After 5 weeks I am back at the Wild Eye office looking back at many great moments which played out in the Madikwe Game Reserve, Zimanga and then, for the last three weeks, the Mara Triangle.
Now apart from a few images that I processed on the run to get them onto my Instagram and Facebook feeds I have barely looked at any of my RAW files. Opening my Lightroom catalog this morning, after doing all the necessary backups over the weekend, I had a brief look through all the moments I shared with guests. Even the images from the Mara, where I was still photographing lions last Friday morning, seems like ages ago.
Since getting back I have already had people ask which destination was the best, which one did I like most and where I got my best shots. These are all questions I just cannot answer without doing a disservice to at least one of the destinations in questions.
Surely there is no way you can compare the experience of photographing from an underground hide in Madikwe to photographing a herd of wildebeest crossing the Mara River. Even on a more fair scale you cannot compare photographing elephants from an underground hide in Madikwe to photographing at a small but luxurious bird hide in Zimanga. Each experience is totally unique and will produce different images so trying to compare them makes no sense whatsoever. Yes, I most definitely have my favourites but that is purely a matter of choice.
Saying that one photographic destination or experience is better than any other one is something that each of us will have to determine for ourselves based on what type of experience and images we are after. Whatever you believe about an area is what you will see and this will very much determine how you feel about and how you photograph that reserve. Well, I hope it will as knowing what makes an area unique is a great start to creating images that will tell the story of that destination but we can chat about that more in future posts.
During the next few weeks I will be looking at each of the destinations mentioned above in separate blog posts along with some images and thoughts on the destination which will hopefully help you to make up your mind as to where you might find the images you are looking for.
For now I thought I would scroll through around 4,000 RAW images from all three these destinations combined to show what, in my mind, the experience was really about.
Madikwe Game Reserve
Mention Madikwe to anyone and they will no doubt think of Wild Dog, one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores and to many the unofficial ambassador of this park in the North West province of South Africa.
Our experience in August was different and our entire workshop revolve around elephants. The underground hide we use for our Madikwe Workshops is without a doubt one of the best places to photograph ellies from water level. Our visit was timed to perfection and the lack of surface water out in the field meant that the waterhole at our hide was literally packed with ellies from dawn till dusk.
During our stay we had numerous other species – including leopard and wild dog – as well as loads of birds stopping in to have their photographs taken from the hide but the quantity and quality of elephant photography opportunities was unreal and to me defines the workshop and destination when thinking back on my experiences during the last 5 weeks.
Zimanga Private Game Reserve
My first visit to Zimanga was interesting and to be quite honest I am still trying to recon the complete experience in my mind.
Heading up to Zimanga Phil, my client for this private guided safari, and I spoke about our photographic expectations and some of the shots we would like to get. Seeing this is quite a new reserve a lot of these expectations were based on content on various social media channels. Looking back we did get our shots but the Zimanga experience is a very different one to a normal wildlife or photo safari destination.
The hides are stunning and if bird photography is your thing you cannot go wrong with a couple of morning spent in the hides. We ended up only doing only one morning in the bird hides – hey, I said I’m not a huge bird photographer – and chose to do more game drives to see what the reserve has to offer.
One of the other attractions at Zimanga is the ability to photograph cheetah and wild dog on foot. Was this the highlight and what defines this part of my 5 weeks of safaris? Nope, don’t actually think so and this is something I will be focusing on in my upcoming Zimanga post so for now I chose the image above which, to me, reminds me of our time in Zimanga.
River crossings and massive herds of wildebeest. That is what most people expect to see when the visit the Mara during the Great Migration.
With that being said there is so much more to this iconic destination. Much much more! During three weeks in the Mara Triangle we saw and photographed lions every single day. We saw Big 5 and sunrises which felt like it needed an inspirational quote written next to it. And, as Andrew mentions in this post, slowing down to nature’s pace and just enjoy the experience of being out in the field with your camera even if you don’t end up using it.
During our time in the Mara many people ticked off some of the shots they have on the photographic bucket list and that is why I chose this image from the Mara. We did not have a huge amount of crossings – compared to previous years – but the ones we did get were photographically awesome!
So there you have it.
Elephants, bird hides and river crossings – some of the experiences that defines my last 5 weeks. Each one unique and a great experience.
Keep an eye on the blog and the Wild Eye Facebook page for all the blogs I mentioned above, trip reports as well as more live content from the Mara where our team has two more weeks of guests before wrapping up our great migration season.
It’s great being back and I look forward to share images, new content and video tutorials with you all!
Until next time.
Gerry van der Walt
* * *