on my subject, so being reminded to include the landscapes in some of my images helps to show the place and time.

Being able to position yourself so that the herds were walking toward you is key to getting an interesting photograph. Having an experienced guide with you makes all the difference!

Animals such as lions tend to sleep most of the day, so it takes a lot of patience to hang around to capture that special moment. In this image, it was beginning to rain, so the lions took shelter under the bushes. The rain helps to bring out the saturation of dark green the background.

Capturing special moments such as a rainbow with animals and interesting clouds was a real treat. This can also be a photographic challenge when you have the bright sun and deep shadows. Something that I learned on this trip was to overexpose by 1/3 or 2/3 of a stop to bring up the details in the shadows. You can also use software such as Viveza 2 and the Shadow Adjustment with Control Points to selectively enhance certain areas of your image. Detail Extractor, one of the new filters in Color Efex Pro 4, helps to bring out the details in the clouds and the colors of the rainbow.

Isolating your subject can create an interesting image. Often times the animals will be grouped together, so again, patience is the key to getting that shot. You will be rewarded more often times than not by taking a few more minutes to wait and see what unfolds before you.

- Laurie A. Rubin, Education Project Manager, Nik Software.

• • • • •

Laurie A. Rubin is an award-winning photographer specializing in nature and landscape photography. 

As the Education Project Manager for Nik Software, the makers of award-winning software for photographers, Laurie oversees all of Nik’s acclaimed live Guest and Master training webinars and is responsible for creating and coordinating educational content and projects. 

Laurie teaches a number of Master Classes and Seminars herself on enhancing landscape and wildlife images, and co-hosts guest webinars. Her passion for photography and sharing with others, skill behind the camera and vast post-processing experience in the “digital darkroom” makes her a sought out favorite for educational webinars and seminars.

"Photography is art - whether it is realistic or artistic, it is your vision, what you saw at that moment. You can choose to leave it as is, or enhance it to bring out the feeling of the moment. The choice is yours." 

- Laurie A. Rubin, Education Project Manager, Nik Software

• • • • • 

Thank you, Laurie!

Readers: You can get a 15% discount on all Nik Software if upon check out you use this code: RSAMMON.

Dress for Success, Especially While on Safari

The opening picture for this blog post says it all. I took the shot 15 years ago while on a foot safari in South Africa.

Our guide is removing a BIG thorn from the sneaker of the girl dressed in pink. Sneakers on safari? Pink on safari? Not!

As always, when you are traveling, dress for success – as illustrated by these shooters (fellow Canon Explorer of Light Darrell Gulin in white) on one of my Africa workshops. Research your location well in advance of your trip, and bring the appropriate clothes.

So . . . we had been out on foot since dawn. I had been carrying my heavy camera backpack for hours. It was mid-afternoon. Hot. Dry.

I was exhausted. I asked our guide, "How much further is it back to the camp?"

He replied, "Well, it's not that far, but it's not that close."

Use that line the next time you are on a family road trip when your kids ask you, "Are we there yet?"

Explore the light,

P.S. I may be doing a photo safari to Africa in 2011. Shoot me an email if you are interested. If you come, wear hiking boots and safari clothes . . . please. Email:

If you go to Kenya, plan your trip around the annual migration of the zebra and wildebeest. It's an amazing site, and an amazing photo opportunity.

Africa Photo Safari Tips – live from the Bronx Zoo

Photograph © Jeff Muschar

Today, while I giving a private workshop at the Bronx Zoo, the student (now my friend), Jeff Muschar, took the opening shot for this blog post. Great job Jeff.

Jeff took the workshop as a prelude to his Botswana safari, which he is doing with his son in a few weeks. I know they will have a great father/son time – and come back with great images.

Jeff asked me to jot down some photo and safari tips. I said sure!

For those of you who may venture off on a safari, I thought I'd share the tips with you, too. Here goes.

Safari Tips:

• Be prepared to get up early and come back to camp early. Most of the action happens early in the day - and late in the day (and at night).

• Be prepared for lots of downtime (downloading time), because you probably will not go on a game drive until late in the afternoon.

• Definitely do the night game drives. Pack your flashlights.

• Ask at the camp when they switch power generators. A power surge can zap your charger.

• Talk to your doc about antibiotics. I travel with Cipro. Always.

• Talk to your doc about other travel issues, such as malaria.

• Pack light. Go to to learn how to pack . . . in one bag :-)

• Do a web search on the camps. Some let your dive off road, others do not. You often get closer to animals when you can drive off the road.

Photo Tips:

Photographs © Rick Sammon

• Try to get a photo of the animal looking up or toward the sun. If you do, you'll get better light on the animal's face – and catch light in the eyes (as illustrated above).

• Keep your camera clean and change lenses only when absolutely necessary. It's very, very dusty in Africa. Don't use liquid cleaners on your sensor. You can make matters worse.

• If possible, take two camera bodies: one with a tele zoom, one with a wide-angle zoom.

• Take close-up shots and environmental portraits.

• Pack a power strip (or two) so you can charge more devices.
Of course, also pack the correct power adapter (take two).

• Remove all filters when shooting into the sun.

• Bring back everything.

• Carry one of your hard drives with you all the time. You don't want your pictures to "walk off."

• Use your photo vest a third carry on.

• Keep your flash very handy. You will need it more than you think – even on sunny days. Master daylight fill-in flash photography.

Photograph © Rick Sammon

Well Jeff, have a great time with your son. Here's a shot I took while on my previous trip to Botswana – with the same tele zoom you are taking, Canon 100-400mm IS.

To get a shot like this, you need more more thing: LUCK!

Let me know here (via a comment) if you are interested in a photo walk at the zoo on September 7th – the day before my Hudson River Photo Workshop.

Explore the light,

P.S. If you have a photo or travel tip for Jeff (and others) please share it here via a comment.