The Maasai Mara
It’s a shooting gallery out there
Some call the Maasai Mara “the spotted plains”. For starters the so-called “spots” are trees peppered throughout the gently sloping plains of tall grass surrounded by herds of the most amazing assortment of wild animals ever collected on the planet. The trees have been located in such perfect locations that one would suspect they were placed by a feng shui master. The herds of animals are broken up by another amazing collection of wild animals, predators: you know, lions, cheetahs, hyenas and leopards! When you put all this action and beauty together and cap it off with some of the most dramatic skies you have a shooting gallery (these photos were taken on this trip to Tanzania).
Advice on Lenses
How does one possibly choose the right lens in the midst of all those possibilities? I believe it starts with some vision. Try to visualize an image in your mind, determine the best focal length to use and go for it. I’ve been on over 30 game drives during 3 separate visits and feel as though I have just broken the ice. What I have learned, however, by comparing my experience in the Mara with all the other photographic experiences in my life, is that there is no way to compare it! The place is magical and therefore can be quite illusive. In a situation like this I usually resort to the optical extremes. On my first trip to the Mara, I carried a case packed full of up to 5 lenses. On my last trip, I carried a 200-400 and a 18mm. I enjoyed my last experience more because I was able to focus on the compositions I was able to make rather than the thousands of possibilities that simply cluttered my vision. This allowed me to concentrate on finding more powerful compositions. The Nikon 200-400mm lens stayed on the camera most of the time and the 18mm Zeiss was in a small pouch next to me on the seat, ready for action, such as a Cheetah jumping on the roof! I believe powerful compositions can be found with any focal length in most situations. The art is to develop your eye to see with that focal length in the midst of such beauty as a place like the Mara.
Training Your Eye
Years ago, my father and grandfather carried around a viewfinder to help find images. This little contraption was created to help with composing a image prior to setting up a large 4×5 field camera, the only option at that time for descent landscape images. Though, this method is now considered old school and the contraption is no longer available for purchase, the principal is priceless. I strongly recommend cutting a window in a piece of cardboard in the shape of a 2/3 aspect ratio at the size of the desired focal length. Hold the cardboard at your arms distance to determine the focal length you wish. Take this window out and begin composing. The idea is to get as comfortable with a particular focal length that you can begin seeing shots without the aid of the cardboard or camera. When you begin calling out the shots to your friends you know you’re at the point you no longer need help finding compositions.
Life is short, take pictures!