NOTE: We are doing a special 7 day Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Photo Safari between Trip 1 and Trips 2, so you might wish to maximize your time in Africa and combine the two trips. SPACE IS EXTREMELY LIMITED for the Rwanda trip. If you are considering combining the two trips (you could do Kenya Trip 1 and Rwanda or you could do Rwanda and Kenya Trip 2), book both immediately! There are only 5 spaces available for the Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Photo Safari.
There is no place in the world like Kenya. A country about
the size of Texas it preserves some of the greatest wildlife concentrations
in the world. Just as importantly, however, Kenya is probably
the best African country for affordable game viewing and wildlife
photography. Kenya is a comfortable, safe country, where the wildlife
is accustomed to people and to a close approach by vehicles.
Many safaris attempt to see too much in a very limited period of time. Consider this: If you've ever driven through Texas you know how large a state it is. Could you imagine trying to cover that state, photographically, in just 14 days afield? It couldn't be done, unless you limited yourself to just a few key representative locales.
The same holds true for Kenya. It's impossible to do a quality shoot where five to seven different parks are visited on a two or three week trip. Doing so would limit you to only a day or two per park, and most of your time would be spent in traveling.
Instead, we'll concentrate our time at the three best national
parks and reserves for photography, which represents three very
diverse regions. Doing so we'll have the luxury of time, being
able to spend a number of days at each location, and of seeking
out specific subjects, rather than simply contenting ourselves
with what luck may provide.
Samburu Game Reserve's semi-desert habitat hosts unique species to the country, including reticulated giraffe, distinguished by a net-like pattern; gerenuk, giraffe-like antelope that feed while standing on their hind legs; Grevy's zebra, with thin stripes and a white belly; Beisa oryx, huge antelopes with long, straight horns that may have originated the unicorn legend; and a variety of birds. Samburu affords the best chances at filming pale-chanting goshawks, lilac-breasted rollers, vulturine guineafowl, yellow-throated spurfowl, and dozens of other species. Samburu is also an excellent location for leopard: we don't always get them there (3 of 4 safaris we lead usually do) but the leopards we get are usually excellent for filming.
Lake Nakuru supports one of the largest populations of lesser flamingos in the world, and in good years there are, quite literally, millions of birds along the shorelines. Nakuru is also quite good for leopard, perhaps being the premiere location for seeing this elusive spotted cat. Nakuru offers other great subjects that you are quite likely to film very well, including African buffalo, DeFassa waterbuck, impala, warthog, reedbuck, Rothschild giraffe, and olive baboon.
If our trip ended after Samburu and Nakuru you'd have had a fantastic experience. However, the Masai Mara Game Reserve is the 'dessert,' and is viewed by many as the premier wildlife photography location in Africa. This great game location will be our last stop on our photographic adventure.
The Masai Mara is considered part of the famous Serengeti ecosystem, but differs in offering a variety of habitats. Within a morning's game drive one can film short grass high country, tall grass prairie, riverine forests and thickets, and acacia thorn scrubland. Elephants, hippos, Masai giraffe, common zebra, gnu, impala, Thompson's and Grant's gazelles, topi, hartebeest, hyrax, black-backed jackal, spotted hyena, cheetah, leopard, and lion are permanent, and fairly common, residents within the park. There's also several less common species of antelope, including reedbuck, bushbuck, steinbuck, oribi, and duiker, that we normally encounter.
The Mara, however, is diverse, and it is impossible to do the Park justice by basing out of only one lodge. To cover the park thoroughly we'll be based out of three different lodges -- in the extreme south, covering the southern section from Keekorok; in the Mara Triangle and western Mara, based at Mara Serena Lodge; and in the eastern, northern section of the Mara, from our base at Mara Intrepids Camp. We won't be wasting time doing this since we'll be doing a normal game drive from one camp to another.
Mara Serena is probably the most beautiful lodge in the Mara, overlooking the Paradise Plains and a large stretch of the Mara River. From the lodge one can usually see a variety of the plain's game, and the lodge may be the premiere location for filming rock hyrax in all of Kenya. These small, marmot-sized mammals are tame, beg for food, bite - if you try petting them or feeding them, and even hop on to your lap (not recommended!).
This safari is really for anyone who is serious, either about wildlife and nature photography, or about in-depth, intense, and patient animal viewing. The two, for a photographer, are the same, for patience, time, and luck are required in order to obtain great wildlife images. Please read the following section carefully. While almost everyone who travels with us are like-minded, there are, on occasion, one or two people who are not. This is not a safari for tourists. This is a safari for photographers and for those who really want to do a safari right.
Actually, it probably really doesn't matter to us if you bring a camera or not, or if you do not have long telephoto lenses or professional gear along. That is, provided you are patient, willing to wait, and, above all, considerate to those photographers who do have gear that requires a rock-steady van when they're about to shoot. Patience, to a wildlife photographer, is NOT a relative term. Patience may not be a five-minute wait. It may mean waiting an hour before a cheetah and her cubs decide to move from a croton thicket, or before a den full of hyena cubs wake up and begin to play. We have literally waited for four or five hours for a wildebeest river crossing, and one year all four of our vans stayed, parked in one position, all day -- from 7AM to 4PM -- to watch Zawadi and her two cubs (her first) play, nurse, and walk about us. Photographers, avid naturalists, artists, and others who are serious about wildlife have no problem with this. You might.
We want to make this clear. Great shots often require patience. If you simply want to see animals, click off a few pictures, and move on to another subject, then our safari is not for you. You might worry that 'spending time' waiting is wasteful, and that your time would be better spent roaming and looking for new subjects. Let me assure you that in the course of a two or three week trip you will indeed see everything, but some subjects, that require waiting, will reward you with extraordinary images for your patience. In other words, you'll see everything the normal tourist sees (or the impatient photographer), but you'll also see, with quality, other subjects, events, or activities that most simply do not see because they do not have the patience to wait. We do.
For example, even our extremely experienced Kenya safari driver/guides have seen things with us that they have never seen before - and these are guide who, collectively, have over forty years driving experience.This has included such experiences as a zebra stallion killing a foal; a zebra giving birth; lions killing a bull buffalo; elephants, en masse, wrestling in the river; a leopard killing a wildebeest, or a warthog; ostriches hatching from eggs; lions pulling a warthog from its den; and much, much more. Why? I asked our drivers this, and they said, 'because your groups stay and watch. Most groups do not, and only spend enough time to make some pictures.' They miss these unique events, and so, obviously, had the drivers.
That said, we try not to be tyrants about this. We realize everyone has their own patience and frustration level, and perhaps their own desire to shoot particular subjects. One of the values of traveling with us is we can guide you, by stating our belief whether we feel something is worth waiting for, or not. Our rule is this: If you don't wish to stay, you can leave, provided everyone in your vehicle agrees on this, or if at least three in total from all of the vehicles agree to leave, whereupon we'll rearrange seating to allow those people to return to camp or continue on their way. We have, on many occasions, put three or four people into a van to head back to camp for lunch while the die-hards stayed behind, waiting for the cheetah to make its kill or for the wildebeest to cross the Mara river. In most instances, the cheetah killed, and the wildebeest crossed, right after the other van left!
To be honest, I think photographers would get the most out of this trip. Non-photographers might feel frustrated in not being able to produce images that others can; but that thought alone may be motivation for you to buy a telephoto lens and camera before doing the trip. I'd recommend doing so. Artists can benefit from our type of safari as well. If we're waiting for cheetahs to hunt, or for lions to resume mating, there's usually time to do field sketches or character studies. However, if you are an artist, don't be upset if your vehicle moves while you're still drawing! This is, FIRST AND FOREMOST, a photography trip, and the photographers have the final say.
However, the trip is exclusive in a number of special ways. We were the first to offer safaris that are limited to only three photographers per nine-passenger landrover. Our safaris are unique in some important ways, too. We do not assign people to one 'rover for the entire trip. Instead, we rotate everyone through our four vehicles so that everyone has a chance to shoot with each other (avoiding trip-damaging cliques) and to shoot with both Mary and me.
Our rotation system gives everyone equal time with Mary and with me, and as we 'captain' our respective vans you can be assured that we'll do our best to put you in the best shooting situation as we read the light, determine animal behavior, or just simply look after you for the shots you're seeking but have not yet achieved. Make no mistake: Mary and I are here to work. I joke that when you're with me you'll get the best photos, and Mary says the same thing. The point is, we're not going through the motions here. We're out to make the best photographs we can, and you'll get those same images when you're with us. That's not to say that when you're not with us you won't do well -- this isn't a zoo, and you might see something we don't, but what we are saying is we're always trying to make the best images for our clients and for ourselves.
Consider this, too. Mary and I have seen dozens of cheetah kills, and scores of wildebeest river crossings. In truth, we probably have our best river crossing shots already in file. But YOU DON'T, and we realize this, and that's why we urge you to be patient, to wait, and to see the wonderful things that we have, in fact, already seen. But we also know that each kill is different, each river crossing is different, and that any event in nature has the absolute potential of unfolding into the greatest spectacle we've ever seen. So, remember, when you are in our care, we are looking out for you, we're trying to get you the best shots possible, and we are willing to put in the time for these events to occur. You should be, too.
Are you willing to eat a modest picnic breakfast afield rather than return to camp for a big cooked breakfast? If you answer this question with a Yes, then this trip will be for you and you'll fit in with the type of gung-ho photographer we attract. Are you willing to eat the leftovers from breakfast, or your 'emergency' Granola bars, for lunch instead of returning to camp to eat a cooked lunch if the shooting requires this? On an average we generally miss ONE lunch because of an imminent river crossing or a hunting cheetah. On an average 3 of 4 vehicles stay and wait. 1 out of 4 vehicles generally leaves, sometimes composed of impatient folks scattered through the four vehicles.
Regarding breakfasts, we always eat a picnic breakfast in Samburu and the Masai Mara. It doesn't make sense to return from the field while the light is still great just to eat. Instead, whenever we have a lull in activity, we park our vans and grab breakfast then. As stated above, normally we do not stay out all day, although if something is very good, or promising, we will. That means that sometimes we'll miss lunch (count on this happening at least once), and for that reason we advise people to pack candy or granola bars for a quick snack. We usually do return for lunch, however, since at high noon the light is high and extremely contrasty and almost all animal activity ceases in the hottest hours. However, if you're concerned about eating the meals you paid for, and of sleeping in when you wish, then I don't think our trips will be for you. With us, photography comes first. At Nakuru, however, the lodge, game proximity, and availability of light allow us to have an early, sumptuous breakfast before our morning game drive and we've always returned at lunch. Likewise, because of the heat of Samburu, we're usually in by 11:30AM, although on cloudy days, or when there was extraordinary action, we've come in closer to 1PM.
Our ten person safari with three per nine passenger vehicle is radically different from the typical 15-20 person safari crammed with five to nine passengers to a van or a tour 'limited' to twenty or more people. Our smaller safari also provides great shooting opportunities for everyone. Imagine trying to contend with five or ten more safari vehicles in your group all trying to get the best spot? Can't be done. Please, just ask yourself what your objective is: Is it to see Kenya and to take snapshots, or to be on a special photo safari designed to provide the best shooting opportunities possible. If your answer is the latter, then this safari is for you.
If you've been to Kenya before you know the answer to that! If not, you can expect the best, most exciting wildlife photography possible on this planet. I liken Kenya to doing a shoot combining the best of three great US destinations -- Denali, Yellowstone, and the Everglades, for there are large mammals, birds, and scenics, all possible in one locale the size of Texas, and we'll be concentrating on one very small portion of that area.
We will prepare you photographically. I've written a shooting guide to Kenya that you can use as a handbook or reference when considering composition and exposure for most of your shooting subjects. Prior to the trip we'll provide you with our own recommendations on the gear to bring and, on safari, we'll provide thorough briefings on the subjects we expect to film and how to do so. We have a video as well, that describes the camps, the food, the shooting arrangements with the vehicles, and also provides important information on the natural history of most of the subjects you'll see, as well as our photographic tips for these subjects. You can order the video directly from our office.
Finally, in the field you'll be with either Mary or myself on an average of two out of every three game drives. As I mentioned earlier, we'll do our best to get you the best shots possible, and we'll be able to provide you with our suggestions on composition and exposure and, perhaps most importantly, on what we expect to happen and where we should be. Knowing animal behavior is a real plus, if not a key to successful wildlife shooting, and our experience, and that of our fantastic Kenyan driver/guides, will insure we have the best chance at obtaining great images.
Hopefully, too, you can expect great images of:
The Leopard: Leopards are elusive, solitary creatures. Surprisingly common, they are difficult to see, well-camouflaged, shy, and retiring. They are the trophy of any safari, and the hardest cat to film. I've never missed with leopard, in FORTY-FIVE trips, but I'm always worried, and we work hard to get this cat!
The Cheetah: Spotted, elegant, and surprisingly tame, this cat of the open grasslands is the easiest to film, once encountered. We'll spend approximately half the trip in the best locale in Kenya (the Masai Mara) for cheetahs, and we'll have an excellent chance of filming this, the fastest land animal in the world. Filming it hunting, however, will require luck and patience, although we should have the opportunity to do exactly that. Hunting cheetahs require patience, and this is the day we often miss lunch.
The Lion: The king of beasts appears to be anything but as it sleeps beneath an acacia. Stare into a male's eyes, or watch one snarl, or half-rise as if to charge, and you'll quickly understand how and why the lion got its title. Lions are easy to see, and in the Mara they can be surprisingly common. Photographing lions in action, however, is quite different from the sleepy views most tourists see. We'll be out early to catch any dawn hunts, and staying with a pride if hunting activity looks promising.
Rhinos: At Nakuru we're almost assured of photographing White Rhinos, which are common and usually oblivious to vehicles. While Black Rhinos may also be seen in Nakuru, our best chance for this endangered species is in the Mara, and at two of our lodges we'll be in prime rhino country. We're usually very successful!
Lesser Predators and the Herbivores: Typically, we also have great luck with hyenas, black-backed jackals, side-striped jackals, serval cats, and bat-eared foxes. We usually photograph three different primates -- olive baboons, vervet monkeys, and colobus monkeys, and virtually all the herbivores -- elephants, buffalo, zebras, antelople, etc. We typically have luck with some of the less common species, too, like greater kudu, steinbok, oribi, and klipspringer, but these, among the antelopes, are the real trophies and are not a 'given.'
We'll have a wide variety of animals and birds available at our three destinations. Below is a list of some of the animals that we should encounter, although a * indicates degrees of rarity, and, of course, our luck, weather, and local conditions will actually determine what we'll see and film.
With radios in each of the vehicles our groups can game drive independently, but can meet whenever a great subject is seen. Unlike many other tours our vehicles often game drive separately, fanning out to cover the largest area possible. In this way, when one of our vehicles spots a leopard, or cheetah, or baby elephant, or similarly great subject, everyone has the opportunity to photograph that subject, too.
Lion, cheetah, leopard, serval, spotted hyena, black-backed jackal, side-striped jackal, gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, Rothschild giraffe, Beisa oryx, jackal, bat-eared fox, impala, Thompson's and Grant's gazelle, eland, Masai giraffe, Grevy's zebra, common zebra, Defassa waterbuck, common waterbuck, hippo, topi, African elephant, hartebeest, warthog, dik-dik, bushbaby, olive baboon, vervet monkey, colobus monkey, African buffalo, dwarf mongoose, banded mongoose, and usually a couple of surprises.
lesser flamingos, African white pelicans, white-necked cormorants, maribu storks, saddle-billed storks, black-necked herons, tawny eagles, Bateleur eagles, Vereaux eagle owls, Ruppell's vulture, white-backed vulture, Nubian vulture, Secretary bird, white-belllied bustard, Jackson's bustard, black-bellied bustard, Kori bustard, Masai ostrich, Somalia ostrich, Somalia bee-eater, little bee-eaters, crowned plover, wattled plover, pale chanting goshawk, lilac-breasted roller, buff-crested bustard. You'll see at least 100 species of birds, without trying, and could see as many as 300 on the trip. Most photographers who make the effort photograph at least 30 species of birds during the safari.
As this itinerary is planned nearly a year in advance, there's always the possibility of slight changes -- in day rooms, flight times, etc. However, the actual field time is almost never affected by last-minute airline or hotel changes.
Day 1 Saturday. Arrive in Nairobi in the late evening or early hours of Day 2. Overnight: Boulevard Hotel, Nairobi.
Day 2 Sunday. We'll depart around 9:30AM for our drive to Samburu Game Reserve, arriving in time for a very short (non photographic) game drive as we drive to our lodge. Overnight, Samburu Intrepids.
Day 3-6 Monday to Thursday, Samburu Game Reserve. Over the next three days we'll concentrate upon the wildlife, birds, and scenery that characterize one of Kenya's prettiest parks. Along the river we'll seek elephants coming to drink and play, crocodiles lying in wait for prey, and monkeys using the riverine forest for shelter. Samburu may offer us leopard (it usually does), our best close-up opportunities for bird photography, and unusual endemic mammals, including oryx, gerenuk, dik-dik, reticulated giraffe, and Grevy's zebra. By the end of our third day we should have everything captured on film, ready to press on to our next destination. Overnights, Samburu Intrepids.
Day 7-8 Friday & Saturday. We'll have a cooked breakfast before leaving Samburu, early, for our next destination, Lake Nakuru. We'll arrive at Lake Nakuru National Park in time for an afternoon game drive. Lake Nakuru may be the best location in East Africa to see leopards, as well as affording great opportunities for many herbivores, such as African buffalo, warthog, Defassa waterbuck, impala, and reedbuck. It is an excellent location for photographing white rhinos, and we usually have unbelievable success with this species here. There is also a smaller population of black rhinos, giving us a total of three different locales to film this very rare large mammal.
We'll have that afternoon (Day 7) and both a morning and an afternoon game drive on Day 8 around Nakuru. Overnights, Lion Hill Camp
Day 9 Sunday. On the morning of the 9th day we'll have an early cooked breakfast (a real luxury on one of our trips), then a morning game drive along the lake shore and the forest areas, filming birds and mammals. Although Nakuru is famous for its flamingos, the success of any bird photography here depends upon water levels. Some years, Nakuru is dry, and if it is, the water birds vanish. Even when the flamingos are 'in,' however, they are rarely close. Flock shots are the norm. However, the mammal life is always excellent, and you'll find our time here extremely productive.We'll do a final morning game drive at Lake Nakuru, still hunting leopard if need be, or filming the other diverse subjects if we've been successful with this most elusive cat. From there we'll head to the southern end of the Masai Mara, staying in the high grass country of the southern portion of the Masai Mara. The Mara is Maasai country, but inside the park boundaries the villages, and vegetation-destroying cattle and goats, are excluded. Consequently the grass grows high, and lions, which fear Maasai and avoid them, are more common and active during daylight hours.
We'll be staying at one of the most centrally located lodges, and one of the oldest and most famous, Keekorok Lodge, where we'll be in exceptional game country literally as soon as we leave the gate. Literally, within site of the lodge we've photographed we have photographed Black Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Cheetah, Lion, and many species of antelope. Overnights, Keekorok Lodge.
Day 10-13. Monday-Wednesday. From our base in Keekorok in the southern Mara we'll concentrate on the wildlife unique to the area. There are a number of black rhinos in this section of the Masai Mara and we'll have a good chance of filming one here. Elephants are common, as are Masai giraffe, hartebeest, and topis.
Lions are common, and we'll have our best chances at filming lions in action, be that mating, hunting, feeding, and hopefully even making a kill. Hyenas are common, too, and with the absence of easy prey these scavenger/hunters should be quite active during the day. Always on the alert for an easy meal, hyenas are more likely to be filmed at a carcass during the day in the southern Mara than anywhere else in Kenya. Overnights, Keekorok Lodge.
Day 14 Thursday. We'll leave our southern base and do a morning game drive to our second great destination in the Masai Mara, Mara Serena Lodge. And I mean great! Mara Serena is probably the most beautiful lodge in all of Kenya, and the gardens have great songbirds and an exceptionally tame population of rock hyrax. But we're not there for the lodge's beauty!
Mara Serena is located almost directly above one of the premiere river-crossing areas for wildebeest and zebras, and it's easy to get to most crossing points from this location. Additionally, this area can be extremely productive for lion, cheetah, and black rhino, as well as giant Nile crocodiles, hippos, and elephants. Bird-life can be very good throughout the Mara, but along the river there can be especially good opportunities for African fish eagles, as well as Batelur eagles, kites, storks, and herons.
One more word, though, about the lodge. It is beautiful, and the food is outstanding. There are more lights in your room than probably are in your bedroom at home, so Serena lends itself wonderfully for catching up on battery charging, doing laptop-stuff, etc. It's a great place at a great location. Overnight, Mara Serena Lodge.
Days 15-16, Friday-Saturday. We'll continue to game-drive around the Serena area, working on lions, cheetahs, and everything else. From Serena, we'll have the only opportunity available to game-drive through the southwestern corner, often called the Mara Triangle, where, someday, I'm sure African hunting dogs will one day return. Overnights, Mara Serena Lodge.
Day 17, Sunday. We'll leave Serena (either taking a picnic breakfast or enjoying an early cooked breakfast) for our morning game drive, visiting the extreme northwestern section of the Masia Mara (also known as the Trans Mara area). A very tame black rhino calls this area home, and the area is a great spot for virtually all of the Mara's species, although one, the Side-striped Jackal, is most commonly seen in this area.
At the conclusion of our morning game drive we'll leave the Park, cross the Mara River and cross what-is-now Maasia country and what-was-once great game viewing country outside the park, before re-entering the Park and continuing to our final, EXTREMELY PRODUCTIVE, destination. That's the middle-eastern section of the Mara, out of our base, Mara Intrepids Camp.
We'll game drive in that area in the afternoon. Overnight, Mara Intrepids Camp.
Days 18-20, Monday-Wednesday. Quite simply, I love the Mara Intrepids area. Although all of the Mara is rich, and we've had great game just outside the gates of Keekorok and Serena, the Mara Intrepids area is truly exceptional. Leopards are particularly common here, and within a 15 minute drive we're within the territory of a very habituated female leopard. There's a great lion pride here as well, with 3 males that must rank among the most spectacular in the entire Mara.
Intrepids is situated along the Talek River, and many of our game-drives follow the serpentine route of the often-dry river. Because of the frequency of game-drives along the river wildlife is exceptionally tame, and we've had some of our best bird-of-prey photography along this river. Interpids' wonderful assortment of spectacular game is a fitting ending to our safari -- offering the potential of some truly exciting photography. Overnights, Mara Intrepids Camp.
Day 21, Thursday. We'll have a cooked breakfast before boarding our Air Kenya's flight to return to Nairobi. You'll have the afternoon free to pack and rest, before enjoying your final, farewell dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant. The tour formally ends at the conclusion of this meal, with most participants taking that evening's flight home (most international departures are at night), with arrival in the US sometime on the following day after a change of planes in Europe.
PLEASE NOTE: We will be offering a special 'The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda Photo Safari' that will occur between the two Kenya safaris. Please see our website for the brochure and trip report on this exciting and productive shoot. Or click - Mt. Gorilla brochure or Mt. Gorilla Scouting Report.
The photo safari price for our Fall 2004 trips of $7,995 is based on land costs from Nairobi and includes all accommodations (double occupancy), all meals except lunch and dinner in Nairobi, park entrance fees, and ground transportation, including our exclusive three photographers per van safari vehicles.
Our lodging varies from permanent tented camps to normal tourist lodges. Tented camps are permanent structures, more like a hotel room than a tent, with flush toilet, running water, and shower inside each tent. Excellent cooks prepare food and most meals have a European/British influence. You won't be eating fresh killed zebra or eggs over a campfire! Drinks are not included, but they are inexpensive.
The price does not include the driver's tip, which is usually about $300/person for the length of these safaris. That, by the way, is a very good tip, and I know that we provide our drivers with one of the very best tips they receive each year. But consider this: Many safaris cram six to nine people in one van, and in tipping small amounts, end up nearly equaling our tip. Far more importantly, however, is the fact that our drivers are the best, experts at animal behavior and, from working with me for years, quite adept at putting us into the best spots for great pictures. I use the same drivers each year and they know how I work and what's expected of them. They're good, and I like to reward them for their efforts.
We'll be offering two spots at a discounted price for a spouse to accompany a spouse. This is the deal. The spouse will be seated in the front seat, next to the driver, for all game-drives. This is a comfortable riding position, and will afford great game-watching views and opportunities for all but those times when game is on the right hand side behind the driver. This offer is meant to provide couples an opportunity to travel together and to enjoy Kenya, but with the very real proviso that this does not impact upon the photography or opportunities for the 'shooters.' This is a photography trip, and spouses or not, will remain so. If interested, please inquire for the special discounted price. Further, the non-photographic spouse is a 'non-voter' in terms of whether a vehicle stays or goes, should it occur that some photographers wish to remain with a subject and others do not. In other words, if your spouse and you (the photographer) wish to leave, but the other two photographers (three photographers per van, remember) do not, it is two for, one against, and the vehicle remains.
You should return with the best photographs of wildlife you've ever taken. This doesn't come easily; it requires early starts, patience, and a degree of luck. I believe any photographer traveling to Kenya wants this, and that they're more interested in filming game than they are in lounging at a pool or in having a leisurely cooked breakfast during the best shooting time of the day!
Our field days (excepting travel) start before dawn so that we can greet the sunrise with our lenses. We'll have modest boxed picnic breakfasts on most field days, since this saves time and allows us to travel anywhere without having to worry about returning for a breakfast. Lunches and dinners are at camp, and, with the quantity of food available, I doubt if you'll miss the cooked breakfast. We may, however, occasionally miss lunch if a subject is so good that to leave it would be silly. That doesn't happen often, and if we decide to do so, we do it by group consensus. I'll tell you, when the vote comes up, when such a situation arises, people always look at me as if I'm crazy for even asking them if they wish to leave! Nonetheless, if at least three people (from x number of vans) wish to leave at any time, they are welcome to do so. We will not do so for only two, however. Our rule is three photographers per van, so three is the magic number.
We will stay with a subject as long as it's necessary to get great photos, provided the goal is realistic. Some animals require only a minute of work for a great snap-shot like opportunity that still provides a great image. Others require work, and we've stayed with hunting cheetahs, cheetahs with cubs, lions and leopards with kills or hunting, mating leopards, hunting wild dogs, or wildebeest bunching up at a river for a crossing, for hours (or for an entire day). Don't be afraid that by doing this you'll miss other shots. I've done enough of these (this will be my 16th year of doing Kenya safaris) that I know what's good, what's worth our time, and where our priorities should lie in giving you not only unique, wonderful images, but also full coverage of everything you wanted to film. You will amass a wonderful portfolio of all your Kenyan wildlife, but you won't be producing traditional boring tourist shots. We'll try to get you great images -- magic material! Although we won't be consciously amassing a species list, you'll undoubtedly see as many, if not even more, species of wildlife by doing it this way than you would by being a 'tourist,' since we'll be in the field longer, looking, watching, and filming.
Mary and I know Kenya, its wildlife, and how to photograph it. I want everyone to obtain great photographs, and to enjoy himself or herself while doing so. Great photography requires patience, luck, and time, plus a degree of skill that my drivers and Mary and I can provide. You can trust us that everything we do as your trip leaders will have those priorities - your photos and well-being as an individual in our group -- in mind.
Don't expect me to compromise the group for you, whether that's for tardiness, forgetfulness, or otherwise. We won't. We're upfront about our time, field breakfasts, tenacity and seriousness, and we want our people to know this. If you join us, that's what you're getting into. I think some people join a group and expect it to conform to their individual demands. We won't do that. If you like to travel privately, or to 'run the show,' or to make selfish demands, we'd suggest you go alone.
Frankly, about 1 out of about every 20 people objects to our schedule. Although we're completely upfront with our objectives and those for our group, some people lack patience. Unfortunately, rather than sitting out a game drive if they're tired, or leaving and going for 'something else,' they stay, because we are, yet they resent doing so. We urge people to leave if they so choose, but our role, as guides, is to guide you, and to hang in there with us if we feel it is worth it.
Foreign travel is exciting, but it can be exhausting for some. You very well may need to sit out a game drive and relax one day, and if you feel this way, please do so. We press fairly hard, but we do so because we know that many in the group have high-energy reserves, limited budgets, and inexhaustible enthusiasm, and these folks want as much out of the experience as they can get. We aim to deliver that. Rest if you need to, and wish those that don't the best of luck as they do the game drive you missed. By the way, if you feel you must miss a drive, skip the afternoon drive. Morning drives are usually, but not always, the most productive. By the way, we usually have one person/per safari miss one game drive to rest.
My wife Mary Ann and I strive to provide the most comfortable and thorough safari you will experience. Both Mary and I are photographers, and I'd hope you've seen our credits. These included National Geographic, National Wildlife, Ranger Rick, Natural History, Living Bird, Birder's World, and most nature/wildlife calendars.
In 1994 Mary Ann won two first place awards in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, in Endangered Species and in Bird Behavior. In 1998 she had three highly commended images published in the BBC competition, ALL THREE from Kenya! Mary has written a number of children's books, including Leopards, Grizzly Bears, Woodpeckers, Flying Squirrels, Sunflowers, Cobras, Jupiter, Boas, Garter Snakes, Pythons, Rattlesnakes, Ducks, Chickens, Horses, and Cows, and a coffee table book, Out of the Past, Amish Tradition and Faith.
I've written several how-to wildlife photography books -- A Practical Guide to Photographing American Wildlife, The Wildlife Photographer's Field Manual, The Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, Designing Wildlife Photographs, Photographing on Safari, A Field Guide to Photographing in East Africa, and the New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography. In 1999 Todtri published my latest, African Wildlife, and in 1999 we produced our first instructional video, A Video Guide to Photographing on Safari with Joe and Mary Ann McDonald. The video has received rave reviews, and it is the definitive guide for preparing yourself for a safari.