There’s no shortage of great wildlife photographers, but reaching that level requires skill and patience. Catrina Stewart heads on a photo safari in the Maasai Mara in search of a shortcut to success.
“Lower your ISO, lower your ISO!” Er, what, I mean, how? Before I know it, the leopard, who we have been observing for several minutes now, is scrambling up the tree, hauling a slain wildebeest between its paws. It’s the most extraordinary feat of sheer strength, and we are lucky to witness it. My first couple of photos are almost white with overexposure. I have only seconds to fiddle with the knob to get a shot worth capturing.
In the end, I get what I think is a passable photograph. But then Aatish Patel, tutoring me in getting that perfect shot, looks at my last couple of pictures, and I can tell he’s not that impressed. A thick skin helps when offering up your photographs to this kind of scrutiny. Most clients spend six days or more perfecting their shots with Aatish and his twin brother, Aashit, on photographic safari in the Maasai Mara. I have just an afternoon.
Amateur snappers come back year after year to the Mara to go out on safari with the brothers, both trained as professional guides. From an early age, they’ve spent long periods in Kenya’s most famous national reserve, and these days spend most of their time there. Their clients range from those starting out to experienced photographers looking to hone their skills. “Most of our clients come here with these big cameras, and they don’t know how to use them,” says Aatish.
First off, I get a quick tutorial in camera basics. We rattle through aperture, shutter speed and light sensitivity (ISO), the three things any amateur must master. Meanwhile, Samson, our guide, has spotted some potential subjects, and deftly manoeuvres into position above a ford, where wildebeest crowd a small crossing point, milling alongside the zebra.
It is a pretty scene, but hardly the stuff of award-winning shots. In a situation like this, says Aatish, “you have to be a bit creative.” He shows me how to adjust my shutter priority (the TV knob on the camera) to a slower speed of 1/16, reducing the animals to a blur. “Focus on the head, and keep clicking,” Aatish instructs. My next attempts are better. A rather boring zebra scene is transformed into something more unusual: a zebra, partially blurred, its head almost in focus. This is more like it.
Photography is, suggests Aatish, less about technical skill, than spotting the unusual. The shot he is most proud of is of a vulture, soaring in on a kill, its wings outspread. “The cheetahs were eating, we’d seen it many times,” he recalls. “So we started observing the vultures coming in to land.”
Meanwhile, I have a burning question. Do great photos start out great, or do they get a bit of the Photoshop treatment? “With guests, we try to do as much natural photography with only a little post-processing,” he says reprovingly. For editing, he says, he prefers Lightroom. “It lets you make small adjustments, whereas Photoshop will let you manipulate the photo.”
I look at my shots, and consider that they need a whole lot more than a little adjustment. But for now, I’m just going to have keep practising.
TIPS FROM THE BROTHERS FOR THAT PERFECT SHOT
1. Understand your gear: It is really important to know the ins and outs of your camera equipment i.e. where all the buttons and dials are for changing different settings such as ISO, shutter speed, white balance, changing focus points and modes.
2. Use the rule of thirds while photographing backgrounds.
3. Study the subject: Anticipating and having the ability to read the behaviour of certain subjects is key to getting that picture perfect shot.
4. Lighting is very important while shooting wildlife. Work hand in hand with it.
5. Take a stock photo: A stock photo will really help the photographer in adjusting their settings on the camera in order to get the perfect shot when the subject decides to become more active.
6. Be patient: When photographing wildlife, anything can happen at any moment. It requires a great deal of patience to know and anticipate the next move of your subject.
7. Carry an extra battery and memory cards.
8. Cover lenses to protect from dust. We recommend a shower cap or pillow case.
9. Carry more than one camera body, especially when going for an action shot as it’s not an ideal situation to begin changing lenses.
To enquire about photographic safaris with the brothers, contact Apex Photo Safaris on www.apexphotosafaris.com Guiding fees start from $250 a day. Accommodation is extra.
Like this? You might want to read Mara on a Budget