Expectations of My first Great Migration Experience

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Penny 1 Comment

Words are currently my enemy at the moment as my feelings about going to stay at the Wild Eye Mara camp for a week in September to witness the Great Migration cannot be rightly translated in order to really explain the intense excitement and ‘dream come true’  feeling  that I have been experiencing daily ever since Jono, Gerry and Andrew asked me if I would like to go.

Would I just.

After a look of disbelieve and suspicion directed towards the direction of where the guys where sitting together when they asked me this question (I couldn’t help but wonder if this wasn’t just a flippant remark made while discussing the ins-and-outs of preparing for the upcoming safaris), my heart lept out of my chest and it took a lot of control for me to try stay calm and reply, “Yes, I would love to”.

Growing up spending my holidays in the bush and watching documentaries on TV of the migration and other spectacles, witnessing the Great Migration, as im sure is the same for many people, was always a dream and an experience that went right on my  list of ‘name ten places you would like to travel to’.

I have been given such an incredible opportunity and you can be sure that I am going to soak up every experience and be as prepared as possible to capture them properly and as professionally as I can. This is just another instance where I am lucky to be working with the Wild Eye team: the tips, suggestions for camera gear, type of images I can expect to capture (thanks for the regular image updates on the Wild Eye Facebook page and our blogs!), and so much more that they have given me can only help me further my growth in my photography and photographic style.

To get more information on what gear to bring and why, I asked Gerry, Jono, Andrew, Mark Dumbleton and Wild Eye Ambassador Andrew Aveley the following questions:

1. Having already been to the Mara and having  experience of photographing the many situations and subjects, what camera’s and lenses would you take and why?

2. Do you have a specific photographic goal that you would like to achieve now that you know what is available?


This year I will be taking:

    • Nikon D3s
    • Nikon D800
    • Nikon 600mm
    • Nikon 70-200mm
    • Nikon 24-70mm
    • Nikon 14-24mm

I always have two camera bodies when I head out into the field which gives me the versatility to change the look and feel of my images simply by grabbing a different body / lens combo.  The first lens I pack for any trip is a 70-200mm.  It is, to me, the ultimate lens and can be used to create a variety of different types of images.  Then I obviously need something a bit bigger.  East Africa is known for it’s wide open spaces and even with a 600mm you can often shoot animal in environment and even landscape-type images.  I also love the look and feel that a 600mm lens gives to the background of my images.   From  wide angle point of view I will have both a 24-70mm and a 14-24mm with me to use as and when needed.

My go-to body has, for a long time, been the D3s which I love.  I will probably keep the 600mm on this body for the majority of the trip.  On this upcoming trip I will be using a D800 for the first time and I plan to use it with the shorter lenses for the wider environment and landscape type images.

Oh, and I always have my GoPro with me as well!

In wildlife photography you can only shoot what you see so hoping for a specific sighting is a waste of time.  I have, however, had a fantastic change of mind and approach to my own photography since our recent Svalbard photo safari and I hope to work on the way I photograph and present my subjects to my viewers.  I also love telling stories in my images and this is something I will continue to strive for.


I will be returning to the Mara in the next couple of weeks and the guys in the office asked me what would be my photographic goals and which lenses I would find to be ideal. In short – I would like to shoot more. Not more photographs or subjects, but more of the surrounding scene. I am gonna “pull back a little”. The main beauty about the Mara is the huge skies and wide open spaces, so why not try and capture more of this in an image. At certain times of the day the light is literally golden, so why not let it illuminate the entire scene as opposed to just a the subject.

So, next time I am going big! Not in lens choice, but in the amount of the animal AND the environment I capture in the image. And of course there may be times I want to go a little tighter, so will ensure that there is something in my bag for those instances:

16 – 35 mm, 70 – 200mm, converters, 24 – 70mm and 14mm.

Andrew Beck: 

For lenses I would take a 70-200mm and a 200-400mm. The range in focal length makes it easy to adjust and track animals that may be walking towards you or moving away from you without having to change cameras or lenses. This also allows you to easily work various compositions from a single position in the vehicle.

My photographic goal was (as Andrew is currently in the Mara and will have been for the last 3 weeks) to work on getting more ultra tight portraits but I am finding it difficult from both a mindset and sighting perspective. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to break the mould of what one is used to and comfortable shooting.

Mark Dumbleton:

For crossings I would recommend a long lens, 600mm on a full frame body is good. You can get nicely isolated images focussing on small events within the chaos of the crossing. A 1.4 convertor can increase magnification to allow an even closer perspective. I do like using a wide angle lens to capture the entire scene. A 70-200 300 2.8 is also nice to capture at medium length, the chaos. I guess a lot depends on the distance at which you are from the crossing, but if I were to choose 1 lens, I would take the 600mm.

Andrew Aveley:

When I planned for this trip, I did have a slight advantage as after hosting the Big Cats and Tuskers trip earlier in the year to Mara triangle. In saying this, it was still a huge difference to know the incredible migration would be there.

I would take 2 Bodies – My trusty 5D MK III (incredible all rounder and full frame machine) and the flagship Canon 1 DX (to field test).

Lenses – Canon 16 mm – 35 mm F2.8 L Mk II, 70 mm – 200 mm F2.8L Mk I and my trusty Canon 15 mm Fisheye and the magical Canon 200 mm – 400 mm F4 Ultra Zoom.

I am an avid landscaper (16-35), and for those close encounter wildlife moments my mid range zoom (70-200) and for times when giving the animals their space, the zoom of the 200-400.

With this expedition  I tried to keep an open mind as to one specific photographic goal.  It is easier said than done with the sheer enormity of the Greatest show on earth, the annual migration. I did however want to capture the essence of the Mara with its big skies and incredible numbers of animals. This was not easy and I struggled to find a suitable scene and moment to capture it for myself.

With the above great tips and suggestions from the Wild Eye team, I am even more excited (if that is actually possible) to go to the Mara and let it lead me on my photographic journey.

With the guys tips and choices from above, I will make sure I have a variety of lens magnifications in order to be able to capture the whole spectrum that the Mara offers. I have seen many images of the magnificent crossings and the Mara’s open planes, and with these images as reference, I can at least  have an idea of what to expect.

The best thing about all this?

I know that when I get there all my expectations and ideas will disappear as the Mara sweeps me away.

At least one thing for certain is that I will have cameras and lenses in tow.

Penny Robartes

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