Posts Tagged ‘animals in africa’

10 Photography Tips for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda at Volcanoes National Park


Head scratcher in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

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.

Photo Dec 08, 10 06 03 AM

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.

Photo Dec 08, 9 24 16 AM

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with 4 preset

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.

Photo Dec 08, 10 26 47 AM-2

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

Yes. You get really close.

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#FriFotos Furry Edition: Close Up with Animals from Africa to the Americas

While I’m not much of a macro shooter, there is one thing I love shooting up close (preferably with a wide angle lens) and that’s animals. Yes, it’s gimmicky and cliché but it’s still so cute. So today, in honor of #FriFotos, I’m giving in to the cuteness.

 Up close with a French bulldog in Los Angeles

Up close with a French bulldog in Los Angeles

I’m a huge animal lover (except for sharks, which I actually fear to an irrational extent) and I love when I get a chance to bond with charming and exotic animals during my travels.

Of course the best place to see animals up close is on Safari (if you’re new to my blog, you can read my previous safari posts here) but I’ve met plenty of critters on my travels and here are some of my favorites.

 Mexican jumping dog in Baja, Mexico

Mexican jumping dog in Baja, Mexico

 Black cat at The Delano On South Beach

Black cat at The Delano On South Beach

While trying to play with Marron, the chocolate lab, in Malmo, Sweden I realized that the dog did not understand English (unlike most Swedes) but did understand the  universal pleasing nature of "fetch."

While trying to play with Marron, the chocolate lab, in Malmo, Sweden I realized that the dog did not understand English (unlike most Swedes) but did understand the universal pleasing nature of “fetch.”

 Straight out of the horses mouth Santa Fe, New Mexico

Straight out of the horses mouth Santa Fe, New Mexico

 A darling camel I met in Giza, Egypt

A darling camel I met in Giza, Egypt

 Camel with an underbite Giza, Egypt

Camel with an underbite Giza, Egypt

 Giant turtle Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Giant turtle Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

 Young Male Lion at Kwandwe

Young Male Lion at Kwandwe

There is no better place to see the big five animals (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo, and leopard) than on an African Safari. Here’s a gorgeous young lion I saw this spring on Safari at Kwandwe Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Afric.

 White Tiger Cub

Me bottle feeding an 8 week old white tiger cub at Zion Wildlife Gardens (now called Kingdom of Zion in Whangarei, New Zealand).

Cute as they may be, wild animals are wild. This guy was strong and 8 weeks was just about the last time anyone untrained got to play with him.

Note: A zookeeper at Zion Wildlife gardens was killed by a white tiger in 2009. I don’t know if if this little guy was involved or not. But it’s best when wild animals can remain in the wild.

 An 8 week old baby white tiger cub at Zion Sanctuary in New Zealand

An 8 week old baby white lion cub I got to play with at Zion Sanctuary in New Zealand. Check out those paws!

 Koala Cuddle

Cuddling a koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary was the highlight of my trip to Queensland, Australia.

 Taxidermy always seems in Vogue in St. Germain furniture shops

 Taxidermy at Deyrolles in Paris, France

Taxidermy always seems in Vogue in St. Germain furniture shops and Deyrolles in Paris, France

Mountain Lion taxidermy at the Helena, Montana airport

Mountain Lion taxidermy at the Helena, Montana airport

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South African Safari: Video Highlights Reel at Kwandwe


A typical day at Kwandwe Private Game Reserve goes something like this:

5:30 your Ranger calls your room to wake you up. You get dressed and go to Fish River Lodge for a cup of tea or coffee before heading out on your morning game drive in an open top 4 x 4.  It’s still cold, but there are blankets and you’re got a jacket on.

Ready for the morning game driveSunrise at Kwandwe

Self-portrait: ready for the morning game drive at dawn

From 6 am until 9:30 or so (depending on what you view) you’re in your out on a game drive. The sun has just risen and your barely awake until something wakes you right up. It could be a lion’s roar or an elephant crossing the dirt road or flock of blue cranes flying over head.

Elephant crossingElephant walking

Pictures of Elephant Walking. Guess who gets the right of way?

Then you find yourself fully awake and completely fascinated by the skill of your ranger (in my case, Robin) and tracker (Ernie) who can help track animal movements and tell you all about the dynamics of the animals that live on the land. It’s not really a vacation as much as it is travel and education. You leave far more aware of the ecosystem and amazed by the animals who survive there.

Cape BuffaloRangers know all

Rangers know all

You return to camp around 9:30 for breakfast and free time. You avoid the mid-day sun in your room or at the lodge (which is rather comfortable) before heading out at around 3:30 for an afternoon game drive. One of the perks of the afternoon game drives is that you get to stop somewhere scenic for a sundowner- a cocktail in the bush and a snack before heading back to the lodge. While gin & tonic is usually my sundowner adult beverage of choice, this trip I learned that Amarula tastes great mixed in hot chocolate if the weather is a bit nippy.

Fish River Lodge chess librarySafari Chic bath tub at Kwandwe

Fish River Lodge- a luxurious home base to come back to. I loved the bathtub in room 6.

As a photographer, shooting on safari can be problematic. It’s extremely challenging attempting to get video while on bumpy dirt roads and with other people in the vehicle, often blocking your shot. If I do it again, I’ll rent a good 400 mm lens because I felt that my 300 mm was not quite as sharp as it could be and I would have appreciated that extra telephoto oomph. There is so much I didn’t capture on video or stills because I just wanted to be in the moment and enjoy seeing the animals in Africa. That’s not to say I came away empty handed, I got some great stuff. Of the so-called Big Five animals I did not see a leopard or a black rhino on this trip, but I met a charming leopard tortoise and the white rhinos are just as adorable. I hope you enjoy this highlights reel of some of the game spotting from my recent trip to Kwandwe.


A Side Note/rant:

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Photo Safari & Philanthropy at Kwandwe Private Game Reserve

I am tremendously lucky to be able to have experienced a few luxury safaris in my life. But I am also a Hollywood Liberal, and I feel much better about spending my money at a place that not only provides great guides, excellent game viewing and comfortable surroundings, but at a place with a strong philanthropic bent. Kwandwe is such a place.

At Kwandwe, they are serious about the conservation of the land and the wildlife, and about responsible tourism. They lead by example. More important, Kwandwe is also dedicated to making humans lives better too. In a part of the country where one third of the households survive on an income of less than $25 US per month, poverty is serious. The owners of Kwandwe started a rural development trust, The Angus Gilles Foundation, which aims to help the local rural community living in poverty by helping members create opportunities for themselves and helping them acheive them. They provide real opportunities for rural communities by teaching self-reliance and empowerment. I even bought one of the adorable  Unthando Dolls made by a collective of local women.

Uthandu dolls

Uthandu dolls

Here are some additional safari photos:

First set is animals in Africa:

A trip of elephantselephant

A trio of elephants

Bull elephant eatingElephant picture

Scenes from a safari: Bull elephant eating a pork bush tree (also known as spek boom, a succulent that grows readily at Kwandwe and also has enormous environmental benefits to combat Carbon emissions).

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Black and White Safari Photos at Kwandwe (Part 2)

Here are some more images from my amazing few days at Kwandwe Private Game Reserve. Much thanks to my guides: ex-cricketer turned-excellent Ranger, Robyn; and my tracker, Ernie. They showed me everything from aardvarks to aardwolf (the latter being more rare than the black rhino).

I found myself particular charmed by the grace of a giraffe family and the offbeat cuteness of the warthogs.

All elephants are charming. The babies especially soBaby elephants in black & whiteElephant peeking through a bush

Elephants are one of the most charming animals in Africa. The babies especially so!

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