7. Tour

June 8th, 1994 - June 20th, 1994

June 9th 1994

Since the grass has grown so high, there hasīnt been a Leopard kill to be found. Apparently the Leopards are in the opinion that, with the grass so high, it isnīt worth the trouble and energy to transport their slain prey into a tree, since the Lions and Hyenas presently canīt find them anyway.

But just today, on my first morning of tour 7, we find Beauty with a kill high up in a tree – all theory really is gray (Leopards, page 123).

June 12th, 1994

I really desperately need a kill from Paradise hanging in a tree!! Best would be a large animal like an Impala, a Zebra or a Thomson Gazelle.

The situation at the moment with the family, without a kill, is disastrous, as seen from a photographic point of view.

We did find the Leopard family this morning, and were able to follow the three for about two hours, but the scenes were from the viewpoint of a photographer, dreary.

It was just barely enough to continue with the story but no more. There were no highlights, no attractions, and nothing of importance or beauty that happened. The three Leopards were just walking along and then sometime later they just laid down in the tall grass to rest for the remainder of the day – and that was it. Non - prosaic day of a Leopard....

With a kill in a tree the situation would be totally different: All three would climb up and down the tree a lot more often, play or the youngsters would bug their mother – in any case, there would be numerous useful picture situations. But this here is just like "stale water".

In the meantime I changed my concept for the Mara book: structuring after months did not seem such a good idea to me any more. First because I happened to come across the not planned Leopard story, which presently takes about 90% of my time, energy and attention, and I canīt keep up the original concept with only 10% and second, it may not be so optimal for the readers: if every month there is just one feature animal, some readers might think that you donīt see them the rest of the time.

That is why I decided to separate the Mara book in different environments:

  • The grassland society
  • The bushland society
  • The forest society
  • The river society

This does not force me into the concept of creating an important type of animal for every month, but I would be able to just take pictures by "shooting around" when the Leopards leave me time.

The pictures taken in such a way will always fit into a chapter and it is easier for the reader since he has an impression which animal exists where and what he can expect in the different biotopes and animal societies of the Mara.

June 14th, 1994

Now, after seven tours, the right equipment has slowly fallen into place. First realization: my by far most frequently used lens is the AF – Nikkor 4.0/600 mm, which is almost always used with the auto focus here in Africa, at least more than 99%.

Only when the head of an animal in the tall and closely growing stalks of grass has to be sharply focused do I change to MF (manual focusing).

Recently I use the 1,4x AF – converter more and more often with the 600 mm. Slowly I am learning that a good motif for the 600 mm lens is a whole lot better if photographed with an 840 mm focal length.

With the 840 mm I solely work with AF. The sharpness in depth is with this long focal length – and the necessary wide open aperture to avoid wobbling – very low and usually only a few centimeters, there the AF is an extremely valuable help.

The Buffalo needs to turn his head only couple of centimeters for the Maggot Eater to be out of the zone of sharpness. Manually focusing, you probably wouldīnt even notice. The 1,4x converter with the AF is a great tool for this. (Masai Mara, page 29).

The 2x converter has a shadow existence in comparison and I hardly use it at all presently.

Two years ago, when I did the Cheetah story together with Norbert Rosing, I used it more often – together with the 3,5/400 mm – to get an 800 mm focal length.

Now with the combination 600 mm lens plus 1,4 converter I donīt seem to need it anymore. I actually have it in my backpack just in case there is a super sunset and some animals run around in front of the red globe that can be photographed very strikingly with a 1.200 mm focal length.

At the beginning I sometimes had the Nikkor 2,8/300 mm AF, Tokina 4.0/100 – 300 mm AF and the Nikkor 4.0/200 – 400 mm MF lenses with me.

I exchanged the 2,8/300 m AF for the 4,0/300 m AF because it is smaller and more light weight and I can work with it a lot easier. I donīt necessarily need the 2,8 shutter with the 300 mm - speed and maneuverability are more important for me.

The 4.0/100 – 300 AF from Tokina was actually the fitting lens as for focal length and light. Unfortunately the optical quality in the 250 – 300 mm area was not very satisfactory.

The optically fantastic 4.0/200 – 400 mm I discarded because as a MF it is just too slow for action photography in Africa.

On my last tours I additionally took the 4.0/200 m MF – Macro Nikkor with me, because of the focal length, the area of focus and tripod clamp. A fantastic lens for taking close ups of flowers, butterflies and mushrooms.

It is crazy – but I am really starting to take more and more close ups here in the Masai Mara. Others rave about the Elephants and Lions and I am taking pictures of the "Blackeyed Susanna", the "Angels Trumpet" or I am crawling around the dark rain forest where the bush babies live and search for mushrooms that grow on moldy tree trunks. (Masai Mara, page 55).

My complete equipment that I presently have with me on this tour is this:

For the animal photography: 2,8/70 – 210 mm AF, 4,0/300 mm AF and 4,0/600 mm AF with the two 1,4x AF and 2,0 AF converters.

For the close ups: 2,8/105 mm AF and 4,0/200 mm MF.

For landscapes: a 24 – 70 mm AF zoom, and for aerials the MF-lenses 2,8/24 mm, 2,8/35 mm and 2,8/55 mm.

In the car with me constantly, I have the following equipment:

2 Nikon F4s

2,8/24 mm MF Nikkor, 2,8/105 mm AF – Nikkor Macro, 4,0/200 mm MF- Nikkor Macro

3,5/24 – 70 mm AF Tamron

2,8/70 – 210 mm AF-Sigma, 4,0/300 mm AF – Nikkor, 4.0/600 mm AF – Nikkor

1,4x AF converter, 2,0x AF converter

SB-24 electron flash, 25 mm adapter

1 window tripod Novoflex with a Lumpp rotation head and monopod

1 lightweight Gitzo tripod with rotating head for landscapes and plants, 2 sandbags

1 Kodak cooler bag for films

1 rubberball trigger

1 pair of binoculars 8 x 40

1 gray card

1 light meter

1 Lowepro phototrekker


I have mostly judged the focal length of my pictures by instinct, about 70% with 600 mm or 840 mm about 20% with the 300 mm and the remaining 10% with shorter focal lengths.

On the last tour I had 30 rolls ea. of the Fuji Chrome slide films Sensia -100 and Provia – 100 with me on a trial basis and was pleasantly surprised with the result. The colors seem to be almost exactly as with the Fuji Chrome –100, and the softness of the gradation has – thank God – stayed the same, but the sharpness is much better. By judging the results up to now, there is no difference noticeable between the Sensia – 100 and the Provia - 100, with the exception that the Provia is twice as expensive.

I was not very happy with the Kodak Ektachrome Elite – 100 and Panther – 100 films. The gradation was too hard and the color balance was too much into the brown.

In the future, I will more than likely take only Sensia – 100 with me and no Fuji chrome – 50 any more for plants and landscape photos. The Sensia – 100 seems to be so good that I can use it as a universal film for everything and just take a few Sensia – 200 and Sensia – 400 for action photos in miserable light situations. Fuji seems to really have provided us with t h e slide film with the Sensia – 100.

There are two ways to work the Masai Mara as a wildlife photographer:

With normal wildlife photography, when you just fly there and drive around, in order to take photographs at random and are satisfied with what you get, it is more advantageous when 2 photographers are in one car. It cuts the cost in half and is not so boring when you can mourn over missed chances together with a colleague.

With special projects that take more time, it is best to work on the basis of one vehicle, one driver, one photographer.


On this picture here, Tom Brakefield is taking a picture of Leopards for his book on
the three large African felines "Leopard, Cheetah and Lion", that was to be
published in the US in 1996.

Here you can see the perfect way of working: the regular pictures
are shot from the car door with the "windowpod" and in special cases or
emergencies you can shoot through the sunroof.

The driver is in front and the breakfast and lunch boxes are piled on the seat
next to him. In the second row on the bench seat, the photographer
has taken seat and is now able to photograph from either side through the
windows and through the sunroof. The rest of the equipment is in the
third row on the bench seat. This way you can endure the time between
6am and 6/7pm pretty well, always ready for the "perfect shot" that you
get only once every couple of weeks, in spite of all the effort.
(Rule of Thumb for Africa: For every hundred rolls of film, 1 super picture.)


June 14th, 1994

Too bad you canīt photograph everything you see. Frequently you just get surprised and you are too far away or branches are between the camera and the subject, the grass is too high, you have the wrong lens in front of your camera or the wrong film in it, the light is not yet enough or not enough any more, and so on, and so on, and so on.........

Like this morning, when a young Leopard jumped on the back of his mom and just sat there for a few seconds.

The two of them looked like a subgroup of the Bremen City Musicians (German story for children). It would have such a great picture, but unfortunately both were too far away from my camera and in addition to that, branches were between the lens and the subject which didīnt disturb the sight, but would have made pictures impossible.

A while back, close to the Aitong Mountains, an Eland Antelope suddenly jumped over a Zebra. It looked like at a jumping tournament where the horse jumps across the hurdle with the three wooden beams.

But I didīnt even have time to grab the camera, thatīs how suddenly it happened. The Eland Antelope suddenly just jumped from a standing position - without gaining any momentum – with no motivation at all, across the back of the Zebra.

I had the impression that she made this jump without reason, just for the fun of it. There was just enough time to sit astonished with an open mouth in the car.

A superb picture seen, but unable to have it on film. No wonder that one has so much gray hair.

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