After touching down in Kenya's capital, you will be greeted at the airport and transferred to a beautiful hotel that overlooks Nairobi National Park. Your opportunities for incredible photos will have already started with the city's distant skyscrapers a backdrop to the wild giraffe and elephant seen on the savannah. Your Masai Mara itinerary is an active one, so today is about relaxing at your hotel and recuperating from your flight. In the early evening, you will meet your photographer guide for a welcome dinner at Carnivore, Africa's most famous restaurant. With a portfolio that stretches back to the days of film and manual focus cameras, your guide is a celebrated award-winning wildlife photographer, whose images feature in several important print publications. The rest of the safari will include workshops full of tips and techniques, but for tonight, the welcome meal is all about friendship.
On your first aerial flight, it will be easy to become overcome by scale. After taking off from Nairobi, your light aircraft will fly south and spend over 20 minutes cruising above the Mara plains. Grassland extends in all directions scattered with a patchwork of black clumps that soon reveal themselves to be wildebeest and zebra as they congregate together in the tens of thousands. It will seem as if the landscape will never end until you swoop down to the grand views of the Mara River meandering below. The airstrip is surrounded by herds, and on the short drive to the camp, you will start to appreciate what a million mammals actually looks like. It's unfathomable to your imagination, and it is equally baffling on the ground with animals scattered at all angles with herds moving onwards across the grassland.
After checking into your camp, you will spend the afternoon on your first Masai Mara game drive. Your journey will be an exploratory experience as you roam across the plains for your first impressions of both the wildlife and the conditions. As the guide provides assistance, you will test out your different lenses – a 400mm is recommended to help you get as close as possible to the subjects. The Masai Mara is open and bright, with light pouring in throughout the day. You will rarely have to worry about having enough light as rather you will have to work to blunt the glare to avoid photos that appear bleached. Pass elephants on the move, encounter a lion pride, photograph thousands of zebra, point the camera at a hyena and then watch a hippo emerge from the water. This first game drive is your chance to explore the environment and get acquainted with the wonders on offer.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 3 - 6
The wildebeest wait as more and more join the herd that has been congregating for three days. Larger males gallop around, rutting with intensity to showcase their power and virility, but none have taken the plunge. The conditions seem right, but the herd has collected in an area of low grass, away from the hiding place of predators while close to what appears to be a relatively benign stretch of the river. Yet still the wildebeest wait. The herds do not cross the river every day, so you will need to be patient to capture the moment. Suddenly one will move, galloping down the slope with a hundred close behind. Dust swirls and a drumroll of hooves echo across the plains. Crocodiles wait, some with jaws open, many anticipating that some of the herd will drown. On the opposite bank, hyenas prowl as they anticipate that some wildebeest will be too weak to fight back after swimming across. Suddenly, there will be thousands making the crossing, giving you huge opportunities to capture the great wildebeest migration as they cross the Mara River.
Your luxury camp overlooks the river, and this scene is often visible directly from your spacious tented suite. Such proximity means it's easy to jump into the vehicle and get the premium vantage point without having to wait on the banks all day long. After leading various photography safaris, your driver will know exactly where to position the vehicle. You will snap away as the procession crosses the water, and then zoom in for the incredible revelation of detail before refocusing to photograph the unending scale. The safari vehicle maximizes your angles as lamps and bean bags supports are fitted across the roof. A customized high-backed swivel seat turns 360 degrees and rises high for optimal angles. There is plenty of space to move around, along with the flexibility of taking photos of everything without ever leaving your seat. An on-board electricity supply allows for quick recharging of batteries, affording the opportunity to stay out on the plains all day if the conditions are favorable.
Over these four days, you will usually follow a classic photographer's safari itinerary as your guides seek to maximize your chances to capture all of the dramatic scenes found during the wildebeest migration. You will have breakfast before dawn and leave at 6 am to photograph when the light is at its best, and the plains are at their most active. Around 9 am, you will top for a picnic break and then continue until midday, although the exact times are dependent on animal activity and what you have seen. Early afternoon is spent at your camp with a few hours for lunch, a siesta, and a workshop session with your guide. With another game drive from around 4 pm until dusk, you will capture another exhilarating time to be in the Mara.
When there is such an astounding abundance of ungulates, the theatrical hunting scenes are everywhere. Perhaps a leopard hiding in the grass before pouncing on young wildebeest separated from the herd. Maybe a lion's golden mane stained red from a zebra carcass. It could be four lionesses harassing a herd then separating a weak old female, an hour of stalking and preparation followed by a blur of action that lasts less than a minute. Cheetah accelerates, and you will follow as your guide provides tips and techniques for capturing the sense of movement. Follow the circling vultures and photograph a pack of hyenas quarreling with three bachelor male lions, the battle to eat just as intense as the actual hunt. So much is happening and these four days are all about documenting nature's greatest spectacle.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 7 - 8
This morning you will travel north and away from the rich plains of the Masai Mara National Reserve to the northern realm of the Mara North Conservancy. Why? Because there is more to the Masai Mara than the plains around the Mara River, and because there is a very exclusive side to the Masai Mara that adds another degree of intimacy to the wildlife photography. This is a private conservancy, accessible only to those who are staying at one of its high-end camps. Controlling the number of tourists means there are not any other safari vehicles ruining your composition. A private conservancy writes its own rules, so there are new opportunities to get closer. Game drives can travel off the main trails, bumping across the grasslands until you no longer need to zoom in on the subject. Masai warriors lead you on game walks, safely taking you close to the vast herds of zebra and wildebeest that populate the plains, giving you a new angle to work from.
There is less of a focus on quintessential safari scenes as the guides will target more elusive encounters. Leopards and cheetahs like to raise their cubs in this northern conservancy, preferring its relative tranquility. The cat families provide adorable family portraits, along with very rare photos of young cubs learning how to hunt. Stop beside a waterhole and wait for the hippos to yawn and reveal a cavernous jaw that almost defies the camera. Photograph the lesser-seen Mara antelope like dik-dik, then work the shutter as a buffalo herd clashes with a lion pride.
Like each day on this itinerary, the focus of these game drives will be on wildlife photography. You could spend an hour or longer at the same scene, either patiently waiting for the drama to commence or experimenting with different angles to get the best composition. You may return to the same spot two or three days in a row, seeking to improve on the image you took the day before. Your photography workshop is followed up as you put new techniques into practice, further dictating the direction of your game drive. Do not come on this safari to take some photos of the migration and the famous animals. Come on it to improve your wildlife photography skills and create a storyline of images that reflect the beauty of this fascinating landscape and spectacle.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
This morning will bring a new angle as you view the Masai Mara seen from above. Your composition will be everything as you will photograph from the hot air balloon to reveal the migratory patterns as hundreds of square miles extend beneath your camera. From the air, you can follow the herds and especially the movement of the zebra, who migrate in a spiral pattern across the plains. You can also follow the subtleties of the landscape as you notice how the Mara River slices through it all with the various clusters of rock that are favored by lions.
Descend after your 90-minute flight for a champagne breakfast, and then game drive back to the camp with a stop at a Masai boma (homestead) along the way. Small Masai communities dot the Mara North Conservancy, and the focus here is on an authentic interaction with the local people. The Masai are part landowners of this conservancy, and they are always willing to pose for portraits, or for photographers to enjoy complete access to their community. Warrior males jump in their red blankets and shoes made from car tires, females are elaborately adorned with jewelry, and herders wander out with their cattle onto the lion-filled plains. After lunch at the camp, you will enjoy a final game drive in the Mara and a last opportunity for wildlife photography.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Spend your last morning relaxing at the camp as you go through your images with your guide and possibly take a quick course on editing software options. While the photography in the field may be over, your guide will continue to provide valuable insight on post-processing techniques as applied to wildlife photography. Throughout these nine days, various other topics will have been covered, like composition, focusing on wildlife, or flash and macro photography in the wild. After an early lunch, you will board your flight back to Nairobi to return to the capital with your guide and connect with your international flight. You will land at Nairobi Wilson Airport and be transferred to Nairobi International Airport.
From July to October, the Masai Mara becomes home to the greatest concentration of wild mammals on the planet. As the great migration crosses the Mara River from the Serengeti, the famous Mara grasslands overflow with well over a million wildebeest, zebra, and Thompson's gazelle. The predators also converge, from spotted hunters to crocodiles, raucous hyena packs to large lion pride. No natural event offers such a display of drama, charm, and sheer intensity. Understandably, the great wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara is one on the bucket list of many wildlife photographers. The migration is an event that's adorned the front page of National Geographic on numerous occasion and one that showcases the theater of Africa in its rawest form. It is also a spectacle that is constantly changing and continually imbued with nuance and subtleties. Take a thousand photographers to the Masai Mara, and each will return with a different collection of photos.
This specialist Masai Mara photographer's safari is available as both a small-group and private tour. The experience is best when travel occurs during the main great wildebeest migration months, from late July to October, when the herds are crossing the river, and the Masai Mara is packed with four-legged mammals. A celebrated wildlife photographer will lead your safari, teaching workshops at the camp and tailoring the game drives towards great images. This photography based safari is not an experience for those wanting to point, shoot, and move on to the next animal. This is a safari that will require patience and a keen desire to obtain the most striking and inspiring wildlife photos.
Nine days in the Masai Mara will provide a good opportunity to encounter each of the revered migration scenes. The wildebeest do not cross the Mara River every day as they often congregate for a few days before moving on in mass. Leopard and cheetah are plentiful, but they aren't encountered on every game drive. Lion pride is seen on almost every drive, although spotting them on a hunt is not an everyday experience. Nine days on safari will afford you the time to be patient, both in following the individual scenes and seeking out the eclectic beauty of the landscape.
Your time will be split across two distinctive parts of the Masai Mara. Spend five days in the Masai Mara National Reserve, staying at a camp that overlooks the Mara River. You will be in the heart of the migration, meaning immediate access to the famous scenes. Rather than waiting by the water for hours, you can watch the river from the comfort of the camp and react whenever the first intrepid wildebeest moves. Thousands of wildebeest and zebra are seen from the camp, and you can track the movement of the predators from a distance before driving to within meters of their hunt. These five days are focused on the spectacular images of the migration in full swing, with the photographer guide assisting in techniques for capturing both the sheer scale and the intricate detail of the phenomenon.
Game drives are taken in a tailored vehicle with a local driver who understands the concepts of lighting and wildlife photography. You will then be placed in prime position every time you stop. Bean bags and clamps will be dotted across the partially-open sides of the vehicle, and you will have space and flexibility to move around in the vehicle freely. A 360-degree high-backed swivel chair will keep you comfortable throughout the drives. Rather than hastily snatched shots, this safari is about securing the premier vantage points for the ultimate wildlife scenes. Optimum light conditions coincide with when the plains are at their most active, so dawn starts are the norm and the afternoon game drives will continue until dusk. During the hottest part of the day, the camp provides a serene place to snooze for an hour and then take in your workshops and classes from the photographer guide.
For your final four days, you will explore the Mara North Conservancy, a private reserve that is an essential part of the Masai Mara ecosystem. Access is restricted, so only a handful of other visitors can explore these grasslands at the same time which brings an exclusivity to the safari and a complete lack of other vehicles to interrupt your shots. Many spotted cats raise their cubs here, just one of the sides to the migration that is rarely documented. Walking safaris provide a new angle for your wildlife photography, and there is exceptional opportunity to get even closer to the ungulates. You will also capture the migration from the air on a hot air balloon safari, and visit a local Masai community to photograph a different side to the plains.
Note that this Masai Mara photography safari is suitable for all levels of photographer, with your workshops tailored to your skills and interests. The aim is not only to leave with exceptional images but also to improve your wildlife photography skills. A digital SLR or 35mm SLR camera is recommended, along with a 400mm lens – the landscape is bright and open, so the lens doesn't need to be that fast. As with any wildlife photography, the wildlife comes first, and nothing is done to impede the animals; often you have to give the wildlife their space and zoom in on the scene.
$4495 per person (excluding international flights)
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