Photographing wildlife in east Africa
Africa is many things to me. However, when I specifically think of east Africa, the immediate memories that come to mind are the amazing experiences with the wildlife I had there. This wonderful part of the world has been hugely shaped by tectonic forces and is responsible for creating the East African Rift, including the well known Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak. It’s also the origin of where the very first modern humans evolved, and let’s not forget the infamous 3.2 million year old Australopithecus fossil, “Lucy”. She can be found in the natural history museum in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. But if an amazing nature experience is what you’re after, the best thing to do and see (like I mentioned above) is to get up close and personal with some of
Africa’s the worlds most incredible wildlife.
The concentration of large mammalian wildlife here, especially the “big five”, is what makes this corner of the world sit at the top of the ‘must see list’ for many wildlife photographers. But perhaps more incredible than the big five, is one of our closest living relatives that can be found deep in the jungle, straddling the borders between Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo; the exotic Mountain Gorilla.
For wildlife photographers, heading out on a wildlife safari in east Africa would be a dream come true. With one of these locations crowning king for the largest concentration of large wildlife on the planet, having a close encounter with several of these species is nearly guaranteed. To take advantage of such an opportunity, you’ll need bring along a telephoto lens with a focal length of around 200-300mm (or more), with perhaps the addition of a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter for that extra reach if need be. The 4WD may only be able to get so close to some of the animals (they’re wild after all), and there’s definitely no getting out of the vehicle. So you’ll have to rely on your equipment to do the rest. The faster your lens (ability to reach a lower f-stop number), the more you can open up your aperture and make your subjects really stand out against their foreground and background. Working with high focal lengths requires faster shutter speeds to maintain a crisp image, so that lower f-stop lens will also work in your favour with this too.
As most of your shooting will be done from out the window, or from the top of a 4WD, means it’s unlikely you’ll need a tripod for this type of wildlife shoot. A monopod may be beneficial in the occasional circumstance to help take some of the weight off your arms. But other than this, I’d recommend hand holding your shots with a fast shutter speed, due to the movement of the 4WD.
Dirt and dust is going to get everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE! So, a descent set of camera cleaning equipment is absolutely necessary. A bag that you can seal off with at least a zip, is also advisable. If you look after your equipment, it will look after you. The last thing you want is to miss out on that magic moment because your equipment wasn’t ready.
Any photography conducted in the jungle will require a camera bag that has weather proof characteristics. Weather in climate like this can change rapidly. Also ensure that there’s a UV filter on the end of your lens for protection. As scratching your front element is easy to do in environments like this.
East Africa’s wildlife hot spots
Anyone who’s ever watched an animal documentary or two, would have heard of the Serengeti. A vast open plain 30,000 km² hosting the largest mammalian migration on the planet, and several thriving environments, including vast grasslands, woodlands, riverine forests and kopjes. In addition to the “big five” mentioned above, wildebeests, zebras, gazelles and buffalos are also a common sight here.
Speeding across the vast plains in a safari customised 4WD, with what seem like never ending horizons, punctuated occasionally by the odd boab tree, can make you think that it’ll be impossible to get up close and personal to one of these animals. But, after a while, it definitely happens. Multiple times. Especially with how much the environment varies. When the time comes, and you do get up close and personal to an elephant or a lion, keep in the vehicle and get ready to put the windows up fast!
This is a must see – simply to witness the beauty and diversity of this place (this one’s not just for the photographers, but for all tourist alike). The largest inactive and intact volcanic caldera on the planet, which exploded two to three million years ago leaving a 600+m deep crater, covering 260 square kilometres, and is now home to the largest density of larger wildlife on the planet. The original size of the volcano range before it exploded is estimated to have been from 4,500m to 5,800m high. The walls of the caldera, being so high, are often hidden by cloud, giving it such a surreal landscape to be amongst.
Driving around this amazing place you’ll see everything you could imagine there is to see. Elephants, Giraffes, Hippos, Buffalo, Zebras, Lions, Leopards, Hyenas, and of course many Wildebeest! Wildebeest were especially amusing; socialising in groups that number in the thousands. They can get spooked at any minute (being a favourite meal of the lion, I don’t blame them), and all it takes is one or two to get a little jumpy and before you know it an entire stampede is in play.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
In the south west corner of Uganda straddling Rwanda and The Congo, right on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, sits the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This marvellous part of the world is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet and home to some of the worlds most interesting creatures. We were there for one in particular. The enchanting and exotic Mountain Gorilla.
Here you’ll have one of the best experience one could ever have. It’s a place where you can come face to face in the wild with the largest, most powerful, yet shy and gentle primates on the planet. Unfortunately, they are also the most endangered as well, with only around 650 or so left on the planet. A sad fact for one of our closest living relatives.
Mountain Gorilla tourism also goes a long way to help save these amazing creatures. By going Gorilla trekking, your money goes largely towards the conservation of their habitat and helps fight against illegal poaching. If you’re interested in going Gorilla trekking and having that once in a lifetime experience, visit the Uganda, Rwanda or DR Congo tourism website to learn more.
What’s your favourite east African wildlife location?
How about yourself? Do you have a wildlife hot-spot somewhere in east Africa that hasn’t been listed here? Make a comment below and let us know.
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