One morning in the Mara.
Text and photographs by Billy Dodson - www.savannaimages.com.
I don't know that it's possible to have a bad day of photography in the Maasai Mara regardless of season or time of day. But some days are pure magic … and such was the case for me on November 9th of 2010. Sorting through the files from that day brought back such a flood of memories that I dusted off my safari journal and located the exact date … and the most prominent entry from the 9th simply stated "one of the best days of photography I've ever had." Which also means it was one of the best days of my life.
During that five hour stint in the field, my shooting partner and I encountered an interesting range of photo possibilities. We were blessed with a gray sky and impeccable light, and were fortunate to spend quality time with some gorgeous birds, wary giraffes and wonderfully photogenic young cats.
Our day began under a threatening sky with a medium sized lion pride not far from the entrance to the Sarova Lodge. The lions were hidden in tall grass and high bush, but they made themselves visible just long enough to be photographed a few dozen times. We were witness their interactions, but much of their movement was obscured by the grass. They finally drifted into the open just long enough for us to capture a few images of a loving family in motion. They were beautiful, healthy animals … a joy to see and photograph.
My guide, the incomparable David Muteti, was acutely aware that young cheetahs were high on our list of desired subjects, and he drove us several kilometers off the beaten path to locate a lovely family. We were privileged to see a cheetah mother and her six healthy cubs strolled toward us across an open plain, pausing often to have their photos made … individually and in groups. The animals came within arm's reach of our vehicle before crossing a shallow ravine and disappearing from sight. A light rain fell as we photographed them, enhancing the quality of our images.
It's nigh on impossible to drive past a lilac-breasted roller without stopping for photographs. On this morning we found a lovely and unusually cooperative specimen. The bird was so close that it was almost inside the minimum focus range of my 600mm lens. We managed a few shots before a superb starling perched on a nearby branch. By shifting to the 200-400mm lens we were able to capture both birds in a single frame.
An hour or so later we passed five giraffes emerging from the bush. The animals strolled with confidence for some distance before freezing and assuming a confused formation and an alert posture. They seemed to sense danger, moving warily to the east of our vehicle. The animals were clearly concerned but not terrified. They continued to stare southward, but did stop from time to time to eat. Finally, a brave trio marched forward to confront the hazard and we at last saw the lions that were object of their collective attention.
There were two lionesses and two cubs in the open field ahead of the giraffes. But the cats were in no way interested in them as prey, and the giraffes eventually passed southward and out of sight. The lion family moved closer to us and occupied a termite mound well within photo range. The little ones were active as usual. The family posed for well over an hour before the adults herded the youngsters into hiding.
This five hour stretch resulted in about 1,700 photographs. The morning represented a perfect opportunity to use the full range of equipment, and to experiment with the infrared camera under overcast skies. Not all the images from that morning have been as yet been reviewed, but they will certainly serve as raw material for additional experimentation in the digital darkroom. There is always something wonderful to see in East Africa. But on the morning of November 9th 2010, the camera never rested for more than ten minutes at a stretch.
Take care, Billy.
All images with permission to publish on Safaritalk courtesy and © Billy Dodson.