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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.

 

 

 

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Entries in Meerkat (2)

Wednesday
Feb022011

Meerkat Photography - How To

As I indicated in an earlier blog entry, I visited Tswalu Kalahari in November 2010 for 3 nights. I loved all of the photographic subjects on the reserve, but I enjoyed photographing the resident meerkats the most. This blog entry is a quick recap of my experience with the meerkats, and how I chose to shoot them.

Meerkats live in family groups called ‘mobs’ or ‘gangs’, and are part of the mongoose family (Suricata suricatta). Meerkat mobs are often made up of around 20 or more individuals, and the mob I spent time with had between 40 and 50. Meerkats live in burrows, and when the sun rises in the morning you can wait outside of a burrow to watch them come out and warm themselves in the early morning light. Within 15 or 20 minutes, all of the mob can be found above ground, and then they collectively take off to forage for the day. This is when the photo ‘event’ is over.

The most obvious way to photograph meerkats are with them looking into the camera, which means the sun is over your shoulder. This is a challenge, to say the least, because 1) your shadow often gets in the way, 2) the colors are not very vibrant at this angle, and 3) there is a lack of dramatic light. Remember that light illuminates and shadows define. Shadows are not a bad thing!

 

Cluttered background, and my subjects are sitting on the ground. The sun is 90 degrees to camera left, which doesn’t exactly give much dramatic light.

 

Here is a similar angle, and I had issues with the foreground chopping off the lower legs of some of my subjects. I do like that I was able to get all of their eyes in the photo, though.

 

Ugh, extremely flat light. Not optimal in any way. This is light over the shoulder.

 

Ok, it was time to start photographing into the sun, with meerkats looking away from the camera. This had the most dramatic light, however the only angles which worked had such an angle to the sun that always brought sun flare into my lens. So, time for a solution…..

 

We decided to attach pieces of paper to the lens hoods on our lenses, with the help of rubber bands. Voila!

 

Now we were able to photograph into the sun without lens flares. This brought a combination of dramatic light, color as well as ‘rim light’ on the meerkats.

 

Ok, back to some sidelighting. This was an angle that worked, primarily because of the blurred background.

 

I finally found an angle where I could get meerkats standing up, a clean background and dramatic lighting.

 

All in all, I had a great time photographing the meerkats. I want to spend more time in the future, as I did find them a bit of a challenge to get exactly what I wanted. Tswalu Kalahari did a great job explaining meerkat society and behavior, and they watched which burrow the meerkats went in at the end of each day. This allowed us to know exactly which burrow to wait at when the sun came up, wasting no time.

Tuesday
Dec282010

Tswalu Kalahari - My Experiences

At the end of my 2010 Predators of the Sabi Sands safari, I took some time to go and visit a property that I have wanted to visit for quite some time. The property is called Tswalu Kalahari, and is in the Kalahari Desert in the Northern Cape of South Africa. Tswalu is a very large reserve, made up of more than 106,000 hectares, with excellent wildlife for the wildlife photographer and nature lover. Tswalu’s habitat and wildlife are quite amazing: a semi-arid environment of red earth and sand dunes, wide open skies, 230+ species of birds, 90 species of mammals and some of the most breathtaking scenery as a backdrop. Let’s go over some of the mammal species: sable antelope, roan antelope, giraffe, black rhino, Kalahari desert lion (awesome manes!), meerkat, brown hyaena, aardwolf, aardvark, ground squirrel, and tons more to keep one’s attention.

Background and Accommodations

The name Kalahari derives from the Tswana word “Kgala” which means “great thirst”. But the southern Kalahari, where Tswalu is located, is really a “green desert” as the Korannaberg Mountains attract precious rainfall in the summer months. The Kalahari has been the ancestral home of the San people, or Bushmen, for thousands of years. As hunter-gatherers, the Bushmen survived by tracking and hunting wild game with bows and arrow, gathering berries or desert melons and storing scarce water in the blown-out shells of ostrich eggs. The San culture and beliefs are rich and rooted in this land.

Tswalu is located in the southern area of the Kalahari Desert, on the South African side of the border

Historically the area has been both ranch land and hunting land. In 1999 Nicky Oppenheimer purchased Tswalu, extended the amount of land, and began restoring the land back to its original state. Tswalu has two different accommodation options: The Motse and Tarkuni. The Motse is the main location, which means “village” in Tswana, and consists of just eight spacious and secluded suites. Tarkuni is the Oppenheimer’s private home, and can accommodate up to 10 guests. I stayed at The Motse during my visit, and did take the opportunity to visit Tarkuni during some down time. Both are excellent and very comfortable, and I would love to stay at Tarkuni if I bring a handful of travelers with me, due to the more private setting. Regarding The Motse, 2 of their suites have 2 rooms, and myself and one of my guests used one of these rooms during our stay. The 2-bedroom suites have 2 bathrooms and a common area, and would work well for a small family of 2 to 4 people. It should be said that Tswalu is a member of the Relais & Châteaux collection of worldwide properties, which means you know you will receive excellent service, dining and accommodations. Tswalu has their own private airplane, a Pilatus PC-12, which only takes about 90 minutes of flight time to get to and from Johannesburg, and they also have service in and out of Capetown. There are other planes available, depending on need and availability.

The lounge are at Motse

Wildlife Wildlife Wildlife

Well, I am an African wildlife photographer, and I am driven primarily by photography than anything else. Tswalu’s wildlife is not what I would call a ‘big five’ experience, and is more appropriate for people who have been on safari before or who would like to experience species that are not easily seen in other places. I went to Tswalu to photograph meerkats, desert adapted Kalahari lions, black rhino and sable antelope. I did come away with wonderful images and experiences with all of these species, as well as with some other things that I did not expect. Here are just some wildlife experiences we encountered:

  • A crash of 5 white rhinos running a few feet from the side of the vehicle (was difficult to photograph, for sure).
  • Mating Kalahari desert adapted lions, and the male had a huge dark mane that is the most magnificent of any male I have ever seen.
  • Tracking black rhino and finding both mother and young calf together, only 10 meters from us.
  • Numerous visits to meerkat mobs (yes, they are called ‘mobs’ or ‘gangs’) to photograph them from many different angles and lighting situations.
  • Numerous sightings of both sable and roan antelope.
  • Dozens of bird species, and I especially am fond of all of the weaver species on the reserve.

 

Big Boy, my nickname for one of their magnificent Kalahari desert adapted male lions

 

Meerkat sunning himself in the morning light

 

Additional Information and Wrap-up

I visited in mid November, and based on what I know about the area I should plan on coming back during some of the warm(er) months. I am not sure that I will visit during the wintertime, as would like to have the big, puffy clouds on the horizon to contrast the red sand on the ground, and that needs to happen when the days are warm.

My experience at Tswalu was extraordinary, and one of the best combinations of service, dining, accommodations, wildlife and overall experience that I have ever experienced in Africa. This says quite a bit about how I feel about Tswalu, and how much I desire to return in future years.

 

Sunset over the Kalahari Desert, Tswalu

 

Setting up for dinner-under-the-stars in the Boma

 

A crash of five white rhinos, who took a few seconds to stop while I took a photograph. We drove next to them for a few minutes, watching them run parallel to our vehicle. What a blast.

 

Yawning lioness in the late afternoon light

 

Meerkats, all sunning themselves in the morning light