Egret and Wildebeest


Serengeti, Tanzania, Africa Out in the Serengeti we were hunting with our lenses, hoping to snap a view of something unique and special. Of course we got the basics under our wing: many photos of the beautiful white Egrets flying, and a whole whack of the wildebeest. On their own they can be interesting shots, but it’s when I saw the white figure balancing on a wildebeest far ahead I knew I had to get an egret on top of a wildebeest. Once I knew what to look for I noticed it was happening everywhere, I just needed it to happen near me! Patience awards us with a few of the Egrets posing calmly on the back of the beasts. But as the photographic process always goes, you always try to outdo yourself. That’s when I realized I could do even better with a photo of the Egret just landing on a wildebeest with their beautiful outstretched wings. This is where I tell myself it’s time to sit back and observe the Egrets, watch from their body language so I can tell when one is about to take off, and one is about to land. I taught myself to pay attention to my peripheral vision so I could anticipate the landing vector of the Egret and have my camera ready on the right wildebeest for the landing shot. This is where you become a naturalist and not a photographer, you learn about the animal in a more intimate way and you can be where you need to be to get the better shot.

These heron and wildebeest have established a symbiotic relationship, the insects swarming around these odiferous beast are removed and the egrets get their fill of food!

Egrets aren’t exclusive to feeding in wildebeest herds, they like to feed on small insects, frogs, and earthworms in most environments in the Serengeti. But once a herd of wildebeest comes along, the commotion and dust disturbs grasshoppers and other insects which makes for a great selection of meals. When the herds show up it’s kind of like going to the grocery store when your favourite items are finally in season and everything is on sale and the store is ultra in stock! The Egrets can’t help themselves when the savings are so stellar and it’s so convenient, you just stand on the back of an animal and window shop with minimal effort!

Photographic Details: The Main setting I was worried about was the shutter speed, I wanted it fast enough to freeze the motion of the wings, if I wanted to be safer with the motion blur I would have used 1/1000th of a second for the shutter speed, but these Egrets were relatively slow and I got away with the slower shutter speed of 1/500th of a second.

I like how the wildebeest the egret is standing on is merely shown by the texture of his side, and the telltale horn on the bottom left corner. He’s too busy to do anything else but keep eating, as if he’s merely a structure for the Egret to stand on. The other wildebeest staring at the Egret helps complete this, photo, seemingly staring in disbelief and this sudden pairing of Egret and Ungulate. I wanted the background to fade out with the horizon still in the shot, expressing the impressive expanse of the Serengeti.

Canon EOS7D, 100-400mm L Lens, 1/500s f/7.1 ISO100 180mm

Sun Tree


Ndutu Area, Tanzania, Africa Driving through the sparingly forested area, the sun was setting in the trees, the arid soil kicking up dust with the every movement, footstep, and breath of wind. As annoying as dust is, it lights up beautifully as the last rays of sunlight caress the branches of the trees.

Photographic Details: As each of these trees drifted by in the view of our safari vehicle I was ever hoping I’d find a giraffe at sunset so I could get a silhouette of both the magnificent animal and the iconic shape of the acacia tree. Alas there was no giraffe, although the other safari vehicle in our group managed that exact shot, needless to say I was extremely jealous when we recounted our experiences that night at dinner. My best option was to find a particularly nice tree and position ourselves so the sun was where we wanted nestled in the tree like a godlen egg in a nest, this was the final shot out of that little tree sunset exploration moment.

I took the photo and looked at the scene again and noticed how dull it looked in camera. The colours were nothing the way I saw them, we had a deep blue sky and beautiful orange light pouring out of a hole in the clouds, but when I looked at the back of the camera the colours were not as bright. Thank goodness I shot in RAW. I was able to shift my colours back to what they needed to be in lightroom, increasing the contrast so I have more dramatic blacks in the tree and more texture in the background.


Want to learn more about my safaris? Always wanted to see Kenya and Tanzania and wanted to get the most out of your camera? Check out my Photographic safaris!

Baby Giraffe springs across the Serengeti


Serengeti, Tanzania, Africa Looking across the Serengeti we sat quietly looking at a group of a dozen giraffes, our guide indicated that these were females who usually group together for safety.

Suddenly a large giraffe bursts from the trees behind us and begins to make her way towards the herd. Another much smaller gangly figure awkwardly stumbles out into the open; for a moment my subconscious thought it made more sense to tell my brain that my tripod had sprung to life and jumped out of the back of the safari vehicle and ran across the Serengeti. Then I realized this energetic stick figure was a baby giraffe running around her mother and all over the grass like there was a party going on in her head that only she could hear. I’m used to seeing these large animals move like they are a slow motion movie, to see one of these things dart around, buck and jump so quickly was both startling and delightful.

Final Image, click to see larger:

Photographic Details: I wanted to capture a bit of motion with these animals moving faster than usual, I slowed my shutter speed down to 1/160th of a second in hopes of getting a little motion blur on their legs and tails without getting too much blur on the bodies. I actually have some much more artistic versions of these images that I will be sharing in the coming weeks but I liked the energy of this one as it really shows how much spunk the baby has, which made us all giggle in the safari vehicle as we watched this unfold in front of us.

This also happened so fast that I forgot to lower my aperture to let more light in, I ended up underexposing. However with the magic of shooting in RAW mode I have a little wiggle room, I was able to correct my mistake and get the detail back by changing the exposure after the fact in Lightroom, we all make mistakes but with the right settings we can compensate for them, See the original image to compare!

Canon EOS 7D: 1/160s f/9.0 ISO100 150mm (35mm eq:240mm)

Original Image before exposure adjustment


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An elephantine case for HDR


Family of ElephantsSerengeti, Tanzania, Africa

As this family of elephants walked past us we were ever aware of the impending sunset. I took many photos of the elephants but what stood out were the ones with the leading elephant giving himself a dust bath as the sunset backlit the puff of serengeti ash. It’s these moments that I get very excited, the low golden light is paramount in photographing anything from wildlife and landscapes to portraits. This is where I knew I could get a stunning environmental portrait of this family, scenery and a sunset scene all in one. The major technical problem is the wide tonal range I was trying to capture: the bright highlights of the sun, clouds and landscape to the dark shadows of the elephants and foreground. This would be too much for my camera to take in all at once. I turned on the auto bracketing and multi burst shooting mode on my camera, holding down my shutter I rapidly fired off three exposures, one over exposed by two stops, one with normal exposure and he last under exposed. The three images combined provided me with an extra wide tonal range that captured everything I was looking at, this is what’s known as HDR, or High Dynamic Range. After firing off a few shots I thought, “I just +Trey Ratcliff ed it”.

Manual HDR version, click to enlarge:

Even before this I have already accepted HDR images as a legitimate photographic technique. A lot of people currently consider it “cheating” or “fake” the irony is that the images come out with a tonal range that more accurately reflects what a person would see in real life. To me, the fact that I use this technique is personal validation that HDR is here to stay and that this technique is just as good as any other a photographer keeps in their arsenal. This scene begged to be captured in a full range and this was the only way to do it with the available light. My first impression of HDR years ago appalled me, but no more than bad photography might appall me. These days there are plenty of great examples of masterfully processed HDR photos, and these photographers and the community in general is getting better every day. People tend to dislike images that are highly processed on a computer but then don’t complain about techniques that can be employed in camera. New cameras coming out will focus more on performance and image quality including doing HDR in camera, some with specialized sensors do it all the time. What will HDR dissenters think about that? When it becomes more about how the photo is taken it becomes a game, for me photography is about capturing truth and beauty, truly expressing the emotional power of being there, I couldn’t care less if the photography did headstands while doing it, it’s the photo that matters.

HDR Technique: I initially processed this in Photomatix, the de facto HDR processing software as far as I can tell. I like what it does but I don’t love the way it treats all the textures, coming out with too much contrast in unusual places, the software not being aware of the elephants natural smoothness it treats their skin like a texture that needs to be brought out, and it was too much. Other unusual artifacts produced by photomatix cause flaring on highlight edges and the images come out a little softer than I like, losing a bit of resolution. For this reason my final image was an HDR photo that I manually combined in photoshop. I layered each exposure on top of each other and kept each portion that was properly exposed for the final result. It ended up looking just the way I saw it without unusual artifacts and a more subdued contrast change. It will be interesting to see which image appeals most to people, so comment and let me know.

Photomatix HDR version:


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After a day in the Serengeti


Moru Kopjes, Tanzania, Africa The word “safari” literally means “long journey” in swahili and “to travel” in arabic. I could spend forever trying to describe the day to you with all sorts of other colourful words but I don’t think I could find anything as poignant as that.

After being out all day seeing many thousands of wildebeest, buffalo and zebra, obsessing over lions lounging on kopjes (unique granite outcroppings shown in the photo) we finally got to a point where we could slow down. The previous hours we were desperately trying to absorb and photograph every new little thing we saw, exclaiming “wildebeest! Oooh no baby wildebeest! ooh no baby wildebeest with an egret standing on it!... No I have a better one with egrets AND oxpeckers on it and it’s in better light!”. We were so tuned into looking for wildlife that every rock and stump in the distance had to be an elephant, rhino, or a baboon standing on a hyena on an elephant. Somehow the shame of the misidentification didn’t stop us from pointing these imaginary animals out.

The golden grass of the Serengeti rolled in the breeze personifying our collective deep breath of relaxation as this sight rolled into view. We took a photograph, then dropped our cameras in awe as we simply watched, taking it in without pointing out every little thing we saw and just being present.

Photographic Details: This was a very cut and dry easy decision to make for me. I don’t like having horizons in the middle unless I’m somehow forced to by my subject or some other circumstance. Instead I like to choose an emphasis and ask myself what’s more important or more beautiful, the sky or the foreground? Here the dramatic clouds above had so much texture with a touch of blue sky, but below the wildebeest there was nothing but bare grass. With this in mind I let the Serengeti foreground anchor the photo on the bottom third, and the sky above take up the two thirds, following the aesthetic rule of thirds and making it easier for the viewer to understand what they should be looking at. The rocky outcroppings of the Moru Kopjes were then kept on the left so the eye could follow the formations into the image. All of this is designed to keep the viewers eyes inside the photo, so they don’t stray off and lose interest.

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Want to take great photos in the greatest places? Check out my next photo safari!

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Through the eyes of a chimp


Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Kenya The chimpanzee is the closest living relative to humans, capable of using tools, deception, planning ahead and hunting with sophisticated tactics. These chimps however are not native to Kenya, as they have been brought to the sanctuary for refuge as orphans from abusive situations and war torn area from west and central africa. The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee sanctuary allied with the Jane Goodall Institute was thus created as a permanent residence to our expressive and vibrant cousins.

Photographic Details: Humans and chimps are both able to establish a connection visually. I wanted to express this with a detail shot of the chimpanzee’s eyes, since they are such a telling and powerful part of this apes expressions. In addition the chimps were behind a fence, as these are wild chimps who's own private space needs to be respected. The best way to get a shot without having wires in the way was zooming in for detail between gaps in the fence. In addition I only wanted the eyes to be in focus, using an aperture of f2.8 there is no denying the eyes are the focal point of this image. I also waited for this chimp to pose with her arm on her shoulder, as I watched her do this before. This just barely showing her fingers in the background provides a little more visual evidence that these apes are so much like us.

1/160s f/2.8 ISO160 200mm

More on the sanctuary here:


I'm heading Out on Safari!


Today I fly out for Kenya, on a 19 day trip through some of the most fantastic wildlife and scenery in Kenya and Tanzania! I'm guiding 10 lucky people with two local guides to sharpen their photo skills and get the most inspiring shots! I don't know how well connected I will be to the internet but I will try and keep you all posted on happenings and sightings that we encounter. I may only have enough bandwidth for quick twitter updates in which case you can follow @kylefoto at I can't wait to show you the pics when I'm back!


Zebra migration


Tanzania, Africa Being on safari is always full of surprises. While the keen photographers and enthusiasts expect I always know what’s going to happen, it all comes down to being as prepared as possible for when the action happens. While being surrounded by a herd of zebra and wildebeest, we were stationed where there was as much action as possible: by the river. These animals would stop to get some much needed water, but they are always nervous as there is an ancient threat that lurks in these waters, the crocodile.

A crocodile was lurking in the water, we wanted to see some action, but at the same time, we didn’t. We were wondering why the crocodile wasn’t paying any attention to the pedantic animals looking for refreshment at the shore, when the crocodile went to a log pulled out a long dead zebra under it and began to snack. Oooh, well he was full because he already had food in his pantry! It’s likely this croc won’t have to eat for months, given that they are cold blooded and thus don’t use food energy to maintain their body temperature, a very efficient way of living.

Nevertheless the zebra would get their fill of water until paranoia set in and one would bolt away from the shore in fear, setting off a chain reaction. The once crowded shore would be instantly vacated as all the zebra and wildebeest fled for their lives. After a few seconds or so one thirsty animal would slowly make it’s way to the shore and drink as more animals came in, and the cycle of spazzing at the shore would begin again. This gave us many opportunities to get these running action shots.

Photographic details: I intentionally used settings that get a lot of motion blur, normally something that people find undesirable. But it’s this sense of motion that makes the viewer feel what it’s like to be there. 1/100th of a second was guaranteed to get a blurry photo, as I followed the motion of these beasts as smoothly as I could. The incredible amount of dust in the air provided or a fantastic backdrop and a beautiful red cast on the image. CANON 7D 1/100s f/16.0 ISO100 330mm

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Sneaky elephants


Serengeti, Tanzania

On our short drive to the airport from our camp in the Serengeti we had to drive through a patch of jungle. Not really thinking about being on safari being our last hours in this wonderful place we were delighted by the sight of a hornbill bird bouncing around on a bunch of fallen trees scattered around the forest floor. That’s where we heard a loud crash behind us. This elephant was meters away this whole time, silently browsing. It looks like he decided he was too lazy to reach for the leaves atop a tree, therefore it was much less exhausting to topple it. This elephant just glanced at us while he gingerly picked a few leaves off his fallen prize then moved on to find something fresher.

It’s destructive habits like these that cause tension between the increasing human populations in Africa; people and elephants are more in need of land than ever, and the amount of it is shrinking.


Photographic Details: In my haste to photograph this I swung my lens around from the bird to the elephant. With no time to waste I pressed the shutter only to get some underexposed images from the previous settings I had. Thank goodness for RAW and lightroom, I was able to recover the details without any image degradation! Canon 7D 1/250s f/6.3 ISO800 400mm

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Speeding Cheetahs, stabilizers and shutter speed

Masai Mara, Kenya, Africa All of these photos were taken in one 13 minute timespan. (with exception of the vehicle shot)

It was a fantastic morning in the Masai Mara, we were photographing mother Cheetah while she was relaxing before the sun even came up, then the golden light lit her magnificently as she looked over her four cubs. Later she stood and walked away with great purpose, indicating she was on the hunt.

Click for Larger image, Mother cheetach watching her cubs

To great protest of my passengers this is where I decided to quit photographing the cubs playing and drive off ahead of mother in hopes of catching her on the hunt, an executive decision I was worried I might regret.

Young Cheetahs still have claws for climbing 

We drove ahead and waited for mother to appear over the crest of a hill where a lone gazelle was grazing. She appeared, but way too far away even for a 600mm lens! She bolted for the gazelle and at blazing speed the two of them ran down the hill past us, the gazelle doing an inertia-defying U-turn running down towards us then right past our vehicle, click-click-click-click, the safari vehicle sounding like a mock barrage of machine guns as the two ripped past us. The gazelle did another quick turn and by then the cheetah had used up her energy burst, the gazelle got away this time. It all happened in the span of 10 seconds, and it felt like they were doing it for show given how they ran past us like that, it was incredible and everyone got such cool shots!

Camera Settings 

Photographic Details: A photographer has two major decisions to make in a situation like this: Either try and freeze the action so that every part of the cheetah is captured perfectly still, or to create a sense of motion so that most of the cheetah is clear except for her legs and background which is blurred with motion. I chose the latter.

You can get very close in Africa!  

It all comes down to shutter speed: I knew the Cheetah is capable of running at 120km/h, and after a lot of practice with moving horses and vehicles I knew that an extremely slow shutter speed of 1/160th of a second would be a great point to start. This is considered a very slow shutter speed while using a 400mm telephoto lens (like the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens I’m using). If you use a setting like shutter priority then all you needed was to set your shutter speed and you’re almost done.

Going after the Gazelle 

I would be tracking the movement of the Cheetah and following her exactly as I panned from right to left. For those with image stabilization a slow shutter speed and panning motion could cause the stabilization system to try and compensate for the panning, resulting in a blurred image. If you have an advanced lens that allows you to go into a secondary stabilization mode use it, in the canons mode 2 is made for panning shots.

Also note how dirty, dented scratched and chipped my lens and camera is, that’s the mark of a dedicated photographer ;) 1/160th of a second, F7.1 shot in RAW, ISO 100.


The final great shot! 


This was taken on my last photo safari, I have two more coming up in 2011 check them out here!

Additionally this print is available on smugmug.

Thirsty baby elephant orphans


Hooray it’s #thirstythursdayDavid Sheldrick Animal Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa

Many animals including Rhinoceros and Elephants may become orphaned by poachers or loss of habitat. People have tried to raise elephant orphans and in doing so become a mother figure to the elephants. Some of the first attempts at raising these extremely social animals ended in tragedy as the need for love from a family had not been accounted for. This was unfortunately discovered when one of the pioneers of raising these animals Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick left for a week for wedding arrangements, only to return to baby “Aisha” in such a state of despair that she died in her arms.

Click for Larger image 

The Sheldrick animal orphanage now employs a large “family” of caretakers, each one loving and caring but the elephants are discouraged from becoming too attached to any single person. Instead the elephant is attached to the family as a whole to replace the orphans lost mother, which prevents any grief that the elephant may feel should a single caretaker be absent. This among other discoveries has led the orphanage to successfully raise over 80 elephants and return them to their community in Tsavo National park.

All these growing elephants are very hungry and require a lot of nourishment, the thirst for milk is palpable when caretakers bring out the jugs. The cows milk is not enough, and additional supplements of coconut is given to them to provide them with the correct fats that they need.


I took two photos of this, once with the bottle full and the other with it empty. My camera records the time each photo is taken, I want you to guess how many seconds it takes for this guy to chug the milk down and write your response in the comments. The answer the question is at the bottom of this post in white text, highlight the bottom of this post to see.

I will be returning here again on my next photo safaris in february and september next year!


See also my african gallery here.

Please check out the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust website to find out more about what they are doing, and share this to get the word out! It’s my hope that I have inspired you a little bit!


Highlight between here for the answer: [ This guy drank 5 litres in 9 seconds! What a machine!]

Zebras in the dust


Zebras in the dustOn Safari in Tanzania, Serengeti, for wildlife wednesday

During the great migration countless zebra and wildebeest move through the Serengeti, following the rains that move cyclicly through Kenya and Tanzania. The amazing thing about this is moments before these zebra were nowhere to be seen, and upon arriving back to the river side we were inundated with this herd that went on as far as the dust allowed us to see.

These zebra were frantically running to the river to quench their thirst, always aware of the Crocodiles lurking, there was one in the river, but it was full. Nevertheless a zebra would get spooked and the entire group would abandon the river at once, kicking up dust and lining themselves up like this. It's something we spent the whole day doing, it was fantastic.

This was taken on my Kenya & Tanzania Photographic Safari last February, if you or anyone you know likes to travel and take photos this is the best way to see the wonder that Africa has to offer while getting the greatest photos possible. I love sharing my techniques, and it was a pleasure travelling with such talented photographers. I have two more trips in February and September 2012, to find out more check out my workshops here:

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Kenya & Tanzania Photography Safari Sept 2012


Kyle Marquardt in collaboration with Civilized Adventures would like to invite you to join

“Kenya & Tanzania Photography Safari”

Sept. 7 - 23, 2012

My photographic safaris are filling up, thus we have an additional safari on for 2012!

Wake up early with the golden african sunrise to capture wildlife at it's best at the Masai Mara game reserve during the great wildebeest and zebra migrations. Journey down to the world famous Ngorongoro crater, a refuge for 30,000+ animals amidst a stunning backdrop, all while receiving personal photographic tutorials on how to get the best out of all of this from me!

Book at Civilized Adventures Download full itinerary Check out my Africa gallery

Kenya & Tanzania Photography Safari Jan 2012


Kyle Marquardt in collaboration with Civilized Adventures would like to invite you to join

Update: Dates changed “Kenya & Tanzania Photography Safari”

Jan  19 - Feb 5th, 2012

Last year's photographic safari was a huge success. Africa presented us with some incredible photo opportunities and we were there to take them. And so we are going to do it again, please join me in world famous parks and reserves as we venture on twice daily game drives amongst the african wild. As always I'm there to inspire you and make sure you get the best out of your camera. For more information check out the links, itinerary and galleries below!

Book at Civilized Adventures Download full itinerary Check out my Africa gallery

Update: We're always striving to improve our trips and scouting the best locations, thus we have made some improvements on the itinerary, check out the addition of Ol Tukai Lodge here.

The Better Picture: Secretary bird


The better Picture: Photographers take terrible photos too, they are not meant to be seen but are integral in getting a better picture. You have been out on Safari all day, taking hundreds of photos.  Earlier in the morning you happened to have gotten a photo of a secretary bird and now you have been presented with your umpteenth viewing of this very bird; this is an important moment. Now you could put your camera down or instead you could set up your camera in preparation for the decisive moment that might become your ultimate secretary bird photo and perhaps even your best photo of the entire safari.

You may have thought “I already have a plethora of secretary bird photos, do I really need to try again”? Perhaps you are at the point of believing that your previous secretary bird shots are fantastic but this is where you have to step back just a little and try and get past the cognitive bias that all your own photographs are inherently great. Take the Dunning Kruger effect, which theorizes our innate belief in the accuracy of our perspective.  Here is how it works in terms of photography, the first time we take a photo we believe it to be perfect however if we were to give it another try and perhaps even take a moment to place it under scrutiny; this here could transform our photo from a regular vacation shot to a work of art.  Therefore I would like you to always ask yourself this “how could I improve this shot?”

The thought process I described above is classic example and is exactly what happened with the secretary birds. Some people were excited by my first shot of the birds and by all means, technically speaking you could say that I executed the image correctly; I gave the bird room to look into the frame, used a wide open aperture with only the bird in focus and no background distractions were in site.   Due to the wide open aperture my background was softened and there was no accidental motion blur.  Yay!.... Oh Wait, then why is it so blah? The bird is just standing there, nothing else  is going on in the scene, that’s why!

Many photos later I was presented with the same view of a secretary bird, strolling through the grass, looking for her prey and in a split moment she decided to take off. With my camera already trained on her, I was able to track her movement and get the right action shot.

Now we’re talking, the subject is still given room to look into the frame, but now we have action and a dramatic sense of motion, not to mention the gazelles in the background to further express that this is Africa.  Now the photo functions as a more environmental portrait expressing that these animals share the same space. This is a much better photo.

I take a lot of terrible photos initially because I’m not sure if anything better will come along. I take terrible photos like these all the time, but the reason you don’t see them is because I only show my best work. I still want you to take the bad photos but I want you to realize it’s bad right when you shoot it, and expect to take a better one later when presented with the same opportunity. Hopefully the second time around, something magical happens and you are prepared to take the shot because you have a better understanding of what you’re looking for.

These photos were taken in the Masai Mara in Kenya while hosting a photographic Safari, if you like this check out the Africa gallery!

Kenya & Tanzania Safari Workshop 2011 gallery!


New Gallery "Africa"

I had the incredible pleasure of hosting a Photographic Safari in Kenya and Tanzania this year surrounded by wide eyed enthusiastic photographers and adventurers.

A full day in Africa is so jam packed with incredible sightings, engaging wildlife, stunning sights sounds and smells that at the end of the day you sit back in reflection like you've just experienced a week.

I look forward to sharing some exciting stories and more sights from this safari, so in the mean time please take a look at my new gallery "Africa" here.

Africa Gallery