Back from an Amazing Trip in the Maasai Mara

It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a week since our intense and amazing wildlife safari in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, but we have safely returned home, a long way — both physically and mentally — from where we were just a week ago.

Due to time constraints and a backlog of images to process, I didn’t update this blog much during the trip, but in the near future I plan to provide a day-by-day summary of the wildlife viewing and cultural experiences we enjoyed, along with photographic highlights.

I have published quite a few images so far, but there are many more to go.  In the mean time, they can be viewed on Xenedis Photography, on Flickr and on 500px.

Please stay tuned for some proper accounts of our adventures.

First Day in the Maasai Mara

Yesterday we departed Nairobi and took a 40-minute flight to the Mara North Conservancy, where we will spend the next week surrounded by wildlife, and where our early mornings, late afternoons and early evenings will be spent photographing Africa’s amazing fauna.

After we landed in the Mara North Conservancy, we prepared our gear and headed off for a game drive en route to Elephant Pepper Camp.

After settling in and having some lunch, we headed out for the rest of the afternoon.

We first encountered and photographed some elephants, and shortly after, we were very fortunate to encounter a lioness and her young cub, which she was isolating from the rest of the Cheli Pride.  Here is an image I captured of the lion cub:

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

This was the first time I have seen or photographed a lion cub in the wild.  It was fantastic to spend time in the company of the lioness and her cub, basking in the afternoon light.

Continuing on our game drive, we encountered topis, a pied kingfisher and more elephants.

The second fantastic photographic opportunity of the day was presented to us by a lilac-breasted roller.  I had seen and photographed one in South Africa, but the conditions were not favourable and the images were not pleasing.

On this occasion, however, the roller was very close to us, and was positioned on a clean branch in warm light.  Using a long focal length, I captured the vivid colours of the roller as it sat patiently waiting for me to land my shots.

Here’s one of the highlights of the roller sighting:

Lilac-Breasted Roller

Lilac-Breasted Roller

All in all, our first afternoon game drive yielded some pleasing images.

Many more photographic opportunities and amazing wildlife sightings await us, and shortly, we’re heading back into the plains to look for a leopard we spotted this morning, as well as more lions from the Cheli Pride, and if we’re really lucky, we might see the males.

Welcome to Kenya

Today we arrived in Kenya, a trip which has been in the making since last August.

It was a long journey to get here, with two long flights and a ten-hour stop-over in Bangkok in between flights.

We arrived in Nairobi early this morning, where our friend and safari leader (for the second time now) Mario Moreno met us.

We headed to the Boma Hotel in Nairobi, which will be our lodgings for tonight.

Here’s a view of the beautiful African architecture which greeted us in our room at the Boma Hotel:

Boma Hotel, Nairobi

Boma Hotel, Nairobi

Today we’re heading into Nairobi to do some sightseeing and grab some lunch, and tomorrow our big wildlife photography adventure begins in the Maasai Mara.

Stay tuned for more updates, and accompanied by some images of the stunning landscape and wildlife which awaits us.

Capturing the City: Return to Action

During a time of holidays and some special times, my long-dormant urge to get out and capture images has thankfully risen to the surface, and the photographer’s itch has become pervasive.

I have been wanting to get out and shoot, and of late I have been more drawn towards cityscapes and architecture than any other subject matter.

On a rare mid-week session, I headed to Circular Quay, a very busy precinct which I haven’t photographed much for quite some years now.

In the mid-to-late afternoon, I scouted for some vantage points along the western side of the Quay, and finally settled on the observation deck of the International Passenger Terminal, which affords a higher view, and additionally was empty and free from passers by.

I waited for the blue hour, and captured this view of Sydney which I have not seen (or photographed) before.

Circular Quay West

Circular Quay West

My effort was worth it, and it was good to capture a view of the city not often seen, which I found surprising, as the International Passenger Terminal provides a good vantage point.  I’m sure other photographers have used it.

During my time scouting for a location, I had difficulty finding a pleasing composition.  I tried a few spots along the western side of the Quay, including the circular area seen at the centre of the image.

The problem I encountered there was that while the view was good, the tallest building in the scene (the darker skyscraper near the centre) wouldn’t fit into the image in landscape orientation (even with a 16mm lens), which is what I wanted for my image.

When I captured this image, it was my second visit to that particular spot.  The ideal location would have been right in the middle of the water, on an island, of course.  Unfortunately there isn’t such a location, so the view I captured was the most pleasing from the west side of the Quay.

Feeling Itchy

From a photographic perspective, things have been quiet.  A combination of a busy schedule, a change in priorities, and a general lack of motivation, has meant that I have not shot an image for months.

Here we are, over four months into 2015, and photographically I have nothing to show for it.

Until now, that is.

Tonight for the first time this year, I published a new image, one captured this year.

We have family in town, and our visitors are staying in an apartment close to the Sydney.  From their balcony, there is a magnificent view of the Sydney skyline, from the ANZAC Bridge across to much of the city.

Tonight while visiting, I decided to shoot some twilight images of the city, and here is what I shot:

The View Sucks

The View Sucks

This is just a small part of the view from the balcony, shot with a telephoto lens to hone in on some of the skyline as twilight descended.

Over the past few days, I’ve been starting to develop an itch — the kind which makes me want to get back into photography again.  It’s all a balancing act, but I have some time off, and soon I plan to start experimenting with something I’ve not done before.

I am successful, it will be a new style of photography for me.  It’s something I’ve seen and quite liked, and while it’s been done before, and done very well, it hasn’t yet been done by me.

So, perhaps a new photographic project, combined with some time to re-engage, will get me back into the process of image making.

I might even find the inspiration to shoot a seascape again, too!

Turimetta Swell

This is an image I shot in January of 2012 at Sydney’s well-photographed Turimetta Beach.

Turimetta Swell

Turimetta Swell

This particular scene is further away from the main gorge and rocks featured in so many images.

The morning brought a few successful images, but this one had sat untouched and unpublished for the past three years.

A moody, rain-laden sky combined with a decent swell made for some pleasing cascades and flows along the rock shelf towards North Narrabeen.

Which Filters for Landscape Photographers?

A discussion about creative filters on an Internet forum got me thinking, and prompted me to post a quick article here on a question new landscape/seascape/cityscape photographers often ask: Which filters should I buy?

I personally recommend Lee filters (although I have a HiTech filter in my rig), and use the Lee filter holder and adapter ring.

I shoot cityscapes, landscapes and seascapes, and generally don’t use graduated ND filters for cityscapes, as I tend to only shoot at twilight, or otherwise when the light is soft and low in contrast.

For landscape and seascape images, particularly when shooting towards the brighest part of the sky, I recommend the following kit:

  1. 1.2 (four-stop) soft GND;
  2. 0.9 (three-stop) soft GND;
  3. 0.6 (two-stop) soft GND;
  4. two 0.9 (three-stop) ND; and
  5. ten-stop ND.

Apart from the 1.2 GND, this is the combination I use.  (At the time I bought my filters, the 1.2 GND may not have been available.)

I sometimes stack both of my grads, which provides for a five-stop transition.

My view is that 0.3 (one-stop) grads are useless in harsh Australian light.  For the money a good grad filter costs, I’d recommend something far more effective.

Some people recommend using hard grads for scenes with flat horizons (eg, ocean views), but in my experience of having shot a lot of seascape images, I’ve never found soft grads to be lacking.  Soft grads offer more flexibility and a less-pronounced transition between filtered and unfiltered subject matter.

Now, Lee filters are not particularly cheap, and buying all of the above equipment will be a rather expensive undertaking; so if I had to recommend a single filter to someone whose budget is only so accommodating, I would recommend the 0.9 soft grad.

Similarly, if someone could only have one neutral-density filter, I’d recommend 0.9.

A three-stop filter of either kind provides a good middle-of-the-road approach if one’s limitation is a single filter.

Natutrally, a photographer will quickly find a single filter limiting, but as a starting point it will provide sufficient flexibility.