Image Statistics

For quite some time, I have been wanting to gather the EXIF data from all of my published images, and produce some statistics on various criteria such as exposure settings and equipment used.

During a recent period of renewed creative energy in the form of computer programming rather than photography, over the past month I finally developed automated code-based functionality in my site to extract, analyse and present what I consider to be some interesting statistical data about my collection of published images.

By its very nature, some of this data can be quite dry and geeky; but the results do show some interesting facts in terms of exposure and equipment preferences, and in some cases the results were surprising to me.

Note: If you don’t care what equipment I use, what exposure or stylistic photographic preferences I have, or you don’t care for numeric data generally, it is advisable to skp this long article; but if that kind of geeky thing does appeal to you, keep reading.

Presently, my site gathers data and presents tabular data, which lists from most frequent to least frequent, the numbers of images captured:

  • with a particular camera;
  • with a particular lens;
  • with a particular telephoto extender;
  • within a particular focal range;
  • at a particular focal length;
  • at a particular shutter speed;
  • at a particular aperture;
  • at a particular ISO sensitivity;
  • during a particular year;
  • during a particular month; and
  • on a particular day.

I have also produced what I call a ‘time trend’, in the form of a table showing the number of images shot by month and year.

In this article I am going to break it down and explain the trends I see.

What this exercise has shown me is that the raw numeric data alone does not tell the whole story; there are some ‘human’ elements which can explain why a certain exposure setting or piece of camera equipment rates higher or lower in popularity than would otherwise be expected based on my knowledge of my preferences.

So, let’s look at the trends.

At the time of writing this article, there are 1,600 images in my gallery, which were shot over an eleven-year period from 2005 to 2015.


I have owned three digital SLR cameras in that time.  Here is the breakdown by camera model:

# Camera Images
1 Canon EOS 5D 893
2 Canon EOS 5D Mark II 519
3 Canon EOS 20D 188


The Canon EOS 20D was my first DSLR, and I owned it for over three years.  I shot many images with it, but over the years I have deleted some of the images I published, as in those early years, I was an ‘anything and everything’ kind of photographer without much discernment.

My Canon EOS 5D lost its life to a rogue wave during a seascape shoot in 2010, and on the same day I replaced it with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.  I owned it longer than my Canon EOS 20D, and owned it for a similar amount of time to my current camera (the antiquated but still as-useful-as-it-ever-was Canon EOS 5D Mark II), but much of what I shot with it was during a period of frequent activity and rapid development.  In other words, I shot a lot, and got better at it.

Most of my best work has been shot with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, but over the past few years, as further analysis will show, my output in terms of quantity has significantly decreased, but my output in terms of quality has significantly increased.

This explains why my current camera is the least used.


I have owned many Canon EF lenses over the years, some of which I have sold.  I have also ocasionally used a few lenses I have never owned.

To me, the lens usage statistics are more interesting, and there are some surprising results, which can again be explained by ‘human’ factors or circumstance.

Here is the data:

# Lens Images
1 Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM 562
2 Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM 181
3 Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM 173
4 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM 161
5 Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM 100
6 Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM 98
7 Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM 93
8 Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM 78
9 Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM 36
10 Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM 34
11 Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II 31
12 Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM 24
13 Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM 17
14 Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM 3
15 Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM 3
16 Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM 2
17 Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM 1
18 Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L 1
19 Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM 1
20 Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM 1


It’s no surprise to me that my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM is the most frequently used lens of the 20 featured, as my main forms of photography over the years have been those which lend themselves well to ultra-wide focal lengths.

I have shot a lot of architecture, cityscape, landscape and seascape images, particularly since 2008, so that lens occupies the top spot in terms of usage.

What could be considered surprising, but in hindsight not so surprising, is the presence of the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens in second place.

I sold that lens nearly seven years ago (and ceased using it up to a year before I sold it), but I bought it in 2005 on the day of its release, and, as explained earlier, I shot anything and everything in those days.  It was my ‘walk-around’ lens, and hence it got a lot of use.  The last image I published was one I shot in November of 2007, which was a long time ago now; yet it still features prominently due to my experience and the development stage at the time.

I will not go into detail about all 20 of these lenses, particularly those with which I shot less than a handful of images, as those lenses were borrowed or tried; but I did want to draw attention to my two super-telephoto lenses, as by nature of my overall subject matter, they’re not commonly used, but some particular circumstances have made them surprisingly prominent.

The first is my Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM.  I have owned it since 2007, but it gained its most significant usage half a decade later in 2012 when we visited Africa for the first time and fell in love with wildlife and the photography thereof.

In the early days it was used sparingly and for nothing particularly serious.  A few years later I went through a phase of aviation photography, during which it was used more; but our South Africa trip in 2012 was where that lens came to shine.

That leads me to my Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM.  It presently sits in 8th place, yet it is my most recently-purchased lens — I’ve only owned it for over a year.  What drove it so high up, relatively, was our trip to Kenya, where I used it, by my rough estimate, 98% of the time.  I took two other lenses  (16-35/2.8L II and 70-200/2.8L IS) and also used a 300/2.8L IS for a few shots, but the 400/2.8L IS pretty much lived on the camera.

This example shows how a lens, which has spent the least amount of time in my rig, can achieve such relative prominence due to one significant event; namely, a wildlife safari in Kenya.

Telephoto Extender

There isn’t much to say about the prevalence of my Canon telephoto extenders, as there are only two models, they work only with particular Canon EF L-series lenses, and in my case, I tend to only use them with my two longest lenses.

All that can be said is that of the two telephoto extenders, the Canon Extender EF 2x II features more prominently, which can be explained by the two Africa trips we have done.  On the first trip to South Africa, I used it with my 300/2.8L IS, giving me 600mm of focal length (ideal for wildlife photography); and on the second trip to Kenya, I used it with my 400/2.8L IS, giving me an even better 800mm of focal length — absolutely wonderful for frame-filling images of big cats and birds.

# Telephoto Extender Images
1 None 1,448
2 Canon Extender EF 2x II 98
3 Canon Extender EF 1.4x II 54

Focal Range

This particular category is amongst the most interesting to me.

In developing my statistics gathering and reporting system, I initially only looked at actual focal lengths; but further into the project (actually, after ‘completion’), it dawned on me that breaking down focal lengths into distinct focal ranges would be more useful and revealing than reporting on single focal lengths alone, especially as the presence of zooms can mean lots of isolated cases of esoteric ‘no man’s land’ focal lengths appearing (such as 33mm or 98mm).

I used Canon’s definitions of focal ranges as the baseline for my own categorisation of focal ranges, and crunched the data to produce the following table:

# Focal Range Images
1 Ultra-Wide (16-23mm) 485
2 Short Telephoto (70-135mm) 350
3 Wide (24-35mm) 285
4 Medium Telephoto (136-399mm) 227
5 Long Telephoto (400-800mm) 196
6 Standard (36-69mm) 57


I have known for years where my preferences lie in terms of focal lengths.

I like ultra-wide and ultra-long focal lengths, and not much in between.

My architecturecityscapelandscape and seascape images were mostly shot with an ultra-wide lens, which easily explains the occupation of the number one position by the ultra-wide category.

The second spot is occupied by short telephoto ranges, which I specifically use (particularly the 85mm and 135mm focal lengths) for portraiture and still-life.  I have many portrait images in my gallery, which allows that focal range its prominence.

The standard focal range is my least used focal range, which is no surprise, as for years I have regarded the 50mm focal length with complete disdain, and have also boycotted ‘standard’ focal lengths, as, quite frankly, they bore me.  Given the standard focal length of 50mm more or less replicates what the human eye can natively see, it has no interest, as it’s neither wide and expansive, or long and detail-revealingly tight.

While I have owned both a standard zoom and a 50mm lens in the past, for most of the time I have had no lenses with focal lengths between 35mm and 70mm.  I just have no use for them, and my subject interests do not require or lend themselves to such focal lengths.

Focal Length

As outlined in the previous section, statistics about focal length ranges are more useful and revealing than statistics about individual focal lengths, particularly as there are over 700 available amongst the lenses I own or have owned; but for the sake of completeness, here are the statistics:

# Focal Length Images
1 16mm 430
2 35mm 137
3 85mm 125
4 24mm 102
5 135mm 98
6 300mm 93
7 600mm 73
8 200mm 66
9 400mm 51
10 420mm 43
11 105mm 37
12 70mm 35
13 50mm 33
14 180mm 30
15 800mm 24
16 23mm 14
17 25mm 13
18 40mm 11
19 18mm 11
20 17mm 10
21 27mm 9
22 21mm 7
23 28mm 7
24 100mm 7
25 19mm 7
26 140mm 6
27 95mm 6
28 130mm 6
29 32mm 6
30 26mm 5
31 560mm 5
32 115mm 5
33 252mm 4
34 165mm 4
35 145mm 4
36 73mm 4
37 67mm 4
38 125mm 4
39 29mm 3
40 173mm 3
41 90mm 3
42 185mm 3
43 120mm 3
44 20mm 3
45 75mm 3
46 22mm 3
47 80mm 3
48 88mm 2
49 45mm 2
50 58mm 2
51 195mm 2
52 160mm 2
53 65mm 2
54 78mm 2
55 150mm 2
56 170mm 1
57 270mm 1
58 220mm 1
59 31mm 1
60 168mm 1
61 72mm 1
62 96mm 1
63 55mm 1
64 104mm 1
65 153mm 1
66 148mm 1
67 84mm 1
68 98mm 1
69 190mm 1
70 110mm 1
71 60mm 1
72 33mm 1
73 30mm 1
74 360mm 1
75 92mm 1
76 47mm 1


The main points of interest in this table are the double-digit and triple-digit occurrances towards the top of the table.

16mm is by no surprise my most prolific focal length, due to my architecturecityscapelandscape and seascape photography.

Moderate telephoto and long telephoto focal lengths also tend to dominate, which is driven by my subject choice, and also the fact that most of my lenses are primes.  The use of telephoto extenders on the big lenses, and the use of focal lengths at the extreme ends of a few zooms, also contrbiute to the particular focal lengths and frequencies documented in the top 20 rows of the table.

Shutter Speed

My shutter speed usage is reported in a rather long table, too.

I haven’t drawn any analytical conclusions from this particular data, but apparently I favour 1/200th of a second.

Of interest towards the bottom of the table is the occasional very long shutter speeds I have used.

My longest exposure was just over an hour, and there have been a few over the years than ran for single-digit minutes, and one which ran for ten minutes.

The 30-second shutter speed has achieved sufficient prominence, and otherwise most shutter speeds are in the middle-of-the-road territory of up to 1/500th of a second.

# Shutter Speed Images
1 1/200th of a second 114
2 1/125th of a second 77
3 1/160th of a second 77
4 30 seconds 62
5 1/500th of a second 55
6 1/250th of a second 52
7 1/100th of a second 52
8 1/320th of a second 50
9 1/640th of a second 44
10 1/400th of a second 43
11 1/50th of a second 41
12 1/60th of a second 37
13 1/1,600th of a second 36
14 1/80th of a second 36
15 1/1,250th of a second 34
16 1/2,000th of a second 29
17 1/40th of a second 29
18 2 seconds 28
19 1/800th of a second 28
20 1/1,000th of a second 28
21 1/2,500th of a second 27
22 5 seconds 26
23 4 seconds 26
24 15 seconds 26
25 1.3 seconds 25
26 1/25th of a second 23
27 8 seconds 23
28 2 minutes 22
29 3.2 seconds 22
30 1 second 21
31 10 seconds 20
32 0.3 seconds 19
33 1/8th of a second 18
34 1/30th of a second 18
35 0.6 seconds 18
36 1/15th of a second 17
37 1/20th of a second 17
38 1/4th of a second 17
39 1 minute 17
40 2.5 seconds 16
41 0.5 seconds 16
42 1/6th of a second 15
43 1.6 seconds 14
44 0.8 seconds 14
45 6 seconds 14
46 13 seconds 14
47 1/13th of a second 13
48 20 seconds 13
49 1/3,200th of a second 13
50 1/10th of a second 11
51 25 seconds 10
52 4 minutes 8
53 1/8,000th of a second 8
54 1/4,000th of a second 8
55 1/5th of a second 7
56 1/5,000th of a second 6
57 0.4 seconds 6
58 45 seconds 5
59 5 minutes 4
60 3 minutes 4
61 1/6,400th of a second 3
62 6 minutes 2
63 1 minute and 20 seconds 2
64 19 seconds 2
65 7 minutes 2
66 1 minute and 30 seconds 2
67 1 hour and 7 seconds 1
68 3 minutes and 32 seconds 1
69 2 minutes and 28 seconds 1
70 10 minutes 1
71 6 minutes and 15 seconds 1
72 15 minutes and 24 seconds 1
73 15 minutes and 1 second 1
74 2 minutes and 43 seconds 1
75 29 seconds 1
76 10 minutes and 1 second 1
77 39 seconds 1
78 12 seconds 1
79 3 minutes and 7 seconds 1
80 55 seconds 1


The statstics about my aperture choices are quite interesting — to me, at least — as they show that despite my preference for having the widest aperture in a given focal length, I don’t always use those wide apertures.

Here is the breakdown:

# Aperture Images
1 f/8 332
2 f/2.8 239
3 f/5.6 233
4 f/11 214
5 f/4 132
6 f/9 71
7 f/2 66
8 f/1.4 48
9 f/1.8 38
10 f/13 34
11 f/1.2 32
12 f/6.3 27
13 f/10 21
14 f/16 20
15 f/7.1 16
16 f/3.5 12
17 f/14 12
18 f/3.2 11
19 f/4.5 10
20 f/5 8
21 f/1.6 5
22 f/20 5
23 f/2.2 4
24 f/18 3
25 f/22 3
26 f/2.5 3
27 f/32 1


The fastest lens I have is f/1.2, and the two longest focal lengths I have don’t get any faster than f/2.8; yet f/8 seems to be my most frequent aperture.

Again, this is easily explained by my proliferation of wide-angle scenic images.  Even though I shoot these with my 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, I rarely ever use that lens’s maximum aperture; for in shooting architecturecityscapelandscape and seascape images, I want a wide view with a deep depth of field and rich, sharp details from foreground to background, which calls for narrower apertures.

The difference between f/8 and f/11 is not great, but unsurprisingly f/11 is in the top five.

Another common aperture I use is f/2.8.  I have four f/2.8 lenses, two of which are super-teles, which I almost always shoot wide-open.  I didn’t buy fast super-tele lenses to shoot at f/8!  My Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM also ostensibly gets used wide-open more often than not.

The moderate-to-slow aperture of f/5.6 also appears rather frequently, which I figure is likely to be the result of using my Canon Extender EF 2x II on my 300/2.8 and 400/2.8, giving me 600mm at f/5.6 and 800mm at f/5.6 respectively.

I also use f/5.6 frequently for portraiture.  Even though my Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens is my go-to lens for portraits, I don’t frequently shoot it wide-open.  Just because a lens can be shot at extremely wide apertures does not mean it always should be shot at such apertures.

Towards the bottom of the table are extremely narrow apertures, which I rarely ever use.  One must be careful to avoid diffraction caused by very narrow apertures, which leads to softening of fine details.  If a deep depth of field is required, there is little benefit in stopping down beyond f/11 or f/16 at wide focal lengths, as apertures of f/8 and f/11 tend to achieve a very  acceptable compromise of sharpness and depth of field.

ISO Sensitivity

The statistical breakdown of my usage of different ISO sensitivity ratings was no surprise at all, but it remained interesting to see.

The top five spots are occupied, in order, a stop apart, starting from the lowest native ISO my cameras have offered.

I have known for years that I favour as low an ISO as possible, and for most of my photography, I can get away with this; but for wildlife and some other low-light photography (such as band/musician performance photography), I have simply needed to push the ISO to achieve acceptable shutter speeds to freeze movement in low light.

# ISO Sensitivity Images
1 100 835
2 200 342
3 400 170
4 800 58
5 1,600 35
6 50 31
7 320 24
8 1,250 22
9 500 19
10 1,000 17
11 640 13
12 3,200 11
13 160 11
14 250 6
15 6,400 4
16 125 2


According to the data, the most extreme ISO sensitivity rating I have used is 6,400.

Year of Capture

The next set of criteria I examined in my image statistics was time; specifically, which years, months and days of the week were more popular.

Again there are some unsurprising results, but a few others stood out as interesting.

# Year of Capture Images
1 2007 334
2 2008 304
3 2006 212
4 2012 189
5 2009 183
6 2010 113
7 2015 101
8 2011 67
9 2013 52
10 2014 33
11 2005 12


Over a ten-year period, my most frequent activity happened in 2006, 2007 and 2008.  It was during this time that I rapidly developed my interest in photography, and spent many weekends shooting, as well as travelling domestically on photography-centric trips.

I was also a more generalist photographer, shooting all manner of random subjects.  My style and subject matter preferences were only in their infancy of development.  All of this explains my proliferation at the time.

The year 2005 features as the least frequent year.  It was the year in which I first bought a DSLR.  I had been shooting digitally since 2002, but had not really established much of a presence online, and I didn’t consider photography a serious or even semi-serious interest.

From 2011 to 2015, my output took a serious decline in frequency.  I became less interested, de-motivated, occupied by other interests and priorities, and I had become extremely fussy about what I would shoot and when.

With the exception of 2005, for which very few images are still published online, my record low year is 2014.  I really shot very little, and my peaks of interest were few and far between, with only a few images here and there, most of which were captured during domestic trips we took, and during two photographic workshops I attended during the year.

I had stopped shooting seascapes — in fact, my last seascape image was shot in 2013.  Even now, I remain disinterested in shooting seascapes, and it feels like a photographically significant chapter of life which has more or less closed.  I know I can always return, but for now the desire remains lacking.

The year 2012 is the exception to this long-running ‘lull’ period, in that a massive trip to South Africa was the main contributor towards my output that year.  I also had some frequent and productive seascape shoots that year as a result of a photography group with which I was quite actively involved at the time.

The present year, 2015, remains a low-output year, except for one event: our Kenya trip.  I shot thousands of images in Kenya, and have published 95 images at the time of writing.  Otherwise, I have shot only six images, and it was late in April before I shot the first!

Month of Capture

The breakdown of months is interesting from an academic viewpoint.

Here are the details:

# Month of Capture Images
1 June 270
2 January 193
3 October 167
4 April 157
5 December 141
6 May 134
7 March 112
8 September 104
9 July 95
10 February 92
11 August 71
12 November 64


I cannot offer any explanation as to why June is in the top spot; even though most of 2015‘s images were shot in June, it would still be a popular month.  In my part of the world, it’s winter, and pre-dawn seascape shoots during winter mean being cold and wet.  Unappealing!

January’s number-two place makes sense, as I tend to take time off work in December and January, and apparently I’ve been out and about over the years.

November is the least popular month, which is interesting, as 2015 has been a low-output year in terms of quantity, and November is only a month away!

Day of Capture

There isn’t much of interest or surprise in the statistical breakdown of days.

When I was a frequent (weekly, even!) seascape shooter, Sunday was my day.  Saturday follows very closely behind due to its status as a weekend day which is generally busier than Sunday.

# Day of Capture Images
1 Sunday 583
2 Saturday 561
3 Friday 145
4 Wednesday 103
5 Tuesday 85
6 Monday 72
7 Thursday 51

Time Trend

Lastly, I have produced a table showing the number of images shot by month and year.

I haven’t looked much into what this indicates, as the year and month breakdowns already discussed paint a better picture; but it remains never the less an interesting exercise to see how my actvity during the same month over an eleven-year period can experience peaks and troughs.

Time Trend Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
2005 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 4 2 3 0 2 12
2006 3 22 2 22 12 42 7 6 19 20 13 44 212
2007 65 0 66 5 17 19 19 9 46 27 32 29 334
2008 30 36 20 34 16 52 24 14 13 14 8 43 304
2009 30 16 9 31 24 28 12 5 4 11 5 8 183
2010 5 5 9 13 11 13 15 16 15 2 3 6 113
2011 8 3 0 15 8 4 6 5 1 10 3 4 67
2012 27 8 6 28 12 13 10 4 1 80 0 0 189
2013 21 0 0 1 19 3 1 2 0 0 0 5 52
2014 4 2 0 4 13 1 0 6 3 0 0 0 33
2015 0 0 0 4 2 95 0 0 0 0 0 0 101
Total 193 92 112 157 134 270 95 71 104 167 64 141 1,600


In conclusion, it has been an interesting exercise to gather and analyse my image data to see which cameras, lenses, exposure settings and points in time were most and least significant; and if you’ve read this far, congratulations, as this indeed is a long, dry article which analyses the sorts of information about which most people would not care.

For me, the data I now gather and report can be useful in recognising trends in my photography over the years from an EXIF data viewpoint, but it essentally remains little more than an academic exercise which was rewarding from a creative and geeky viewpoint.

Kenya: So Where Exactly Were We?

For the past few months I have chronicled our adventures in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya on a day-by-day basis, detailing in words and pictures the incredible experiences we had.

For those who have not been to the Mara, it can be difficult to picture the geography and understand how vast it is, and just how scattered were our various sightings.

When I travel, I like to record the precise details of every place we visit.  I use a smartphone app which does not require cellular network connectivity (but will use it if present), but uses the phone’s GPS receiver to record the coordinates of wherever I am.

At each place we visited, and at each wildlife sighting or other stop we made, I recorded our position and the details about what took place there.

When we returned, I plotted all of the details onto a Google map, breaking down the locations by days, game drives and other activities and places of interest.

We were based in the Mara North Conservancy (MNC), which is a privately-managed, 28,000 hectare region of the greater Mara ecosystem, located close to the Mara River which forms its northern-most border.

Neighbouring conservancies (also known as private concessions) and reserves are Lemek Conservancy to the north, Motorogi Conservancy to the east, Olare Orok Conservancy to the south-east, and the Maasai Mara National Reserve to the south.

We stayed at the magnificent Elephant Pepper Camp, a luxurious semi-permanent eco-lodge, which is positioned to the south of the C13 road, with Mara Rianta to the west and Aitong to the east.

To the south of MNC lies the Maasai Mara National Reserve, which itself is over 1,500 square kilometres in size, and which forms part of the greater Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, spanning both Kenya and Tanzania to the south.  On one of our days, we departed Mara North and headed into the main reserve, where we encountered wild cheetahs for the first time.

The Mara is 270km west of Nairobi, and takes 45 minutes to reach by light plane, with numerous airstrips being spread around the Mara, two of which we used being within a few hundred metres of each other.

The Mara North Conservancy and the Maasai Mara National Reserve are both quite famous, and were extensively featured in the superb BBC series Big Cat Diary.  One particular leopard was filmed at a spot called Leopard Gorge, which lies to the south-west of Elephant Pepper Camp, and, incidentally, was the location of our first leopard sighting in the Mara.

So, here is a map which shows where exactly we were, with images captured at many of the places.

Before and after our Mara visit, we were based in Nairobi, and predominantly travelled to various places of interest in Karen and Langata to the south-west.

I hope readers find interest in seeing where we were, and gain a greater understanding of an undeniably fantastic part of the world.

Maasai Mara: Day 7 of 7

Our final day in the Mara had arrived, and we had one morning game drive before we would need to depart Elephant Pepper Camp and the fantastic people, animals, places and experiences that had made up the previous week.

The day was quite subdued, and there was that ever-persistent feeling we had experienced before on our final day in a magical part of Africa: the feeling that we had little time left, and that the peak of our adventure had well and truly passed.

We would be flying back to Nairobi later that day, and the pace of life was going to change.

Like every other day, we started early, heading out into the Mara plains in darkness.  We didn’t stop anywhere for a landscape shoot on this particular morning, as the sky was not promising, and we’d achieved some very pleasing images on previous mornings.

Francis took us in a northerly direction, across the C13 and to the region half-way between camp and the Mara River.

We found a solitary River Pride lioness in the scrub.  She was resting in a clump of bushes, and while I had my lens trained on her, the photography wasn’t looking likely to eventuate, and as it turned out, I didn’t fire a single shot.

The lioness didn’t seem to be in the mood for modelling, and she stayed in the thick clump of bushes, offering us only fleeting sightings as we circled around the bushes to gain a better view.

Usually when one sees a solitary lioness, it indicates the presence of cubs that are being kept away from the pride until they’re older; but we didn’t see any signs of other lions in the area, although almost certainly other River Pride members would have been not too far away.

It’s always a pleasure to see lions in the wild, and we’d had lighting sightings on every day we spent in the Mara, except perhaps for day six.  I can find no reference to lion sightings in my records for that day, so if we did see one, it was fleeting.

We had seen big cats on every single day, however, and being cat fans, that was enormously pleasing.

We soon left the River Pride lioness, and headed back east to the spot along a Mara River tributary at which we had witnessed mating leopards on the previous evening.  We wanted to see if we could find them again, as mating leopards can spend time together in the same general area for several days.  There was a chance we would find them.

Unfortunately, we didn’t.  If they were in the immediate area, they were well hidden; or perhaps they’d moved further north or south along the tributary.  We certainly didn’t see them, and our last sighting was on the previous night when they’d crossed the water into thicker scrub.

While Francis was slowly navigating around the area in search for the leopards, we saw something we didn’t expect.

To the left of the vehicle, just over eight metres away, a dik-dik emerged from the scrub.

The dik-dik is a very small, rapidly-moving antelope.  We had not seen one before, so naturally we readied ourselves for some photography.

I was fortunate enough to land one image of the dik-dik as it paused momentarily under the cover of the thicket.



The dik-dik stayed for perhaps a minute before darting off into the distance.

It was an unexpected but pleasant sighting, and I landed just the one pleasing image of the antelope looking straight at me.

Once the dik-dik had exited the scene, we soon did the same, and crossed the river, heading in an easterly direction.

Still in the same general area where we had seen the two leopards the night before, a lone hyena emerged from the distance, making his way closer to us in the fairly open grasses.

Hyenas and leopards are eternal enemies, and a leopard will flee if the presence of a hyena is detected.  Hyenas are certainly known for stealing leopard kills, and in fact, stealing anything they find; but more critically, hyenas will kill leopard cubs.

If the leopards were anywhere nearby, we had little chance of seeing them, particularly due to the presence of the hyena.  We didn’t capture any images of the hyena, but it was pleasant enough just to see him scouting around during the quiet part of the morning, with us being the only other evidence of life in the immediate area.

Soon enough, we headed north-west, to a spot along the Mara River trib, north of where we had seen the leopards.

Within a short time we had found a pod of hippos wallowing in the muddy waters.

We were very close, and it was the closest distance to a hippo at which we’d ever been.  We had seen hippos in Mpumalanga snd KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, but they were much further away, and more submerged than the animals we had just encountered.

It seemed that the hippos were somewhat uncomfortable by our presence, as there was grunting, sizing up and restlessness apparent.

I captured an image of a large hippo in his element.

Master of My Domain

Master of My Domain

This hippo was definitely the master of his domain.

During the time we spent with the hippos, the warmth of the early morning light descended upon the landscapee, and with the sun behind us on the eastern bank of the trib, the nice pink and brown colours of the hippos stood out.

As we slowly moved around, the hippos were becoming agitated, and it looked like there was going to be a fight for dominance between two of the larger males.  The mood was icy, and we were expecting and hoping to see something exciting; but alas, it never eventuated, and the hippos calmed down somewhat.

We continued to watch and photograph, and eventually, one of the hippos exited the water and began grazing on the western side of the trib.  It was our first time seeing a hippo out of water.

Hippo on the Bank

Hippo on the Bank

He certainly was impressive, and it was nice to see him out in the open, grazing on the short grasses 28 metres away from us.

The light became warmer as we watched the hippos, so towards the end of our time with them, I captured a few images of the richly-coloured animals semi-submerged in the muddy water.

I'm Watching You

I’m Watching You

This hippo was definitely keeping an eye on us!

Soon enough, we headed back to camp.

It was a quiet morning game drive, which could come nowhere near the excitement we had experienced with such sightings as male lion brothers bonding, mating leopards, the Cheli Pride feasting on a zebra, and a magnificent leopard in an elephant pepper tree; but we had experienced some new sights and sounds on this quiet morning.

We headed south, back to camp without stopping for any further images.

Back at camp, we had breakfast, and began the unpleasantness of packing and getting ready to depart.

We still had a few hours before our flight, so we spent time at camp in the lounge.  We had met a few other guests over the previous few days: a mother and daughter from Florida, who were travelling in different parts of Kenya and Tanzania, staying only for a few days at different lodges; and a Hong Kong Chinese couple, for whom this was their first trip to Africa.

Both pairs of guests were also due to depart that day, so we said our goodbyes and set about the uncomfortable business of lingering, knowing that we had little time and that there was little we could do but wait until it was time to head to the airstrip.

The mood at that stage was somewhat sombre.

Eventually, it was our time to leave.  We were the last to leave, and this wasn’t the first time we had experienced the loneliness and flat, empty feeling as everything and everyone around us had departed.

Time was running short, and we had to depart, as there was only one flight out of the Mara, and if we missed it, well, we’d have to stay another night.  What a shame that would be!

We had a few group photos with Mario and Francis, Patrick and Sophie (the resident managers of Elephant Pepper Camp) and the other staff.  Then it was time to climb into the 4WD for the last time, and head north to Mara Shikar Airstrip, which was very close to where we had been with the hippos earlier that morning.

When we arrived at the airstrip, there were no signs of life, and the plane wasn’t on the ground, or anywhere in the air nearby.  We started to become concerned, as we were the only people there.

Francis got on the radio, and it turned out that our flight was leaving from Mara North Airstrip, which is only a few hundred metres west, perpendicular to Shikar; but it takes a good five to eight minutes to get there.

We scrambled back into the 4WD and Francis gunned it, as we had only a few minutes to head the long way around in order to get to a place that was a few hundred metres due west of where we had just been.

Francis drove very quickly, and I felt like he was going at 80-90km/h; but I looked at the speedometer, and we were travelling at 40km/h.  In the Mara, that’s fast.  We were so used to edging our way around at a very slow speed — probably barely more than 10km/h most of the time — that 40km/h felt like motorway speeds.

A few minutes later, we arrived at Mara North Airstrip and boarded the plane just in time.  Shortly thereafter, we were in the air, departing a place we did not want to depart.  Barely a word was spoken on the 45-minute flight, as we looked down over the plains, still emotionally immersed in what had been a magical week.

Mario had originally planned to stay overnight in Nairobi, but during the morning he had been in contact back home, and he needed to return to Spain to sort out some paperwork; so he changed his flights, and rather than spending a night at the Boma Hotel with us and travelling around Karen and Langata with us on the following day, he flew out of Nairobi that night.

We had one more day in Kenya the next day, but our time in the Mara had concluded.

It had been a magical trip, and here and now, writing about it over three months after, I still long to be there, and cannot get the place out of my head.

It feels so familiar now, and writing about these adventures, though a long process, has kept the memories very much alive in both of our minds.  Watching the BBC series Big Cat Diary, which was shot in the Mara, and which made Leopard Gorge famous, also keeps the place fresh and familiar.

Life is so fast-paced, that despite being in a completely different environment, experiencing things that are far from routine, it really did not take long before the pervasive strength and persistence of real life dragged me, kicking and screaming, from a world in which I would rather be; so keeping the Mara alive and fresh in my mind is not only desirable, but altogether necessary.

From that trip, I still have more images, and a lot of video, to process; so there will be more from our trip to publish; but just as our trip to the Maasai Mara concluded, so too has this series of articles.

I hope readers have enjoyed hearing about our time in the Mara, and that those who haven’t been there before will be inspired to go there.

It really is a special place.

Maasai Mara: Day 6 of 7

By the sixth day in the Mara North Conservancy in Kenya’s south-west, our incredible safari was rapidly drawing to a conclusion; but despite the ticking clock, a lot can happen in two days, and day six would be an amazing day, as we would later discover.

In addition to the routine morning and afternoon game drives, we had a few other plans.  One of the highlights of the day would be a visit to a traditional Maasai village located in the conservancy, where we would experience the culture of the Maasai.

The other activity we had that day was a portrait shoot.

One of the experiences Mario of South Cape Images likes to provide, is a combined cultural and portraiture session, in which photographers get to meet a Maasai tribesman and photograph him out on the Mara plains during dawn and sunrise.

Mario and Francis had arranged for us to meet Baba, a tall Maasai tribesman who lives in the Mara North Conservancy.  Contrary to popular opinion, not all indigenous Kenyans are tall, but Baba certainly was.

After our usual early start and brief morning campfire routine, we again departed into the darkness before any other guests rose from their slumber.  This time we had Baba with us, and dressed in traditional Maasai costume, and armed with a spear, we headed out to a familiar location not far west of camp: Mario’s Tree.

As we had often experienced overnight or early morning rain during our time in the Mara in June, the sky, while still dark, was moody and contained some good cloud, which would soon enough contribute to the images we captured.

Once we arrived at Mario’s Tree, we began setting up for a portraiture session with Baba.

I started with my 16-35mm lens, as I wanted to capture the vast expanse, but with both Baba and the acacia tree being prominent.

It was still dawn, and the morning sky had a blue cast to it, with some distinct, but not yet intense, reds and oranges on the horizon.

I shot Baba in silhouette, but I was not finding the images all that pleasing, so I switched to the 70-200,  and found that the composition was much more striking and pleasing.  This time I omitted the tree, and focused only on Baba, having him face to the north so that I could capture him in profile.

Mario also found that he wasn’t happy with the wider angles.

The sky had not yet become intsense, but it was rapidly changing.  Five minutes later, there was rich orange and purple in the sky as I continued to capture images of Baba in silhouette.

Less than two minutes later the sun peeked over the horizon and I continued shooting.  Mario and Xenedette had moved further back, and mario had switched to his 300mm lens.  Meanwhile, I saw a pleasing composition, and was waiting for the sun to be positioned at the right place as it rapidly rose.

Mario was excited about the new composition he had found from further back with a longer lens, and was begging me to come over and shoot with him.  I was too committed to the shot I was anticipating, and yelled across the plains that I was working on a particular image.

Mario was becoming anxious, as he was afraid I’d lose the opportunity he saw.

I stuck to my guns, though, and landed the image I wanted:

Maasai at Sunrise

Maasai at Sunrise

I had to wait for the sun to be in the right position for this image, as I wanted it positioned between Baba and his spear.

I shot a few more images, and then raced over to Mario, finally placating him.

He showed me the image he had landed with a longer lens, and it was stunning.

Mario had attached his 1.4x tele-converter to his 300mm lens, so he had a 420mm focal length. I had left my 400mm lens in the 4WD, so rather than losing time while I fetched the 400, I borrowed Mario’s 300 and shot what became one of my signature images on this trip, and what is currently featured as the desktop wallpaper on one of my computers.

Baba the Maasai

Baba the Maasai

To me, this image is one of those images which captures the essence of the Mara.  It’s a postcard-style image, which definitely makes it clear that the location is Africa.

Soon after shooting this image, I grabbed the big 400 and shot another image, this time capturing the silhouetted shape of Baba’s earrings.

Staring at the Sun

Staring at the Sun

I love all three of these images, but what sets this apart, besides the earrings, is the tight composition, and the subtle light that can be seen shining through Baba’s traditional Maasai robe as it drapes over his arm.

The sun continued to rise, and we decided to start shooting frontal portraits of Baba, with the sun behind us this time.

Firstly, I shot a full-length portrait of Baba in the golden hour light, with the Mara plains and scattered acacia trees behind him.

The Maasai

The Maasai

I played with a few compositions, and eventually decided on my signature style of a tight crop and a wide aperture.

I wanted to give Baba a sense of place, but focusing more on his face, so in the intensely warm morning light I carefully composed my images, and shot with a wide aperture, but also included the subtle shape of a distant acacia tree in the background.

This was the image I landed:



At about 7:15am, we wrapped up, and headed east towards camp to drop off Baba, as we were to continue on a game drive and see what we’d find.

Unusually, we didn’t find any big cats on this particular morning, but we still enjoyed some good sightings of other African fauna.

After we dropped off Baba, we encountered a black-bellied bustard just a few minutes south of camp, so we stopped to photograph it, as the background and light were pleasing, and the bustard was calling.

Using a long, 800mm focal length, I opted for a very tight crop of the bustard, with the background all but obliterated.

Black-Bellied Bustard

Black-Bellied Bustard

We spent about ten minutes with the bird, and decided to try and capture it at full call, as it was periodcally calling, and we had quickly learned its routine of contracting its neck such that its head was close to its back, followed by a rapid neck extension, during the height of which it emired its call.

We were all firing off shots rapidly, capturing the entire sequence.

The highlight, of course, was capturing the bustard at full neck extension, with its beak open during its call.

I fortunately landed such an image.

The Bustard Can Sing

The Bustard Can Sing

After we concluded photographing the bustard, Francis took us in a south-easterly direction towards the Olare Orok River.  We were looking for a nice spot to stop for some breakfast, but along the way we encountered some male impalas up on a ridge, so we stopped for a few photos.

Antelopes can be difficult animals to photograph, and like zebras, they look directly at you — until you have a camera trained on them, at which time they turn away or otherwise hide in scrub, all of which destroys the possibility of landing decent images.

We soon abandoned the uncooperative impala herd and headed a little further south-west before stopping for breakfast.

It was good to jump out of the vehicle and get some circulation happening.  When game driving in Africa, it’s easy to lose track of time, and before you know it, you’ve been sitting with your legs at a 90-degree angle for hours at a time.

After breakfast we headed further south-west, where we encountered some grazing elephants.

Grazing Elly

Grazing Elly

After spending a bit more time with the ellies, we headed north, back towards camp.  Around ten minutes later, and not far east from camp, we spotted a juvenile martial eagle high in a tree, so we stopped to capture some images.  We had seen a juvenile martial eagle in South Africa, but it was nice to see one in Kenya too.

Juvenile Martial Eagle

Juvenile Martial Eagle

I needed 800mm of focal length for this image, but it still wasn’t enough!

We headed back to camp for some lunch, rest and time to deal with images and online happenings.

After lunch, we had plans to visit a nearby Maasai village to experience the culture of the Maasai people.

Francis drove us north-east of camp to the village, which is not far south of the C13 road which runs to Mara Rianta and beyond to the west, and Lemek and beyond to the east.

We spent around an hour in the Maasai village, where the people sang and danced for us, exposing us to their beautiful music.  We also got to step inside one of the bomas, where a tribal elder explained how the Maasai live.

During the singing and dancing, Mario and I got on the ground in the middle of the circle, photographing the Maasai people from below as they performed.  Everyone had a great time, despite the heat and the constant flies.

We were fortunate enough to be able to photograph the Maasai people, and here is a portrait I captured of a young Maasai women, who was one of the women who sang and danced for us upon our arrival in their village.

Portrait of a Young Maasai Woman

Portrait of a Young Maasai Woman

The Maasai people also sell various African souvenirs, which Xenedette was very interested in buying.  She would have bought everything if we had more cash on us (and could carry it home), but she got down to the serious business of haggling with the Maasai over prices, after trimming down the number of items in which we were interested.  We only had very limited cash on us, as we just didn’t need to carry a lot in the Mara.

We came away with some very nice Maasai souvenirs, and it was a fantastic experience to be surrounded by Maasai people in their traditional village.

After our visit with the Maasai people, we headed back out into the Mara plains surrounding them, where soon enough, something very special awaited us.

Francis lead us north-west of the Maasai village, to a dense cluster of trees.  We didn’t know it, but he had been looking for leopards.

Francis had spotted a beautiful young leopardess resting peacefully high up in a large tree, basking in the hot afternoon sun.

We were again very excited to be in the presence of a leopard.  Leopards are so elusive, that just seeing one is an experience of its own.

We captured plenty of images of the leopardess sleeping, but in the glary conditions and contending with dappled light, photography wasn’t particularly easy.  I may go through those images at some stage and publish something.

We sat there for a while, watching the leopardess sleep, yawn and look around, continuing to snap away as she engaged in typical leopardess behaviour.

25 minutes later, something amazing happened: a male leopard emerged from the thick, long grasses, and began to climb the tree in which we found the leopardess.

Not only had we seen a leopard resting in a tree, but we had seen two leopards at the same sighting.  Double the excitement!

What we didn’t know, but quickly learned, was that these two leopards were mating!

Here is an image I captured of the larger and older male leopard commencing a tree climb:

Amourous Climber

Amourous Climber

He didn’t need to climb much higher than this, as the female descended and began walking into the scrub.

The female soon enough swished her tail and brushed against the male, signalling her readiness for mating.

Before we knew it, a ferocious, growling roar was to be heard as the male mounted the young female and engaged in only a few seconds of mating before he quickly jumped clear to avoid being attacked.

Here is the young leopardess resting in the grass after a number of intense mating sessions:

Resting Leopardess

Resting Leopardess

News of leopards — particularly mating leopards — travels fast in the Mara, and three or four other vehicles had descended upon the scene to watch a magnificent encounter between two elusive and territorial African big cats.

I cannot recall how many times the leopards mated, but every minute or two, they were at it again, and were constantly moving around the area as they engaged in the cycle.

Photography was challenging, particularly as there was rapid movement, constant movement, thick bush and falling light.

I did manage to land a few images of leopards during rare opportunities of rest in the open, including this image of the large male, whom I’ve called “Big Boy” owing to his huge build:

Big Boy

Big Boy

Isn’t he a stunning leopard?

Not even a minute after I captured this image of Big Boy in the grass, he approached the leopardess who was resting nearby.

Growl of the Leopardess

Growl of the Leopardess

I was fortunate enough to fire the camera shutter at the precise moment the leopardess told the male in no uncertain terms that she did not appreciate his advances; but she soon relented and let him know when she was ready to mate.

Some twenty seconds later, it was on again, as these two beautiful leopards played the mating game.

The Mating Game

The Mating Game

A minute or two after this explosive session, we all decided to depart, as the leopards had moved further into the dense bush by the water, and light was falling away.  We would return the next morning to see if we could find them again.

On that magical note, we headed back to camp for dinner, drinks, some great discussion and time to reflect on the incredible sightings we had just experienced with two of Africa’s most elusive animals.

Our sixth day in the Mara had been intense, as had they all, and what a fantastic way to close off another day in Kenya.

Stay tuned for our seventh and final day in the Mara, during which we would embark upon our final game drive, but still have some new experiences for the first time.

Maasai Mara: Day 5 of 7

Our plan for day 5 in the Kenyan wilderness was to depart the Mara North Conservancy and head south into the public Maasai Mara National Reserve.  We were in search of cheetahs, the only big cats we hadn’t yet seen.

Rather than heading out for two drives (morning and afternoon) near camp, we made a single day trip further afield into the main reserve, which for us would mean more first-time experiences, as we’d later discover.

5am rolled around pretty quickly, so we went through the morning routines, spent a very short time around the camp fire, and headed out, as the main reserve was a longer journey.

Again we wanted to capture the beauty of dawn and sunrise in Kenya, so we headed to Mario’s Tree, where a fantastic sky was to soon greet us.

The first frame was captured at 6:20am, by which time there was a sliver of intense red near the horizon under a bluish, cloud-laden sky.

Less than fifteen minutes later, I captured the first of a few images I’d publish from this sunrise, and rather than composing my landscape images in the usual landscape orientation, I rotated the camera 90 degrees and captured a vertical composition of Mario’s Tree.

Mario's Tree

Mario’s Tree

What was also unusual about this approach was that I had decided to horizontally centre the subject, which I so rarely ever do.

In landscape photography, rule-of-thirds (RoT) composition, whereby one places both the horizon and the main subject at the imaginary horizontal and vertical lines which would appear if the frame was divided into a grid of nine sections, is usually the practice followed; but sometimes, even in landscape photography, breaking this ‘rule’ can work better than the predictability ensured by RoT composition.

I think it worked well here.

While I photographed this iconic acacia tree in portrait orientation, I naturally returned the camera to its default position and captured a composition in landscape orientation too.

Lone Acacia

Lone Acacia

Again I centred the subject horizontally, which I think works just as well here as it does in the vertically-composed image.

In this version, the negative space on either side of the tree conveys the vast expanse of land so typical in the Maasai Mara/Serengeti ecosystem.

What a fantastic sky this was, and a sight I rarely see at home these days.  My landscape images contained rich reds, blues and greens as the sun gradually rose over Kenya.

Now, I do not often like to include man-made objects in scenes depicting nature, but I decided upon a third approach to this morning’s session at Mario’s Tree.

Mario and I decided to shoot some video footage, so he asked Francis to drive the vehicle across the scene so we could capture the presence of the 4WD in the Mara wilderness as a storytelling device.

Upon Mario’s commands, Francis obligingly drove the vehicle from left to right, and right to left, several times, and at different speeds, as we captured stock footage for later use in some video productions.

Side-note: At the time of writing, I have yet to produce a video from the many clips I shot throughout the trip.  I have enough footage for several distinct videos, but it’s a larger project which requires an investment in time.  I’ll produce those videos eventually, but for now my story remains confined to words and images.

For my next image, I decided, also unusually, to place the 4WD in the scene, with the acacia tree taking a more subservient role in the image.  Here is the result:

Great Parking Spot

Great Parking Spot

I titled this image Great Parking Spot.  Great parking spot, indeed!

For my final image during this morning’s visit to Mario’s Tree, which is five or ten minutes almost due west of Elephant Pepper Camp, I decided upon another storytelling image, this time placing not only the vehicle, but our people, in the scene.

I shot a silhouette of Xenedette, Mario and Francis, standing on the savannah, cameras, lenses and monopod in hand, with the 4WD parked adjacent to them, and Mario’s Tree also prominent in the scene, all set against the intensely rich reds and blues of the magical dawn that had greeted us.

On Safari

On Safari

This scene really captures the essence of our trip specifically, and of an African wildlife photography safari in general, and it will always be a memorable image of a memorable trip.  The only thing missing is me, as I was naturally behind the camera.  In hindsight, I really should have included myself in the scene, too.  I shot it from a considerable distance, so it would have been a sprint across the wet grass to get into the scene on time.

Mario had brought a small, compact camera for Francis to use, and he made frequent use of it during the trip — at least, when he wasn’t driving, setting up breakfasts and sundowners, or looking for lions, leopards et al.

On the left is Francis, presumably “chimping” at the images he’d captured that morning.  In the middle is Xenedette, wearing a poncho and holding her Canon EOS 60D and my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM.  On the right is Mario, with his Canon EOS-1D X and Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM mounted on my monopod.  Behind the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM which captured the image, is me!

After spending half an hour at Mario’s Tree, it was time to make tracks.  Francis took us due south, further away from camp, but still within the Mara North Conservancy.

Mario loves capturing silhouettes of African wildlife, and one of his signature images, titled Rhino Sunrise, depicts a silhouette of a critically endangered rhino in Kruger National Park, set against the low but rising sun.

This morning we were in the mood for silhouettes, and shortly after departing Mario’s Tree, we saw a few giraffes.  While there are lots of giraffes in the Mara, we didn’t see a great deal of them, and didn’t spend much time photographing them; but this morning we made more of an effort, which turned out to be worthwhile.

I grabbed quite a few frames of a distant giraffe.  Mario was snapping away.  We were both outside the vehicle, so I captured a few images of him in action.  I then returned to photographing the giraffes.

For a strong silhouette of an African plains animal in the open, you need a few ingredients:

  1. a photogenic animal;
  2. a photogenic animal in the right place;
  3. a low angle so the animal isn’t ‘sinking’ into the ground;
  4. a strongly coloured background; and
  5. a photogenic animal in the right place, high on the horizon, doing something interesting against a strongly coloured background.

Easy, right?  Well, yes!

Here’s what I captured:

Wait for Me, Mum!

Wait for Me, Mum!

What a moment!  Not only had I captured a giraffe on the horizon, but the giraffe was on the move, her tail almost straight out, with her calf closely following.  Both animals were cleanly and sharply defined, which is essential in effective silhouette images.

This is one of those ‘story’ images, whereby something interesting is happening.  It’s so easy to get caught up in ‘posed’ shots of African animals sitting or standing around doing not much; but better wildlife photography depicts interesting or uncommon moments — something to elicit an emotional response in the telling of a story.

Seeing a juvenile giraffe following its mother across the savannah early in the morning is one of those images which tells the story of the African wilderness, as indeed do many other moments.

Through Mario’s encouragement and influence, and my increased experience with African wildlife photography, this trip would be more about capturing the story unfolding than just the actors in between takes.

Now, by this time the sky was a bit grungy; there was faint colour, but it wasn’t the striking and dramatic sky we had captured earlier up north at Mario’s Tree.  It was that “meh” time of the morning, which falls between dawn/sunrise, and golden hour.  The “meh” time is the lull between two peak periods of intense colour and light in the morning (and again in the afternoon between golden hour and sunset/dusk).

I had to push the colour and the contrast in this image, as the colour was present, but rather subdued.  The trick was to avoid going overboard, and I think I succeeded.

What’s also very appealing to me about this image is that the sun’s rays can be scene shining down on our giraffes.

Later in the day, when we were back at camp in the afternoon in the library tent we had commandeered for use as our office and charging station, Mario and I again engaged in strong debate about the merits of an image of mine.

It was similar to the leopard image I had shot early in the trip, whereby Mario and everyone else who saw it were raving about it, and I was dissatisfied, as my expectations were set pretty high.

The same general dissent transpired, this time in relation to my giraffe silhouette.  Mario and Xenedette had worked on similar images across the table from me, and I was working on mine.  I wasn’t all that taken by the image at first, and insisted that it was nothing special; but again, Mario, far more experienced than I, countered.  Mario was happy with it, and both he and Xenedette had shot very pleasing images; I just wasn’t quite convinced yet about my own images.

As I continued to work the image, I saw the merit of it, and certainly a few people who have seen the image consider it to be one of the more stand-out images from this trip.

Okay, so it worked.  I eventually realised it was better than I had initially thought.

Mario: 2; me: 0.

Meanwhile, back in the wilderness, many hours before the post-processing and image merit debate, we wrapped up photographing the giraffes.

Less than ten minutes from where we had captured silhouettes of the giraffes, we spotted a tawny eagle perched on a branch close to where we were passing, so we stopped, and again in silhouette mode, decided to capture the eagle in flight just as it launched from the branch.

The Eagle's Flight

The Eagle’s Flight

A few minutes later we continued southward for the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

It would be nearly an hour before we captured our next frames.  We probably spotted various plains game along the way, but we didn’t stop to photograph anything.

Where we were headed was about half-way between camp and the Kenya-Tanzania border.

After more driving and discussion, we entered the main reserve, which is quite different to the private conservancies.  In the public reserve, vehicles are not allowed to drive off-road, and must stick to the established tracks.  This makes photography challenging, as one cannot get into a good position, and if something very interesting is happening well away from the road, if your view is obstructed, or your lens isn’t long enough, the pickings are slim.

Our next sighting would be incredible.

At 8:41am, we encountered a large pride of lions called the Double Crossing Pride, which inhabits the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

This pride was the third pride we had encountered on the trip.

The lions were congregated around a deceased elephant, and many other vehicles from all parts of the reserve had descended upon the scene.

From what we could tell, the lions hadn’t killed the elephant; it had probably passed from natural causes rather than predation, but it certainly provided a huge meal for the Double Crossing Pride.

We spent time capturing images of three large lionesses feasting on the elephant, but trouble was brewing.

A deceased animal rarely goes unnoticed in the Mara, as lions, hyenas, vultures and other predators are always on the lookout.

In this case, hyenas also began to arrive on the scene, and typical of these greedy carnivores, they wanted a piece of the action.

The lionesses weren’t in the mood for sharing, though.

More and more hyenas had also congregated nearby, and their behaviour and vocalisations were becoming increasingly aggressive.

The lions weren’t happy, and were roaring and hissing at the hyenas, who were becoming closer to mounting an attack.

Stay Away

Stay Away

In this image, I had isolated one of the Double Crossing Pride females as she exposed her teeth in anger at a nearby pack of hyenas, hissing and spitting at them in no uncertain terms to warn them to stay away.

Seeing a lion pride feasting on an elephant was another first-time experience on this trip, and seeing the aggression of lions, was also a real treat, as all other lions we had encountered in the Mara and the Kruger were placid.

In the following image, three of the large Double Crossing lionesses all had their say and warned the hyenas to back off:



The atmosphere was growing more and more tense, and it seemed certain that there would be a showdown.

All of a sudden, one of the seven or eight other vehicles at the scene took off.

I figured there was only one reason to depart a lion pride feasting and an imminent fight with hyenas: a better sighting somewhere else.  It had to be cheetahs!

Seconds after the first vehicle departed, other vehicles departed, and so did we.

There was massive excitement, as there just had to be something amazing awaiting us — not that what we had just seen wasn’t amazing enough.

As it turned out, it wasn’t a sighting somewhere else, but a sudden need to depart from a place at which we were not supposed to be.  The rangers had spotted all of the vehicles, and they were off-road at the lion sighting, which was a no-no!

The 4WDs dispersed, and we headed south-east.  We stopped for a quick breakfast, and then jumped back into the 4WD to search for more wildlife.

A little over 30 minutes after we departed the Double Crossing Pride, we caught our first glimpse of wild cheetahs!  There were five: a female and four sub-adult cubs.  Wow!

There was considerable distance between us, as even with 1,120mm of focal length, the cheetahs were quite small in the frame.  We could see them, though: one or two were sitting up upon a mound, scouting around, while the others lingered nearby.

Gradually, the cheetahs moved closer and closer to us, to the point where they walked right past us on the left side of the 4WD.

I captured the following image of a cheetah looking straight at us:

Spotted by a Cheetah

Spotted by a Cheetah

The time was approaching 11am, and the light was very harsh and glary.  I was struggling to photograph the cheetahs, both due to the harsh light and focus issues.  I unknowingly had my focus distance limiter switch on the wrong setting for the distance, which meant that the lens’s AF was not as accurate, and at times was missing, particularly as the cheetahs were moving closer and closer, not often staying still for very long.

While previewing the images I had captured, I became increasingly frustrated as I realised that I wasn’t landing the shots.  800mm is a challenging focal length to use, but add the extra complication of a moving subject, incorrect focus limiter setting and dreadful light, and the story wasn’t looking good.

The images, for the most part, were soft, and it took some time before I came to discover that I had landed a few decent images.

Mario explained that there was something about cheetah coats which makes them look soft when they’re captured.  I was sure that it wasn’t the cheetahs’ fault that my images were missing the mark.  I persevered, though.

We moved positions several times, often needing to get ahead of the cheetahs so we could wait for them to approach us.

Cheetah on Alert

Cheetah on Alert

Here, this young cheetah, while resting on the grass, remained alert in case the need to pursue food or safety arose.

During the time the cheetahs were close by, I managed to land a shot of typical cat behaviour, which very much reminded me of our own cat.

Here, the cheetah stretches after getting up from a resting position, while one of the other cats rests behind.

Cat Stretch

Cat Stretch

Soon enough, the cheetahs were on the move again, as they were in search of food, or at least, opportunities to secure a meal.

Cheetah on the Move

Cheetah on the Move

This cheetah is out on the open plains, where a cheetah feels comfortable in spite of ever-present danger, but where a leopard would seldom be seen.

African big cats share some similarities, but of the spotted varieties (leopards and cheetahs), the cheetah is distinctly different in behaviour to the leopard.  Cheetahs don’t mind being in the open, and love expansive plains and termite mounds.  Leopards, on the other hand, are extremely elusive, difficult to find, prefer to hunt under the cover of darkness, and hide in trees.

Francis moved the vehicle as we continued to pursue the cheetah family.

I finally landed some clean portraits, which, despite the harsh light, turned out decently.

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

This is one of my favourite images from the few good shots I landed.  Despite the harsh light, which often plunges a cheetah’s eyes into total darkness, I was able to bring out the details as the youngster surveys the surrounding territory.



In this image, two of the cheetahs are positioned quite close to us as we followed them.  There were some distant antelope — possibly a meal — which they were slowly and distantly pursuing.

Looking at Lunch

Looking at Lunch

This cheetah was certainly aware of what was in the distance as he gazes towards his quarry.

The cheetahs continued moving in an eastward direction across the plains, moving closer and closer to the Thomson’s gazelles in the distance.

Other vehicles had also arrived in the general area, and at one point as we were parked on the road watching the cheetahs slowly stalking, I counted maybe ten other vehicles, some of which were in the distance, and some of which had driven down the plain on the other side of the location at which the cheetahs were now resting under the shade of a thicket.

We stayed there for quite a while, as both the cheetahs, and us in turn, did nothing much.

Wildlife photography can be a huge waiting game, whereby one sits in anticipation, waiting for something interesting to happen.  There was always the possibility that the cheetahs would have gone into full hunting mode and taken down a gazelle, but on the other hand, they may have sat there for a few hours as the heat of the midday sun continued to shine down.

After sitting there for a while swatting flies, hunger, boredom and irritation began to increase, so we decided to abandon our current pursuit and have a lunch break.

Francis headed a considerable distance west.

Eventually he stopped at a tree on a hill, as we needed some shade.  Of all the trees he could have picked, he picked the one that had the remains of a dead antelope hanging off a branch.  We were in a leopard’s territory, as we would soon find out.

This kill had probably been made a few days ago, and there was little left, except for flies, which pestered us as we attempted to eat and drink in the persistent heat.

Just to the north of the tree was a watering hole which contained a hippo or two.

We finished lunch and climbed back into the 4WD, heading a little further west to a clump of trees on the south bank of the Olare Orok River, just north of the Ol Kiombo Airstrip.  A little further to the south is the Talek River, which the Olare Orok River joins.

We were definitely in leopard territory, and Francis found a stunning leopard high up in a tree.  I snapped a few frames as reference shots.  The light was terrible, there was dense foliage, and there were certainly no great opportunities for leopard photography.  This was one of those occasions on which it was enough just to see such an elusive cat.

After we’d spent some time with the leopard, Francis headed a little further south, where we encountered a lone female elephant grazing in very open, long-grassed plains.  The sky was looking a little moody as mid-afternoon wore on.  We captured a few images of the elly as she grazed on the bountiful reeds.

By now, I was ready to head back to camp, as we were considerably south, and it would be more than an hour’s drive back.

Thus ended our photography in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.  We made our way north, worn from a long, hot day, and my mood not particularly great due to the frustrating time I’d had photographing the cheetahs earlier.

We arrived back at camp, and Mario and I proceeded straight to post-processing HQ.  My mood had gone from bad to worse as I vocalised my frustration at my ineptitude at capturing good cheetah images.  Mario did his best to take the edge off, but seeing my increasing frustration and louder, less G-rated rants, he decided to take affirmative action to ease my frustrations.

He got up and headed over to one of the Maasai tribesman employed as a guard at the camp, and had a quiet word with him.  He came back and told me that I had an opportunity to photograph some portraits of a Maasai tribesman, so we headed a few metres away from HQ, where I set up for a shoot as the early eve descended upon us.

I later came to realise, as evidenced by the cheetah images I’ve published here, that I didn’t do as badly as I thought, and that there were some good images amongst the mediocrity.

As it turned out, this was our only sighting of cheetahs in the wild, and while I wasn’t initially convinced I had any decent images, I was again proven wrong (fortunately), and not only did I land some decent images, but the sighting itself was a first, and a fantastic opportunity even if there were no images.

We had finally achieved our goal of seeing wild cheetahs on this trip.

Not only that, but we had seen and photographed all three species of African big cats in the one day: lion, cheetah and leopard.  How great it was to see and photograph all three in a single drive!

After photographing the Maasai tribesman, I headed back into the library tent to process images, check online happenings and run through my religious ritual of offloading Xenedette’s and my images to the laptop, as well as backing up everything onto an external drive.

About an hour after the portrait session, I realised that twilight had arrived, so I ran out of the library to grab a shot of Elephant Pepper Camp during the blue hour.  Here is the result:

Around the Camp Fire

Around the Camp Fire

What a fantastic eco-lodge!  Elephant Pepper Camp was our home for seven days, and this very inviting camp fire, with the dining tent (right) and lounge tent (left) was what greeted us and all of the other guests every night after many hours spent out in the Mara with the magnificent wildlife.  The library tent, which Mario and I had commandeered, is off frame to the right.  Behind me are the flat plains of the Mara North Conservancy.

It had been a day of highs and lows, where my mood and tolerance for failing to live up to my own expectations had taken its toll; but looking back, I can honestly say that the day brought more good than bad.

A photographically frustrating day in the Mara is still a lot better than a great day at the office.

It had been another day of firsts:

  1. a new (to us) lion pride;
  2. lions feasting on an elephant;
  3. wild cheetahs (including cubs);
  4. a new (to us) leopard; and
  5. all three big cat varieties in one drive.

Stay tuned for day 6 of our Mara adventures, during which we will meet and photograph Maasai tribesman Baba against a stunning sunrise; encounter and photograph birds in action; and spend the afternoon and early evening in the presence of a pair of mating leopards.

Maasai Mara: Day 4 of 7

Our fourth day in the Maasai Mara region of south-western Kenya had arrived after a good night’s sleep following the magical big cat activity and stunning skies we had witnessed the day before.

As had become our habit by now, we were again the first to rise from slumber at 5am, walking through the darkness of the camp, with our Maasai guard leading the way, towards the freshly stoked but unoccupied campfire, where the other guests at Elephant Pepper Camp would meet later on, well after we had already departed into the plains under the cover of darkness to capture the pre-dawn light and sunrise.

We headed to Mario’s Tree again, which is located maybe one or two kilometres west of camp, taking five to eight minutes to reach by 4WD.

In the rapidly fading dawn, we parked a little further away from the acacia, and jumped out of the vehicle, armed with long lenses and the monopod.

We were aiming for a silhouette shot of Mario’s Tree against the stunning colours of the African morning sky, and it did not disappoint, as can be seen in the following image:

Crimson Mara

Crimson Mara

Some stunning clouds were lingering in the eastern sky as the sun below the horizon bounced warm light rays off the clouds, producing an intense crimson colour against which the lone acacia stood out.

There was scattered plains game in the distance, and in this image, I captured a disant topi watching us, acutely aware of our presence.

A short time later, the sun peeked over the horizon and quickly rose, warming up the plains as we snapped away with 300mm and 400mm lenses.  I captured a ‘post card’ image of the African sun rising, with Mario’s Tree providing striking contrast against the rich orange sky.

Sunrise on the Mara

Sunrise on the Mara

Again our topi friend photobombed me, but I wanted him in the scene, as he added a sense of scale, and added life and context to a scene which would otherwise just be a landscape.  There’s no mistaking this place for anywhere other than Africa when one sees an acacia tree and antelope on the savannah with a sunrise and warm sky in the distance.

We shot our last sunrise frame at 6:47am, by which time the sun had risen a little higher, but still remained quite low in the sky.

We decided to head off and look for lions again.  We ventured east-south-east, and four minutes later encountered a jackal scurrying around.  These little fox-like creatures can be very difficult to photograph, as they are constantly moving.  I snapped away furiously, and finally the jackal stood still enough for me to land a decent portrait.

The Jackal

The Jackal

By the time I captured this portrait, the light had become warm and almost golden, which made for a very flattering image of the jackal’s reddish coat against the greens and browns of the plains.

A mere few minutes later, we continued on our search for lions.  Along the way we spotted a lone topi and grabbed a quick shot, but we pressed on, and eventually arrived at a spot south-east of camp, where we had found the Cheli Pride.  There were two or three lionesses and as many as eight cubs, which strolled along in the medium-length grasses.

I captured a few images of the Cheli cubs wandering around in the warm morning light, but I didn’t capture anything particularly fantastic, as reeds were typically cutting right across the cubs’ faces, thus ruining the shots.

We only stayed with the pride for three minutes before Francis banked sharply north and drove a few hundred meters to the zebra kill site we had visited on the previous afternoon.  We wanted to see if there was anything left.  The Cheli Pride lions we had just seen had moved south of the kill site, as they were done resting, and probably didn’t hunt overnight.

We found a breeding herd of elephants close to the kill site.  The elephants were calm, which was probably due to the fact that the lions were a few hundred metres south, and didn’t pose a threat.

We spent a good 12 minutes watching and photographing the elephants, which were somewhat playful.  Some of the larger herd members interacted affectionately with each other, which sent our cameras into rapid-fire mode as we captured these majestic giants playing in the warm golden light.

Trunk Wrestling

Trunk Wrestling

Here, two of the larger adults are engaging in some trunk wrestling during playtime.

Elephant Embrace

Elephant Embrace

These tender moments provided a strong contrast to the extreme but necessary violence which had taken a few metres from here the previous morning as the Cheli Pride took down and devoured a zebra which had straggled from the herd and been targeted by the lionesses, always looking for their next meal.

We moved over to the kill site and found that there was not much left.  The hyenas had probably been there during the night, and there were only a few signs of the deceased zebra left.  However, in the morning light, four jackals and a lone hyena had arrived at the scene to steal the last of the pickings, which were enough to provide a meal for some predators.

The jackals picked away at a few pieces of zebra remains, and a hyena emerged from the distance, grabbed a chunk and trotted off into longer grasses in the distance, where I captured him on the lookout.

Hyena on the Lookout

Hyena on the Lookout

While the predation of an animal is nature’s way in the wilderness, and at times difficult to watch or accept, nothing goes to waste, and one animal’s demise represents the continued survival of other species.  It is a fine balance, but it works.

Francis drove a little to the west, where we witnessed and photographed an elephant engaging in a colossal toilet break, emptying himself of hundreds of litres of water he had been drinking during the previous evening.

We then headed south, as the morning was wearing on and hunger was setting in.  Shortly before we stopped for a bush breakfast near a Talek River tributary, we spotted the brilliant blue and orange colours of a Hildebrandt’s starling perched on a branch.

After breakfast, we headed back to camp.

We didn’t capture any more images along the way back, until we encountered a grassland pipit just a few minutes away from camp.  We stopped and photographed the pipit for a minute, during which time I captured the bird calling before he promptly flew away.

Grassland Pipit

Grassland Pipit

After lunch and some more time processing and publushing images, poking around online and doing some backing up of image and video files, we headed back out into the Mara plains.

Having encountered the Cheli Pride quite a few times, we went out looking for these lions again.  We had seen the lions in the morning, not far south from the kill site, so it was likely that they’d still be in the general area.

Francis drove south-east of camp, right back to the area where we had been in the presence of the Cheli Pride for the last few game drives.

Just north-east of where we had found the pride earlier in the morning, we found one of the Cheli lionesses sitting on her own, out in the open, on a patch of grass.

The 4pm afternoon light was casting a warm glow on her as she began looking for the rest of the pride members, who at the time were not immediately nearby.

In the warm light, I captured this portrait of the Cheli lioness as she awaited the return of her cubs:

Cheli Mother

Cheli Mother

She’s not paticularly happy, as shown by her hunched position and the semi-flattening of her ears.

Typical of an afternoon in the Mara, a thunderstorm was brewing, and rain soon started to fall.

The lioness was intently looking into the distance left of frame, and began roaring to call her cubs.  She was plagued by flies, as indeed were we from our position 16 metres away from her.  The constant pestering by the flies, and the rain, which began to soak her, made for an unhappy lioness.

She really wanted her cubs to return to her.  They were around… somewhere… but were not quick to respond to her roars.

The rain became heavier and heavier, and the lioness got wetter and wetter, as did we.  While we had a canvas canopy above us, many parts of it were torn, and the rain pooled up and dripped onto us, covering our lenses, as well as us!  My lens was already half-exposed to the rain as I perched it on the camera platform and continued photographing the lioness.

The lioness’s roars became more intent and louder as she sought the company of her cubs while suffering the unpleasantness of the pounding rain.

I captured this image of the lioness in the middle or a roar:

Roaring in the Rain

Roaring in the Rain

Every now and then, the rain-soaked lioness would shake her head rapidly to drain herself from the constant drenching she was enduring.

Mario and I began trying to capture the rapid motion of her periodic head shakes, and became very excited when we landed a sharp action image like this:

Shake It Off

Shake It Off

I would rate this as one of my best wildlife action images.  I would have liked a faster shutter speed to freeze the water droplets entirely, but the lioness’s eyes and nose are in sharp focus, which is pleasing.

She continued roaring for the pride, and showed her eager anticipation of the arrival of her cubs.



During the next 20 minutes, she continued sitting in this position, roaring in the rain, before she got up and wandered a few hundred metres north towards the kill site, where, maybe 20 metres from the site, she sat down again and continued roaring and smelling the air for signs of proximity to the other lions.

At long last, there were signs of the other Cheli Pride lion cubs and lionesses nearby, as they emerged from the distance and headed towards the lone lioness, finally placating her after much calling and longing for their return.

As the other pride members approached, the lions all headed a few hundred metres south, so we followed, and once we perched ourselves nearby, we were treated to the joy of seeing a pride reunited.

As the lions greeted, groomed and played together in the open grass, our cameras were intently snapping and filming away as the light rapidly fell during the transition from late afternoon to early evening.

Here is a view of some of the members of the Cheli Pride, reunited after a lioness’s long endurance of flies, a rainstorm and the absence of her family:



After some time spent with the Cheli Pride, it was time to head back to camp, and what a fantastic way to finish the day: seeing a pride of lions together, enjoying each other’s company, and grooming, playing and resting before the long night ahead.

Stay tuned for our adventures on day five of our trip to the Maasai Mara, during which we would head out of the Mara North Conservancy and into the Maasai Mara National Reserve, closer to Tanzania.  It was a huge day, in which we saw wild cheetahs for the first time, and also got to witness lion aggression as a dispute over a meal escalated.

Maasai Mara: Day 3 of 7

A new day for us in the Mara had arrived.

While it was only the third day, the routine of the early rises, a Maasai escort to the campfire, some quick online activity over a hot drink, and departure into the ever-fading darkness, had become very normal and comfortable.

We met Francis at the 4WD and climbed in, as we had planned to head out for another dawn and sunrise shoot at a tree Mario favours, which affectionately became known as “Mario’s Tree” throughout the trip.

We headed due west of camp for a short distance and jumped out into the wet plains for some dawn silhouette photography of Mario’s Tree, with the first frame shot at 6:38am.  It wasn’t the world’s greatest sunrise, but there was some nice colour in the sky, and I captured a distant passing wildebeest in most of my images.

We ventured south-west to Leopard Gorge, where we hoped to see our young male leopard friend, or maybe one of the Cheli brothers again, but alas, the big cats weren’t to be found on this morning.  We spotted a few impala, and on our way back north-east, we spotted a topi, zebra and general plains game.

Less than an hour after the first frame was fired off for the day, we encountered a herd of Cape buffalo out in the open.  The herd was quite a decent size, and there were a few calves.  Typical of these large bovines, they didn’t do anything exciting, preferring to graze, rest and groom, fighting off the ever-present flies.

Francis moved the vehicle to a more appealing spot for photography, where I captured this mother buffalo grazing with her calf:

Mother and Calf

Mother and Calf

Trying to isolate a particular animal, as well as capturing interesting activity such as action or tender moments, can be quite challenging.

We continued shooting, and Francis moved the vehicle again to a better spot, where I captured this frame-filling portrait of one of the large members of the herd:

I Am Not Amused

I Am Not Amused

Typical for these types of animals, the look on this buffalo’s face is decidedly grumpy and not at all amused at being constantly harassed by flies.

We continued shooting for a short time longer, and I didn’t realise it at the time, but I captured a far more pleasing image of a buffalo, in which, in a split second, I’d also captured an oxpecker launching into flight from the top of the buffalo’s head!  I didn’t discover I’d captured it until a few days later when reviewing the many images I had shot.

Here’s what I consider to be the finest buffalo image I’ve captured:

Lift Off

Lift Off

I managed, this time, to not only isolate one animal from the crowd (well, mostly), but I captured some interesting action too.

After we had finished photographing the buffalo, Mario took us in a north-westerly direction, where a surprise awaited us.

The staff of Elephant Pepper Camp had organised a bush breakfast, and all of the guests were being taken by their guides to a nice spot which had been set up, and where a hot breakfast and a chance to mingle with the other guests awaited us.

It was a really nice experience, and with the size of the Mara North Conservancy, most of the time one doesn’t see any other vehicles or have any interaction with other guests, as the vehicles can be spread in terms of time and distance.  Usually when there’s something very exciting, or some ever-appealing big cat activities happening (leopards and male lions in particular), all of the vehicles tend to descend upon a scene quickly.

We sat down to a fantastic breakfast with all of the other guests and exchanged stories, viewed photos, and tried to stop the flies swimming in our coffee and juice, to varying degrees of success.

As breakfast drew to a conclusion, some of the guests spotted fighting plains game way down on the distant plains, so they headed off to see what was going on.

Mario and Francis had other plans: we’d instead head towards the Mara River.

On our way north to the river, we spotted a few jackals and grabbed some shots, and then continued along our way, spotting another topi grazing.

As it turned out, we never quite got to the river itself, as something distracted us.

We stumbled across the River Pride of lions, which inhabits the territory just south of the river, and within a very short distance of the Mara North Airstrip, from which we’d depart the Mara four days later.

Not only had we encountered a different pride of lions, but a lioness was perched in a tree!

A Little Bit Stuck

A Little Bit Stuck

Lions aren’t great climbers, and this lioness seemed to be stuck in the bough, awkwardly repositioning herself every now and then, and seemingly attempting to descend.

Here, she looks rather uncomfortable, but in spite of her challenging predicament, seeing a lioness in a tree is rather uncommon indeed, and was a special, unexpected treat.

The look on her face certainly isn’t one of contentment.

Camera shutters were flapping furiously as this uncommon spectacle unfolded in front of us.  I also captured some frame-filling video footage as the lioness fumbled around trying to decide whether she wanted to be up or down.

Lioness in a Tree

Lioness in a Tree

This is not the Mara’s happiest lioness at this point in time.

By now, one or two other vehicles had arrived, so the other guests were also enjoying the spectacle.

As luck would have it, she was not the only lion nearby, as two young River Pride males had also descended upon the scene to see what was happening.

Thus far, most of our lion sightings had been cubs and lionesses — always a treat — but after seeing the Cheli brothers, we were glad to see some more male lion activity.

One of the young males decided to park himself under the shade of a tree not far from where the female was awkwardly positioned.

Lion Around

Lion Around

This particular male still has some youth under his belt, as his mane is not yet fully developed; but I loved the pose here, as he ever-so-casually leaned on a rock under the shade and gazed in our general direction, as well as keeping an eye on the female in the tree.

Perhaps only 50-70 metres to the south-east of this male was another, younger male who was also resting, enjoying some sunshine as well as some shade.

Here he is, taking it all in:

River Pride Male

River Pride Male

Shortly after resting, this younger male wandered over to a tree to see what the lioness was doing.  She had previously descended from the tree in which we found her, but had then climbed into another tree nearby!

This time the young male was curious, and walked over to her tree.  Her dangling, swishing tail was a source of interest for the young male lion, who looked up at the lioness as she sat perched in the bough.

It was now quite late in the morning, and time to head south, back to camp.  Along the way we spotted a giraffe on the open plains, and even closer to camp, we spotted a Maasai farmer leading a herd of cattle.

We soonafter arrived back at camp, where we rested, worked on images and had a light lunch.

Little did we know, but the afternoon drive would bring us something truly special.

At around 3:45pm we ventured back out into the plains in a south-easterly direction, and soon encountered a pair of elephants drinking in the afternoon light.

Drinking Problem

Drinking Problem

We watched and photographed the elephants drinking and splashing water over themselves to cool down.

The sky was starting to become moody and threatening, with some high storm clouds lingering.  I reached for a wider lens and captured an image of two elephants grazing, with a thick cluster of trees in the background beneath an increasingly brooding sky.

Ellies Under a Moody Sky

Ellies Under a Moody Sky

The sky was develop into a dramatic show later in the afternoon and into the early evening.

Francis soonafter continued heading south, as we were hoping to see something more dramatic.  Along the way, while Francis was cornering, I spotted an intense patch of blue in the grass as I was spotting for lions.

It was a blue-headed tree agama, a small, brightly-coloured reptile.  I snapped a few images, but unfortuntely didn’t land anything good, and the scene itself was scrubby and busy anyway.

A minute later we continued on.  Less than ten minutes later, north-east of where I spotted the agama, we happened across an intensely amazing sight.

We had found the Cheli Pride.  Not only had we found the Cheli Pride lions again (they’re everywhere!), but they were feasting on a zebra they had taken earlier in the day.

This was yet another first: a sighting of lions feasting on a kill.

It was quite a fresh kill, too, as there was no stench from the carcass; but it had been quite substantially devoured, and we figured it had been taken during the morning.

What an intense sighting.  We were glued to the drama as a three cubs gorged themselves on the kill under a bush, while other Cheli Pride lions rested in the thicket or were lurking and sunning themselves very close to the site where either the zebra had fallen, or more likely, where the pride had dragged it to keep it out of the open plains where other predators could have got in on the action.

I used a combination of wide focal lengths and short focal lengths to capture the drama.

Chowing Down

Chowing Down

Here, this cute little cub — one of the younger members of the pride — was very engaged in the business of chowing down, and kept feeding well after the other lions had all moved aside to rest and roll around.

A short time later, most of the pride members strolled a short distance north-east of the kill, and into the open grasses, where they bonded, groomed, rested and played.



Here, one of the well-fed cubs decided it was time to play, and in so doing, he gave one of the females a mighty good smack in the face.

It was enjoyable to watch the lions rolling around, stretching, playing and bonding with each other after a huge meal.

Here, one of the lionesses looks into the distance as other lions played around.

Cheli Pride Lioness

Cheli Pride Lioness

One of the cubs wandered over to a small watering hole in the grass, which we couldn’t see, but which he certainly could.

He lapped up water, and even managed to let some of it drool out of his mouth as he looked back towards us as we furiously snapped away.

Cub Drool

Cub Drool

While we were immersed in the company and actvity of the Cheli Pride, a herd of nearby elephants entered the area, and they were obviously distressed.  There was trumpeting and running as the elephants, who realised they’d stumbled across a pride of lions, ran further away to avoid any confrontation.

The elephants kept moving south, further away from the drama we had witnessed; so, we decided to follow them, as it was a breeding herd, which contained a few calves and some big tuskers.

In the relative safety of the distance the elephants had put between themselves and the Cheli Pride, they grazed more calmly as the sky continued to brood and become more intense.  I captured this image of a big tusker at fairly close proximity as he made his way through the thicket, grazing.

Big Tusker

Big Tusker

Early evening was rapidly approaching, and in the opposite direction, the sky became very menacing.

We headed north, back to the kill site, to see what was going on.  More cubs, and several larger lionesses, were now feasting on the zebra.



We stayed for three or four minutes before deciding to leave the lions and head off for a sundowner and some landscape photography under a dramatic sky.

Francis drove us south-west in search of a particular tree, which we reached in about 12 minutes.

We stopped here for a sundowner, and we jumped out of the 4WD and rigged up for some landscape photography under an intense sky, where I captured this image of a distant acacia tree under a dramatic sky:

Brewing Storm

Brewing Storm

It was at this location where we had our sundowner, but we decided to head another few hundred metres away, where we’d capture the trail end of the rich colours of sunset on the Mara.

Drama on the Mara

Drama on the Mara

Here we resumed our sundowner as the evening rapidly descended upon us, while we stood only a few hundred metres from where the Cheli Pride was resting after a huge meal.

It was an intense afternoon/evening, and perhaps this landscape in the northern part of the Maasai Mara captures some of that sense of drama.

So concluded our third day in the Mara.  We headed back to camp where we met the other guests over dinner, and related the amazing sights we had seen that day.

In the morning we were treated to the River Pride, with its clumsy tree-clinging lioness and two young males nearby; and in the afternoon we were treated to the spoils of the Cheli Pride, as the lions feasted on a zebra kill, followed by a sundowner under a very moody sky.

Stay tuned for our adventures on day four of our trip to the Maasai Mara, during which more great sightings greeted us, and when the roar of a Cheli Pride lioness would be heard for the first time.