Photo tours

Day 3: Six Days of Africa Photo Safari Tips

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Today is day three of Six Days of Africa Photo Safari Tips here on my blog.

I am running this series in preparation for my 2015 Botswana photo safari.

Shoot me an email for info about this awesome Botswana photography adventure.

Check out my Beauty of Botswana gallery to see my favorite photographs from my two previous trips to this wildlife wonderland.

Also check out my on-line class: Capturing the Wild: Safari Photography. You can use my tips for making great pictures on a photo safari and at a wildlife park.

Today's tip: Strive for animal behavior shots.

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Sure, portraits of wild animals are nice, and I'll share a few of my favorites tomorrow here on my blog. But behavior shots tell more of a story, such as the photograph above of a small herd of elephants protecting their young.

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For good behavior shots, you first need to be lucky, as I was when I took the above photograph of a lion and lioness fighting.

But as lucky as you may be, being prepared to capture the behavior is a must - you must have a good understanding of light and composition, which I cover in my on-line classes.

And, of course, you must have the right lens. I recommend always having two cameras ready: one with a wide-angle zoom, say a 24-105mm, and one with a telephoto zoom, perhaps a 100-400mm lens. That's for starters. After that, you may want longer and shorter lenses in your camera bag. All my gear, including those lenses, is listed on My Gear page.

Planning can also help you get good behavior photographs. I planned one of my Africa photo safari workshops so the group would be there for the annual migration of the zebra and wildebeest. Talk about getting good behavior shots! The opening image of the migration is one of my favorite photo safari photos.

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In my first post in this series I shared a portrait I took of our guide. Again, portraits are nice, but behavior shots tell more of a story, such as the above photograph that I took of a Masai warrior demonstrating his jumping skills.

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Here's something else about behavior shots: they can make you smile, as I do when I look at this photograph of a mommy elephant and her baby.

I hope to see you on a photo safari or on any of my workshops. I'm there to help you make great pictures and process your images.

If you like stuff like this, you can subscribe to my blog here.

Explore the light,

Day 1: Six Days of Africa Photo Safari Tips

rick sammon kenya.jpg

Today is the start of a series here on my blog: Six Days of Africa Photo Safari Tips.

I am running this series in preparation for my 2015 Botswana digital photography workshop with Tim Vollmer.

Shoot me an email for info about this awesome Botswana photography adventure.

Check out my Beauty of Botswana gallery to see my favorite photographs from my two previous trips to this wildlife wonderland. 

Also check out my on-line class: Capturing the Wild: Safari Photography. You can use my tips for making great pictures on a photo safari and at a wildlife park.

Today's tip: Go on a foot safari.

Photographing from a vehicle is awesome, but a foot safari can't be beat. Here are some photos from my previous foot safaris in Kenya and South Africa, along with some tips. Enjoy.

Not all camps offer foot safaris – where you actually walk on, rather than ride over, the African plains. But if the camp does offer this experience, go for it. It can't be beat for the thrill of being one with nature.

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Above: That's me on my previous Kenya trip with our Masai Mara foot safari guide, Jackson, and our security guard, Francis.

Is a foot safari dangerous? Not really. After all, your guides are not going to take chances. That means not getting super close the animals, but you'll be doing that anyway on your driving safaris. 


Camera gear is important, but before we get to that, dressing properly is also very important:
A) you want to wear clothes that blend in with the surroundings;
B) you want to wear good hiking boots.

Dressing in "lion hungry" pink and wearing sneakers, through which a thorn can easily penetrate, is not the way to go. See the shot above that I took on a foot safari in South Africa directly above. Ouch!

Speaking of dressing for success, check out Outdoor Photo Gear for great prices on Bug Shirts, Gloves, NEOS over shoes, gloves and more.

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Here are my camera gear recommendations for a foot safari.
- Two camera bodies. I use Canon 5D Mark III cameras.
- Wide-angle to medium telephoto lens on one body. I recommend a 24-105mm.
- Telephoto zoom on the other body. I recommend a 70-200mm f/4 (relatively light).
- Black Rapid duo strap, for easy access to both cameras.
- Domke photo vest - to carry spare batteries, cards and water.

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The key of course to a good foot safari is a good guide – with an eagle eye. A good guide will spot animals, even if they are well hidden. I never would have seen this lion resting in the shade had my guide not pointed him out. Good thing our guide kept us at a safe distance!

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While you are out and about, take the opportunity to make portraits of your guides. They will be much closer than the lions . . . which you actually don't want to see up close while on foot! I took the lion shot above while safely seated in a safari vehicle.

Explore the light,

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It's "Hey Rick! What's Your F-stop?" Wednesday #1

I am starting a new series here on my blog: It's "Hey Rick! What's Your F-Stop?" Wednesday. The series was prompted by the question I get asked most on my workshops.

Hey Rick #1

Photograph: Mandarin Ducks.

Location: San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California.

Camera: Canon 10D (I now use the Canon 5D Mark III) .

Lens: Canon 100-400mm IS lens @ 260mm.

Exposure: ISO 400. f/5.6 @ 1/180th sec. Exposure compensation: -1. Set at -1 to preserve highlights.

Reasoning: Use a fast enough shutter speed to stop the action – and these guys were moving kinda fast. After focusing on the eyes, use a wide aperture to set the background slightly out of focus, which will make your subject stand out in your image.

Concept: Shoot tight to capture the all beauty in details.

I hope to see you on one of my workshops.

Like stuff like this? Subscribe to my blog.

Explore the light,

P.S. My forthcoming Focal Press book, Creative Visualization for Photographers, has an entire chapter – with different photographs – on this topic.

Going on a Photo Safari? Check out these books and my class

Going on an East Africa photo safari? Research and preparation are important. Very!

Don't leave home without these two books by my friends Jonathan and Angela Scott:
Safari Guide to East African Birds
Safari Guide to East African Animals.

Susan and I are heading over to Kenya in August for a shoot with Jonathan and Angela (above).

Stay tuned for images, videos, podcasts, tweets, posts and more . . .

. . . from the beautiful Maasia Mara, which is a nice place to have breakfast.


At home, check out my latest KelbyOne class: Capturing the Wild: Safari Photography.

I also have KelbyOne classes on composition and lighting. Check 'em out.

As you can see from the photographs above, and below, we are like-minded photographers.


Before I go, here's a quick video we shot on our past photo safari.

Explore the light,

P.S. Here is a link to a previous post I did on recommended camera gear.

Part I - When the Lion Roars: "Big Cat Man" Speaks Out on His Love Affair with Kenya

Today's guest blog post is by my good friend/zoologist/conservationist/naturalist/ photographer Jonathan Scott – who I watched and admired on the Big Cat Diaries TV series for years.

I met Jonathan and his lovely and talented wife Angie (together known as The Big Cat People) in Antarctica a few years ago and we immediately became friends. One reason: the passion we share for photography and wildlife.

We became such good friend, in fact, that Susan and I are going to Kenya this August to photograph along side this dynamic duo!

Jonathan's passion, as you will see, comes though in this post. Enjoy!

Many people think that I live in England, the land of my birth. But I don’t. I am proud to call Kenya my home. I have lived here for nearly 40 years and married my sweetheart Angela in 1992 in a beautiful ceremony on the Siria Escarpment overlooking the Masai Mara’s animal speckled plains. Thinking of a Honeymoon location – this is it!

A year later we bought a house of our own on the outskirts of Nairobi. People told us we were mad buying property in Kenya – that we would never see a return on our investment. We wanted a beautiful place for our children to call home, quality of life: we weren’t looking for a good investment. In the end we got both in abundance.

The Masai Mara is our second home. For part of each year we base ourselves in a small stone cottage at Governor’s Camp in Marsh Pride territory – lions I have watched since 1977.  We know the Marsh Lions better than we do many of our human friends. At night we lie in bed and listen to their thunderous roars echoing across the plains from Musiara Marsh at the heart of their territory. This is a never ending story and what keeps us wanting to set out early each morning. The joys of safari are one reason why so many visitors fall in love with Kenya and long to return.

These same Marsh Lions were destined to become the stars of the hugely popular TV series Big Cat Diary that I co-presented for the BBC and Animal Planet from 1996 through to the final series known as Big Cat Live that aired in 2008. Big Cat was watched by tens of millions of viewers around the world with hundreds of video clips on YouTube. I am proud of the fact that many Kenyan’s have been able to share in this story – to see their big cats on TV. The majority will never be able to marvel at the sight of wild lions, leopards and cheetahs in the way that visitors from overseas are so fortunate to do.

So how did I get to live my dream? As a child growing up on a farm in Berkshire I was obsessed with wildlife and Africa. So in 1974 after taking a degree in Zoology at Queens University in Belfast in Northern Ireland I set off overland for Johannesburg in an old Bedford Truck. That 10,000 km trek through Africa changed my life. I got malaria and amoebic dysentery along the way but who cares – take your Malarone prophylactic and sleep under a mosquito net and you should be fine. After four months on the road I not only lost my heart to Africa but glimpsed the place that I most wanted to return to: the Mara-Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania - an animal paradise without equal. After two years working with wildlife in Botswana I headed back to Kenya, more certain than ever that this was where I wanted to make my home.

A plan was beginning to emerge. My father was an architect and a talented artist who died when I was two years old. The gift he left me was in being an artist. I could always draw and was a keen photographer. Prior to leaving for Kenya a publisher in South Africa commissioned my first set of my pen and ink drawings of wildlife. Meanwhile a friend had introduced me to Jock Anderson of East African Wildlife Safaris who was looking for someone to help keep an eye on his camp situated a few kilometers north of the Reserve. For the next five years Mara River Camp became my home. I couldn’t have cared less that there was no pay. I was living in the Garden of Eden with a canvas roof over my head.

That was 1977. Nearly 40 years later with 26 books to my name - many of them co-authored with my wife Angie who is also an award-winning wildlife photographer - and as co-presenter of TV shows such as Big Cat Diary, Elephant Diaries, Dawn to Dusk, The Secret Leopards and The Truth About Lions what have I learned from following my dream? Firstly, to live with acceptable risk. I spent four years (1968-72) at University in Belfast during the ‘Troubles’ with people telling me I must be crazy to stay there as a ‘Brit’ with riots and bombs exploding on a regular basis.

The truth was that I had the time of my life. I simply refused to buy in to the fear factor. The same could be said about living in Africa. I have never been attacked or had my home broken in to. I still walk the main streets of Nairobi and feel as safe as I do when on foot in London or San Francisco. Yes of course you need to be sensible. It's never smart to walk in to neighborhoods you know nothing about wherever you are in the world (always ask your guide and hotel receptionist for advice first).

My wife and daughter are Kenya Citizens; our Grandson Michael was born in the wonderful Aga Kahn Hospital in Nairobi last June and has already made two safaris to the Mara along with trips to Ol Pejeta in Laikipia and to Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks. And he has loved a memorable stay over Easter at the Serena Hotel in Mombasa on the Kenya coast. He is ten months old. Will I still be spending time with the Marsh Lions and enjoying the miracle of the great migration? You better believe it - starting next month.

Yes, security is an issue everywhere these days and of course it is only right for Governments to warn their citizens of risks to their safety. It’s then up to each individual to evaluate that risk – just as our daughter Alia and partner did before taking our Grandson on safari or to the coast. We can never be certain that life will treat us kindly or that bad things might not happen. That is why it’s so important not to become prisoners of our fears.

And our precious wildlife? The bottom line is this. If we abandon tourism we abandon conservation. When people ask us ‘how can we help’ we say ‘by taking a safari’, something that I feel fortunate to have adopted as a way of life. Wildlife based tourism is not a choice it’s a necessity; it pays the bills. Is the International Community prepared to bare the cost if we lose that revenue? Lets see. Right now our hearts go out to our fellow Kenyan’s most affected by hard times – those who shoulder the greatest burden in living side by side with wild animals and in facing up to terrorism.

A smile and a wave is a language we all understand and when it comes to its visitors Kenyan’s offers them a hearty welcome in tandem with an unforgettable safari experience - regardless of where in the world you come from. We need you all. And that is the point? We are all connected – we need to set aside our differences and pull together. If we are serious about saving the worlds wildlife be it elephants or rhinos, pandas or lions we won’t do it without collective action. It’s time for people to think about their first safari – or their next one - and to remind us why they ‘Love Kenya.' I know why I do.

How about you?

• • • • •

Thank you Jonathan for a heartfelt post. We can't wait to photograph with you guys in Kenya in August of this year.


Readers: If you like photographing wildlife, check out my latest KelbyOne on-line class: Capturing the Wild. You can use the tips while on safari – and even when photographing at a wildlife park.