Tanzania Safari – Part 6: Serengeti National Park

Tired Kitty

The last stop on my photography safari was to the extensive plains of the Serengeti National Park.  I only saw a small portion of the 5,700 sq mi of the park, but the animals I experienced was a once in a lifetime photographers dream. The Serengeti National Park is famous for the annual migration of over a million wildebeests and zebras, although I didn’t visit during this time I was still able to see plenty of animals.

Where to Stay in the Serengeti

Lemala Nanyukie Tented LodgeI stayed in the newly opened Lemala Nanyukie Camp within the National Park. The camp wasn’t finished, but enough was done to give us a wonderful stay. My group was there over the American Thanksgiving holiday, and they even made a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner for us so, we wouldn’t miss home. But, really how can you miss home when you have views from your tent like these. Each of the tents come with an indoor and outdoor shower. And, there is even a mini pool to soak your feet in on the deck after a long, hot game drive. Serengeti View from Lemala Nanyukie Tent Deck

Serengeti Sunrises

You will see some amazing colors if you wake up early to catch the Serengeti sunrise. Each morning there was a different color display that I was so fortunate to experience. It was a little chilly in the mornings so, wearing layers (a hoodie) worked because by the afternoon it was roasting. The difficult part of capturing the sunrise is getting the light right on your camera settings. Set your camera to Aperture priority, I tend to use f/11 or higher to get more of the landscape in focus. Keep the ISO low at 100. Choosing a white balance setting to use is subjective: there is day or auto; overcast/shade will bring out reds; tungsten will bring out blues/purples. To prevent lens flare, if you want to, use a lens hood or reposition the camera to the side of the sun instead of directly in line. More tips: sometimes underexposure is often the correct exposure. And remember to keep the horizon line at the bottom 1/3rd of your image.Serengeti Sunrise 7

Serengeti Birds

With one of our guides being a bird expert, he was able to point out each bird we saw, which culminated in a total of 145 different varieties of birds. For me, this safari was my first time practicing shooting birds so, in addition to learning how, I was able to learn a lot more about the many different kinds of birds that reside in Tanzania. The most important thing I learned is that you have to keep an eye on the trees. A lot of birds perch on the top of them, like this Secretary Bird. Serengeti Sunrise with Secretary Bird sitting on top an Acacia tree

Serengeti Giraffes

Giraffe walking through Serengeti National ParkI didn’t see that many Giraffes during my four days in the Serengeti National Park. Except for the three that showed up on the last day while we were driving to the airport. I had to use my long lens to capture these guys as they were far off in the distance. 

Serengeti Gazelles

Thomson's GazelleThese gazelles are called Thomson’s Gazelles and are beautiful when they are running through the grass. Which, unfortunately, they have to do a lot as they are low on the food chain in the Serengeti National Park. But, when they are not running away from being dinner, they do have some fun. 

Serengeti Vultures

The vultures were absolute scavengers in the Serengeti National Park. It looked like another predator took out a Thomson’s Gazelle and left after it had its fill. The vultures swooped in and tore the rest of that poor animal apart. We watched them exert dominance over each other to make sure that the strongest got the best part of the leftovers. It was crazy to watch them rip the gazelle apart.

Serengeti Lion Cubs

Lioness resting after a killVery soon after seeing the vultures, we came across this lion family of three cubs and the mother. The Lioness was resting after her kill. We spent a little time observing these little guys. They were so full of spunk, showing us their little growls when they weren’t happy with the intrusion. But, they were also very curious, and the mom is sensing no danger from us, let them play and wander around. The last photo is when one of the earlier vultures flew over their little hideaway, and the one lion cub on the end was not having the interruption.

Serengeti Lionesses

Lioness facing the cameraThe lionesses were probably the only animal during the safari that scared me. I tended to sit in the back of the jeep in the last row by myself on most of the game drives. As everyone knows that the lioness is the hunter of the lion family. So, there was one day that there was one lioness walking directly to the back window of the jeep, right where I was sitting. Her head was about the height of the bottom of the window right where I was shooting her with my camera. Until I noticed that she wasn’t stopping coming toward the jeep. I freaked out, jumped up and dropped my camera and quickly moved to the 2nd row of the jeep. With the camera dropping and creating so much noise, she made a detour and walked around the back of the jeep. I got in trouble with making all that noise from the guides. But, hey I wasn’t about to become dinner for a lion.Lioness moving 2

Cues for Serengeti Cats Before They Are About to Move

Lioness yawningOne thing that I learned on this safari in the Serengeti National Park is that there is a big cue before the African cats start to move. Yep, you guessed it, they yawn. We saw some large cats yawn right before they started moving or hunting. It is a lot easier to notice that then the bird cues of pooping right before they take flight. The lions make the neatest faces when they yawn. I was able to capture all the phases of this lioness’ yawn.

Serengeti Male Lions

Male lions at Serengeti National ParkWith only seeing Lionesses and cubs, we were hoping to see some male lions. One evening we drove out further in the Serengeti National Park then we had before and found three brothers. We found the first two and followed them for a bit before we realized there was one further up. I missed capturing the lion roaring, but I did capture him talking to his two brothers. The funny thing is that one of our jeeps was by the two brothers and they said that they answered back. It was also nice to be able to photograph the lion in the amazing Serengeti sunset!

Serengeti Sunsets

Serengeti SunsetPhotographing sunsets are very similar to photographing sunrises. You still need to get there at least a half an hour before to set up your tripod and find your ideal composition. Point your camera at the ground in front of you and lock the exposure in then you can reframe the picture by looking at the sunset. Also, practice bracketing your shot to see which one gives you the best result. For a bright sky, one that still has the sun in it, try using EV-2. Also, try different focal lengths: wide-angle for the landscape shot, and zoom lens to fill the frame with the dramatic sky or interesting clouds.  If you aren’t sure when to show up for the sunset or even the sunrise, try these apps: SunCalc, Sun Surveyor, The Photographer’s Ephemeris or Exsate Golden Hour (I use this one).

Serengeti Landscape

Serengeti LandscapeThe Serengeti National Park area that I rode through was endless dry grass, and sometimes a single Acacia tree would stand out. You would think that this would be easier to spot the animals, but for me, it was harder. I am so glad the guides were excellent animal spotters. Most of the animals that they found were hidden in the grass or the trees. The view of the Serengeti going on and on was awe-inspiring.

Some of the other interesting Serengeti landscapes happened one foggy morning. The fog hadn’t dissipated yet, and the sun was waking up along with the animals. Eerily beautiful!Hazy morning sunHazy sunrise with Hartebeest silhouette

Serengeti Antelopes (Hartebeest and Topi)

Hartebeest

TopiThe antelope in the Serengeti National Park are some of the most interesting silhouettes you can capture. The fact that these animals are more significant than the gazelles give them an edge for better photo composition when they are by themselves. Two of the main antelopes in the Serengeti National Park is the Hartebeest and the Topi. Both of them are from the same tribe. The easiest way to tell the difference is the Topi is darker than the Hartebeest. Also, a Topi’s horns sweep up and back whereas a Hartebeest’s sweep out to the side before kinking back.Hartebeest and young

Serengeti Elephants

Close up of Elephant looking at cameraThere weren’t as many elephants in the Serengeti National Park as there is in the Tarangire National Park. But, whenever you do see them, you have to stop and admire them. And maybe take a few photos. One of the interesting things I noticed is that elephants are very protective of their young. This particular family we came across had an elder male elephant that was further away from the family. As we were photographing the family, the male kept backing up slowly until he was completely blocking the young elephant from our cameras. It was quite the family dynamic to witness.

Serengeti Cheetah Family Units

Cheetahs lounging aboutFor not seeing many cheetahs in the previous two parks, the Serengeti National Park delivered with multiple cheetah families. We spent what felt like hours watching the families and photographing their dynamic relationships. This particular family was great to watch as the young cubs were so entertaining and the mother was amazing with her capabilities for sensing prey and predators.

Another family of Cheetahs, we saw another day were just as cute. Not sure if they are the same family. There are even projects that track the Cheetahs by their markings based on the photos we take and where they are shot in the Serengeti National Park. Cheetahs by nature are not climbers so, seeing these cubs climb the trees was a treat for us.Cheetah family by a tree

This last group of Cheetahs I believe is a different family unit. Watching them was so neat to see all the affection they had for each other. I wonder if it is because something happened recently. One of the cheetah cubs looked like it was bloodied and banged up a bit. I could see them regrouping as a family after something traumatic happened.Mother and three cheetah cubs

Serengeti Other Animals

HyenaBesides the big cats and other big animals, I did see a few other different ones out in the wild. I have to say that taking this photography expedition with Great Escape Publishing to Tanzania was one of the best decisions I have made. This trip gave me the confidence that I have what it takes to make it as a professional photographer. I’ve always known I take good photos, but being here, shooting these animals in the wild, and working with Carli Davidson, was the inspiration I needed to make the decision to do this full time. I hope you have enjoyed my six-part Tanzania Safari articles. Sometimes I just want to share all my photos with you guys, but I know I really can’t. So, I’m glad that I was able to pare down the 7000+ photos I took to make these blog posts. Let me know what you think of the photos and the articles. I will be posting more of them on my photo site if you are interested in getting any of them for yourself.

Remember it is a big, open-world out there and you just have to go outside to experience it! And if you are looking to extend your trip in Africa, there are plenty of other places to visit including the best beaches in Zanzibar.

Ostrich with lone acacia tree

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