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Faces of Maasai and Leopard on our Left!


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Reposting this from my website, but I just got back from my first Safari and it really was much better than I anticipated. Below is more of a photo essay than a trip report.


I had used Maasai Magic as my guide company and I was so much more than pleased with them and Guide, Gabriel Kavishe. He was so dedicated on our game drives to get the best sightings, but also the best photographic opportunities for me as well. I am reposting these from my website.


Faces of Maasai




When I travel I always like to take photos of people, especially what I would call environmental photos. Taking photos in familiar surroundings puts people at ease and in the digital world, you can share your photos with your subject, especially children to get them to relax and have more fun.




One of my goals on the trip was to be able to go to a Maasai village and learn about their culture and spend time asking questions and get a brief understanding of who they are and spend some time interacting in a village where people live on a day to day basis such as in the photo above. Gabriel knew of such a location and I was excited for the day to arrive.




Throughout the trip as we got further away from the main city of Arusha, we would see many Maasai tending to their cows and goats. Most of those responsible for keeping these animals on the move and being fed, comes down to boys often under 6-8 years old being helped by an older brother as in the photo above. It was not unusual to see child after child on the side of the road or off in the distance as we whizzed by on the highway.




When we first arrived at the village, we were met by many of the married women in the village and they performed a greeting song for us. The men then came out and performed and then started their traditional jumping song and each time the men take their turn, they try to jump higher and higher.




We were then able to go inside a home and learned they take about 4 months to build and are built by the woman. There is not much more than a simple place to have a fire with an exhaust out the side of the hut and an area to sleep. Men and boys sleep together as do the girls and women. And you can see by the photo above, the beds are very simple as is most everything in their lives.




After taking a tour of the home and the homeowner answering many questions, they then shoed us how they make a traditional fire by using a knife and a couple of pieces of wood, something they do on a daily basis in the village I was told. you’ll also notice in the photo above, the guy on left wearing a watch. He told me he attended secondary school in Arusha and many villagers had an interest in my watch, apparently its one of the luxury’s they do like to own. It’s interesting to me as I look at their culture because they only seem to worry about two times of day, sunrise and sunset.




Once they get the embers hot, they then add it to dried cow dung and this is what really starts the main fire.




Next we were able to see children in their school and they are taught English as a second language and they recited the alphabet for us and counted in English as well. The age of the children in the school were between about 3 and the oldest being 11 or 12.




We wandered around the village for a short time and took a few more photo and I thought this one of Ken interacting with the little ones was pretty fun. (Note: Ken Redman is the former Director of the Honolulu Zoo and was a wealth of knowledge on the trip)




Eventually it was time to be on our way, but not before they gave us the hard sell on buying some of their carvings and a few other things they were selling in the village. I picked out a handful of items and then they told me it was $250 Euro’s for everything and I just laughed and handed everything back to them and said I was thinking more like $50. We finally agreed on a price for a few items and then we were able to get a few more photos in the village and it was on to our next adventure down the road whatever that might be.

It wasn’t long after we left the Maasai village, I asked Gabriel to stop again and I was able to get one of my favorite portraits on the trip. As A photographer one of the first things I learned, when I photo opportunity presents itself, you have to take action and get the photo then or you’ll probably never have the opportunity again. Throughout our time driving, every once in awhile we would see Maasai boys on the side of the road with their faces painted either white or black. I asked Gabriel why only a few boys chose to wear paint like that and he said they were boys who had gone through a circumcision ceremony also known as Emuratta.
The ceremony is the most vital initiation of all rite of passages in the Maasai society. This initiation is performed shortly after puberty. Young men are eager to be circumcised and become warriors. Once the boys become warriors they resume responsibility of security for their territory. Circumcision initiation elevates an individual from childhood to adulthood. In order for the boy to be initiated he must prove himself to the community. The boy must exhibit signs of a grown man, by carrying a heavy spear, herding large herd of livestock, etc. After the operation is successfully completed, the boy would receive gifts of livestock from his relatives and friends. He would also gain a tremendous amount of respect for his bravery.




I was really happy to be able to stop and take a few quick photos of these boys as it was really once in a lifetime shot with the perfect location. I threw on my simple “Nifty Fifty” 50mm f/1.8 lens, allowing me to get some beautiful bokeh in the background with excellent sharpness. They were really good sports about me taking their photo and its one I’ll always be happy with from my trip.

Next up, we stopped at Olduvai Gorge, considered the cradle of man and one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world. It’s famous for Mary Leakey and her find of Homo habilis, meaning “man with skill.” in 1959.




Here we also met a man with skill, a Massai Medicine Man who was there selling his medicine to other Maasai at Olduvai Gorge where he allowed me to take this portrait.




And my last photo for this series, was the feet of a sleeping Maasai, just a few feet away from the medicine man.



Leopard on our Left!


Well finally had some time to sleep in, I was getting to the point of being pretty run down. On a FAM (familiarization) trip, one is go go go the whole time. There were lodges to look at and we also needed to get the best photos to help with marketing tours for Shutter Tours. This requires getting up early as the sun rises, eating a box lunch out in the bush and pushing ourselves to go until the sun sets.


Thankfully this was the morning where we decided that 8:30 AM was going to be a good starting time and I had a great night rest so was ready to start the day. Our first stop was a hippo pool with loads of hippos, this is something that is great to see because you can have close to 100 hippos in the same area in the river, though you’ll smell them before you see them. They make a lot of noise and on my trip I brought an audio recorder so I could remember the sounds. Click on the sound file below to hear the sound they make.



After we left the hippo pool, Gabriel was on a mission to find a Leopard before the end of the trip. We had only seen two but it was late in the evening and they were so far off that I couldn’t get a good photo. The one important thing about going to Africa, if you have a good guide it makes a world of difference. We saw many guides get impatient and move on and after they did, this is where the patience for us paid off because we would see things that others missed.
The only challenge for seeing a leopard at this point in the day was it was after 10 AM and they usually hunt in the evening and are more active then. But Gabriel pushed on as we took lots of twist and turns and moved throughout a forested area. We had just dropped into a small gully and were coming up a small hill when Gabriel stops and says “Leopard on our Left” quickly I grab my camera and get a few shots off and then it disappeared into the woods. It was probably 30-40 yards away and moved out of our sight into the thick underbrush. Well I did get a couple of good photos, but not the ones I wanted, I thought to myself.
Gabby pointed to a tree and thought maybe it was going in that direction. We all had a rush of excitement when it jumped up the base of the tree and started to climb. Quickly I wanted to get some photos off just in case he jumped back down but I was having some camera challenges.
My first full day in Africa I was getting some great photos of Baboons, Giraffe’s, Elephants etc. At the end of the day I hurriedly put my camera down on a nightstand to use the washroom, when I heard a loud thump. My camera had fallen off the nightstand. Crestfallen I grabbed the camera to make sure everything was ok and did a test shot. thankfully the 70-300 mm lens was working. The next day however, I was trying to get my first shots of the day and at 300mm everything was blurry and my camera wouldn’t focus. After about 5 minutes I realized I must have damaged a collar inside my lens and the lens was flopping around in the barrel. If I held the end of the lens just right, I could get an image in focus, but it took some work and was very frustrating. It seemed to work better at 200mm, but I needed to reach out and get longer shots. Thankfully by the time this leopard presented itself I was getting pretty good at getting a decent shot. So I took my time and bumped up the ISO a bit to reduce any blur and shake.
As it climbed the tree, I saw that my shots were working. When presented with once in a lifetime shots as a photographer, you don’t want to blow the shot or make excuses, you have to get the job done. Thankfully my hand was steady and we had a beautiful subject to photograph. Eventually I just put my camera down to enjoy the scene that was unfolding in front of me. At this point there was only three of us here and no other vehicles around so we had this scene all to ourselves. He would probably be here for the rest of the day, so it was time for us to move on from this great experience.
More images below to tell the rest of the story.
I just got back last night after five weeks of travel, once I catch up I'll post a more in-depth trip report and share what I learned as both a first timer and as a photographer.


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Well done on the leopard photos despite the damaged camera/lens.

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Love the leopard shots you got - my favorite big cat! And the photos of the people are really interesting as well.

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Nice work, especially considering the camera mishap.

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Welcome and thanks for this interesting report. I never tire of reading about or seeing photos of the people, their lifestyles and traditions.

Particularly like the photo of the Maasai medicine man - face full of character.

Also great leopard shots.

Look forward to more in due course.

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Lovely stuff @@Rockmann, I'm eagerly awaiting more

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Great Masai photos @@Rockmann ! I really like the wide angle ones inside the huts, fabulous job with the exposure there. You did extremely well with the leopard, I would never suspect that you have had problems with the lens. Looking forward to seeing the full report...

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You did an excellent job compensating for the camera damage with the leopard - I too would never have guessed anything was wrong.


Really artful photos of people and animals alike here.

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