I realize that it has been quite a while since my last posting but I am hoping that I can finish this safari blog up now.
We landed in Nairobi, Kenya and got a transit visa at the airport and spent the night in Nairobi near Uhuru Park where buses for Arusha, Tanzania leave several times a day.
The bus ride the following morning was uneventful and the road from Nairobi to Arusha was in very good condition compared to many I have experienced. The border crossing site took about an hour, mostly due to an electrical outage. Surprisingly on the Tanzanian side of the border on the wall of the immigration office there was a huge sign that requested you call a number to report anyone asking for a bribe or to report corruption. That came as quite a shock to me and I was very tempted to stop and take a picture of it but I refrained as I was not sure if some of the officials would have appreciated it.
Once done with the border crossing it was a short trip into Arusha where we were greeted by the owner of the tour company Philemon Joel Laizer, despite our being late in arriving, who drove us to our first hotel and discussed the itinerary with us. We had decided to go with a small local safari company called Aardvark Expeditions Ltd. Being a smaller company they were very willing to design a tour around our exact needs and were more than willing to answer our numerous e-mail questions. The company coordinated everything from picking us up at the airport in Nairobi until our departure. My biggest concern, based off my research was that we would be placed in a safari vehicle with a number of other people - a 600mm lens is BIG and it takes a bit of room to maneuver that thing! We were assured that no one else would be in the vehicle unless we wanted them in there.
Our experience with Aardvark Expeditions was overall very good and I would definitely use them again and I recommend them highly. They coordinated everything after our arrival until our departure.
Tanzania has a large number of national parks but the three main parks we went were the Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Crater National Park and the Serengeti National Park.
Manyara National Park - in hindsight I would not return to this park, it was fairly small and limited in the wildlife.
Ngorongoro Crater National Park - A great experience. There is a large amount of wildlife confined within the crater, we had a cheetah walk a few feet from our vehicle, of course the problem with this is that there are a large number of tour vehicles confined in a small area. We did not have too much our a problem with this during the time we were there and it was just a great experience.
Serengeti National Park - Did I mention it is the Serengeti National Park?! Wow it was amazing! First the park is huge and we only saw a small portion of it but the parts we did see of it was great. Large portions of the park are closed off to the public without special permits to protect the animals. A large amount of varied wildlife but because the park is so large you often feel that you are the only people for miles around.
My camera setup for all three parks was basically the same with the 600mm mounted on my Nikon D3S and the 70-200mm mounted on the Nikon D300 for closer in work or when I wanted to include more of the environment in the image.
Overall I did not have much in the way of surprises as far as the photography went. I like to believe that this was due to the research rather than just good luck. The two main...not really problems but more of a complications.
The first complication I had was completely due first to my limited experience in using long lenses and the effect on the Depth of Field - the total distance in front of and behind the subject that will be in focus.
There are three factors that influence the Depth of Field of an image.
Aperture – Larger apertures such as f/2.8 and f/4 will give you a shallower DoF
Distance to subject – The closer you are to your subject the shallower your DoF will become
Distance to Background – The further your subject from the background the shallower your DoF
So looking at the four factors that influence Depth of Field you can see why this leopard is so nicely isolated from the background. The leopard was also perpendicular to the lens so I really did not have to worry about parts of the animal not being in focus.
Aperture – I was on an aperture of f/6.3
Focal length – The Nikon 600mm, a longer focal length, also helped with DoF
Distance to subject – I was about 45 meters from the cheetah
Distance to background – The leopard was about 30 meters from the background.
I am familiar with the factors that influence DoF but the longest lens that I regularly shoot with is 200mm. I was not prepared for how dramatic the change in DoF would be using the 600mm. For example:
Lens f/stop Distance to subject Total DoF
200mm f/4 50 meters (164 ft) 10.1 meters (33 ft)
600mm f/4 50 meters (164 ft) 1.1 meters (3.6 ft)
The second complication I encountered was due to my shutter speed not being high enough in certain instances. Because some of the animals were very close I had to close down the aperture to make sure that I had a big enough DoF. This naturally dropped my shutter speed down accordingly.
The cheetah was about 45 meters away, and previously had been much closer and I was using my 70-200mm. So I was at f/8 with a shutter speed of 1/125. While the shutter speed was fast enough to freeze the action of most of the animal the right front foot is blurred due to my shutter speed being too low.
I wish that I had experimented more with auto ISO before going on this trip. I have never really needed it before and normally raising the ISO is my last choice. If I had been more familiar with the auto ISO option I could have adjusted the ISO sensitivity auto control to the maximum sensitivity of the ISO that I felt comfortable with and set a minimum shutter speed so the ISO would have adjusted automatically to maintain my minimum shutter speed.
I was very happy with the equipment I brought and I am pretty sure I used all of it at least once. I can’t think of anything major that I would do different if I went again. Yes, I wish I had more time but who wouldn’t. I would have preferred more early mornings and late evenings but there are limits to even the patience of my then fiancé and now wonderful wife Hélène on how long she is willing to bounce around in a vehicle on safari. So we were off to Zanzibar and more fun in stone town.
Truly a great lifetime experience and I would love to go back again.