Travel Thru Tanzania with Don Hamilton: Diverse Landscapes & Wildlife

In this episode of Travel Thru Tanzania with Don Hamilton we will highlight reptiles, birds, hippos and cheetahs. I can’t emphasize enough my enthusiasm for Tanzania’s diverse, yet abundant wildlife and landscape photography opportunities.

Lets get started with another day on the plains. Did you ever envision yourself doing macro photography in Africa? Well you know the deal..if it’s there and I can shoot it I’m on it! The terrain and geology is extremely diverse in Tanzania. Imagine beautiful grassy plains accentuated with rocky out-crops. Below is an image of a very colorful common Agama(also known as a red-headed rock Agama or rainbow agama), which is a species of lizard from the Agamidae family found in most sub-Saharan areas.

What a beauty! They are quite shy and easily spooked. Best options would be to use my telephoto Canon 200-400 with 1.4 extender engaged on my Canon 7D Mark II. Did I mention just how versatile this combo is? There are many added value benefits for this choice. I love the narrow DOF that telephotos provide as well as the ability to blur the distracting background. Shooting at 896mm allowed me to fill the frame creating a stronger image. Shooting in the port mode also allowed the option to present a stronger composition. Note the extremely thin depth of Field here.

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Africa’s prime time is early morning and late afternoons. The show was about to begin as we saw a herd of wildebeest acting very nervous. We suspected some predation, but were too far away to confirm. Sure enough two cheetahs were sitting and observing the heard. As my wife Linda gasped and said “Oh My Stars!”, I began rooting for the cheetahs to score a fresh breakfast right before my Canon! Yet, Linda was pulling for the wildebeest to live another day. Go figure!

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As you can see this.. fellow was not day dreaming! Their instinctual behavior was very interesting to observe. His eyes and ears locked in, along with the nervous twitching of his tail was a telltale sign action was pending. Canon’s 200-400 at 560mm f/5.6, ISO 1000, 1/1600sec, AV mode. Don’t forget speed is paramount. If he jumps up and takes off, you’d better have at least 3 to 4 times your focal length is speed. Note the claws/nails this fellow has… they are indeed tenacious hooks!

The other brother was not too interested at the moment.

Then all of a sudden it was game on and the hunt was on!! I was so pumped that I could feel my heart pounding! The odds of a successful hunt are diminished particularly on the wide open plains, unless the other brother gets in the game. The lead cheetah was now upright and walking directly at the heard. As the heard begin to spilt and run in many directions brother #2 decides he is in on it now. It was a carefully scripted dance the two brothers made as they worked the herd and looked for a weaker wildebeest or a younger offspring from this year. Remember the young were calved in January and February of this year.

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Here the lead cheetah is looking back and asking..”Where are you Brotha?” I chose to zoom out and take in the whole scene. Allowing the viewer to also get into the “Hunt”.

The chase was on and man was it a chase. Twice they nearly had their breakfast; however bad luck prevailed and the wildebeests escaped those claws off death. Linda was ecstatic! And, well I’m sure you know how I was feeling…

Score: Wildebeest-1   Cheetahs- ZERO!    Losers!! 🙂

Cheetahs are extremely fast, however they don’t have much stamina. The brothers headed for the nearest shade tree to rest up. Perhaps they would try again.. at least I was hoping!

After some serious panting, grooming and relaxation it was time to mark the territory.

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We will get back to the cheetahs in our next blog. In the mean time as the sun continued to heat up; photography challenges begin to present themselves. First challenge: lighting starts to get harsh and the sun angle begins to cast shadows. Well illuminated eye contact becomes increasingly difficult as well. Biggest challenge is the heat wave shimmers play havoc with your potentially less than sharp images. There is zero a photographer can do about it as well. Close your separation distance and look for areas that are cooler etc. Shaded areas provide some very unique opportunities. Just be prepared to use your flash with a better beamer(magnifies your Flash Beam) and use fill light. Usually you can use your Canon ETTL function and either decrease or increase strength as needed. This becomes particularly important for leopards or other wildlife resting in trees or partially shaded areas. Evenly shaded areas are less troublesome, however you can really create stunning images with a bit of controlled flash.

Our next stop this morning was the river area and watering holes looking for action. Bingo.. round the corner and look what we have! A hippo cow and her calf. Boy were we surprised to see scars on the youngster, already, at such a young age. We spend some time watching the birds cleaning the mother’s skin and enjoying their free parasite meals.

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Canon 200-400mm 1.4 at 896MM with better beamer flash extender. + 1 ETTL , Manual, ISO 640, f/7.1.

Another character quickly caught my eye. A Yellowed Billed Stork. This juvenile was working the bank looking for a meal as well. Notice the less than mature plumage. He was less than cooperative with giving me a sweet head angle. You know the deal, patience pays…

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Canon 1DX II, Canon 100-400mm at 380mm , ISO 640, f/6.3, Manual.

Seems that the morning was just getting better and better! We decided to cross the river and head back over to the other side. Wow what a great decision! We found a lioness and a few cubs. They were down by the river enjoying the cooler temperatures. It was such a treat to watch them playing and emulating their mom! This little guy captured our hearts with his feisty attitude. Seems like he might become an alpha one day! This youngster was in need of some serious anger management!

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Stay tuned for a continuation of the Cheetah Brothers Story! You aren’t going to want to miss the next episode!

Remember you are only on shutter click away from your next award winning image! Get out there and create some images! Any day in the field creating images is bonus!

To all my Sony friends, remember the RX100 IV camera? It rocked the house here in Tanzania! Stay tuned for a blog with Sony Images from the savanna of Tanzania.

Back at ya Bedford Camera & Video Nation!

-Don Hamilton

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