Travel Thru Tanzania with Don Hamilton: The Calm After the Storm

Hujambo! Not sure if you can hear the rain and wind outside as I type this edition of Travel Thru Tanzania with Don Hamilton. Hurricane Matthew gave us a scare indeed! Though we experienced some rainfall, we are happy to report all is well here in Florida. However, our thoughts and prayers do go out to those who were affected by the storm.

In this edition I will chronicle an early morning start as we photographed our way thru another day in the Serengeti. Well you know me, always in pursuit of the best photographic opportunities. So sneaking out of camp prior to sunrise in the dark was not for the “Want to be’s”. Yes, I know we are pushing the local rules which are: no one out of camp until daybreak! But dang I must have misread my watch 🙂   Go big or go to the zoo instead!

We headed out of our Northern Serengeti camp working our way towards the river. The sounds of a lion roaring, birds calling and the eerie screams of hyena’s were invigorating. The plan was to get close to the river with just enough daylight to cross the river as the sun was coming up. The fiery glow of the sun had been spectacular each morning and this would prove to be another killer sunrise over the Serengeti!

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Handheld, ISO 400, 1/500sec, manual, f/8.

I decided to under expose the image as there was no details to worry about in bushes etc. Silhouette all the way baby! Captured with the Canon 1DX Mark II with the amazing 100-400mm II lens. Did I Tell you just how much I love this lens?

If I only had one lens in my kit this would be the one! It delivers on so many fronts. Sharp and crisp thru the entire focal range! Love the Telephoto DOF fall off. Any chromatic or vignette is resolved by using Canon’s DPP4 or Adobe’s Camera Raw software on conversion from RAW!

Don’t be afraid to shoot RAW mode folks. There are advantages vs. JPG. (If you’d like to read more about the comparison of the two comment below and we will write a post about it!)

Just as we crossed the river we could see a few giraffe off in the distance. My wife Linda is a giraffe fanatic, so off we went to see these beauties in the early morning light. We were hopeful they would come down to the river for an am drink. Our tracker Tabu said, no way as it was still not light enough and they were way more savvy than that.. They were going to avoid the possible ambush at the river’s edge. Remember giraffe kneel down to drink. The perfect posture for the stalking lions and hyenas. Well, seems that their appetites got the best of them. They proceeded to munch down on the youngest leaves in the top of the trees and showed zero interest in drinking… Linda was in awe as they came closer and closer! And go figure! I had a giraffe up front and in my face and there was no light..Mother nature had a pending rain shower in mind instead! I need a higher shutter speed to freeze the chewing motion here.. Well I’m here, so lets crank this bad boy up to ISO 6400!! Nuttin to lose I suppose. You tell me? Keeper or delete?  Zoomed all the way out with the magnificent Canon 100-400mm II.. BAM, another shot!

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Hand held ISO 6400.. Canon 1DX Mark II 100-400mm II f/5.6, manual, 1/250sec

Our plan was to travel to the “Kopies”. Millions of years ago volcanic activity pushed up huge boulders and sculpted rocky areas on the plains. It’s just amazing to see these massive rock structures in the middle of nowhere. They provide a wealth of benefits for the wildlife as well. Take the leopard for example; they love to rest on the sun warmed rocks during the cold evenings. They especially like the visual vantage point they provide. From above the tall grasses they can recon there next unsuspecting prey. As they are total ambush predators with short bursts of speed, not suited for a prolonged chase. Working alone, they are very stealthy!

Arriving at the Kopies in a light rain, overcast morning I chose a monochrome presentation here. There was drab overcast skies with a light rain falling to my left.

Canon 1DX original with a Canon 24-70mmII lens! Man this f/2.8 lens is a keeper indeed. This is straight out of the camera, landscape color mode, converted to monochrome. Amazing lens with sweet details!

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The rain signaled the increased chances of leopard. Why is that you ask? Because of “Wildlife Photographers Murphy’s Law.” Low light, rain, and bad conditions means life changing Leopard opportunities. Right?

Well I quickly realized that I,  Mr. Don “Get The Shot”, insisted on no top cover or side covers of our Land Rover this particular morning. Thinking to myself, all the better to throw down some killer shots, right?!  WRONG!!! The pesky rain was coming down. However, I had no worries because I just whipped out my Lens Raincoat and you are back in business. Gore-tex jackets anyone? This is fun..Right?

Sure enough, there it is! This fellow had been watching me for miles probably! You almost never sneak up on a leopard.

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ISO 6400, f/6.3, manual,1/640 sec.

Seems our Land Rover probably woke him up. Wind was blowing and those pesky reeds were waving back and forth in front of his face. Dang it! I need for my tracker to do a bit of vegetation trimming. Not happening! Remember we are not a lion country safari!

So the next best deal is to re-position the Rover a bit and time my shot so the reeds frame this cat! Supported by a beanbag on the roll bar, postitioned at eye-level, I let the 16 frames per second Canon 1DX Mark II 100-400mm II rip!

If you’ve been folllowing my adventures thru Tanzania this will probably come as no surprise to you, but MAN the African Leopard is my favorite cat!

We spent the better part of the overcast morning with this Leopard. I think I did hear my wife say a few times,”Well alrighty then.”

What?? Man I think my hearing is going bad honey!! Not sure if my wife realized when you buy a Canon camera you get the free Selective Hearing Software as well. 🙂

Oh man I’m gonna pay for that one later!!

Conditions did continue to improve a bit…regardless it was a leopard morning and a FANTASTIC ONE INDEED!

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High-fives to both my guide Benedict and Tracker Tabu! You guys Rock! Not sure they are used to my extreme enthusiasm! Seems that many of their clients simply sit with their binoculars and don’t say much. Leopard photography will put some pep in your step! Nuttin better than to hear my Canon 1DX Mark II singing at 16 frames per second.. If that doesn’t get you going..I don’t know what will!

Did I tell you Linda had her Sony RX100 camera humming?? She was burning some serious gigabytes as well! Stay tuned for a total Sony images blog coming! They’re mighty cameras and their technology is marvelous!

How many of you thought I forgot my about my cheetahs brothers? Hmmm… no way!

Well after a failed morning stalk & hunt the two brothers decided to rest. I suppose their empty stomachs must have motivated them. The leader of the duo suddenly got up from his nap and locked on his target. They have such an instinct to single out the weaker of the species. Our Land Rover motion or a conversation from other photographers couldn’t even distract this cheetah on a mission!

locked-on-cheetah_f7i1137
Captured using Canon’s Pro body 1DX Mark II / Canon’s 100-400mm II ISO 1250, f/5.6, manual, 1/3200sec.

Remember the difference in a “Missed Shot”(or you might know it as “Shoulda/Coulda”) and a “Keeper” image is you anticipating the next behavior/action.

Thus the reason for the higher ISO = Shutter Speed

These unsuspecting Wildebeests had better wise up! They are staring death in the eyes times two! Since you weren’t there let me set the stage for ya.

Mr. “Locked on” had his tail twitching with the hair over his shoulders bristling. Clearly we were witnessing the beginnings of another hunt. Wildebeest instinctively must know when they are in the sights of a predator. Their nervous movements were a sure clue the chase was soon to repeat itself. I also learned a few lessons this morning. So I too was running thru a mental check list.. Fstop, light angle, shutter speed and trying to guess what direction the action was happening.

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The third wildebeest to the right was also locked on. It was too late as the stalk was now in motion. No turning back now folks!

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This cheetah slowly advanced forward and spilt off these four wildebeest from the herd as the other cheetah came to his feet and launched out of the blocks like a bullet. Unfortunately, the chase and tackle was in the deep brush where panning/tracking was worthless. The tackle by one cheetah followed by the second one moving in and grasping the wildebeest by the throat. It certainly is a dramatic exhibition of the “Circle of Life”, (cue Disney’s hit from the 1994 animated film The Lion King).  The cheetah basically latched on to the throat of wildebeest and essentially suffocated it. The thrashing and kicking was crazy as the wildebeest tried to escape to no avail. Actually to be honest, the wildebeest seemed to succumb very quickly.  The rest is history as the two brothers got down to a hearty meal. They actually also had a squabble among themselves as well. Certainly one is more dominant or the alpha. What an experience to witness. Just another “business us usual” day on the Serengeti.

Not sure if folks actually use their DSLR video capabilities. I took many videos with the various camera bodies. It is a very simple, yet rewarding addition to your toolbox. Remember a successful safari is taking advantage of todays wonderful technology!

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Speaking of videos. Here is a link depicting this kill.  https://youtu.be/aHVj8ByqZKQ

Well that’s it for this edition.  Hope you are enjoying following along.

Upcoming Stories:

The wildebeest crossing! “That’s what brought me to the Serengeti!” We were so blessed to have multiple crossings per day. The sheer magnitude of wildebeest numbers was just over the top! So so many images to share!!

Several new camera bodies to highlight!  A6300 and now A6500! Sony’s new star of the fleet, as well as the newest mirrorless release. FujiFilm’s new Killer X-T2! I am super impressed with this camera.

Dang, these are exciting times!!

Remember you can always test drive a new camera with Bedford Camera& Video! What a sweet benefit! Feel free to contact them about camera & lens rentals.

Until the next time, Get out there and put the “Fun” back in your photography.

Don Hamilton Jr.

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