Tag Archives: Dawn

Maasai Mara 2019: Day 2 of 7

On our second day in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya during our Africa trip of 2019, we rose early in preparation for a hot drink around the camp fire with Mario, Francis and the Elephant Pepper Camp crew, before setting out into the plains in the darkness.

Our plan for this morning, and indeed for every morning in the Mara, was to shoot some landscape images at dawn and sunrise.

As we chatted around the warmth of the camp fire in cool morning air, the increasingly lightening sky revealed a lot of cloud cover, which was not promising for landscape images, but we set out anyway, as conditions can change quickly, and there is no certain way of knowing what the sky will do.

We headed a short drive west of camp to a familiar location: Mario’s Tree.

Mario’s Tree is an iconic acacia tree in the Mara North Conservancy, named after Mario Moreno (he laid claim to this tree, as he photographs it during most visits), which is very photogenic, and well positioned in altitude and location for shooting landscape images against the rising sun.

We naturally had to return to photograph it again during our second visit to the Mara.

Mario's Tree Revisited

Mario’s Tree Revisited

The conditions this time were vastly different, and the sunrise on this particular morning was far from spectacular; but it was nice to return to a familiar landmark in the coolness and quiet of dawn before venturing out further into the plains for our morning game drive.

For images like this, I find that the best results come from using a telephoto lens from a distance to ‘flatten’ the apparent distance between the subject and the background. When the sun is rising, it looks bigger and more dramatic.

Here is a behind-the-scenes view of the session:

Behind the Scenes: Shooting Mario's Tree

Behind the Scenes: Shooting Mario’s Tree

In the foreground is my camera rig, and in the distance is the rest of the gang, talking near our 4WD while I photograph Mario’s Tree.  Some plains game can also be seen scattered around the horizon.

Soon after wrapping up the landscape shoot and heading in a north-westerly direction, we encountered a few hyenas, one of which was eating the head and leg from a zebra, which the hyenas had probably stolen from lions overnight.

We stayed to watch the hyenas eating, where I also captured a portrait of a spotted hyena in isolation.

Portrait of a Spotted Hyena

Portrait of a Spotted Hyena

Sometimes hyenas can be difficult to photograph, especially when there is food around, as they tend not to stay still for very long.

During our time with the hyenas, we also spotted a pair of jackals mating.  At one point, the male appeared to get ‘stuck’ whilst attached to the female, and it made for some very awkward and uncomfortable moments.

Eventually, the jackals managed to separate after the deed had been done.

After those amusing moments, we ventured further north-west in the direction of the Mara River, encountering a herd of giraffes feeding on tall acacia trees.

Very close to the giraffes was an excitable male wildebeest, who was very much interested in mating, and rounding up all of his females for his mating pleasure.

It was amusing and fascinating to watch as he constantly chased the females around, trying to herd them and occasionally mount them.

Some herds of wildebeest, such as this herd, are territorial and do not move between Kenya and Tanzania as part of the Great Migration.

These animals tend to stay in the same area, and with the grass being as short as it was, despite the recent wet season concluding, the conditions are ideal, and the wildebeest do not need to migrate.

Gimme Some Action

Gimme Some Action

The male was constantly grunting and trying to herd and mate with the females.

While we were there, he did not have much luck, as the females were not interested, with some of them running away.  Despite this, the male kept trying to round them up.

After spending some time watching the male wildebeest having a difficult morning, we headed sharply north, and further towards the northern part of the conservancy.

Along one of the Mara River tributaries, we encountered a pair of saddle-billed storks.

This was the first time we had encountered these large and colourful storks.

They tend to be wary and evasive, so getting close enough to capture a clean and pleasing head-and-shoulders shot was not an easy task, but we were able to capture such images using longer focal lengths.

Female Saddle-Billed Stork

Female Saddle-Billed Stork

Visually, the difference between the female and the male is the eyes.  The female has yellow irises, whereas the male as black irises.

I concentrated on photographing the more visually appealing female.

We spent a good 25 minutes with the saddle-billed storks, which were challenging at times to photograph, as they were more interested in keeping their distance and foraging for food than posing for photographers.  How rude.

A short distance north-west of the saddle-billed storks, we encountered a juvenile short-tailed eagle (also known as a bateleur) on the ground, feeding on a warthog leg which had probably been stolen from another predator such as a lion or a cheetah.

Soon enough, the eagle launched into the air and landed in a nearby tree.

Francis moved the vehicle and positioned us to capture a clean image of the eagle, which was posed very nicely on a branch with some dark foliage in the background.

Here is one of the images I captured as the juvenile short-tailed eagle perched regally on an exposed branch:

Juvenile Short-Tailed Eagle

Juvenile Short-Tailed Eagle

With the sightings we had enjoyed of both the saddle-billed storks and the juvenile short-tailed eagle, once again the Maasai Mara had presented us with great opportunities for capturing pleasing images of birds.

The morning was still young, so after spending ten to fifteen minutes photographing the juvenile short-tailed eagle, we continued on, this time in a north-easterly direction towards the Mara River.

We soon we arrived at a distinctively sharp bend in the Mara River, slightly south-west of Mara North Airstrip.

This V-shaped section of the river would be our breakfast stop for the morning.  Upon arrival, we hopped out of the vehicle to stretch our legs, while Francis prepared our breakfast of muffins, fruit, yoghurt, coffee and tea.

This particular location of the river afforded a nice view of the numerous hippos in the water below.  Despite the wet season having recently ended, the water level was surprisingly low.

After some food, a stretch and a break, we climbed back into the 4WD and headed south, spotting some more giraffes and grabbing a few images.

What we did not know is that a few minutes later, we were going to see something special.

Within five minutes, we had the pleasure of encountering Amani and her three cubs for the third time in two days.

They had successfully hunted and taken down a Thomson’s gazelle minutes before we arrived, and were in the process of killing it as we watched.

I captured frame after frame, and switched to video mode, recording footage of the gazelle meeting its end in order to provide the cheetahs with a much-needed meal.

Fast Food

Fast Food

We had missed the hunt, chase and capture by a matter of only a minute or two, but the tommie was still alive and struggling when we arrived, and while it is never easy to see an animal perish, it is a necessary part of nature, and for cheetahs, a success amongst a high rate of failures.

Cheetahs hunt, kill and feed out in the open, and very often lose their meals to hyenas and other predators.

For this reason, cheetahs must devour their meals as quickly as possible, as they are very vulnerable whilst feeding on the open savannah, and other predators very quickly discover the presence of a potential meal and will chase cheetahs away.

For us, this was the first time we had seen a kill taking place in Africa.  While the death of an animal is never a pleasure and can be quite distressing to witness, it is the law of the land, and cheetahs, the smallest and most vulnerable of Africa‘s big cats, need to feed in order to survive and keep the endangered species going.

This was a magnificent sighting, and numerous safari vehicles had descended upon the area.

We spent over 40 minutes with Amani and her cubs as they killed their prey, feasted quickly, cleaned and groomed, and then settled for a rest under the cover of a croton bush after their high-impact activity.

During the sighting, I was fortunate to photograph and video two of Amani’s sub-adult cheetah cubs cleaning each other after feasting on the Thomson’s gazelle Amani had caught for them.

Feline Tenderness

Feline Tenderness

Predatory cats can exhibit such fierceness and aggression, but also have an amazing capacity for tenderness as they groom and bond.

This was our third and final sighting of Amani and her cubs in the space of two days in the Mara North Conservancy, but from what I have seen since we last saw them, they are doing quite well, and I hope they continue to do well in the harsh environment that is Africa.

We left Amani and her cubs to rest, and headed north a short distance, where we countered one of the ‘Ugly Five’: a marabou stork.  This was another ‘first’ for us, as we had not seen one before.

Marabou Stork

Marabou Stork

I captured a few images of the stork before we turned around to head back towards camp.

Along the way we spotted a jackal resting, and then headed further south-east, coming across yet another ‘first’.

We had gone looking for a female leopard who had been spotted in the area.

Unfortunately we did not find the leopard, but unusually we did encounter this male reedbuck, who was highly alert and wary of our presence.

Reedbuck on Alert

Reedbuck on Alert

We saw him around the other side of this bush where he was taking cover, but fortunately by the time we moved around to the other side, he remained in place and posed nicely as we captured images.

Soon enough, we arrived back at camp where we had lunch.  Being the second day, we still had the camp to ourselves, so we enjoyed a nice lunch, and I took care of my usual post-drive housekeeping.

We had decided to head back out into the plains at around 3pm or so, and before too long, it was time to depart.  We met Francis, climbed into the 4WD and set off in a southerly direction towards the Offbeat part of the conservancy, named after Offbeat Mara Camp, which is located in this very lush area.

We spotted and photographed a common eland, which was nicely positioned in the open, before continuing south.

Somewhere along the way, Francis noticed something on the ground while we were driving around the Offbeat area.  He stopped the vehicle, got out, and retrieved an Apple iPhone!

Someone had unfortunately lost an expensive smartphone whilst in the area.  We were naturally worried, and figured that perhaps it belonged to someone from Offbeat Mara Camp, which was nearby.

We had seen a few other vehicles in the area, and thought that one of the guests had dropped the phone without realising it, perhaps while moving around in the vehicle or while putting on or taking off a jacket.  It can happen so easily.

We tried to make contact with the other vehicles in the area, and after some time had passed, we fortunately found the rightful owner in one of the other vehicles.

The owner was a girl from Australia, who, as we found out when returning her smartphone, did not even know she had lost it, as she thought it was back at camp.  I told her that she must be the luckiest person in Africa, as the chance of finding a lost smartphone in the Mara is very slim.

After that fortunate reunion, we continued on our way around the Offbeat area, soon enough encountering the Offbeat Pride of lions for the first time.

Having seen cheetahs during the morning and lions during afternoon drive, the day was still getting better, and the rest of our afternoon/evening game drive was spent in the company of the Offbeat Pride of lions.

A moody sky was the background, which made for some pleasing photography.

Here, after sunset and as the darkness of night increasingly set in, one of the lionesses rests, while nearby the cubs and other young pride lions were becoming more active.

Early Evening Leisure

Early Evening Leisure

During our time with the pride, the sky turned a magical pink and purple colour, so in between capturing images of the Offbeat Pride lions playing and becoming more active as the darkness of night approached, I captured an image of a distant cluster of trees set against the rich colours of the twilight sky.

Magical Offbeat

Magical Offbeat

The Offbeat area is beautiful, and spending it with lions and seeing some intense colour in the sky was a very pleasant way to finish the day.

A short time later, it was time to leave the lions to their business and return to camp for dinner, drinks and debriefing.

Sunday, 2nd June, 2019 had been a fantastic second day in the Mara, with a wide variety of wildlife, and numerous first-time experiences, including a fantastic sighting of a cheetah kill and subsequent feast, sightings of three new-to-us birds (a juvenile short-tailed eagle, saddle-billed storks and a marabou stork), a few animals who were feeling frisky and taking action, a reedbuck, and our first sighting of the Offbeat Pride of lions.

Additionally, we had been able to reunite a lost smartphone with its owner.

It was only our second day, and already we had seen and photographed so much.  The Mara did not disappoint, and we were still in the infancy of this trip.

Stay tuned for our adventures on day three.

Precarious Position: First Seascape of 2018

This image of Turimetta Beach was captured during my first seascape session in nearly a year, and this was the first time I have returned to Turimetta since 2012.

Precarious Position

Precarious Position

The conditions were a lot more dangerous than this image would suggest, with a strong south-easterly wind, medium-to-large swell and an incoming tide.

Large waves were crashing near this small part of exposed rock shelf and causing splashes and surges which made standing here dangerous.  I had to be quick about composing and capturing images in between sets of larger waves.

It was good to be near the ocean again, but having been out of the seascaping scene for quite some time, this morning’s shoot had its challenges.

Brisbane and South-East Queensland Visit – 2017

Late in 2017, we headed to Brisbane and south-east Queensland for the first time since 2013.

It was high time to visit Dave and Lea, and engage in some photography, tomfoolery and shiraz consumption.

On our first full day, we decided to head south-west to Queen Mary Falls, as there had been some recent rain in the Gold Coast area, and there was predicted cloud cover, which made waterfall photography ideal.

Our first stop was at Daggs Falls, where an observation platform provided a great view.  Unfortunately, the platform was very prone to vibrations, which made shooting long exposures with a 200mm lens and ten-stop ND filter somewhat impossible.

We drove up the road for a few minutes and got to Queen Mary Falls, which had a much more stable observation platform.  This time, I used my 14mm lens to capture the vast expanse of the scenery and the high view.

Long Way Down

Long Way Down

After we had finished shooting, we decided it was time for a late lunch.  Heading north-east for around five minutes, we happened across the Spring Creek Mountain Café, which offers a very pleasant view of the Scenic Rim.

While waiting for our lunch at an outside table, I took advantage of the light and cloud conditions over the valley, and captured this view.

Spring Creek Mountain

Spring Creek Mountain

The plan for the same day was to visit Brisbane‘s iconic Story Bridge for a twilight shoot.  The last time I photographed the Story Bridge was in 2008, and it was time for a new look at it, applying the experience and gear I have acquired since I last shot it.

The bridge is often photographed from Wilson Outlook Reserve, high up on the cliffs to the east.

This time, we decided to venture down onto the Brisbane River Walk below and try a different vantage point, which gave us a lower angle, allowing the reflections of the lights in the water to appear much more prominently.

During the session, the bridge put on an ever-changing show of multi-coloured lights, which created a nice contrast to the blue and cloudy night sky.

Story of Colour

Story of Colour

On the topic of the sky, the clouds were somewhat annoying and detracted from the image I had pictured, but it was what it was, and I had to make the best of the conditions at the time we were there.

After our shoot concluded, we walked to New Farm and stopped in an Italian restaurant for a late dinner before making the drive north-west to Cedar Creek.

The next day, the plan was to head out for an afternoon landscape shoot during golden hour.  This time, Dave and I headed out on our own.

We decided, given all the driving the day before, to remain in the local vicinity, and we threw around a few ideas.  We figured we would look for a view of the mountains in the area such that the sun would be behind us.

Driving around, we ended up at Mount Pleasant, but the scenes we visited just were not right, so we continued on, and this time headed up Mount Mee.

While driving north along Mount Mee Road, Dave spotted an interesting tree on the right at the junction with Sellin Road.

We stopped and headed over to the eastern side of the road to photograph the tree, which also had some grazing cows lingering nearby.

The light was warm, as it was quite late in the afternoon, but not quite warm enough for what we had in mind.  However, the light was still decent enough, so we snapped away as the cows grazed.

Here is what I captured:

High Steaks

High Steaks

For this image, and the image I was to shoot later in the day, I used my Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM lens.  Now, this lens was not one I bought to shoot landscapes, and I rarely ever use a telephoto lens for landscapes, much preferring the wide vista provided by an ultra-wide lens; however, from where we were standing, the 200mm focal length was just right, and provided a nice amount of compression.

After we had finished shooting at this spot, we headed west along Sellin Road, and spotted a lone tree we had photographed at dawn back in 2010.  To our surprise, there was now a large house now on the property, close to Sellin Road.  We could still see the tree further up the paddock in the distance.

Here are the stand-out images I captured of the ‘ Mount Mee Tree‘ in 2010:

Dawn on Mount Mee

Dawn on Mount Mee

Tree on Mee

Tree on Mee

We continued westward, and found some lovely side-lighting htting the lush green grasses down the ravine, but compositionally, there was not much on offer; so, we turned around and headed east.

I was beginning to think that we may not find much at all, and I pointed out that one really needs to scout and plan a location, which, we clearly had not done.

However, heading further east to where we had photographed the cows, I spotted a lovely, large tree down a valley to our left.  After driving past it, we swung back around and pulled up, with this location to be our final location for the day, in which we would photograph this beautiful tree in the rich and warm golden hour light which would greet us a little later.

I quickly found my composition, again using my Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM lens.  The view I found from the spot where I perched myself also contained some lush, long green grasses in the foreground, which I purposefully kept in the frame.  I liked the extra interest, as well as the framing device, it provided.

From then, it was a waiting game.

Once the light became even warmer, we snapped away.  Dave was capturing all sorts of images of different subjects in the area, from varying positions.  I remain focused on the tree.  That was my image, and I was not interested in anything else.

After waiting for the right light, here is the image I shot:

Glowing Tree

Glowing Tree

After the lovely light had disappeared, we headed back to Samford to collect some cows (of the non-grazing variety) and fermented grape juice for dinner at the house.

Thus, my photography for this trip was completed.

During our stay, Dave and I decided to compare our 200mm lenses.  He owns a Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM (a legendary and relatively rare lens, with only 8,000 having been built), and I own a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, which effectively replaced the 200/1.8L some 20 years after it was introduced.

We lined them up for a ‘family portrait’, and Dave captured an image of the two lenses side-by-side.  Later during the visit, we also staged a semi-scientific shoot, with a foam rubber dinosaur as the subject.  We photographed the dinosaur with both lenses, using the widest apertures available on both, as well as the widest aperture common to both.

Upon inspecting the resulting images, there is not a great deal of difference in sharpness between the two lenses.  Both deliver outstanding results.

All in all, it was a fun trip, and while photographically the conditions were not super exciting, I did manage to capture a few pleasing images along the way.

Little Austinmer’s Rinse Cycle

Nearly a month ago, I experienced a great dawn seascape shoot at Little Austinmer, where there is an abundance of interesting water and rock features on the rock shelf.

During the earlier part of the shoot, I shot some long exposures in and around the main gorge.

Here is one of them:

Little Austinmer's Rinse Cycle

Little Austinmer’s Rinse Cycle

Here, I opted for a different style of processing, going for a more muted appearance, as for this image, tonality was more important than colour.

Landscape photographers usually try to emphasise the rich colours revealed by low, soft light; but sometimes playing down the colours produces a more interesting result.  Admittedly, this particular morning was quite moody, but there was some colour in the sky.

I have processed a few images in this style, and for the conditions I experienced on that morning, it works well.

The One

A few photography friends of mine, who have shot Little Austinmer before, told me that it can take quite a few attempts to land a cracking good image.

I first ventured to Little Austi just a little over a week before I shot this image, and while I found it a stunning location, the sky was craptacular.

Today, things were different.

The One

The One

Little Austi really needs a moody sky, as well as the right kind of ocean conditions — specifically, an incoming tide and a moderate swell.

Today, all three essential elements were present.  Not only that, but an intense red sun peeked over the horizon to add a splash of colour.

On only my second visit, I landed “the one” — the image I had been seeking.

This is it.

I landed quite a few pleasing images this morning, so I am spoiled for choice.

There will be more images to come.

Little Austi Overflow

Little Austinmer, known colloquially as Little Austi, is a location I have had on my list of photoshoot locations for quite a long time.

With my renewed enthusiasm for seascape photography, I headed to Little Austi this morning to capture its pictureseque rock shelf, over which seawater constantly cascades when the conditions of the tide and swell are right.

This is one of the images I captured:

Little Austi Overflow

Little Austi Overflow

I was very impressed with Little Austi.  There are many great spots and compositions to be found along the north end of Little Austinmer Beach.

Today, the conditions in the sky were rather unfavourable, but I came away with a small number of images, including this; and I am very keen to head back there at the next opportunity and land some very pleasing images under a much better sky.

Sunrise at Blackwoods Beach

During the middle of last week, I headed to a spot just south of Blackwoods Beach in Cronulla, and shot this image under a rich yet moody sky, as the sun rose to signal the start of a very hot summer day:

Sunrise at Blackwoods Beach

Sunrise at Blackwoods Beach

I have shot along this stretch of Cronulla‘s coastline a few times, but not in this particular spot.

I am pleased to say that the ‘bug’ I once had for seascape photography has returned after being dormant for too long, and I am very keen to get out again.

Very early tomorrow, I am heading to a location I have never photographed before, and one with some interesting and visually appealing features.  The conditions in both the sky and sea look quite favourable, and this particular location has been on my list for quite a long time.

Hopefully the conditions are indeed spectacular.