Last September I was lucky enough to get the chance to revisit Kenya's Masai Mara to coincide with the migration. One of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the world, it is an unforgettable experience for everyone lucky enough to see it and one which I was keen to photograph with my Nikon D800.
I stayed at Entim Camp, which is well set up for photography with iMac computers in camp and I joined a group of keen fellow photographers on a photo safari led by award-winning New Zealand wildlife photographer David Lloyd.
Picturesquely situated on the banks of the Mara river, Entim has just 10 tents meaning it feels intimate and personal unlike other larger camps. The service was excellent and little touches, like a hot water bottle in your bed at night (though the days are warm the nights are chilly) made the stay feel really special.
David is down-to-earth and very approachable and soon put the guests at ease, making them feel like old friends. The group bonded very quickly which was great as a number of us were solo travellers. We had two vehicles between us, meaning each person had a 'row' of seats to themselves. This is very important when trying to get the best pictures as it can be quite frustrating if the action is happening over someone else's shoulder! David rotated between the vehicles meaning we had him with us on one drive each day (there are morning and evening drives) and during that time he was able to coach us on our photography and share many useful hints and tips on how he manages to get his award-winning shots.
The photographic skill within the group varied from another professional to a near-beginner but this didn't matter in the slightest and all of us saw improvements over the week, inspired by David's advice and images. Another helpful feature of the tour was that ground-transport was arranged to bring our luggage to camp, meaning the mere 15kg total luggage allowance on the flight to the Mara could be used for precious camera equipment. I certainly used all of that allowance on gear!
On arrival, the plains of the Mara were teeming with wildebeest and I was able to witness (and photograph) during my week a couple of the much-coveted river crossings. I mainly used a Nikon AF-S 200-400 f/4G ED VR II lens, teaming it with a 1.4 Nikon converter for reach when I needed it, though the sensor size of the D800 meant I wasn't concerned if I needed to crop to the DX size.
Crossings are of course spectacular but for me the magic of the Mara goes well beyond the migration and I enjoyed numerous sightings of countless different species, from my favourite, leopard, through to a first for me, a caracal. On one drive we even saw leopard, lion, cheetah and serval all before 9am!
Our drivers Henry and Sammy were excellent and we were often first on a sighting with, importantly, good vehicle positioning for photography. Back in camp the group would review their images and get ad hoc advice and feedback from David, who also held a very informative workshop on how to process our images using Lightroom. I felt that joining a group led by a professional photographer really spurred me on photographically and there was always something to learn from others in the vehicle. It was also great to have like-minded people to chat with at dinner about the finer points of photography and what we'd seen that day.
One slight concern for me in the Mara this time was the increasingly bad behaviour I saw from guests in other vehicles, including people sitting and even standing on the roofs of those vehicles, which is not only dangerous but also disruptive for the animals who suddenly see a human form instead of a non-threatnening 'car' shape. And worryingly, the trick picked up by one cheetah of leaping onto the roofs of vehicles to use them as a lookout seems to have been passed on to others. I really wish the drivers of the vehicles would discourage this rather than see it as a tourist attraction as one day I fear one of the cheetahs will hurt themselves. There are however reassuring noises coming from the Kenyan government about tightening up on behaviour in the Mara and this can't come soon enough as far as I'm concerned.
Overall it was however once again a magical visit, topped off nicely with wonderful sundowners looking over the plains on our last night followed by campfire drinks under the stars. I can't wait to go back!
For more information of great migration tours with David Lloyd in 2014 click here.