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Photographing Giraffes in East Africa using film

Tanzania and Kenya have one of the largest populations of Giraffes in the world. Specifically, there are three out of nine species that are dominant. Rothschild, Masai and Reticulated, and all of them are as wonderful to photograph as they are to watch.

Photographing Giraffes. I can’t get enough of them. They are so graceful and beautiful. When they run, it’s like they’re in slow motion. When they look at you, you can see their beautiful long eyelashes, their gorgeous, soulful round eyes and their cute little alien antennae. I had the honour of visiting the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, Kenya a couple of months ago where I got to actually touch, feed and even KISS a giraffe!

We had tried to book in for lunch at Giraffe Manor but it was fully booked. If you’re planning on dining with Giraffes, make sure you book well in advance because it is a very popular place. However, if, like me, you didn’t have too much time to book, you can see the same Giraffes from the Manor a few doors down at the Giraffe Centre.

I’ve been obsessed with Giraffes ever since I went on my first African Safari in 2013 and since then I have observed them in 5 different Safari/Game parks throughout Tanzania. The best thing about them is that they are not shy creatures. You can get quite close to them in a park if you have an excellent guide/driver. The first time I saw a Giraffe was the ultimate “wow” moment. The sheer stature they stand with is amazing. And then, you see them run! There’s nothing like seeing a Giraffe run.

Interestingly, they are as curious about us as we are about them but they DO like to headbutt, so getting too close and letting your guard down can lead to a bit of headache. It was interesting to see that all the Giraffes at the Giraffe Centre have very distinct personalities, and because their patterns are as unique as fingerprints are, the rangers know all of them by name. To be able to use a 50mm lens on an old Canon AE-1 was a wonderful thing, but it is also beneficial to have a long lens for the parks.

Tips on Photographing Giraffes

Here are a few tips I can share about photographing giraffes in game parks or sanctuaries.

  • Be ready. Have your camera turned on and ready to go. Some cameras have a lag time between turning on and being ready to use.
  • Use back button focus if you camera has it. Focusing with your thumb will make you quicker when you need to be.
  • If you’re using a film camera, make sure that the lenses you use support it, or your images might be soft.
  • If you like to shoot wide open, you might want to reconsider and choose a narrower f-stop if you’re using a telephoto lens and you are lucky enough to have a 2.8 f stop, you might end up with hazy shots. Try a 4 or 5.6 f-stop instead.
  • Get a good guide/driver. A good one will know to stop as soon as he sees your lens raised.
  • Don’t miss sunrise or sunset. Giraffes will often come closer to some camps during these times.
  • Giraffes will always be found where there are Acacia shrubs, but they camouflage well so look carefully.
  • Stay away from blue coloured clothing. The Tsetse fly is attracted to it and their bite is nasty.
  • Giraffes are normally in groups, which is called a Tower. Try and position yourself so that all heads/necks are visible to avoid crowded looking photos.
  • Get your guide/driver to shut off the engine of the Safari car. This will allow you to minimise camera shake, especially at longer focal lengths.
  • Despite the urge to photograph giraffes in portrait orientation because of their height, use horizontal orientation as well to include their surrounds.
  • If you see a Giraffe sitting/laying down, don’t hesitate to take the shot. This doesn’t happen frequently and when it does, it’s only for a few minutes at a time.
  • If you’re lucky enough to get close, try and photograph some details of the Giraffe. Their patterns, eyes, horns, tongues.
  • Don’t touch or feed any wild animals.
  • Always tip your guide/driver well.
  • Make a visit to a watering hole in the hopes of capturing a Giraffe drinking. They only drink every few days.
  • If you haven’t found any Giraffes, look for Zebras. They are usually seen grazing together.

Photographing Giraffes with film

The images below were created using combination of both Kodak Portra 400 and Fuji 400H film and a Canon EOS 1v and a Canon AE-1. Using different films, according to the time of year you take your Safari can produce interesting results. The dryer seasons suit the Kodak Portra series of films  and give lovely tones, especially when it comes to the warmer end of the scale. Head out in the wet or green seasons and try some Fuji 400H to get some fantastically rendered greens. Kodak Tri-x or Ilford HP5+ are fantastic films for creating some even contrast during the harsh daylight hours.

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Currently, the Giraffe is listed as “vulnerable” which means it faces a high risk of extinction in the near future.

World Giraffe Day is officially June 21.

To learn more about Giraffes or to make a donation to their conservation and well being, visit the Wild Nature Institute and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Every little bit helps.

If you’re planning a visit to Nairobi, don’t miss out on Giraffe Manor and the Giraffe Centre for the ultimate up close and personal experience.

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Photographing a wedding in Tanzania

When people think of weddings in Africa, Dar es Salaam doesn’t usually come to mind, but a wedding in Tanzania doesn’t have to mean Zanzibar. British couple G & T chose White Sands Resort in Dar es Salaam to tie the knot with their closest family and friends and also managed to dodge the rain.

From friendship to love

I love a good love story, and this one is most definitely of the epic kind. G & T’s families had known each other for years before they decided to have their wedding in Tanzania. Having pretty much grown up with ties to each other through playing together during the summer when G and her sister would visit their Grandmother, life wouldn’t have them actually meet again until years later.

All those years though, their family members had kept in contact and that’s when they came to get to know each other again. T was working in Africa and G was studying in the UK but like any good romance, it happens before anyone knows it’s happening. Before long, G had joined T in Freetown and that’s when all hell broke lose.

Sierra Leone, Ebola and Malaria

In the midst of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, friendship turned into love. Freetown is small but big things tend to happen. In 2014, the most widespread Ebola virus outbreak occurred in West Africa and hit Sierra Leone, Guinea and Libera. T had been stationed in Freetown as a Football Coach and had been talking with G again for some time long distance before she decided to come and join him to teach First Aid. She did so just as the outbreak hit, and just like the Dustin Hoffman movie of the same name, the outbreak hit hard. G worked tirelessly as a medic at the camp while T tried to keep some normalcy for the kids he was training.

Being in such close parameters with a deadly virus would no doubt bond two people together in a way that most of us can’t begin to imagine. And that bond became even stronger when G contracted a particularly virulent strain of Malaria, which hospitalised her for quite some time as she fought to recover. As she did, T was there with her sitting by her bedside and most likely wishing he’d never asked her to join him because it was now a very real possibility that he could lose her.

But, like any true epic romance, and any love that’s worth anything, this was thankfully just a test. True love is tested in ways we least expect it and when G finally did come out of the danger zone and the horrible effects of the Malaria, their love for each other had grown stronger. They knew now that if they could survive an outbreak of two deadly diseases then they could survive anything.

The proposal and choosing to have their wedding in Tanzania

Since then, they’ve lived in three countries together, survived Malaria and Ebola and they work with kids and animals like the great humanitarians they are. Their life together is like something from an epic romance novel that spans years and continents. It’s meant to be.

T had spent some of his youth growing up in Kenya and feels a strong connection to Africa, so it was no surprise when they decided to hold their wedding in Tanzania. T had proposed to G on a 4 x 4 trip back in the UK, but given their history it made sense that Africa was involved. It was, after all, Africa where their love was forged.

Family and friends flew in to Dar es Salaam from all over the world to help them declare themselves devoted to each other and those that couldn’t be present physically were able to join in via Skype. On an idyllic white sandy beach at a Resort aptly named Hotel White Sands, the rain held off and the wind died down at the perfect moment. The beautiful wooden pier on the shores of White Sands Resort played the beautiful host for their Ceremony and G and T finally said ” I do” and their fairytale wedding in Tanzania was complete.

Only the beginning

In the years that they’ve been together, either in friendship or in love, they’ve accomplished so much together, but it’s really only the beginning. Like the first quarter of a book as rich as a Jane Austen classic, mixed with visually descriptive echoes of the grand writings in Out of Africa, G and T’s story still has much more to show us. I’m honoured to be able to help visually narrate part of this story and I look forward to seeing how the next chapter of their romance unfolds.

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