Logo Trogon Tours
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors


This month’s bird and wildlife photography article is about photographing in the Masai Mara and the Ark Lodge in Kenya.  It includes information on taking images at night without flash.  Guilherme Battistuzzo and I have just returned from our first Kenya Photo Tour with several regular tour participants. 

Our first Kenya Wildlife Photo Tour took place this November.  November is off season and typically the start of the rainy season but you don’t get a lot of rain, just an occasional shower.  It’s a great time of year for a combination bird and wildlife photo tour as it’s the start of the nesting season for many of the birds there.  At our lodge in the Masai Mara, Keekorok, we found nests of this White-headed Barbet as well as Violet-backed Starling and Red-billed Oxpecker nests, they are all cavity nesters.  We didn’t get much rest those first five days as we did two game drives a day, plus the birds at the lodge kept us busy during our lunch breaks.  The techs for this shot were Canon R5, 800RF11 lens, 1/500 at F11, iso 3200, Av mode, evaluative metering at 0.

The bird photography was also excellent during game drives in the Masai Mara.  Each photographer had their own row during our photo tour.  In this case this Little Bee-eater kept returning to the same perch.  So I instructed our participants to prefocus on the perch with a fair bit of depth of field and shutter speed.  We had several more passes of the bird landing on this perch and everyone in my vehicle was able to get some nice flight shots.  This was my favorite image of the encounter.  The settings for this shot were Canon R5, 800RF 11, 1/2000 F11, iso 3200, Av mode, evaluative metering at 0, handheld from safari vehicle.  With the 800 RF11 lens you are already starting at F11 so that gives you a fair bit of depth of field.  With me focusing on the perch at 100 percent the Bee-eater is not tack sharp but certainly sharp enough when viewed at full screen. 

Of course, mammals and cats in particular are very high on almost every photographer’s list of subjects they want to photograph in Kenya.  We weren’t disappointed with several sightings each of Leopard, Cheetah and Lions.  The drivers work well together in the Masai Mara to keep each other well informed about sightings.  In general this is very helpful, it can lead to a lot of vehicles photographing a subject but the drivers work well together to make sure everyone gets a good chance to photograph.  We came across this female Leopard which was walking and followed it.  The animals in the Masai Mara are very much accustomed to vehicles and pay very little attention to them.  This allows for close viewing.  Shortly after this shot, this female Leopard began hunting and we were able to witness it take down a young warthog.  This happened in long grass and was lightning fast so difficult to photograph the actual attack, but we were able to photograph the Leopard carrying off the Warthog at close range after the predation.  The techs for this shot were Canon R5, 800RF 11, 1/640 at F11, iso 1250, handheld from safari vehicle.

We spent one night at a very interesting lodge in the Aberdare National Park called the Ark.  The Ark sits on a large waterhole which is floodlit at night.  There are viewing platforms on 3 floors on the lodge.  Usually the ground floor was the best for getting close to the animals and getting a lower angle.  The fact that the waterhole and surroundings are so well lit at night means that you can do dusk and night photography without using a flash.  However it means that you will be photographing at quite low shutter speeds which means either you need to be quite steady or you need to use a tripod.  The way I approach these night shots is to underexpose them some which does two things for me.  First it adds shutter speed which is helpful in terms of getting a reasonably sharp image.  Secondly if you are using aperture priority with evaluative metering you have to dial in negative exposure compensation or with the very dark night background you would end up overexposing the animals and in this case, particularly the whites of the tusks.  The techs for this shot were Canon R5, 100-400 at 100mm 1/20 F6.3, iso 8000, Av mode, evaluative metering at -3.0.  The great iso performance of the R5 also makes it possible to take these types of images without flash.  Here you can see how close you are to the animals as this was taken at just 100mm. 

At dusk we witnessed quite a bit of drama as this Spotted Hyena stalked this adult Waterbuck.  At this moment both animals were very still in a standoff which allowed me to capture a relatively sharp image at a very low shutter speed.  The techs for this shot were Canon R5, 100-400mm at 142mm, 1/20 at F5.6, iso 6400, Av mode, evaluative metering at -2.7, handheld.  Another option for taking these sort of images would be to shoot in full manual, as these mirrorless cameras give you a good view of the exposure as you take it.  I photographed the Hyena’s first attacks of the Waterbuck which it then left wounded in the middle of the waterhole.  Interestingly, even though there were many Hyenas in the area, only one went in for the initial attack.  I was actually surprised that the Hyena would take on an adult Waterbuck like this.  We went to bed and didn’t watch the Hyenas finish it off as Hyena predations are a bit grotesque, lasting hours as opposed to the lightning fast predations of cats.  Again, the combination of a well-lit water hole and a camera with great iso performance allowed me to capture images which wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago when we photographed flood lit waterholes in Namibia. 

We awoke to the Hyenas feeding on the carcass the next day.  I went to the top floor observation deck to get a good view as the Hyenas had dragged the carcass up the hill, a distance from the waterhole.  Since it was now daylight I was able to use the 800F11 to get some images.  In this case another Hyena was walking up the hill towards the carcass and most of the Hyenas turned to look at it, which made for a nice image.  The techs on this shot were Canon R5, 800RF 11, 1/250 at F11, iso 6400, Av mode, evaluative metering at 0. 

My favorite image of our time at the Ark was of these Grey-crowned Cranes which appear to be kissing.  Cranes have always been one of my favorite photography subjects due to their amazing dancing displays.  They mate for life and I think this image captures their bonding well.  This was taken early in the morning on the ground floor, from the blind.  I was surprised at how close they had wandered to the blind and just very fortunate to be there for this interaction.  The techs on this shot were Canon R5, 100-400 at 400mm, 1/640 F6.3 at iso 6400, Av mode, evaluative metering -0.7, handheld.  I zoomed in as much as I could to get an intimate shot of this moment. 

During our trip we photographed Oxpeckers on mammals quite a few times.  One of my favorites was this shot of Red-billed Oxpeckers on this female Bushbuck.  Bushbucks are one of the most beautiful Antelope I think with interesting markings on their legs and chest.  The Red-billed Oxpeckers on her neck make me think of a woman wearing a scarf.  The techs for this shot were Canon R5, 800RF 11, 1/640 at F11, Av mode, evaluative metering at 0, handheld.  In conclusion, the Masai Mara and the Ark were my two favorite locations for wildlife photography we visited in Kenya, on this trip we spent 4 nights in the Mara and 1 at the Ark, for the next one we will spend 5 in the Mara and 2 at the Ark, among the several other parks we visit.  

Scroll to Top