Trip Report: Kenya’s Masai Mara

Visiting Kenya's Masai Mara is like walking on the set of the real life version of Disney's Lion King movie. Home to the famous African "Big Five" (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo), three of the world's big cats, and one of the greatest densities of mammals on the planet, it is a photographer's dream destination. And one that I've returned to over and over again in the past eight years. I've seen many incredible moments, from lions taking down prey, to thousands of wildebeest crossing the Mara river in a panicked race for their lives, to cheetahs running at full speed and taking down their next meal. It is such an incredible place, and one of my favorite places on the planet.


My most recent trip to the Mara in October 2018 did not disappoint, and I had several great sightings and photographic opportunities. The first one happened early one morning with a pride of lions hunting along a river bank. The sky was clear and cloudless, and all signs pointed to the potential for very strong light. So, I worked with my guide to keep the sun behind the lions as they moved. The plan worked perfectly, and this lioness walked into the open, with the scene bathed in a beautiful golden glow created by backlighting from the rising sun. Because it was a very cold morning, the strong light revealed the lions's exhaled breath, and I waited for the perfect moment that combined a strong, smoky exhale with a dynamic pose.


Strong backlighting and a cold morning combined to reveal the lion's breath as it walked across the plains. Canon 1DXII, Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x extender, ISO 800, f/4, 1/2000 second.

One day, I was lucky to spot a leopard in the bush as we were driving past. As we moved a little closer, the leopard emerged from the bush with a fresh gazelle kill, which was an incredible rare sight to experience by ourselves. This view only lasted a moment as the leopard dragged the gazelle up into a nearby tree, obscured by lots of leaves and branches, where it would be safe from other predators such as lions or hyenas.


Visiting Kenya's Masai Mara is like walking on the set of the real life version of Disney's Lion King movie. Home to the famous African "Big Five" (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo), three of the world's big cats, and one of the greatest densities of mammals on the planet, it is a photographer's dream destination. And one that I've returned to over and over again in the past eight years. I've seen many incredible moments, from lions taking down prey, to thousands of wildebeest crossing the Mara river in a panicked race for their lives, to cheetahs running at full speed and taking down their next meal. It is such an incredible place, and one of my favorite places on the planet.

My most recent trip to the Mara in October 2018 did not disappoint, and I had several great sightings and photographic opportunities. The first one happened early one morning with a pride of lions hunting along a river bank. The sky was clear and cloudless, and all signs pointed to the potential for very strong light. So, I worked with my guide to keep the sun behind the lions as they moved. The plan worked perfectly, and this lioness walked into the open, with the scene bathed in a beautiful golden glow created by backlighting from the rising sun. Because it was a very cold morning, the strong light revealed the lions's exhaled breath, and I waited for the perfect moment that combined a strong, smoky exhale with a dynamic pose.

Seeing a kill by a big cat is a highlight on any safari. Canon 1DXII, Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x extender, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/400 second.

Another evening we were not having much luck. We had spent several hours searching for a good subject, but hadn't found anything and the sun was about to set. We suddenly heard a report of a cheetah sighting so we quickly headed in that direction. However, we actually had an issue with our vehicle which proved to be very fortuitous. As we were driving along, we stalled on the road next to a small herd of elephants. At the same time, there was this overlay of clouds covering most of the sky with a small opening at the bottom. So, while we were temporarily immobile, the elephants decided to position themselves perfectly up on the ridge just as the small opening in the sky took on this beautiful orange glow. I intentionally underexposed the image to capture a silhouette, and took this shot as the two elephants were back to back, rendered completely black, with both trunks clearly visible.

Sometimes bad luck turns into an opportunity. While our vehicle was stalled, the light changed dramatically and I composed this shot of two silhouetted elephants back to back. Canon 1DXII, Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x extender, ISO 100, f/8, 1/500 second.

The last great moment occurred while we were watching two male lions that were sleeping in the grass close to our camp. We had spent several hours watching them, hoping that they would become more active. And this time, our patience paid off. Just after sunset, the male lions got up. There was still a lot of ambient light in the sky with some interesting cloud patterns overhead. I underexposed by three stops and used a little bit of fill flash on low power to illuminate the first lion, increase the dynamic range of the image, and reveal the beauty that can be experienced at the edge of light.

Patience does pay off. I watched this lion sleep for several hours, hoping that he would become more active, and my patience was rewarded when he got up and walked right towards us. Canon 1DXII, Canon 11-24mm f/4 lens, ISO 6400, f/4, 1/80 second, fill flash.

To take great wildlife photos, it helps to be in a location where amazing moments happen all the time. Kenya's Masai Mara is certainly one of those places and I look forward to returning again soon!

Shuttermonkeys-sidebar-landscape-course-

Learn to capture stunning landscape scenes with this amazing video and ebook course.

vanuatu-revised.jpg

Follow our video adventures as we travel the world making photos in the most amazing places on Earth!

PARTNERS

LPM cover.png
Shuttermonkeys-Landscape-Photographers-C

Learn from top photo pros with Landscape Photography Magazine.

SOS-logo.png

Help us protect critically-endangered Sumatran orangutans!

The EVOLUTION of Photography

SHUTTERMONKEYS

© Shuttermonkeys