I’m no wildlife photographer, but here’s a few thoughts from a one week safari in Kenya. We travelled from Nairobi to Samburu, then onto Mount Kenya, Lake Nakuru, and the Masai Mara. We arranged our trip through the excellent Eastern and Southern Safaris who are based in Nairobi.
Timings, guides and vehicles
Most companies head out from the camps and lodges twice a day (06.30 to 09.00 and 16.00 to 18.30). Not only are these the best times to photograph, but also the times you are most likely to see animals. Most use converted Toyota Landcruisers or Hiaces. We travelled in the latter which was great – a large section of the roof opens to give a full vision in all directions. I wouldn’t recommend travelling more than three or four to a van (plus driver), as you may have to take it in turns to photograph.
Michael, our guide and driver was very knowledgeable and an excellent spotter.
The parks and reserves
- Samburu. A stunning landscape and plenty of wildlife. My favourite destination on the trip
- Mount Kenya. A very different environment (misty forests), but we were slightly ‘lodge-bound’ (guests weren’t allowed to leave the grounds)
- Lake Nakuru. Nakuru is much closer to large human habitation than the other parks we visited, so feels a little more like a domestic safari park. That said, the wildlife was extremely easy to spot and is running around in very large numbers
- Masai Mara. Another stunning landscape and a huge variety of fauna and flora. An amazing place.
I hired a Canon 100-400mm 4.5-5.6L (from the excellent www.lensesforhire.co.uk).
Even 400mm seemed a little short sometimes, so I wouldn’t recommend anything shorter. The Canon 100-400 is an amazing lens – sharp, plenty of contrast and the IS works surprisingly well.
In addition to the animals and birds, Kenya’s landscape is stunning, so I ended up using a Canon EF 17-40 f4L quite a bit too.
Every day or two I backed up my images onto two Vosonic VP5500 hard drives and gave all the gear a clean (Samburu is particularly dusty). Though these drives are well conceived, and easy to use, reliability and build quality are issues. I spent a fair amount of time coaxing one of the drives to work after the main control button started to malfunction.
Little photographic equipment is sold in the lodges or camps, so make sure you have a back-up plan. We also had a pair of Opticron binoculars with us. Staggering image quality and very useful for spotting shy wildlife.
If I was fortunate enough to go again, I’d be tempted to hire an even bigger lens. I’d also try and go out on foot. Driving around the parks is amazing, but I wanted to be properly immersed in the environment. I imagine this would be quite dangerous. We also didn’t realise there is an airstrip at the Masai Mara, if your time is short it’d be worth looking into flights back to Nairobi.