Alone in the Namib Desert won Silver in the Portraits, People Online Publication category
I am very honored my travel photography received two 2nd Place (Silver) wins in the 2015 North American Travel Journalists Association Awards. Images I shot in Namibia were awarded Silver in the Portrait/People and Nature categories for Online Publications. Both winning photos were shot on my iPhone 6.
Elephant Pit Stop at the Watering Hole placed 2nd in Nature (Online Publication) category
I am thrilled and humbled by this recognition from NATJA. It’s always nice when your work is honored by your colleagues. I take great pride in the quality travel photography on this blog, and will continue to push myself to give My Life’s a Trip readers the best in travel photography.
The NATJA Awards competition, now in its 24th year, honors the “best of the best” in travel journalism.
The images below were named finalists in a few other categories of the 2015 NATJA awards.
Eponymous Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park
2016 marks the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. I’m embracing the Centennial celebration by visiting National Parks when I can and sharing my images using the #FindYourPark hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. I recently returned to one of my favorites, Joshua Tree National Park.
In bloom at Joshua Tree
Morning light in the desert can be magical
I particularly like exploring Joshua Tree’s otherworldly and landscape, where the Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems meet, during the winter and spring.
Winter visits mean cool mornings and pleasant temperatures for hiking and nature walks.
Silver cholla cactus
The highlight of my visit to Joshua Tree National Park was strolling through the Cholla Cactus Garden. This area of Joshua Tree National Park has a dense concentration of Cholla Cacti that can be viewed from many angles if you walk the easy quarter mile trail loop.
Mojave yucca (yucca schidigera) are endemic to both the Colorado and Mojave deserts
My visit started by driving into the park’s South entrance. I began my morning with a sunrise walk on the Cottonwood Oasis Nature Trail, which features the Colorado (Sonoran) desert eco-system. Yucca plants abound.
Silver Cholla and morning sunshine
I love the vast array of desert succulents in Joshua Tree. I’m hoping to return later this spring to hike around Joshua Tree when the wildflowers are blooming.
The cholla cactus garden is very unusual… and prickly!
Joshua Tree is popular for it’s interesting rock formations, which are far more spectacular near sunset.
One of Joshua Tree’s rock formations in morning light
Morning light at the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park
The Cholla Cactus Garden is about 20 miles north of the Cottonwood Visitor Center, near the park’s South Entrance.
I love the funky shapes of cholla cactus
Located near the Coachella Valley, I avoid dates near the Coachella Music Festival due to crowds and pricey hotel rooms. But music lovers who are already headed to Coachella in April might want to think about a side trip to Joshua Tree.
An eponymous Joshua Tree
The greatest concentration of Joshua Trees is near the park’s North and West entrances, near Twentynine Palms.
If you are a planning photographic safari and want a luxury experience, Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa might be the destination for you.
I rented this Canon is 100-400 mm IS lens at Londolozi
The South African game reserve, located within the Sabi Sands game reserve, has been a top photo safari destination for many years. Several documentaries, mostly on big cats, have been filmed here. You might have seen them on National Geographic or the Discovery Channel.
There is no denying that DSLR photo equipment is heavy. Before flying from Seattle to South Africa, I carefully edited my lens selections. My Canon EF 70-200 mm f/4 IS lens usually covers most of my telephoto needs. But safari is a different story. You ideally want to have a telephoto lens in the 400 mm range to get close to the action. Upon arrival to Tree Camp, I was told about Londolozi’s Photographic Studio.
A female leopard with her kill at Londolozi
But not on safari, where a great telephoto lens in the 300-400 mm range can make all the difference. I rented a Canon 100-400mm f 4.5-5.6 IS lens for about US $30 a day during my stay at Londolozi. I got some of my best photos with this lens, and it was a lot less expensive than buying one for over $2000.
I would not have been able to get this shot of this cheetah without my rental lens
My journey to and from South Africa was also a lot easier without carrying the 3 1/2 pound lens with me.
Male lion with a great mane
I would not have gotten some of my best shots on this trip if it weren’t for my rental lens. I really needed the zoom lens in the 300-400 mm range!
These lions mated multiple times during a morning game drive
In addition to photographic equipment rental, Londolozi’s safari vehicles are built for photographic safaris, with padded, movable camera rests that can be adjusted for you to stabilize your telephoto lens without a tripod (although the photographic studio has tripods available for rent as well).
Video from a game drive at Londolozi (shot on my iPhone 6s)
Private safari vehicles and photographic tutors are also available for photographers on safari at Londolozi. Many of the guides and trackers are excellent photographers.
A pair of lions on their “honeymoon”
Amy Attenborough took the time to show me Londolozi’s photographic studio. She is available to help photographers edit their personal images. They also offer a service where they can edit images for photographers not familiar with Lightroom. She helped me select an image to be printed on canvas and rolled up so that I could easily transport it home.
Londolozi’s blog is worth checking out to see what sort of photos you can get on safari at the highly rated safari destination.
Skinny lion on the prowl (video shot on my iPhone 6s )
Daily life at the watering hole on safari at Londolozi
Dung beetles are fascinating
While I don’t consider myself a bird watcher, so many of the birds at Londolozi were gorgeous and fascinating to watch (and photograph). This is another reason a quality zoom lens is recommended.
Leopard on the prowl
Londolozi is also one of the best spots on the planet to see leopards. They are so beautiful and graceful. I fall in love with big cats every time I see one of these beauties.
Leopard on the banks of a sandy river
Leopard at a drinking hole. Such gorgeous eyes!
Photographing a pride of lions feasting on a wildebeest on my iPhone 6s plus
While I shot quite a bit with my Canon, my iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s worked great for shooting videos on safari.
Pride of lions feasting on a freshly killed wildebeest
Watching a pride of 11 lions feast on a freshly killed wildebeest was the highlight of my safari at Londolozi. The way the lions interacted was absolutely fascinating. This is how lions “go grocery shopping.” If you are too squeamish to watch it, going on safari is probably not for you.
Looking up at a leadwood tree (also known as combretum imberbe)
The image below shows some of the printing options available at Londolozi’s photographic studio.
Londolozi’s photographic studio (photo credit: Londolozi)
I love that I got a canvas print of my one of my favorite images as a take home souvenir, all wrapped up in a cardboard tube for easy packing. Now I just have to pick out a frame and figure out where to hang it.
Up close with African elephants at Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa
Last month I returned to Londolozi Game Reserve, where I went on my first safari in 2004. The three days I spent there reminded me of why Londolozi has such a fantastic reputation and constantly winds up on lists of the best safari lodges in the world.
Solo rhino at Londolozi
This time my husband and I stayed at Tree Camp, the newest of the camps at Londolozi and found the room far more luxurious than we needed it to be. We appreciated all the mod cons like AC and dual vanity sinks and the hot tub, but the point of safari is to go on the game drives and see the animals. Tree Camp was amazing, but I don’t think it’s necessary to get the fanciest room at Londolozi.
A casual encounter with an African elephant at Londolozi
We also paid for a private vehicle, so that we could go at our own pace and hang out with certain sightings as long as we wanted. If I had to pick one splurge, I’d pick the private vehicle over the largest room on safari. This gives you a more customized safari experience.
Adorable elephant at Londolozi
Elephants on an afternoon game drive
There have been some changes at Londolozi since I first visited, and they are great. I’ll dedicate a future post to Londolozi’s photographic studio, which rents Canon and Nikon compatible lenses. This makes Londolozi a top pick for travelers who want the best photographic safari experience.
Pride of lions feeding on a wildebeest
Game drives at Londolozi last about three hours in the morning and another three in the afternoon. If you’ve never been on safari, six hours of game drives seems like a long time to spend in a vehicle. But the time flies on a game drive when you get to see such amazing wildlife activity up close.
The elephants and leopards were my favorite animals to view. And I got up close with quite a few of them.
Londolozi is famous for the leopards
One of the highlights of any safari at Londolozi is the seeing the leopards. They are beautiful and amazing.
Following a leaping leopard on a game drive
Leopard on the move at Londolozi
Leopard napping in a tree
Londolozi is located within South Africa’s Greater Kruger National park on the Sand River. This is also in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve.
Up close with an elephant on a game drive at Londolozi
If you are planning a gorilla trekking safari to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, you are going to want to document your experience with a camera or three.
There are less than 1,000 mountain gorillas in the world today
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your gorilla trekking safari photography.
I took some of my favorite images on my iPhone 6s plus
Weather conditions for my treks ranged from rainy (think Gorillas in the Mist) to very contrasty when it was sunny. The contrasty day was the most difficult to photograph.
This mountain gorilla walked right by me
Tip #1 Hire a Porter
Porters are available (tip them US $10 per day) to help carry your gear/backpack and help you through steep and difficult parts of your trek. I would highly recommend using one. Not only are you supporting the local community, but there are a few times when it’s helpful to have someone spot you when you are climbing on a step rocks.
A juvenile gorilla swinging in the bamboo
Tip #2 Make Sure You have Pockets
The protocol for gorilla trekking safaris requires you to leave your daypack, backpack or camera bag about 100 meters from the group of gorillas you will be interacting with that day. This means that any gear you intend on using during the one hour you get to spend with the gorillas needs to be on you. Make sure your pants (most likely rain pants) have pockets for any accessories or spare batteries you might need.
Mother gorilla and baby (image shot and edited on my iPhone 6s plus)
Tip #3- Bring Your iPhone or Mobile Phone
Some of the best photos I shot during my gorilla treks were taken using my iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s plus. Mobile phones are great for wide angle photography, and you will be getting up close with the mountain gorillas. iPhones (and most mobile phones) are best at shooting wide angle images and are easy to carry. This makes them an an excellent choice for photographing your gorillas trekking experience.
Portrait of a mountain gorilla (taken on my iPhone 6s)
Trekkers in Volcanoes National Park are supposed to stay 7 meters away (approximately 23 feet) from the gorillas. The gorillas, however, do not follow this rule. Some will walk ride by you or even touch you. You can only photograph these sorts of interactions if you camera can focus when it’s close to the subject. My iPhone 6s was great at photographing at these short distances, where the lens I had on my Canon required more distance.
Gorilla laying on it’s back
Tip #4- Pack a few lens wipes
You’ll visit the gorillas on their turf, which is not a clear hiking path. The ground will be covered with vines and leaves and possibly mud. I tripped once each of the three days I was with gorilla trekking. While my falls weren’t painful, a few of them did leave my lens or cameras a bit dirty. Fortunately I brought a lint free lens wipe with me each day so I was able to wipe down my cameras and return to shooting promptly.
I shot this video of a mountain gorilla munching on bamboo on my iPhone 6s
Tip #5- Shoot Some Video
Your mobile phone is a great option for this. Even if you are not an experienced video shooter, this is the time to give it a try. Make sure your microphone is on so you have some of the sounds of nature. If you don’t like the sounds when you review your video later, you can always add music later.
Tip #6- Bring a wide angle zoom lens
If you are bringing a DSLR camera, you’ll want to have a wide angle zoom lens that can focus quickly with you. I got good results with my Canon 24-70 mm lens.
I photographed the young mountain gorillas above using my Canon 24-70 wide angle zoom
Tip #7- Bring a Shower Cap
A humble shower cap is one hotel room amenity I always take and stuff into my camera bag. Shower caps can be used to protect your camera body in rainy or damp conditions, which are very possible if Rwanda. Rwanda’s rainy season is from March- May, but I had a light rain in early December. A plastic bag can also do the trick but in Rwanda has a ban on plastic bags. So if you don’t have a clean plastic bag available, grab a shower cap from your hotel’s bathroom instead.
Gorilla chilling out in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Tip #7- Disable Your Flash
Flash photography is not allowed around the gorillas. Be sure you know how to disable the flash on your camera or mobile phone and do so before you get to your group of gorillas.
Baby gorilla from the Hirwa group framed in vines
Tip #8- Look for Creative Ways to Frame Your Shot
The mountain gorillas in Rwanda have some very human behaviors, but they won’t pose for you. Look for angles that will allow you to frame the animals creatively. I found the vines and bamboo helped create interesting ways to frame the animals.
Ideally you want to be able to focus on the gorilla’s eyes. It is unlikely that the lighting will always be ideal for this. Apps like Afterlight and VSCO‘s clarity and shadow save adjustment features can help enhance your gorilla photos during your editing process. If you’re shooting with a DSLR, this can also be done in the editing process if you use Lightroom or Photoshop.
Tip #9- Shoot a Variety of Shots (including group shots)
Much of the time you’ll be in front of one or two gorillas. Try and look for a variety of images, including group shots. These might be harder to compose due to other trekkers in your group, or lighting conditions might not be ideal. Group shots help round out your coverage and give a sense of how the gorilla family interacts. If you have a clear shot of a group of gorillas moving, try capturing it on video as well as in stills. It helps give a sense of place.
I shot the video above of the Hirwa group of gorillas on my iPhone 6s
Tip #10- Don’t Forget to Shoot Landscapes and Details
In order to best cover your gorilla trekking experience, you’ll want to include a few landscape shots which show the area. If you have any sort of zoom capability, you’ll also want to get a few shots of details. When the largest silverback gorilla in the world did not want to show me his face, I took a photo of his vast back. If I could not see an animal’s eyes, I tried to zoom in on a detail like feet, hands, or toes.
A landscape of the some of rural countryside in Rwanda
This gorilla didn’t wouldn’t show me his face, so I photographed his feet
My gorilla trekking guides offered to take pictures of me each day. This is a better and safer option than taking a gorilla selfie.
Here I am photographing the mountain gorillas in Rwanda