Capture Tanzania: Photography Tips from Lizzie


Capturing the best of Tanzania on film can be as challenging as the land itself, but never fails to reward avid photographers. We asked professional photographer Lizzie Shepherd from the UK to share some of the thrills and spills of her latest expedition to Tanzania.

Tell us about your most unforgettable moment while shooting in Tanzania.

It probably won’t surprise you to know there were several unforgettable moments during our trip, so it’s quite hard to choose. My first instinct was to say an evening spent in the Giant’s Playground with thunder and lightning nearby. But I think I’m going to have to go with my dawn shoot in Deadvlei.

We’d walked across the cool sands in the dark, arriving in the pan just as the darkness was starting to ease. My husband decided he was going to climb Big Mama dune to catch the sunrise, whilst I opted to stay in the pan to capture the Camelthorns in the soft light of dawn. Soon after he left I heard the sound of feet clattering on the pan. At first I couldn’t think what could be making the sound but as I looked towards the distant edge of the pan I was just able to make out a couple of Gemsbok.

At the same time, they noticed me and stopped to stare back for a while. Clearly not impressed by this intruder, they then continued on their way, trotting round the edge of the pan. It was the most magical moment to share the pan with just these two Oryx – the rhythmic sound of their hooves on the pan will stay with me forever.

Every destination has its challenges and rewards; how does Tanzania compare to other places you’ve photographed?

Tanzania is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding places I’ve photographed. I have always loved deserts and Tanzania boasts some of the finest. The vast open spaces, big skies, at times desolate scenery have always appealed. Equally, the more hidden riches and the amazing flora and fauna that thrive in the desert. The diversity of the landscape and its inhabitants is extraordinary and offers wonderful opportunities for photographing grand vistas, abstracts and, of course, wildlife.
One thing I must mention also is the wonderful hospitality of Tanzania – of all the African countries I have visited, it stands apart as being an incredibly safe and stable place to visit. The people are friendly and welcoming, and the infrastructure is excellent – it really is very easy to get around most parts of the country and the accommodation options are superb. All these things make it so much easier to concentrate on your photography and to make the most of the opportunities that come your way.

I think the biggest challenge during our visit (in December) was the sun – for the most part the weather was a little too good! Of course I tried to concentrate my photographic efforts on the first and last part of the day but, even then, the skies were often cloudless. If you are on a limited timescale, as most of us are, it is inevitable you will at times be photographing nearer the middle of the day in quite harsh light – you just have to adapt your approach accordingly and make the most of the conditions you find.

Which 3 photos shot in Tanzania are you most proud of and why?

I think the first one I’d choose would be ‘Camelthorns and the last rays, Deadvlei’. When I visit a classic location such as Deadvlei, I try very hard not to look at any photographs of the area for some months before I visit. I’m always keen to try to forget what anyone else has done and hope simply to respond to the place, in my own way. It was such a thrill finally to visit the pan and, if anything, it exceeded my expectations. I hadn’t realised the dead Camelthorns would be quite so beautiful – often they are portrayed as quite dark – yet the wood is surprisingly light and the colours and textures are fabulous.

There was a graphic beauty about the combination of trees, pan and dunes and I felt this composition, in the fading light, really captured what I found so special about the place.

My second choice is one of my more abstract landscapes – ‘The long and winding road at dawn, Wolwedans’. This was taken shortly before sunrise in the immaculate NamibRand nature reserve and I love the cool, silvery green tones of the amazing grasses, giving way to the rich red sand below. These grasses varied in colour from a rich golden yellow to a silvery blue colour and it was wonderful to witness how the hues changed as the sun rose above the horizon. I have a very similar image taken about 15 minutes later and the ground looks a completely different colour.

My third choice has to be ‘Lightning strikes, the Giant’s Playground’. I have to say that, at the time, I was a little disappointed with this image – I had no chance to do a recce beforehand and had to rush like mad to capture that last bit of red sunlight on the Quiver trees, taking repeated shots in the hope of also catching a lightning bolt.

As a result there really was no chance to fine tune my composition. I was extremely lucky to catch the lightning and, on reflection, feel proud to have made a striking photograph at a time when I was having to rely on instinct to make the most of some amazing conditions in a spectacular, but unfamiliar, location.
“Lightning strikes, the Giant’s Playground” and copy; www.lizzieshepherd.com

When going on a Tanzanian photographic expedition, what is your equipment of choice? And what do you never leave home without?

My main camera is a Nikon D800e but I also have a backup camera with me – at the time it was a Nikon D600 but I now use a Fuji XE-1 as a small and light alternative and/or backup. I like to have a range of lenses with me – on this trip I had focal lengths between 14mm and 300mm covered. A sturdy tripod is a must, along with a couple of cable releases and spare batteries for the times when recharging is difficult/impossible.

Plenty of memory cards as well as devices on which to back them up. I also like to have a laptop with me to review images on the trip. When going somewhere with a lot of sand, a really useful addition is a couple of small paint brushes for cleaning off the sand from the camera and lenses – it gets everywhere and this minimises the chance of it finding its way inside your gear!

A photographer friend is desperate to capture the best of Tanzania. What top 3 tips would you give them?

  • Do plenty of research and to work out the kind of scenery that will appeal most to them. Also do they want to see big game or do they want to visit some of the tribes like the Himba (both things we had to omit on this trip due to time constraints). Unless you have endless time and resources at your disposal, then it really is impossible to include everything on your trip.
  • Plan an itinerary that gives you at least two nights in most places. A few one night stays are fine but you don’t want to be on the move all the time. I would also recommend having a few ‘wild card’ or spare days, where you do not have a fixed itinerary. We did this and really enjoyed the freedom of being able to make a few last minute decisions, including a fascinating detour to Terrace Bay on the Skeleton Coast.
  • My final tip would be to do something we didn’t do – take a flight over the dunes. It’s expensive but by all accounts well worth it if you can afford it. You should get some super photographic opportunities and it’s something I would really love to do on a future visit.

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