Saturday, April 09, 2011

Thoughts on Andy Biggs Photo Safaris and Thomson Safaris

It has now been about 3 weeks since I returned from my safari in Tanzania and I've had an opportunity to both reflect on that time and to process and examine my images. So I figured I'd share a few thoughts about the experience.

I am posting only new images you haven't seen in this entry, which was a challenge since most of my favorite images I have posted in prior entries. You can check out all my favorite Tanzania images in the Tanzania 2011 gallery.

If you're looking for a condensed review of either Thomson or Andy Biggs, here it is: they're both awesome, they're worth the cost, go sign up. See, nice and simple :)

Both Thomson and Andy are well organized. From the initial call, to helping me find a roommate to getting my passport off for the visa the process was smooth, the instructions clear. The entire trip was similarly well organized, from getting picked up at the airport, getting checked in at the various lodges and camps to each game drive. Thomson will send out a very detailed list of stuff you'll need to bring. The most notable difference is their recommendation when it comes to a laptop. They say keep it at home, Andy will tell you to bring and I'll re-iterate, bring it!

I am a little wary of photography workshops these days. It seems that just about any photographer with even a modicum of photographic talent seems to be offering a workshop. They all claim that if you sign up with them, you'll get to take the kinds of amazing pictures they take. I talked about the elements that make a good workshop leader in this previous post, so I won't rehash them here.

Andy loves to teach and it shows. He seems to enjoy going through the very basics of photography as much as he does geeking out on esoteric digital processing techniques.

However, Andy isn't a mind reader (yet, though if I know him, he's probably beta testing a mind reading product as I write this :) ). If there's something you don't know or some question you have, you have to speak up and ask it. Also, its better to do it at the beginning of the trip (or even before the trip, trust me, he'll reply to your email in a timely manner) so that you can put whatever new thing you've learned to practice. I know that for some people it can intimidating having just met a group of ~12 strangers, but if your photography is important to you, you need to speak up and get your questions answered.

In a situation like a safari where not all vehicles may be able to get into optimum shooting position for a particular subject, or where depending on the situation even in a particular vehicle one spot may be a better shooting position than the other, its important to have a workshop leader is more interested in making sure you get the best images you can. Andy wants you to get the best images you've ever gotten, its genuine and it shows. He will also rotate through with everyone in the group so that everyone has an opportunity to ask questions and get tips.

Also, Andy has started putting together some videos on photographing in safari vehicles, so make sure to check those out.

So, now that I've hopefully convinced you to sign up, what can you expect? I don't want to go into every detail, there are little surprises that I wouldn't want to spoil.

First, I would suggest thinking about the kinds of images you want to make before hand. Take a look at not only Andy's Africa work, but ones of other photographers (including the incredible work of Nick Brandt) for inspiration. Keep in mind that what you are going to do is opportunistic photography. You aren't going to see the same animals, in the same settings or the in same light as others have. When you see an opportunity to make an interesting image, you take it, even if its something else you had in mind. The image with the Zebras drinking is not something I had in mind when I saw the scene and was definitely opportunity photography.

In my case, I really wanted to come away with images of wildlife in their environment. In that regard, I am very pleased with the images I made on this trip. I also wanted an image of a Leopard coming down from a tree, something I didn't get. I kept looking out for it, but still made a lot of images along the way that are among the best images I've ever made.

You are also going to get an option to do a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti. It will mean getting up even earlier one of the days (4 AM), but if you haven't been on a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti before, I highly recommend trying it at least once. There a few types of images you can make. First, you can do abstracts of the landscape incorporating rivers and trees. You also want to look out for opportunities to shoot into the sun (if you are low enough) with sunlight filtering through dust and trees (like the image above).

Finally, if you are lucky enough to spot the migration (which doesn't always happen mind you), then you'll want to pick out groups of Wildebeast or Zebra and find interesting compositions.

One of the things that happens when you keeping getting up at 5 AM each day filled with long game drives is that at some point you get tired. You get tempted to just skip one game drive and take a nap or lounge by the pool. My philosophy here is that there will be plenty of time to sleep on the plane and back home. Safari is opportunity photography and I'm there to shoot. Now if one's feeling sick, by all means, you gotta stay behind and recover. Otherwise, if the guides are willing to take you out there, get out there. In my case, I was tempted to skip our last game drive to just rest but am glad I did. I made nearly a third of my favorite and most memorable images on that last game drive.
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