Each place I visited in Africa had it’s unique qualities. Tarangire was woodsy with massive herds of elephants that liked to bathe in the swamps. Ngorongoro Crater had the high crater walls that created a dramatic dark background with layers of light that changed throughout the day. But my favourite destination was the third place we visited, the central part of Serengeti National Park, because it offered the possibility of making simple minimalist images.
I believe in minimalism in photography and life. It’s the principle that less is more. With my nomadic lifestyle, I have discovered the freedom that comes with owning less stuff and having the independence to travel. In photography, minimalism means creating images that are simple in design with plain non-distracting backgrounds and a simple but powerful message.
When I first saw the Serengeti I was struck by how plain and flat it looked. It was so flat that I thought it wasn’t possible for there to be so many animals there. Surely, if a giraffe was there I would be able to see it standing tall above the grasses. But it is amazing how the animals camouflage themselves. You can’t see them at first, but they are definitely there.
With the vast open plains of golden grasses and big blue skies, the central Serengeti creates a minimalist background like no other place I have been to. In fact, the word serengeti means “endless plains” and at over 14,000 square kilometers the plains do seem to go on forever.
When photographing wildlife it’s always tempting to get as close as you can and use the longest lens to make close-up portraits of the animals. You can do that here too. But those kinds of images could be made anywhere, even a zoo. In the Serengeti, you have the ability to use a wider angle lens and include some of the landscape in the frame to provide context without ending up with distracting elements.
There are some trees too, of course, but usually they are spaced apart allowing you to include them in your composition and create a design that has impact. In this photo of an elephant between two acacia trees, I saw the elephants heading in that general direction and asked the driver to position the vehicle so I would have a good angle to photograph the trees and hoped an elephant would cooperate and walk past them.
The Serengeti has a zen-like quality to it. Because of the openness of the area, and the simplicity of the scenes, I can imagine spending some time enjoying the peace and listening to the rustling of the grasses as they gently blow in a subtle breeze.
Unfortunately that’s not what happened. There was no peace to be had with the group I was with on this trip so I really felt like I missed out on the experience of the place.
Photography Tips for the Serengeti:
- Resist the urge to get in as close as you can. Use a wider angle lens to create a landscape composition with the animal as your main subject.
- Wait for the animals to space themselves out and look for separation between them.
- Watch for those times of day when the skies are dark and the light hits the grasses creating a golden glow. Blue and yellow are complementary colours and this combination will make a striking image.
In Part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about photographing animal behaviour and interactions, which there is plenty of opportunity for in the Serengeti.
For gear suggestions, check out my “Gearing Up for my African Photo Safari” post and video.