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About Andy


I am an avid adventurer, conservationist, teacher, and outdoor photographer whose photography celebrates the African landscape and its rich wildlife, people, and culture. My photographic safaris allow my travelers to not only enhance their understanding of photography, lighting, and wildlife, but to develop a life-long admiration for Africa ‘s beauty and culture.

Banana Republic recently used my photographs as the cornerstone of their Urban Safari campaign, and my images were seen in all 750 stores around the globe, as well as in their billboards, catalogs and annual report. I was also the winner of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year in the ‘Wild Places’ category in 2008 and a highly commended in the ‘Creative Visions of Nature’ category in 2007.

I launched Gura Gear in 2008, in an attempt to deliver lightweight camera bags to the market. I was looking for a lightweight camera bag to hold all of my photographic gear, and there was nothing desirable on the market that suited my needs. After spending 2 years with many prototypes, the Gura Gear Kiboko bag was born. More products are now available on the Gura Gear web site.





Entries in Mala Mala (22)


Sabi Sands Safari Report - Day 4

Today was the last day of my pre-safari at Mala Mala, and we did things a little differently than the past few days. We wanted as much as possible to see the wild dogs at the den, so we knew we wouldn’t benefit by arriving first thing in the morning with the cold temperatures. We had our bags packed before sunrise, we ate breakfast and then we headed out for the long drive down to Charleston and the southern end of the reserve. This allowed the dogs to hopefully wake up and let the air warm up a bit before coming out. We had to transfer to Singita at 10am, so we only had about 30 minutes total at the den when we arrived there. I am glad that we planned the morning this way, because we had yet another chance to see these magnificent predators one last time. When we arrived we had either 5 or 6 adult dogs running around the vehicle, and it was difficult for me to count just how many unique individuals we had amongst us due to the dense brush. We head some fascinating vocalizations and when things died down we had to rush back to check out and head over to Singita.

I always have a great time at Mala Mala, and this short stay was no exception. I will be leading a private safari group to Mala Mala in 2013, and it might be on my public safari schedule as well. I am not sure, as my 2013 safaris aren’t set in stone yet.

At 10am we grabbed a vehicle and drove an hour west to Singita Castleton, where I will be spending the next 16 nights. Castleton is a small and comfortable camp in the Singita area of the Sabi Sands. Castleton has only 6 bedrooms and can accommodate up to 12 people, and that is the maximum. I like to take sole use of camps when I can, because this allows me and my safari groups to have flexible dining schedules based on what we are seeing out on game drives. If we are 2 hours late for lunch nobody will care. I love that kind of care-free feeling that my game drives are not based on set dining schedules. Wildlife photography comes first, and it’s not like we are going to starve if we adjust our dining schedule around a little bit.

We arrived at camp about 30 minutes before the bulk of my travelers arrived at the airstrip, so I had time to throw my bags into my room and book it to the airstrip. I chartered a Beech 1900 private airplane to bring in the rest of the safari group, which allowed for an extreme amount of weight allowance per person. The typical allowance is 44 pounds in southern Africa, which would include everything inclusive of camera equipment. Heck, my camera bags (A Gura Gear Kiboko and a Gura Gear Chobe) weigh close to that amount without even into my duffel bag with my clothing.

We said hello to everybody as they exited the plane, had cold water and wet towels for people to freshen up with, and we took off for Castleton. Everybody got settled in, had a nice lunch out in the garden and took off around 3pm for our afternoon game drive. The first game drive on any safari typically involves short distances, as we don’t want to miss all of the things that are new to people if it is their first time on safari. Zebras, rhino, giraffe, elephant, kudu, impala, countless bird species and wildebeest were on tap for the afternoon, followed by a stop for sundowner cocktails after the sun had set.


El Grupo

Nikon D4, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, 1/400 @ f/8, ISO 400

Camera bags on this safari are sponsored by Gura Gear, which I started in 2008. Check us out. We make the best camera bags on the planet.

Some of the gear on this safari has been provided by I rely on for both my own needs as well as my safari travelers’ needs. When we need big lenses, cameras or anything else photographic, we turn to to help out. They are the best resource in the industry for traveling photographers.


Sabi Sands Safari Report - Day 3

Today we decided to try and track/visit the Kikilezi female leopard with her two cubs, but we knew we needed to wait to visit the den until they had a chance to warm up after the sun came up. We drove the roads towards Clarendon dam in hopes of picking up signs of cheetah, but that turned out to not yield what we had hoped. That gave us some time for the day to heat up a bit, and when we arrived at the leopards the two cubs were racing around and as active as I have ever seen. The cubs were about 8 weeks old, and as a result have a schedule of playing, sleeping and nursing with their mother. So our time was filled with playing, and after they settled down after an hour we decided to move on. We did revisit the cubs in the late afternoon, however we had better memories than photographs due to the dense vegetation that was in the way.

Ok, let’s chat about cameras for a few moments. I have the new Nikon D4 and D800 cameras with me, and there are some major differences between the two that should be noticed. Since I only have a few minutes to write this entry between game drives, I am going to use a bullet point format to explain.


  • Camera is too small for my hands, and will need to purchase the portrait grip.
  • Resolution is absolutely stunning.
  • The ability to crop an image, as the result of an absurd amount of pixels, is fantastic.
  • Low frames per second works for me, but might not work for somebody who is less familiar with African wildlife photography. I tend to shoot only when I need to, as opposed to letting the camera rip off 20 shots.
  • Autofocus is pretty darned goof for a $3,000 camera. I am not seeing any differences between the D800 and my old D3, D3x and D700 cameras.
  • I am not a fan of the new autofocus mode switches. I wish we still had a switch on the back of the camera, as opposed to having to use the A/M switch and button on the front of the camera. This is a step backwards.
  • I am finding that ISO 1600 is my limit, which is similar to what I did with my D3x. ISO 800 or lower is more ideal, but 1600 seems to be the edge of the breaking point.



  • The best camera ergonomics of any camera I have ever used
  • I absolutely love the autofocus joysticks for both normal and portrait modes. This was sorely lacking in previous cameras.
  • I like the nice balance between file size, dynamic range and high ISO capabilities. ISO 6400 is turning out to be my limit, but 1600 and 3200 seem to be more common over the past 3 days since I began using the camera.
  • I do wish the D4 had two identical compact flash slots. Boooooo


It was a fantastic day, filled with leopard cubs as well as general game! Until tomorrow…..


Cubs of the Kikilezi Female Leopard

Nikon D800, 300mm f/2.8, 1/500 @ f/5, ISO 400


Breakfast In The Bush

Nikon D4, 16-35mm, 1/800 @ f/5.6, ISO 400


Matt, Terry and Jim

Nikon D4, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, 1/160 @ f/8, ISO 250


Elephant and the Sand River

Nikon D4, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, 1/640 @ f/5.6, ISO 250


Camera bags on this safari are sponsored by Gura Gear, which I started in 2008. Check us out. We make the best camera bags on the planet.

Some of the gear on this safari has been provided by I rely on for both my own needs as well as my safari travelers’ needs. When we need big lenses, cameras or anything else photographic, we turn to to help out. They are the best resource in the industry for traveling photographers.


Sabi Sands Safari Report - Day 2

Up at 5:30 this morning and in the vehicle around 6. We decided to take a simple breakfast with us, as my small group of 3 of us didn’t want to eat so early nor come back to camp later on in the morning. We poured our coffees and got settled into our vehicles for the morning’s game drive.  The temperature this morning was in the mid 40’sF, so the wildlife early on wasn’t exactly very active at first light. We headed towards the northern part of Mala Mala, where there are some open areas where cheetah like to spend time. Near Clarendon Dam we didn’t locate any cheetah, however we did have a nice sighting of a rhino who was intent on sniffing out another of his own kind. I find rhinos difficult to photograph, as there aren’t many angles that are good to photograph from. Trying to line up the vehicle for a head-on view was our preferred approach, but we mostly ended up with side shots of his head and horn.


Rhino Profile

Nikon D800, 300mm f/2.8, 1/1250 @ f/4, ISO 400


After our rhino sighting we went towards an area that had a confirmed sighting of one of the adult male lions who had taken down a nyala the evening before, and when we arrived we actually saw a leopard in the vicinity. The young-ish male leopard was curious yet calm, so we sat and watched him for the next couple of hours. He sat behind a log and didn’t give us a good angle for quite some time, but I enjoyed working with blurred grass in the foreground to try and create a dreamy look to the scene. Eventually he sat up and looked at a flying bird overhead, and that probably yielded the best view of him. At one point he looked into the bushes and noticed the male lion sitting there, which was only about 40 meters away. The leopard inched forward over the next 10 minutes to see what the lion would do, and you can suspect what happened next. The lion burst out of the bush and chased the young male leopard away. I couldn’t help but laugh at how young cats tend to take bigger risks than when they are older.


Male Leopard

Nikon D800, 300mm f/2.8, 1/2500 @ f/2.8, ISO 500

This afternoon we decided to drive back to the wild dog den, and when we arrived we had 4 adults lying in front of the entrance. The view wasn’t the greatest, so after a short while we moved out for somebody else to come and take a look. As we were leaving we drove a road towards the Sand River and intercepted the same dogs as they were heading out for their evening hunt. The light was superb, and watching the now 6 dogs trot towards the river was an invigorating exercise. The dogs made it to the water and crossed over as the sun was fading. What a huge honor to be in the presence of one of the most endangered predators in Africa. The last research I have read has indicated there are around 4,000 wild dogs left in the wild.


Wild Dogs (Lycaon Pictus) Heading Out For A Evening Hunt

Nikon D4, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, 1/1600 @ f/5, ISO 1600


African Wild Dog (Lycaon Pictus) In The Late Afternoon Light

Nikon D800, 300mm f/2.8 VRII, 1/1000 @ f/3.2, ISO 800



Camera bags on this safari are sponsored by Gura Gear, which I started in 2008. Check us out. We make the best camera bags on the planet.

Some of the gear on this safari has been provided by I rely on for both my own needs as well as my safari travelers’ needs. When we need big lenses, cameras or anything else photographic, we turn to to help out. They are the best resource in the industry for traveling photographers.



Safari Update from South Africa - Day 1

This is the first installment of safari updates from the Sabi Sands of South Africa. I am on a 3-day pre safari with two of my customers, and at the end of this pre safari I will begin two back-to-back safaris, each with 11 travelers. My goals for writing these daily safari updates are:


  • To explain what we are seeing and photographing each day
  • To explain some of the camera equipment used and any thoughts around them
  • To show a day-in-the-life on one of my African photographic safaris
  • To create a diary for my travelers, so they won’t have to keep up with what we saw each day


So, here goes!

This morning we left the D’Oreale Grand Hotel in Johannesburg, and were picked up by my good friend Gordie, who runs a hospitality transfer business. Gordie took us to the hanger where our flight would take us to the Sabi Sands. We checked in, if you can call it that, and boarded our Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. 50 minutes later we landed at the Mala Mala airstrip, and my good friend and head ranger Matt grabbed us and took us to our camp for the next 3 nights. Every time I visit Mala Mala I make sure that Matt is my main guide, and this trip is no exception. We grabbed a nice lunch on the deck, got settled into our rooms and then took off for our afternoon game drive.

The weather this afternoon was almost perfect at around 75F. When I left home in Houston it was already getting into the 90’s each day, with an average low of the mid 70’s. I am not a fan of hot and humid places, and it was great to be in such great weather.

We had heard about a pair of leopard cubs from the Kikilezi female leopard, and made sure that we went straight for the place where they were last seen. It is important to be sensitive around any young cub, and since their mother wasn’t around we didn’t want to stay very long at all. If anything bad happened during our brief visit, the cubs would associate the event with the presence of a vehicle, and would forever be shy around them. We did spot the two 6-week old cubs, and for a quick reference I have included an image. It isn’t a great one, but the purpose of the images on these updates is to illustrate what we have seen out here.

After our brief visit with the leopard cubs, we drove along the edge of the Sand River to see what was out in the open and easy to photograph. We happened on a small congregation of bull elephants, drinking and sparring at the waters’ edge. I love any animal that is near water, especially if there is interaction with the water (drinking, splashing, etc) or if there is a reflection. Or both! We took some shots and decided we would head down to the southern edge of Mala Mala where some wild dogs had been seen a few days earlier.

When we got to the southern edge of the property, we had to bushwhack our way through very very dense brush in an attempt to locate where we though the dog den might be. We had another vehicle in the area, and he was able to triangulate and figure out the location within an hour. We stayed a fair distance back from the den, and we only saw one adult female near the entrance. Awesome! This is the key to great wild dog photography, as you know where the epicenter of activity is coming from. All hunts begin and end from the den. We didn’t stay long, as it was obvious that the other adults had already left to go hunting, and there wasn’t much to see. We needed to make sure the dogs weren’t spooked by our presence, and staying back to observe and come back another day was the best approach.

We headed back to camp after dark, as it took a while to find our way back to the road from the dense brush. The temperature quickly dropped and my vehicle mates and I all had huge smiles on our faces from our first game drive of the trip.


Leopard Cub

Nikon D800, 300mm f/2.8, 1/3200 @ f/4, ISO 400. Hand held


Elephant in the Sand River

Nikon D800, 300mm f2.8, 1/640 @ f/5, ISO 400. Shot from a bean bag


View of the same elephant in the Sand River

Nikon D800, 300mm f/2.8, 1/1000 @ f/5.6, ISO 400

Camera bags on this safari are sponsored by Gura Gear, which I started in 2008. Check us out. We make the best camera bags on the planet. :-)
Some of the gear on this safari has been provided by I rely on for both my own needs as well as my safari travelers’ needs. When we need big lenses, cameras or anything else photographic, we turn to to help out. They are the best resource in the industry for traveling photographers.

Photo of the Day - Tamboti Leopard, Mala Mala


Tamboti Female Leopard

Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa.

Nikon D700, 200-400mm f/4 VR, 1/400 @ f/4, ISO 3200


When photographing leopards, especially up close, I think the connection with the viewer is all about the eyes of the subject. I had to balance depth of field to obtain sharp eyes, minimum shutter speed so I didn’t have a blurry photograph, and a blurry background. I took about 6 images in the series, and I ended up choosing one of the images taken at f/4. I do like to bracket my depth of field in situations such as this, moving between a couple of stops. I have images at f/4 through f/11, and the problem with my f/11 images were a sub-optimal ISO (6400) and shutter speed (1/160).


Photo of the Day - Leopard and her kill, Mala Mala



The Tomboti Female leopard and her Meal

Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa. August 2010.

Nikon D700, 200-400mm f/4, 1/320 @ f/5.6, ISO 3200


I visited Mala Mala last year twice, and at the time I photographed this female leopard she had no name. She is now known as the Tomboti Female Leopard, and she was likely my best subject in all of last year. I photographed something like 22 different leopards in the Sabi Sands alone, and I often got extremely close to these gorgeous cats. The morning we saw her we were also photographing 2 other leopards, and we rotated between the different sightings over many hours. It was absolutely awesome to have to decide which awesome cat to take photos of, and I am glad and honored that the Tomboti Female gave us her all. She moved her impala kill towards the bottom of the tree, which meant she was very very very close to us. She was around 5 meters from my lens, and when I took shots she would temporarily look up and wonder what the sounds were. Gulp.

If you have never been to the Sabi Sands of South Africa, you are missing out on one of the most dense areas for leopards in all of Africa. I now have a recurring safari each year that I call the ‘Majestic Leopards’ safari, and time is split between 2 different camps in the Sabi Sands over an 8-day period. Accommodations are super nice, wildlife is super close and we have more than ample allowance for your photographic gear in the plane flights and in the vehicles. There are still some spaces available for the safari in July!

Majestic Leopards Safari, July 25 - August 3, 2011


Photo of the Day - Lioness in Tree


Lioness Climbing a Tree, Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa. November 2010

Nikon D3, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/800 @ f/5.6, ISO 1000


I absolutely love it when I find things in nature that surprise me. Lions in trees is one of those situations that isn’t all that unusual, but most of the time these scenarios turn out to be photographic busts. Most of the time I see twigs and branches in the way, and rarely do I get a clear shot with an alert cat. Here we had a few lionesses who were climbing up and down this tree, and even though we had an uninteresting background with marginal light, the light was at least soft in the middle of the day for us to stay out longer than we would normally be out on a game drive. A typical game drive may end by 9:30 or 10am in the summer time, as it gets quite warm and the light is harsh. Yes, there are twigs and other branches in the way, but it is at least worthy of sharing for the blog.

Greg du Toit will be running a small and intimate group of photographs to Mala Mala in late July, and you can find more about this safari on my main web site:

2011 Predators of the Sabi Sands Photo Safari with Greg du Toit


Predator Safari Wrap-up and Truth in Numbers

I have been back from South Africa for a few weeks now, and I have had some time to reflect on my past safari. First off, the goal of the safari was to lead a small and intimate group of photographers (7 in total) to photograph the predators of the Sabi Sands, South Africa. The Sabi Sands is a very unique location for wildlife photography, as the density of leopards and lions are some of the highest in all of Africa. I think I have a very soft spot for leopards, for sure, and I can always use more photographs in my portfolio.

We spent 8 nights in the Sabi Sands, split between Exeter River Lodge and Mala Mala Main Camp (4 nights each). We had 16 separate leopard sightings in 8 days, which is a remarkable number. Of those 16 sightings, we saw 12 unique individuals, some nice interaction between some of them as well as a thrilling almost-kill of a warthog (see earlier Photo of the Day posting).

The weather was in transition from the spring into the summer temperatures, and we had some needed rain near the end of the safari. The western sector of the Sabi Sands has had ‘controlled burns’ already over the past few months, and Mala Mala always chooses to do their own controlled burns after the first 50mm of rain. This meant that as the rains started to happen on our 6th day, the wildlife moved in a way that made for challenging photography: where did they all go? Most of our sightings happened in the first 5 or 6 days, and the last few days were exercises in opportunistic photography. When I plan my safaris, I always choose to split my time between multiple locations, just in case of migratory or weather changes that can snub even the most opportunistic photographer. You just have to play the odds.

Ok, so here are some things that worked and what did not. I took 3 cameras: a Nikon D3, a Nikon D3x and a Sony NEX-5. The NEX-5 was only intended to be a grab shot camera, plus perhaps some video. After looking at my 5181 images in Lightroom (after culling some out of focus images), here is a breakdown of some interesting statistics:

  • D3 = 2160 frames
  • D3x = 3021 frames

I bought a D3x back in December of 2008, and sold it about 9 months later. I sold it because I thought I needed to rely heavily on ISO 1600 and above ISO speeds most of the time. This is sort of true, but I felt guilty for owning an $8,000 camera that I used 20 percent of the time. Well, after looking at my past safari images that were taken with the D3x at ISO 800, 1600 and perhaps up to 2500, I realized that I had a knee jerk reaction to sell the camera. At 20x30” print sizes, the 24mp resolution of the D3x balances out all of the excess noise. The Nikon D3 at ISO 2500 has less resolution and less noise, but more dynamic range than the D3x. In actual prints, I have to say that the D3x looks better to my eyes on these somewhat higher ISO speeds. So, a few days before I left for Africa I decided to stop using my D700 and D300 cameras and got back into the D3 and D3x bodies. I very very happy that I did this, because I missed the pro-level build quality of these cameras. And the D3x files are oh-so gorgeous, with the dynamic range and extra resolution at ISO speeds up to about 800, perhaps 1600. Yes, the D3x isn’t the best at ISO 800, but it is still preferable to my eyes when compared to the D3.

Here are some numbers as to what ISO speeds I shot at:


As you can see, my ISO speeds were all over the board. ISO 800 and 1600 are the most popular ones, for sure. A truism: I tend to have more light and lower ISO values on my east Africa safaris, as they are more wide open savannah environments, and my Botswana and South Africa safaris tend to have less light and higher ISO values, due to the more dense trees and bushes.

Ok, so now what did my typical shutter speeds look like?


This is actually not that interesting. I always try to get as much shutter speed as I can get, however I am always aware of depth of field considerations. The balance between ISO, shutter speed and depth of field is always something that requires a trade-off, as one can never have all three be perfect for all situations. I do recommend that all photographers understand what their absolute minimum shutter speed is for a given focal length, as this is essential information when pushing the boundaries of ISO, shutter speed and depth of field. In my own experience, I do feel comfortable going down to about 1/60 or 1/125 at 400mm when working in a vehicle that is very still.

Ok, so which lenses were the most popular?


For you smart people out there, the 5200 shots represents all 3 of the cameras, including the NEX-5. I chose to ignore it for this graphic, as I think some of the metadata is messed up with the lenses on the Sony. Another post on another day, perhaps. Well, the 200-400mm was used for more than 50% of my shots, and the 70-200mm was used quite a bit. I think it is time for me to upgrade to the new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens, as it is a huge improvement in quality over the one that I own. What is interesting is that I rarely use the 70-200mm when I am in Tanzania or Kenya, primarily because the wildlife is so much farther away.

What worked and what did not

I was hoping to do a little video with my new Sony NEX-5, and I did do some. What didn’t work was I just couldn’t find the time to do much of it, because we were so darned successful with our still photographs on game drives. I was hoping to video some traveler testimonials, as well as to do some informational shooting regarding how the vehicles look, how we shoot from them and what our accommodations look like. I have learned that shooting video and stills on the same trip just doesn’t work, and I have to give up game drives in order to do quality video production. It’s just that simple. My assistant, Troy, came on the prior safari to Botswana and South Africa, and he recognized the same thing. In the future I am just going to outsource this video work to Troy, so I can focus on leading the safaris, as well as taking some still photographs.

I loved the reduced equipment list on this trip, as I didn’t take an all-purpose zoom lens for general shots. So I left the 24-70mm behind, as well as my JVC GY-HM100U video camera. I did have a new Gura Gear prototype bag with me, and I was quite happy with how it performed. No, I cannot mention anything about the bag, but I will say that we are actively working on new products right now.

I am thinking of picking up a 3rd SLR for other grab shots, as well as for video. The D7000 is what I have my eyes on right now, or perhaps upgrading from the D3 to the D3s. I really wish that Nikon would put some more weight behind video, as I would like a camera that can do 60 frames per second for slow motion of wildlife. Just my $.02.

OK, I did have an issue with my D3. Here is the situation: We were tracking a leopard, and I forgot to change my manual settings when she decided to stop to take a drink. My settings were still set to expose as if she were sitting up in a tree (overexposed). So my only shot of her drinking was grossly overexposed, and when I took a look in Lightroom at the file, I noticed some serious banding. I pushed the boundaries some more by tweaking the Exposure (minus 4 stops) and Blacks (+100) , and as you can see I had some seriously bad banding, as well as color shifts. Anybody have an ideas as to if this is normal or not?



Where to go from here?

Well, since this safari was such a huge success, I have decided to make this safari a yearly thing. Greg du Toit will be running this same itinerary next year, and we are working on the details right now. We are looking at the first few weeks of August. My safari customers are always looking for unique photographic opportunities, and just the mentioning of leopards and lions on a specialized safari whets their appetite.