I have just returned from running a 2 weeks travel and wildlife photography workshop holiday to Madagascar, taking in the length of route 7 from Antananarivo on the East Coast to Ifaty in the South West of the island. On our way we visited 4 national parks, photographed numerous lemur species, got up close and personal with chameleons, helped the locals build brick kilns and watched the sun rise over Isalo from a rocky out crop. I thought I would share a few photos of what we got up to each day on the photography holiday, especially for those of you who might be tempted to come on the next one scheduled for 2020 (or one of the others in the pipeline…).
There is always something exciting about meeting a new group of people. I have to say, we all really lucked out. It was such a fun and varied group. Abilities ranged from absolute beginners with just a bridge camera, to one lady with a bigger lens and equipment bag that myself. Home towns were as far afield as Mumbai, and we had a brilliantly broad age range from 26 to 84. Don’t for one moment think 84 is anything more than a number. Jean was a force to be reckoned with and spent less time napping and more time photographing than the rest of us of put together!
Red Panther Chameleon, endemic to Madagascar
Antananarivo to Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
Impressively, everyone was up and ready bang on time, ready to hit the road in our pair of shiny 4WD’s.
Out first stop at Peyrieras Reptile Sanctuary offered a chance for me to take everyone through the basics of aperture, ISO, shutter speed and how to shoot in aperture priority. Ensuring everyone was comfortable with how their camera should be set up was priority number one, so we could spend the rest of our 2 week, 2000 km journey focusing on more exciting techniques and compositional ideas.
It was great to have a chance to use our macro lenses so early on too. Chameleons basically move in slow motion which made them the perfect first subject, ensuring we captured some memorable images on the first day.
Close up macro photo of a chameleon’s skin
Photographing lemurs high up in the trees
Bamboo lemur trying to hide
The evening’s night walk on the perimeter of Andasibe National Park was meant more for enjoyment than photography, however we were lucky enough to spot lots of tree frogs close to the road and a chameleon on a low hanging branch too. Ever since my last visit to Madagascar I have had an idea for a photograph; a chameleon sitting on a branch, backlit with a torch. While I didn’t get to take the final image, it was really exciting getting creative with 2 torch lights, setting up the shot for the group. Some jealousy definitely snuck in when I saw the final images on the back of everyone’s cameras, but it was really rewarding seeing how happy they were with their photos. A successful first day!
Lighting the chameleon using 2 torches
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
Today we met the evil lemurs of Andasibe National Park, a beautiful area of primary rainforest which is home to 11 lemur species.
Okay, so they’re not evil, but this photo certainly isn’t the most flattering towards the incredibly cute and photogenic lemurs that spent the morning jumping around and hiding behind branches in the rainforest canopy above our heads.
In the afternoon we visited Perinet Private Reserve, where semi-wild lemurs live on an island. With everyone pretty much in control of their cameras, if was the perfect spot to practice wildlife photography in an easy environment where the animals were anything but scared of the cameras! I tried to get everyone to concentrate on how the light was hitting their subjects, and waiting for an expression from the animals rather than just snapping the moment it was in the frame.
Black and white shot of a Black and White Ruffed Lemur
Backlit bamboo lemur – we talked a lot about photographing where the light was best, rather than just finding the cutest lemur!
Marilyn photographing during golden hour
End of a long day in Andasibe National Park
Trespassers will be eaten – sign at a river with crocs!
Ambitiously, I also taught a tutorial on using slow shutter speeds for panning, with the hope of catching an air born lemur. Needless to say, there are no example photos worth sharing from this, but everyone understood the technique to use later on in the trip.
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park to Antsirabe
Our 4WD vehicles, setting off on a misty morning from Andasibe National Park
Sophie trying to get the best angle for the view of the horse and cart and mountains! – photo below…
Typical farming scene
We focused much more on street and portrait photography today, visiting a hectic market on the way to Antsirabe. It was great to see a few of the group, who had been really nervous about photographing people, getting in to the spirit of having a laugh with the crowds of people who surrounded us and coming away with some brilliant shots! I spent a lot of time offering advice, but managed to capture a few myself too. This is my favourite portrait, of a woman who just cracked up laughing as we were all walking past. Also, the vegetarians in our group deserve a shout out for stomaching the truly disgusting meat section of the market!
Jean taking the portrait of a man on his bike
We worked on candid street photography and portraits in this market
I had been eyeing up the brick makers kilns as an interesting and photogenic subject since we left Tana on day 1. As we drove past one firing thousands of bricks as the sun set, I couldn’t resist pulling over. The scene was impossibly photogenic, but also possibly impossible to photograph! The light was almost gone, and there was just a faint orange hue spilling out of the entrance to the kiln, with which to light our subjects.
I jumped out of the car with our fantastic local Madagascan guide, Blaise, to go and have a chat to them first, before swamping them with 7 other photographers. This kiln was run by three brothers, who were in the process of firing 5000 bricks, most of which were going to be sold at market. Thankfully they were more than happy and it was the perfect end to the day, before continuing on to our accommodation for yet more delicious Zebu steak!
Brick worker firing his kiln
Portrait of a brick worker at dusk
Brick workers at dusk
Antsirabe to Ranomafana National Park
It was a bit more of a travel day today, but we still found time for plenty of exciting photography stops along the way. In the market we visited at lunch, we focused on finding backgrounds before foregrounds, and spent a weird amount of time just sitting and waiting for interesting subjects to walk past. So fantastic having such a patient group!
The market was also a great place to work on creative compositions and camera techniques. I gave everyone a list yesterday, from a blog post that I wrote and have challenged everyone to complete as much as possible of it before the trip is over!
Focusing on the importance of backgrounds street photography
Focusing on the importance of backgrounds first at a market
Another highlight was the stunning sunset that we enjoyed over some rice paddies. This wasn’t even a planned stop, so it felt like a real bonus and was the perfect end to the day!
Sunset over rice fields in Madagascar – this is where we lucked out and had a bonus landscape photography sessionSunset over rice fields in Madagascar
Rice workers near Ranomafana
Ranomafana National Park
Today we explored Ranomafana on foot, searching for some of the 14 species of Lemur that live in the National Park. As well as the many lemurs, the group also had the chance to photograph tree frogs, lizards, numerous insects and even more bizarrely cooperative snake that lay with its head perfectly in the sun for about 20 minutes! It is these moments when all the practice pay off. With everyone being familiar with their cameras, it meant I wasn’t having to explain about settings, but instead could focus on discussing composition and taking advantage of the available light.
This was a happy contrast to the year before when I almost stepped on a snake who’s head a spotted next to my left ankle! I shot off with a squeal in one direction, as it slithered off in the other.
Sophie’s brilliant photo of a snake
We spent a lot of the morning talking about how capturing unique images in wildlife photography is 90% about predicting the animals behavior. In pursuit of a jumping lemur shot, we followed some Indri along a valley. Noticing that they were all following exactly the same route, I took everyone further ahead to watch what the first Indri was doing. We then sat and waited for the rest to follow on and some of the group managed to capture Indri flying mid-air between branches. In situations like this, it can be difficult resisting the urge to take photos myself, but it was so rewarding seeing how excited everyone was with the shots they took! Here’s a similar shot from last year!
Milne-Edwards Sifaka jumping between trees in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar Central Highlands
And here’s a quick shot of a Bamboo Lemur that I managed to sneak in between giving tuition! They have such expression full faces. I shot through some bright green sunlit leaves to create the out of focus bokeh foreground.
Tree Frog in Ranomafana National Park
Bamboo Lemur in Ranomafana National Park
Photographing wildlife on the photography workshop holiday in Madagascar
Lizard in Ranomafana National Park
Being Sunday, all the locals were out and about in town. While some were playing basketball and riding the merry go round, others were gambling…including myself! I always find that by joining in with whatever is going on, it is much easier to capture intimate photos.
Merry go round in Ranomafana
Merry go round in Ranomafana
Sunday activities in Ranomafana – basketball on the new courts
Gambling in Ranomafana – I joined in for a bit and had the luckiest winning streak of my life. I increased my money by 8 times! From 25p to £2. And then lost it all…
Ranomafana National Park to Albalavao and Anja Community Reserve
For those in the group who braved it, today was our first brutally early (optional!) start. Leaving the hotel at 4.50am, with drizzle and mist in the air, the group weren’t optimistic, but by the end of the shoot, I think I had converted them to the fact that this was perfect photography weather as it created a much more mysterious atmosphere.
We headed down to the river in Ranomafana, where I took the first landscape photography tutorial of the trip. The rickety bridge made for a great subject, while the local life added the extra element that the scene needed to bring it to life.
Two of the participants on the photography course, photographing blue hour in Ranomafana National Park
Local life in Ranomafana
Kids playing football at dawn in Ranomafana – I joined in for a bit so they were at ease with a few photos being taken!
What a smile this woman had – we met her in the rice paddies near Ranomafana
After a delicious breakfast we then set off towards Ambalavao. Before long we found ourselves photographing more brick workers! Looking back, we seemed to spend an odd amount of time getting excited about photographing bricks! On this day we met Patrick, who was heading up a team of 40 people in the process of building kilns to fire 50,000 bricks. He was more than happy for me to teach photography there, and as a thank you, a couple of us “helped” stack some of the bricks for them. Realistically we made no difference at all, but it lead to a lot of smiles and laughter all around.
Patrick explained a lot about what they were doing too. All the work has to be completed before November, when the rains arrive. Kids as young as 7 years old are paid 100 Ariary (2.5p) per brick to carry them 300m from where they are moulded to the 5m tall kilns. Once lit, the kilns will burn continuously for 3 days, so must be manned 24 hours a day in order to maintain an even temperature throughout the process.
Brick worker building a kiln in Madagascar
Portrait of a brick worker
Brick workers in Madagascar
We also made a brief stop at a pig market that offered even more opportunities for practising portrait photography, and also managed to head off for another landscape photography session at sunset. It is great to seeing everyone piece together a great selection of photos, especially as it is only the half way point.
Camilla taking the portrait of a man in the photo below
Portrait of a man at a pig market in Madagascar
Portrait in the pig market – we were met with so many smiles as we wandered around
Street scene at the market
Sunset landscape shoot near Ambalavao
Ambalavao and Anja Community Reserve to Isalo National Park
When I came out to Madagascar 2 years ago, the only change I made to the initial itinerary was to add a night in Ambalavao. This meant we had the chance to visit Anja Reserve this morning and photograph the baby Ring-tailed Lemurs (queue awwwwwww’s).
The reserve is an impressive example of how tourism can benefit local communities and wildlife when managed in the right way. The number of Ring-tailed Lemurs in the area was falling rapidly due to farmers slash-and-burning their habitat. With help from the government to start up the reserve, it is now run by the local community and there is therefore an incentive to protect the lemurs as they bring tourists into the area.
Baby lemurs – enough said! Taken in Anja Community Reserve…
Finding the best light can transform a portrait, whether your subject is a person or an animal
Leaf bugs – this was actually one of my highlights from the whole 2 weeks. They would have a face-off, before turning away and trying to hit each other with their tales
My lovely group of enthusiastic photographers!
Stunning landscape close to Anja Community Reserve
An impromptu stop for some stunning scenery near Anja Community Reserve
As we headed towards a big rain storm, I once again was left to convince that group that this was fantastic news! As a photographer, the more dramatic the weather the better! We had our background, and just needed to hunt for an interesting foreground. I spotted some gnarly dead trees and we jumped out for an impromptu landscape shoot!
Stunning burnt trees
Finding the best angle DOES require getting into silly positions…
Zebu herder at Isalo
Isalo National Park
Today we had a full day in Isalo National Park, photographing the parched, otherworldly sandstone canyons, picture-perfect oasis’ and beautiful array of wildlife; Ring-tailed Lemurs, Sifakas, and all manner of beautiful birds and insects.
Before entering the park, we made a stop to photograph the mountains of Isalo rising from the plains. Over the past week and a half, I have spent a lot of time talking to my group about looking for the extra element in a photograph that makes it completely unique. In this instance, a group of people walking across the foreground added scale to the shot and also brought the photo to life.
The colourfully dressed people really bring this shot of Isalo National Park to life
A lone tree might be a cliche in travel photography, but it does work well!
Beautiful bird in Isalo National Park
Isalo National Park to Ifaty
This is why Isalo National Park is my favourite spot in Madagascar. Although it isn’t the typical rainforest scenery that you might picture when you think about Madagascar, what can be better than sandstone cliffs hundreds of meters high, rising almost vertically from boulder strewn plains?
Our final morning on the road presented the most incredible reward for our 4.45am start. I scouted out the spot the evening before, fortunately just a 5 minute walk from our accommodation. The night before, as I was trying to convince the group that a 4.30am alarm on holiday was a sensible idea, I all but promised them it would be epic, IF we got cloud above the mountains to create an interesting sky, and no cloud where the sun would be rising so we would get the warm first light of the day. By some miracle, everything fell into place.
Wait for sunrise a top a rocky outcrop at Isalo National Park
Isalo National Park, rising from the plains at sunrise. You just can’t beat that feeling when everything comes together during a landscape shoot!
Using a zoom lens in landscape photography can be a really useful tool too…
All that was left to do was chill on the beautiful white sandy beaches of Ifaty. Well, that and photograph the baobabs underneath the stars. No one was begrudging of the late late dinner for these photos thankfully!
Baobab tree under the stars in Madagascar
Fisherman fishing from a Pirogue, a traditional Madagascar sailing boat, Ifaty, Madagascar, Africa