My Kenya Photo Safari: Ten Impressions (Plus some photos too!)

I can’t remember a blog that has been as difficult to write as this one.  It’s been nearly a month since I returned from Africa and as each day passes I receive more and more subtle (and not so subtle) questions about ‘when are we going to hear about your Kenya Photo Safari (and see some photos!)?’My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

Frankly, part of the problem is that I am a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of photos I took…over 25,000 images.  Just culling and processing them is a huge task.  Plus Africa was so dramatically different from my normal ‘world’ that I’ve been at a loss of even figuring out where to begin.

After four or five false starts, it became clear that I couldn’t write a single article about my trip….it would be exhausting…and very, very long. This first blog is going to be no more than an attempt to relay some of the most intense impressions that Kenya made upon me…along with a scattering of photos.  That will at least get the ice broken and future blogs can cover some of my experiences in detail.

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Never met a stranger…

First of all, let me tell you about the Kenyan people.  I’ve never met folks who were so genuinely friendly.  And I don’t mean friendly like the “Welcome to Disney world, thanks for spending a boatload of cash” that I’m used to.  I mean people who wave to you as you drive by a narrow dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Don’t give me wrong, if you walked downtown Nairobi at midnight with a Rolex on your wrist I’m confident you might meet someone who might give you a different impression.  But in a nation with 40% unemployment (yes….40%!), I found it admirable and inspiring that the Kenyans had such sunny dispositions.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

A Gerenuk…One of many animals I didn’t even know existed before my visit.

Second, Kenya not only has an incredible amount of wildlife but it is shockingly diverse.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

Even the lizards were cool!

I guess I’m used to the National Parks in North America where, sure, during a good day I might see a couple dozen different kinds of critters and maybe even something big now and again.  But in Kenya, there was such an incredible variety…hundreds of brightly colored bird species, dozens of exotic and strange mammals and an endless supply of animals every bit as big (and bigger) as our Land Rover.  For photography, it was truly a “target rich environment.”

 

Third, animals are people too.  Well, ok…they’re not human but I mean that after watching and photographing wildlife  ten hours a day for two weeks I was impressed with how often they displayed nearly human emotions and behavior.  The longer I was there, the more I appreciated that for all of humanity’s progress, science and intelligence….we really aren’t all that different.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

The affection between this cub and her mother is lovingly apparent

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

Who hasn’t seen this look in a teenager’s eyes?

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

“I’m not Screwing around…Back Off NOW!”

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

Madonna and Child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourth, Africa is beautiful but it isn’t benign.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

This is a Black Spitting Cobra. I had no idea what it was when I started snapping shots. My guide nearly freaked when he saw it!

I drove my guides a bit crazy with my desire to get out of the vehicle and take landscape shots.  It made them nervous as hell if I got more than ten feet from the Land Rover.  At first I didn’t really understand it… I’m used to hiking in the Americas where there really aren’t that many dangers from wildlife (assuming you display reasonable caution).  Africa is different.  There are a number of critters there that will kill you.  I learned that you couldn’t just go out and photograph the Milky Way at night by your tent  (a leopard killed an antelope one night inside our camp).  And to always look where you put your feet (see photo to the right).  Don’t get me wrong…its not like tourists are being killed in droves but you have to exercise a higher level of caution than you might be used to.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

“This meal could have just as easily been you buddy!”

Fifth, maybe I could be a birder after all.  I’ve joked about birders for years, but this trip may be the end of that.  The birds in Kenya amazed me.  So many different species.  So much color.  So freaking exotic.  They were seemingly everywhere and they would let you get a lot closer than I am accustomed to.

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Sixth, what happens when you put a landscape photographer on a wildlife tour?  I just couldn’t help myself…

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

The Iconic Africa.

 

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

I was watching a nice sunset over the Masai Mara when I noticed this incredible cloud formation behind me.

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Pre-dawn shot of the savannah from my hilltop bungalow

Mt Kenya rises from the mist

Mt Kenya rises from the mist

Seventh, Cats are where its At!  Sure, I loved seeing elephants playing in the water or giraffes reaching for leaves on the tops of trees but lions, leopards and Cheetahs generated a whole ‘nother level of interest.  There is something inherently fascinating about these preditors…their powerful grace, surprising tenderness and pitiless lethality.

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“Liquid Grace”

 

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“Touch my zebra and DIE!”

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“Time for bed little one…”

 

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“And what do we have here?”

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“Almost there…”

Eighth, wildlife photography can be intensely exciting.  Stuff happens quickly with no warning.  In landscape photography I might spend weeks planning a shot, an hour just setting up and another thirty minutes taking the shot.  In Kenya we might come around a corner, find two Oryx fighting, rip off 100 frames and be moving on….all in a total of five minutes.

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“Joust”

Landscape photography is like writing a book:  it is calm, cerebral and certain…you pretty well know what is going to happen next.  Wildlife photography is like skydiving: Fast and furious and the future is anyone’s guess!

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“Leap of Faith”

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“…and the hunter shall become the hunted” This hippo was chased by a pack of lionesses…then it turned the tables!

 

Ninth,  it’s all about the eyes.  Windows to the soul…even with animals.  When a lion looks right into your eyes, you know this ain’t no house cat…and your heart stops.2016-kenya-11-14-14033-subtle

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Tenth, I learned to try and photograph a story…not just a moment.  Don’t get me wrong, one-off shots of a majestic lion are great:

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“Sundown Serenade”

But the story of a lion cub running around with a shoe…and playing ‘keep away’ from his siblings makes perhaps an even stronger impression.

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“Hey….Loooook what I found you losers!”

 

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“Naaah…Naahhh…Nnaaaahhhhh!”

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“Just try and catch me!”

I have a number of other Kenyan wildlife ‘photo stories’ that I will share in blogs over the next few months.  Stay tuned!

Okay, I know that’s a pretty choppy blog…but at least I broke the ice and hopefully it won’t be so long until my next one.

Happy Holidays to you and your family.  Kwaheri!
Jeff

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PS:  I usually plan my own photo trips and rarely go on tours or use guides.  I made an exception with this trip and I’m very glad I did.  My tour was with “Wild4Photo Safaris” run by Stu and Justyna Porter.  This is a class operation and I wouldn’t have come home with half as many killer shots if it wasn’t for Stu and my driver/guide Julius.  These guys had an amazing ability to anticipate where the wildlife was going to do be and what they were going to do.  They never failed to have us in the perfect position for the shot.  Not only that…but they were great people who became my friends.  I owe them a huge thanks for memories that that will last the rest of my life.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Stu Porter January 13, 2017 at 8:22 am #

    Hi Jeff !! loved the blog and the photos, even though I have a few safaris under my belt 🙂 it is always nice to see it through fresh eyes and to see what the things were that really made an impression on you, thanks very much !! you are an absolute pleasure to travel with and thanks for a great journey… all the best Stu

    • Jeff Stamer January 13, 2017 at 10:41 am #

      Hi Stu! Glad you enjoyed the blog…of course, none of it would have been possible without you and your team. Thanks for treating me to an incredible once-in-a-lifetime trip! Best of luck my friend, Jeff

  2. Mark December 25, 2016 at 9:02 am #

    Really enjoyed this your first post on Kenya, having spent the 2 weeks of this trip with you sharing many of these moments I knew some inciteful material and some excellent photographs would follow. We your fellow travellers (all having previously travelled in africa and with Stu previoulsly) enjoyed enormously sharing your trip with you, watching each new experience make its mark with you and the infectious enthusiasm that resulted.

    Looking forward to more followups.

    Mark

    • Jeff Stamer December 25, 2016 at 10:04 am #

      Good to hear from you Mark! I greatly enjoyed the group we traveled with as well and I think some of your birder enthusiasm rubbed off on me:) It was great to travel with you veterans and glad my enthusiasm wasn’t annoying!
      Jeff

  3. Karl Chiang December 24, 2016 at 11:42 pm #

    Wow, I can now imagine just some of your feelings on this safari. 25,000+ images and these are just a few incredible ones. I cannot wait to see more! You have an incredible eye and tell a great story with your composition too! I am curious as to what happened with the hippo and the lioness. The hippo is usually not on land and not a target. They do have huge teeth. The eyes have it and I felt like you saw through their souls. Congrats and share when you can. Happy Holidays.

    • Jeff Stamer January 7, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

      Hi Karl,
      Glad you liked the shots! I’m thinking the story of the hippo and the lions might the the next one I do (after my top 10 of 2016 blog I hope to get out next week)!
      Jeff

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