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What to Expect on a Luxury African Safari

Luxury African Safari with Shutter Tours

Updated November 18, 2017

As a child, I always had this vision of going to Africa and experiencing wild animals in their natural habitat. I could see myself wearing a pith hat and boots in an open vehicle as the untamed Africa unfolded in front of me. Today I am more likely to wear a Tilley hat, flip flops and a long sleeved shirt while on safari in Africa, but the experience is still one of wonder and magic moments that I envisioned as a young boy.

Often when people think of Africa, which is a continent by the way and not a country, (You’d be surprised how many people believe it is a country) their mind goes to stories of Ebola, Malaria and starving children with distended stomachs. As we all know American media feeds us negative stories at a rapid-fire rate and I wanted to dispel some of those ideas and give you a background on what I have experienced by taking tour groups to Tanzania for Shutter Tours.

The Cost of a Safari

Luxury Africa Safari

When you fly halfway around the world to Tanzania, you probably won’t be on a safari for just a few short days. We spend 12 days while we are there and there are times when I wish we could extend it even further because there is so much to see and do. According to Travel and Leisure Magazine, the average safari runs between $800-$1000 per day. Most safaris are all inclusive, so though it may seem like a lot, everything is taken care of except for alcohol, staff tips and things you may purchase.

There are budget safari companies that can get your daily cost down to much less. Our per day price is a bit over $500, but I would caution against using deeply discounted tours. When you are taking a trip of a lifetime, the additional cost to ensure a good experience is worth it in my mind.

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Photography Travel

Faces of Maasai

Maasai Children

Maasai School Children

When I travel I always like to take photos of people, especially what I would call environmental photos. Taking photos in familiar surroundings puts people at ease and in the digital world, you can share your photos with your subject, especially children to get them to relax and have more fun.

Inside a Maasai Home

One of my goals on the trip was to be able to go to a Maasai village and learn about their culture and spend time asking questions and get a brief understanding of who they are and spend some time interacting in a village where people live on a day to day basis such as in the photo above. Gabriel knew of such a location and I was excited for the day to arrive.

Maasai Herders and sister

Throughout the trip as we got further away from the main city of Arusha, we would see many Maasai tending to their cows and goats. Most of those responsible for keeping these animals on the move and being fed, comes down to boys often under 6-8 years old being helped by an older brother as in the photo above. It was not unusual to see child after child on the side of the road or off in the distance as we whizzed by on the highway.

When we first arrived at the village, we were met by many of the married women in the village and they performed a greeting song for us as you can see in the short video above.

Maasai Men Jumping Dance

The men then came out and performed and then started their traditional jumping song and each time the men take their turn, they try to jump higher and higher.

Inside a Maasai Home

We were then able to go inside a home and learned they take about 4 months to build and are built by the woman. There is not much more than  a simple place to have a fire with an exhaust out the side of the hut and an area to sleep. Men and boys sleep together as do the girls and women. And you can see by the photo above, the beds are very simple as is most everything in their lives.

Maasai men starting a fire

After taking a tour of the home and the homeowner answering many questions, they then shoed us how they make a traditional fire by using a knife and a couple of pieces of wood, something they do on a daily basis in the village I was told. you’ll also notice in the photo above, the guy on left wearing a watch. He told me he attended secondary school in Arusha and many villagers had an interest in my watch, apparently its one of the luxury’s they do like to own. It’s interesting to  me as I look at their culture because they only seem to worry about two times of day, sunrise and sunset.

Maasai Lighting Fire

Once they get the embers hot, they then add it to dried cow dung and this is what really starts the main fire.

Maasai children in school

Next we were able to see children in their school and they are taught English as a second language and they recited the alphabet for us and counted in English as well. The age of the children in the school were between about 3 and the oldest being 11 or 12.

Maasai children

We wandered around the village for a short time and took a few more photo and I thought this one of Ken interacting with the little ones was pretty fun.

Maasai Leaders

Eventually it was time to be on our way, but not before they gave us the hard sell on buying some of their carvings and a few other things they were selling in the village. I picked out a handful of items and then they told me it was $250 Euro’s for everything and I just laughed and handed everything back to them and said I was thinking more like $50. We finally agreed on a price for a few items and then we were able to get a few more photos in the village and it was on to our next adventure down the road whatever that might be.

It wasn’t long after we left the Maasai village, I asked Gabriel to stop again and I was able to get one of my favorite portraits on the trip. As A photographer one of the first things I learned, when I photo opportunity presents itself, you have to take action and get the photo then or you’ll probably never have the opportunity again. Throughout our time driving, every  once in awhile we would see Maasai boys on the side of the road with their faces painted either white or black. I asked Gabriel why only a few boys chose to wear paint like that and he said they were boys who had gone through a circumcision ceremony also known as Emuratta.

Maasai boys after circumcism ceremony

The ceremony is the most vital initiation of all rite of passages in the Maasai society. This initiation is performed shortly after puberty. Young men are eager to be circumcised and become warriors. Once the boys become warriors they resume responsibility of security for their territory. Circumcision initiation elevates an individual from childhood to adulthood. In order for the boy to be initiated he must prove himself to the community. The boy must exhibit signs of a grown man, by carrying a heavy spear, herding large herd of livestock, etc. After the operation is successfully completed, the boy would receive gifts of livestock from his relatives and friends. He would also gain a tremendous amount of respect for his bravery.

Maasai boys with white faces

I was really happy to be able to stop and take a few quick photos of these boys as it was really once in a lifetime shot with the perfect location. I threw on my simple “Nifty Fifty” 50mm f/1.8 lens, allowing me to get some beautiful bokeh in the background with excellent sharpness. They were really good sports about me taking their photo and its one I’ll always be happy with from my trip.

Next up, we stopped at Olduvai Gorge, considered the cradle of man and one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world. It’s famous for Mary Leakey and her find of Homo habilis, meaning “man with skill.” in 1959.  

Medicine Man at Olduvai Gorge

Here we also met a man with skill, a Massai Medicine Man who was there selling his medicine to other Maasai at Olduvai Gorge where he allowed me to take this portrait. 

Note: If you’d like to join me on a trip to Africa in 2015, please use the contact page at the top of the site to be added to the list to send information to in December. 

Photography Travel

The Camera in Your Pocket

Amsterdam Bike Parking

I love shooting with a digital DSLR with a great lens and in my mind they are both a requirement for getting professional quality images while on vacation. But there are some times when lugging around a backpack full of gear gets annoying and I just want to lighten my load and give my back a rest.

Since I upgraded to my iPhone 5s, I have found that in many instances the iPhone handles the job quite nicely and is less hassle than a DSLR. The one other great thing about having a camera in your pocket it allows you to shoot as much as you want. I believe this is key for becoming a better photographer. The more you shoot, the better you will get a feel for how to compose images and what works from an artistic standpoint. The one challenge is to not merely take snapshots, but to look at the scene and determine what composition will make the best impact on your viewer.

If you are an avid photographer, a good challenge might be to put down your pro gear and shoot with an iPhone for the day like I did in this post one day in Seattle. I took it one step further and shot in B&W mode too.

Below are some examples of images shot with an iPhone 5s. All the images below are edited with Snapseed for some added visual effects. Don’t be afraid to play with various programs and edit your images. Most pros run their images through Photoshop before sending to clients, so don’t feel as if its cheating or you should just leave your images as they are from the camera. You’ll find some great tweaks in Snapseed such as the HDR Scape mode. I always bring this mode down to about 25-25% via the slider as I don’t like how artificial it looks as 100%. The Coffee shop and Wine shop images below was enhanced in this mode, just enough to make the colors pop a bit. I also like to play with the Grunge and Drama settings and experiment a bit.

When the digital age came, I resisted moving from film to digital. Then I didn’t want to touch my images with Photoshop, I was still trying to be a purist. Now realize these are additional tools to bring our photography to a more professional and polished level.

Northern coast of africa as seen through plane windowNorthern coast of Africa as seen from the plane. It’s so much easier to pull out the iPhone as opposed to unloading a camera bag to get a shot like this.

Boat on canal in AmsterdamCanal in Amsterdam

AmsterdamCanal boats in Amsterdam

imageWine shop in one of the many narrow streets in Amsterdam


“Coffeeshop” in the red Light District of Amsterdam

image Bike parking lot at the central train station in Amsterdam. This composition worked great having the subject in the foreground and with her violin case it even added more impact. Some times patience pays off to wait for the shot.
imageElephants in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania

Morning sunrise in AfricaEarly sunrise in the Serengeti

Panoramic view of Ngorongoro crater in TanzaniaI use panoramic mode a lot when I travel. Learn how to use this mode and you’ll create some impacting images. This is the Ngorongoro Crater, one of the 8 natural wonders of the world. 
imageLunch view of Ngorongoro Crater from the Serena Lodge

imageMaasai children inside a classroom at a village we visited.