Tag: africa

More on Ethiopia

My recent trip to Ethiopia has left an impression that will last for quite some time. Aside from the spectacular landscapes and the simple beauty of the rock-hewn churches (read Indiana Jones meets National Geographic!), I am reminded of how complicated we have made our lives compared to many of the Ethiopians I met along the way. Our collective love affair with ‘stuff’ and our societal belief that ‘more is better’ is simply overwhelming. As I look around my neighbourhood, I see a clear indication of this, by how few of us can actually put our car in our garage.

Miriam Korkor rock-hewn church, Gher’Alta, Tigray, Ethiopia

I am and always have been a ‘stills’ photographer, primarily capturing natural landscapes and nature’s intimate details. However, since first using iPhone, I have also been drawn to capturing ambient sounds and video. In my short travels through northern Ethiopia, I made a number of videos which I have combined with some stills, ambient sounds and Tigrayan music into single video using iMovie. It’s my first ‘go’ with iMovie and while I think I’ve done a fair job at mastering transitions and overlaying sound, I think some of my clips may still be a little long. Perhaps, I’ll go back one day and rework this, but for now, here it is: Ethiopia 2019 Video.

I’ve also been asked, by a few people, for any tips I have for travelling to and photographing in Ethiopia. The following is an updated version of what I wrote on the Luminous-Landscape forum website last week:

Photo Tips: Work on convincing your drivers/guides to start early. Earlier than 8-8:30 was a struggle. I don’t think they quite understand the needs of photographers for the early morning light. As I was mostly travelling alone in a Land Cruiser, the drivers were very accommodating for photo stops.

There is an element of zooification when travelling to a low-income country. It’s something we discuss at length in the tourism unit of the IB Geography course I teach. I also introduce the term to my Grade 7s when we discuss the benefits and challenges of World Heritage Sites. I, for one, am intrigued by the markets and street life: the bustle of life lived on the streets, the sounds and colours and busy-ness of it all. But there is an element of voyeurism, too, that I am highly self-conscious of. At times, I felt this way when photographing the nuns, priests and monks at the churches, as a small payment is typically expected.

Don’t be afraid to walk the streets/markets to shoot, bút it’s better with your driver or guide as they can explain why you wish to photograph. Many people did NOT want their photos taken – respect that and move on because many did not mind at all, especially if you show them the photo afterwards and/or make a purchase from them.

Shop-owner, student and guide, Tsega Gebru, village of Megab, Ethiopia

A bigger camera system will definitely be more intimidating for candid portraits and street photography. It will also make you an bigger target. Being a westerner, ups the chances for theft, but I had no issues as my phone always went back in my front pocket and my Sony camera always back in my small hip case (one I bought decades ago to hold 4×5 film holders – my have times changed!)

I used ETT – Ethio Travel & Tours. Sunight was fantastic at organizing. All via email, she put together my two-week itinerary according to my requests, that included all accommodations (w/WiFi and private bathroom), all breakfasts, all internal flights (I had three) and transfers, all drivers and guides, and all entrance fees for USD 1750 – cash, paid on arrival. This kind of payment may scare off some who want the security of having everything booked and paid for ahead of time, but it is Africa, and, short of the much higher priced escorted tours, there are never any guarantees. That being said, everything went off without a hitch. As it is, ETT does most of the work for Erta Ale and the Danakil Depression, if not directly, then subcontracted to them. 
NOTE: If you fly in/out using Ethiopian Airlines (as good as many, better than most), all of your internal flights are significantly cheaper. And flights are the way to get around the country. 

The busy season is Dec-Jan for Christian observances and festivals (and into Feb) when up to to 10,000 will be in Lalibela, Aksum and the various churches. These are great opportunities for capturing the mood/feeling, but more expensive and frankly far too many tourists, especially for getting up/down the remote Tigray Churches. The rock-hewn churches of Gher’Alta Tigray – Miriam Korkor, Daniel Korkor, Abuna Yemata Gur – are only one way up and down. Any more than ten people will really slow things down and, for me anyway, completely ruin the experience of being in a quiet, inaccessible place of peace.

Prayer niche for monks, Daniel Korkor, Gher’Alta, Tigray, Ethiopia

March seemed to be ideal as it is the tail end of the main season and was not busy, but still with worshippers for cultural depth to photos. July-Aug is the rainy season – more difficult to get around but with much greener landscapes. 

I did not get to Gondor, Lake Tana / Blue Nile Falls, Simien Mtns or the southern Rift Valley for the Oromo cultures, but all are highly recommended – especially trekking in the Simien Mtns – according to tourists I spoke to there. However, visiting the Oromo cultures in the south is rife with zooification. Many French, German, Brits, Japanese and Chinese. I met only 1 other Canadian and only 1 American. Clearly, Ethiopia is not on the North American radar (not surprising, though).

Any other Qs, let me know. As I said at the beginning, tourism is just starting; while there is luxury, it somehow seems out of place in a low-income country. But it also means there are fewer tourists overall and the ones there are not the coach tour/cruise tourists.

Photo Safaris Tanzania Site Launch

Cheetah, Serengeti - Photo Safaris Tanzania
Cheetah, Serengeti

www.photosafaristanzania.com is live!

We are ready to go with our photo safari schedule for the coming year. Set aside dates in October 2010 or February 2011 for the best photo safaris available. Seven days tracking the amazing and diverse wildlife of the Serengeti Plains, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks. We’ll also visit Olduvai Gorge and visit with the Maasai who live around Ngorongoro.

The safari starts with a flight from Arusha, across the Great Rift Valley and Crater Highlands to the Serengeti. We’ll spend the next 7 days making our way back to Arusha by following the chain of parks and wilderness areas. It will truly be a memorable experience with photo opportunities around every bend.

We’ve teamed up with Allan Phillemon. Allan is a Tanzanian who is best known for guiding the IMAX and National Geographic film crews up and safely back down Mt. Kilimanjaro to make the IMAX film Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa. He will outfit us in his safari Land Cruisers with his best guides and we will be staying at both luxury tented camps close to the wildlife and lodges with the best views in East Africa.

Now that I’ve whetted your appetite, visit the website for the details – www.photosafaristanzania.com – or email me now with your questions or booking.

Oh yeah – you’ll want to know about the price. Allan has priced this really well for us on a sliding scale based on the number of people. All transportation, accommodation and meals and a few extras (like wine on every dinner table) are included – basically everything except personal spending and your flight to Arusha (Kilimanjaro International Airport – JRO – KLM flies daily from Amsterdam). By the way, we are using a minimum of two trucks to give everyone the elbow room they need for great photography. The fewest people we’ll go with is 4.

With 4 people split between two trucks, the price is US$ 6695 per person. If there are 5 or 6 people, the price drops to US$ 5695. With 7 or 8 people (which is the maximum) the price drops again to US$4995. Why the big gap in price? Having more people reduces the cost per person so we prefer to pass the savings on to you. I invite you to have a look at other safaris offered around the web. We are not a discount safari, nor are we scrimping on accommodation, meals, trucks or location. That being said, you’ll find these prices as good if not better than most other Tanzanian safaris.

For me, there is no better place in this world than being on safari in East Africa. It is absolutely exhilarating! I hope you’ll be able to join me. Have a look at the site and drop me an email if you have any questions.

Travelling to Africa is like going back in time…
Wildlife like you’ve never seen before.
Wide open spaces that seem to go on forever.
Photo ops around every bend in the road.
It’s the Africa you’ve dreamed of…

Exciting Photo Tours and Safari Developments

This week has been a great one for planning photo tours and safaris.

On Tuesday I sat down with Stephanie and Karen  from Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Waterloo to begin planning a photo cruise for 2011 – probably January-February and probably to the south Caribbean where you will find gorgeous scenery and flowers and the wonderful colours of the islands.

This evening my friend Allan Phillemon and I sat down to start working on a photo safari to his home country and my home-away-from-home: Tanzania. What a spectacular place: Kilimanjaro – the jewel of Africa, the magnificent  Serengeti Plain and Ngorongoro Crater, not to mention the wildlife that is accessible at all times. If you haven’t seen my photo of Tanzania – have a look here. Allan is also known as Kiliman (http://www.kiliman.com/) because of the excellent guided climbs of Mt Kilimanjaro. In fact, it was Allan who made all the arrangements for the IMAX crew for their ascent of Kili in making the film Kilimanjaro. Allan and I are looking at November 2010 and February 2011.

Travelling to these places is wonderful enough in itself, but a photo tour or safari designed specifically for photographers allows us to “take it up a notch”. Planning is done from the start to accommodate the needs of photographers — photogenic destinations; more time to get to know places; getting out when the lighting is ideal; plus photo tips and a workshop-like atmosphere where photographers are prepped ahead of time and questions answered in the field as they arise. A real win-win situation for all.

So start dreaming, start planning and start saving – there will be great opportunities for travel and photography in the coming year.

Tanzania Book – just in time for Christmas!

Tanzania - a fine art book of photographs by Terry A. McDonald
Tanzania

I’m just putting the finishing touches on my new book: Tanzania. It is a fine art book of photographs portraying the grandeur of Tanzania, its wildlife and some of the people who live there. My Introduction reads:

Using words alone, I find it impossible to accurately describe a wondrously complex country like Tanzania. While the photographs in this book portray the “Northern Circuit” they are representative of much of the country.

In every way it is a beautiful place, but it is also depressing, straight-forward yet enigmatic, inspiring yet frustrating, challenging yet easy-going. The romantic in me celebrates the wide-open landscapes and wildlife that are little changed in centuries – what Canada once was. The realist in me sees a people hampered by challenges much greater than their economy can solve. Yet Tanzanians are filled with the joy of community and friendship and a joie de vive unparalleled here in Canada. I lament the rapid changes fraught with conflict and tension, yet I yearn for Tanzanians to live their lives free of the afflictions that cause such hardships.

As a writer, this is as far as I go; I hope my photographs can more clearly reveal the grandeur of this great and wondrous country.

– Terry McDonald
November 2009

Tanzania is a beautiful, limited run, 8.5 x 11.25″, 46-page hard cover book with dust jacket and costs just $115 – including delivery  – an ideal Christmas gift for anyone who appreciates great photography and the wonders of Africa.

Featured in the book are images Mount Kilimanjaro, Arusha National Park, Tarangire National Park, the Rift Valley including Ol Doinyo Lengai and Lake Natron, Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park. As well, I’ve included photos from the bomas of our Maasai friends Kalanga and Baraka showing their extended family. This was a very special time and place for us as their homes are in the real porini (wilderness) north of Monduli near Kitumbeini and the Matisiwi Escarpment – a spectacular area.

Anyone who has travelled to Northern Tanzania would not only recognize the places shown, but will begin to see these wonderful lands in a new light.

The importance of Raw

Thunderstorm over Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Thunderstorm, Ngorongoro Crater

It’s been a bright and sunny autumn this year in southern Ontario. Today is the first day of rain in weeks, it seems. At the same time, its been a busy autumn with guests, my book launch and the website overhaul (still on-going but will shortly be finished).

I think I need to work on streamlining image processing. I have a good system – one that I will write about one day – but it seems that for every hour I spend photographing, I spend at least an hour working on processing: editing, numbering, past-capture processing, organizing. It takes forever. I’m sure there are efficiencies I can start to use.

Right now I’m processing everything using Adobe Camera Raw. I am still in awe of what can be done using 5.5. For many images I don’t even open Photoshop at all, but just do everything through Bridge and ACR. I take half the time now compared to one or two years ago, but, at the same time, features like Adjustment Brush and Spot Removal mean that I am taking longer with each image due to the finessing that is now possible.

I have also been revisiting images taken years ago as I prepare my Tanzania book and have reaffirmed the importance of shooting Raw. Loading up and processing 7-year-old raw files from my Minolta Dimage 7i has been a wonderful experience. Yes, they are grainy-looking, but the power of ACR now compared to then has led to the same images being revitalized and reinvented in a new way.

Image quality is absolutely key for me and although I can’t afford full frame – I’m going to work as hard as I can with what I have to maximize image quality – something I have always believed right back to my film days. It is for this reason I have always shot raw – even when the write times were  20 to 30 seconds per shot. It is certainly paying off now!

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If you’re looking for something photographic to do, visit the dpReview Challenge page and enter a few photos.

My Art of Earth series continues with “My Own Backyard” opening for entries Thurs 26th Nov.

Good luck, have fun – and learn from viewing photos by other photographers!