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Ngorongoro Crater

Often referred to by naturalists as "The Garden of Eden," Ngorongoro Crater is home to an estimated 25,000 animals – including lions, exotic birds, wildebeests, elephants, hippos, zebra, gazelles and more. The wildlife, scenery and the alone-with-nature experience make this UNESCO World Heritage Site a true photo wonder of the world.

Where: Northern Tanzania.

When: Either in the Dry Season (June to October) or in the Wet Season (November to May). We explored the area in November with Unique Safaris, when all the photographs in this post were taken. I prefer the Dry Season, because I like the way the animals look against the brown color of the grasses, as opposed to having lush, green foliage surrounding the animals.

Photography: Basically, you want to tell the story of your experience. Taking both wide-angle and telephoto shots will help you accomplish that goal.

I'd suggest using two camera bodies, one with a 100-500mm lens, and one with a 24-105mm lens.

Having two camera bodies offered the additional advantages of not having to change lenses, which a) can slow you down when the action is happening fast, and b) can cause dust to get on your camera's image sensor. Note: It is very dusty in all of Tanzania in the Dry Season. But don't forget your iPhone! You can get some cool shots with it, too!

Below is an example of how I tell a story of the same subject wide-angle and telephoto lenses.

Vehicles are not allowed to drive off the roads in the crater. Before our trip, I thought that would limit my photography. But as it turned out, there are so many animals I came home with a much higher-than-expected number of keepers.

What's more, you can't get into the crater before 6 AM and you must be out by 6 PM. Again, I thought this was going to reduce my photo opportunities, which turned out not to be the case.

I was surprised at the number of birds in the crater, including the crested crane (also called the crown crane) pictured above. I had photographed this beautiful bird many times before in Africa . . . on the ground. Here I was lucky to capture several of these birds in flight, using a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second to freeze the action. Quick bird-in-flight photo tip: go for wings up or wings down.

While driving on the roads, you must be ready to capture a fleeting moment, like this newborn Thompson's Gazelle and its mom. That means keeping your cameras readily accessible and not tucked in a camera bag. I always had my telephoto zoom set-up on my lap, and my wide-angle zoom set-up in the pouch behind the seat in front of me.

Above is another example of why you always need to be ready to take a picture. This drive-by encounter lasted only a few seconds, after which the jackal darted off in the distance. In this shot, as well as in most of the other photographs in this post, I tried to get down as low as possible so I could "see eye to eye" with the subject. Animal Tracking and Eye Detection can help you get shots like the one above.

In addition to photographing the animals, you'll have an opportunity to photograph the Maasai people. I took the above photograph at our camp during a cultural event, and Susan Sammon took the fun shot below shortly thereafter. My goal here was to make direct eye contact with the subject. This is an iPhone shot with the camera set to Portrait mode.

Speaking of fun shots, don't forget to take them.!They help to tell the story.

Above: An early morning coffee break in the crater!

Learn More: If you’re looking for a tour provider suggestion, we used Unique Safaris for our tours, and they were excellent. Our friends Lynn and Meg are experts at custom designing a safari. Keep in mind the Serengeti is not a budget destination, and a trip can cost on average around $8,000 per person, depending on how long you decide to stay.

Stay tuned for three more posts from my trip to Tanzania. Here's a preview.

Do you have your own photos of this Photo Wonder? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

© Rick and Susan Sammon

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