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Traveler’s Corner: A Photographer’s Perspective on Safari

August 22, 2023  By: Gretchen

Tanzanite Circle member Bob C. started his career as a fashion photographer, but later migrated in other artistic directions. While he enjoys landscape and wildlife photography, his approach and guiding passion is to capture humans in interesting and different ways.

Maasai woman

On his most recent safari, special memories were made during the time he was able to spend with the Maasai. He worked to pre-negotiate time to photograph local Maasai people during his time in Tanzania. He spoke with his lodge manager, Moko, and explained what he wanted to be able to capture. The manager was able to work with the local community to source people willing to model for him.

Maasai child
“If you want one on one time with a subject, offer to pay them as a model. Don’t negotiate in the village, ask a local fixer to negotiate a price, then pay the models.” - Bob C.

Bob knew what to expect visually from the Maasai and he had photographed other tribes in Africa in the past. He did not want to photograph people in the local boma (the family compound), worried that his models would feel self-conscious while surrounded by their community.

Maasai man
“Often people are reticent. It’s important to respect people and their different cultures. Perhaps they might not want to be touched or posed, but this is again something that can be introduced by the local contact who can then obtain permission to move the models, allowing you to orchestrate the shot.” - Bob C.

Bob was thrilled to create photographs of a young Maasai maiden, an older Maasai woman and a moran, or Maasai warrior. He happily shared his photos with the subjects after taking them, but then went one step further. Bob blew up 8×10 portraits of each of them, as well as one of Moko and shipped them off to them. They were thrilled to have them!

wildebeest river crossing

After three safaris, Bob has some great advice for prospective travelers.

  • “It makes a huge difference coordinating your trip with an outfit that has expertise. You don’t have expertise! Having worked with Kent before, we knew we could trust him and we knew he knew the level of travel we liked and the kind of travel we like to do.”
  • “If you’re bringing a camera and you want to take good shots, go to the zoo first. There you can take the time to understand when the animal you’re photographing looks most alive! This is when you can see the ‘catchlights’ in their eye – the dots that make it look like their eye is catching the sun. When you are on safari, wait until they turn a bit or get the guide to move your vehicle and you will be rewarded with a much better photo. The beauty of digital cameras is that you get your results right away so you can adjust on the fly.”
  • “Keep a shoot list – know beforehand what you want/have in mind. If you didn’t get your shot the first time, tomorrow is another day. Be prepared!”
chimp nursing

Another highlight of Bob’s trip was spending time with the chimpanzees at Greystoke Mahale Camp (an AAC favorite!) in Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania. This was Bob’s second visit to Greystoke. It was made extra special because some of the same staff members were there from his previous stay. Bob was able to show them current and 12-year-old photos of one of the local dominant males, Darwin, to compare, which they thought was fantastic!

silverback gorilla

Bob also trekked to see gorillas on his multi-country adventure. He reflected on the experience of photographing a silverback …

“We came across our troop and the first thing we saw was a silverback. He was napping, not doing much of anything. We stood around watching him. I had a shot in mind of what I wanted but he wasn’t cooperating. We could also hear the juveniles playing so the guides and ranger moved our group to go see them. I waited back with the silverback to wait for my shot – the guide couldn’t understand why. As soon as everyone left, the silverback got up, looked at me and gave me the shot I was waiting for! You couldn’t plan it - I learned that on a lion sighting on the last safari - patience is key. Sit still! Sometimes you get rewarded.” - Bob C.
buffalo herd

You can see more of Bob’s photography on his Instagram page. He sells some of his beautiful photographs as prints with proceeds going to various charities.

Are you ready to plan your own photo safari?

Photos courtesy AAC Tanzanite Circle member Bob C.