Antartica – A Reality that was a Dream

 

Going far back into history and historic accounts, it seems that we as a race, have long been wanderers. From desert landscapes to icy mountain slopes, from vast grasslands to thick forests, people have carved a life for themselves in every habitat on Earth.

The need to discover new destinations, explore the unknown and experience the diversity of our Earth’s natural heritage seems to be ingrained within us. With this in mind, there is little wonder that our progression is to continue this exploration to destinations that have always captured our own imagination, this time with camera in hand.

 

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This need to explore and capture the many moments that wild destinations worldwide present from a personal perspective is one of the reasons why wildlife and nature photography has always pulsed through my veins at an intensity that cannot be ignored. Antarctica is one such destination that settles on the mind and soul of many photographers and travellers. The want to go and traverse the white snow and surround oneself with the true splendour that cannot be compared is a constant allure.

A fact that contributes to the spellbinding destination and what truly makes travelling there so special is its remoteness and the expedition of getting to the Islands that we will be exploring in October during our Antarctica photography tour; The Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, South Georgia, South Shetlands and the Antarctica Peninsula.

 

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The rewards of travelling this far are bountiful to say the least; a wild landscape of tall and dark mountains and peaks thickly dusted with snow break up the flat expanse of ice and snow that hide the earth beneath, a visual explosion as you look upon seemingly endless colonies of breeding penguins whose groups are only broken up by the large size and heft of elephant seals and their pups as well as other species of seals who share the beaches with their feathered friends. Exquisite, porcelain-looking Black- browed Albatross pairs nest in rock crevices and frequently interact with one another, making for some beautiful portraits of these birds.

 

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If you think that this is all that can be seen on our Antarctica photography tour, then let me delight your passion even further…

Beautifully marked and coloured King Penguins stand tall and tower over their fluffy chicks whilst the sounds of their calls swirl around you, curious Elephant seal pups make their cumbersome way towards you for photographic opportunities and perspectives that will make your creativity flow freely from you and relay into your images. A contrast from the cute and cuddly is the sleek speckled bruteness of the Leopard seal, a true beauty to photograph as well as a thrilling experience as these predators keep an interested eye on you. Humpback, Fin, Sei & Minke Whale, Orca, Commerson’s & Peale’s Dolphin are the finned-oceanic mammals that live beneath the icy land in the blue swirls of the oceans waters. These treasures are harder to see, but we may just have the opportunity of seeing and photographing from aboard our ship or from the Zodiacs.

 

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There are so many more birds and mammals that call these island’s home and bring us to their ice-coated shores. Having done so for centuries, we are still constantly pulled back to explore these islands and Antarctica but now with our camera gear in hand while our hearts open up to the experience.

Join me from the 18th October to the 6th November 2017 on our Classic Antarctica: Falkland Islands, South Georgia & Antarctica Photo Expedition I 2017 to photograph the endless beauty of these remote wilderness destinations.

It is an experience I cannot wait to capture with you.

– Penny Robartes

Predators of the Serengeti Part II – Colours of Cheetah

 

It is hard not to think, breath and dream of Africa once you have seen it. From a young age, I was entranced by the BBC and National Geographic documentaries that my parents had on VHS, pouring over them and watching every single one so many times that I knew them play by play. Our African wildlife was (and still is) so entrancing to me, although the documentaries on our predators always seemed pull me in more. Knowing their diversity in appearance, strength and beauty, how could they not?

Light, delicately lean, streamlined and exotic looking; Cheetah are downright beautiful cats that are much sought-after to view and photograph by visitors to the Serengeti. These players in the life of survival in the Serengeti enchant all who gaze upon them due to their seemingly never-ending grace, their amber almond-shaped eyes, emblematic “teardrop” mask, and so much more.

 

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Visiting the Serengeti South in mid-January afforded me some perfect sightings of Cheetah. This period of time to around the end of April is known as the Calving Migration as tens of thousands of Wildebeest, Zebra and Thompsons Gazelle gather on the rich, nutrient dense grassland plains of the Serengeti South to give birth to their calves and foals.

With the beauty of life comes its counterpart, and in this post I am specifically referring to its form in predators. While it can be hard to watch young (and old) being brought down by sheer power and force of our magnificent predators, it is the circle of life and necessary to the sustenance of the ecosystem.

And in addition to that, the sightings of the Serengeti’s predators are plentiful. No longer did I have to experience the predators of the Serengeti through documentaries.

Oh no. Now it was my time to capture my vision and tell my story of the Southern Serengeti Cheetahs.

Morning

It was one of the few clear mornings that we had where the sky wasn’t strewn with clouds or completely devoured by a thick blanket of them. It was clear and unmarked as the golden light poured over the life beneath it, revealing all to our eyes.

Thompson’s Gazelle fawns sprung up here and their from their low-lying positions on the ground where they had pressed themselves against the brown coloured earth until the moment to flee came upon them. Terribly adorable little things with long spindly legs, they need move at high speed pretty much as soon as they are born as there are many dangers out there on the great grassland plains of the Serengeti.

 

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As the sun made its ceaseless climb, we moved out from the tree line that separated a forest area to that of the open plains, keen to see what lay (or moved) in the vast land. Up ahead was a herd of grunting Wildebeest, heads down as they grazed away at the recently drenched grass.

“Ahead! Cheetah hunt!”

Heads swiveled in the direction to where our guide pointed ahead. Far in the distance (and I mean far! Our guide had eagle eyes, I tell you) we saw some movement as Wildebeest stepped out of the way or casually glanced over to where a Thompson’s Gazelle fawn was running for dear life as two male Cheetah tore up the ground behind it.

It was over as soon as it started. We made our way towards the satisfied Cheetahs whom had pretty much finished devouring their morning snack. We sat and watched them as they finished up their meal, licking each other occasionally on the mouths as to not waste the blood that had collected there.

 

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The very tender moments between the brothers continued for a while as they lay pressed up against one another, and then raised themselves in unison before heading off to sleep in patches of tall grass in the distance.

It was a beautiful ending of a sighting that had started off with the end of another being. But that is part of the circle of life isn’t it?

Evening

She was the epitome of perfection in every way. Her shape, her form, the curiosity shining bright in her exquisitely shaped and coloured eyes.

The cloud cover had built up throughout the day and now lay in thick bands above the horizon, masking the suns visibility at certain stages of its decline towards the horizon.

There was a very dim and soft, warm glow that fell upon the female Cheetah as she relaxed by a thorn-covered shrub. The time to photograph her and capture her essence was now as the cloud cover threatened continuous visibility whilst the sun was still up.

Under the expertise and care of my guide, I slowly got out of the vehicle and lay on the ground whilst she was looking away from us. When she rolled over and faced me, my heart sang and adrenaline pulsed through my veins as we locked eyes and her curiosity peaked.

 

 

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As none of us moved and I carried on taking photos of her, she resumed her completely relaxed stance and I couldn’t help but be swept up in the moments I had with her. Rolling over, stretching, gazing out upon the plains of Southern Serengeti, gazing at me, she was so playful and sweet and catlike that I felt a smile upon my face and in my soul throughout my whole time spent with her.

All else seemed to disappear.
It was just she and I.
My viewfinder and vision filled with colours of Cheetah.

 

 

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Never was there such a perfect ending to a day in the Serengeti South, and I cannot reign in my excitement for ORYX’s upcoming Tanzania – Migration & Predators Photo Safari I that I will be hosting.

 

Stay Passionate,
Penny Robartes

Predators of the Serengeti Part I – Reign of the Hyena

 

“Come with me
Into the trees
We’ll lay on the grass
And let the hours pass
Take my hand
Come back to the land
Where everything’s ours
For a few hours…”

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Hyenas have long been seen as the under dogs of the African predators. Sloped backed, bigheaded creatures with equally big jaws, quite bland in colour and looking slightly on par with skinheads, their slyness of character and cackle of laughter has held back many a viewer from looking past these obvious characteristics.

This is even more cemented due to the endless comparisons to the majestic and regal Lion; Africa’s King of Predators. We can’t all be sleek, toned, strong model-looking creatures now can we?

But there is so much more to Hyena’s than what you initially see or may have heard.
Let me show you why these incredible predators and scavengers are more than what meets the eye, and why they are one of my favorite animals to photograph and spend time with.

It was my first morning in the Kusini area of the Serengeti. I had arrived the afternoon before where I was given a glimpse of the promise that the famous Serengeti offers to all who open their hearts to it. The eerie whooping of Hyena had filled the night and my dreams, and this morning enticed us all to see what happenings had occurred.

It was dark when myself and 2 guests made our way to the open plains that lay just beyond the tree line where our camp was situated. Thousands of Thompson’s Gazelle grazed at the lush short grass while their tails flicked from side to side at a rapid pace, hypnotizing all who focus on that movement for too long. But dotted in and amongst these Thompson’s was a relatively large-sized herd of Wildebeest in the distance, doing much the same as the grazers around them.

It has been hot and dry in the Serengeti. Their seasonal rains had yet to make an appearance so we slowly made our way to a waterhole as the sun made its incline from the horizon.

And there in the water, my eyes and heart awakened at the scene before us.
There was no other sound to be heard but the soft chirping of birds. It was one of the most serene scenes I can recall of ever having the privilege of witnessing.
Walking slowly in the shallow water was a lone Hyena. Head down and sipping with each step, it couldn’t have been described as anything less than beautiful. With the occasional look towards us, the Hyena was alone in its blissful state.

 

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Finally lifting its head up, it started walking up the sand bank and that is when we realised there we were indeed wrong thinking that we were all alone with this lonesome Hyena.

In the grass around us and in water-leached ground was a clan of Hyenas watching us with their ever present inquisitive stares. From the matriarch to juvenille pups, we were in the middle of a Hyena gathering.

And it was too wonderful!

The clouds covered the glow of the sun, leaving the landscape a vision of deep blues and greens. The photographic opportunities never seemed to cease as these marvelous creatures came searchingly towards us, walking towards each other, lying on the ground… you get my drift.
It was play time, and the guests and myself explored many different photographic techniques that would help capture their visions. Capture their stories that they wanted to tell.

 

 

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“Hyena! Hyena on the hunt!” called out our spotter, and all heads turned in unison to where he was pointing. Low and behold, there in the distance was a clan on the hunt.

Hyenas aren’t built for speed like Cheetahs, or for short bursts of strength like Lions. Hyenas are built for long distance running and tiring out their prey. Their steady and fast-paced speed is due to the shape and build of their muscular and sloping back.

By the time we got to where the Hyena where, it was a chaotic scene of up to 15 Hyena on an adult Wildebeest. Ecstatic cackling mixed with the deep growls of the elder Hyenas reprimanding the sub-adults, which in turn squealed and barked in displeasure overpowered all other sounds.

This feast scene presented another great opportunity to look at capturing a closer and personal look at an overall chaotic scene, whether through slow shutter speeds to show the chaos of the scene, focusing on the interactions between the Hyena, and more.

 

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It is always good to capture the scene as a whole, but with so much occurring all the time, I really encouraged the guests to start looking at individual Hyena and how they react and interact within the bigger picture. This technique enables the viewer to identify with a single subject within a whole, and it can make the overall image a much more personal reading for the viewer. Being able to identify with a subject in a photograph is important as you and the viewer can connect with it as well as on a more emotional level, whether it is positive or negative. Here, you have now given life and substance to your image.

 

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Hyena are an integral part of our ecosystem. They are truly fascinating animals to watch and photograph, and I hope that you see their “beauty”.

 

Stay Passionate,
Penny Robartes

Scheduled Safari or Private: Which one is for you?

 

Going on a Photo Safari and choosing which destination most suits your specific photographic needs is a very personal experience. It is a time where you connect with your surroundings, the wildlife and fauna that is iconic to that place. It is a time where you remove yourself from your daily life and routine to one that is quite different.

It is a time dedicated solely to you

For the passionate photographer and explorer this may be globe hopping from one destination to another, experiencing the vastly different wildlife and cultures that the Earth has to offer to those who seek. It may even be returning to a single destination that continuously resonates with your soul every time you set foot upon its soil.

 

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For the intrepid traveller or those who have just started this captivating journey, choosing the right destination for your photo safari is as important as those whom are more experienced. The world is a vast place with many areas to seek, so dipping your toe in the water and seeing how warm the water is can be quite nerve-wracking if you don’t know what to expect.

It is a thrilling experience to say the least, and that is one of the main reasons why people often join dedicated photo safari groups when travelling to a destination for the first time. There is much comfort to be had in knowing that your tour leader is there to handle absolutely everything for you (within reason of course. We can do many things, but we are not magicians…yet) and that you will be travelling with like-minded guests.

ORYX’s Photographic Safaris are much the same except with an exciting twist. Photographic safaris are goal orientated whereby each guest joins in order to reach their photographic goals, start their photographic journey, master techniques, learn more, and capture/find their photographic voice.

 

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They are photo safaris about experiences and growth.

They are photo safaris hosted by professional, friendly and knowledgeable Photo Tour Leaders that are dedicated to your photography and vision.

They are safaris created to suit your needs and surpass your expectations.

 

Scheduled Photo Safaris

 

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Scheduled photo safaris are perfect for those who are looking to travel within the comfort and security that our small group safaris offer, especially if you are a solo traveller and have yet to be introduced to the specific destination that has captured your attention. They offer a relaxed, fun and intimate environment and atmosphere where you can focus on your photography and connect with other photographers who are on this journey with you.

As a Photo Tour Leader, I find that leading scheduled departures to be incredibly stimulating and offers one of the best gifts I can think. People see the world differently from one person to the other. Some are more technical and number orientated, others may focus more on creativity and visual and then of course there are those that dabble between both. Not one stance is right or wrong. That for me is one of the endlessly inspiring aspects of photography; your image is your interpretation of the world you see and the reality you want to create. What could be more utterly exciting and beautiful than that?

 

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So going back to my initial statement, what I mean by scheduled departures offering one of the best gifts is this; with each person having their own visions and inspirations, you are constantly inspired by what type of images you could get and create. Something that you may not have thought of now becomes available to you. Your photographic guide is there to assist you in capturing the images you envision whilst inspiring you and “see” and capture more. Combined with the unique visions of the other guests, there is a constant stream of inspiration and vision around you that you can choose to tap into should you want.

 

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The very nature of a Photo Tour means that people from all walks of life end up spending the duration of the safari essentially ‘living’ and ‘co-associating’ with people they may never usually associate with in their home environment. We at ORYX Photography understand that healthy group dynamics lead to successful, homogenous tours that can be enjoyed to their full potential, and this is something we take very seriously.

 

Private Photo Safaris

A private photo safari plays to a tune of its own. More specifically, it plays to yours.

From destination, number of days, amount of people joining you, time of year you would like to travel, specific photographic goals and species, the ORYX team will create an unparalleled safari for you, whether you are a solo traveller or travelling with a group. It offers nearly everything that a scheduled departure does, expect that it is all focused solely on you.

 

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Your personal ORYX Photo Tour Leader will give you her/his undivided attention as they spend the duration of your private photo tour exploring your photographic wants and needs. Inspiring and delving into their wealth of photographic knowledge to meet your expectations and exceed them is just one of the many prominent features that a private safari has to offer you. It boils down to the guide, their attention, knowledge and guidance being devoted to you alone without you having to share their attention with other guests. It’s incredibly personal, and offers you the space and time to fully explore your photography at your own pace.

 

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As with all our private photo safaris, you will have a private vehicle to yourself regardless of if you are travelling by yourself or with others. This option offers you complete freedom as we explore the destination and its wildlife together. If you want to spend 20minutes photographing the elegant, sure-footed and almond-eyed Kudu then that is what we will do. You don’t have to worry about other guests wanting to move on, or feel pressured to get the shots or be at the level as some of your fellow travellers.

No, a private departure is exactly what you want from it – intimacy, dedicated to your photographic needs as well as the type of experience you are looking for. ORYX will match this but take it to the next level.

 

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As I mentioned previously, photography is a very personal medium of exploration and interpretation. Choosing a safari and going on one is photography’s physical equivalent, which makes them a powerful combination. Whether you choose to partake on an ORYX scheduled photographic safari or take the next step and book a private departure, you can be sure that the ORYX team and photo tour leaders will with a powerful portfolio of images reflecting your vision, knowledge than what you had prior to the safari, and of course, an experience of the destination and safari that will leave you inspired and romanced by the beauty and power of our natural world.

ORYX – we are dedicated to you.

 

Stay passionate,
Penny Robartes

A Private Safari in Madikwe

There are some things in life that constantly makes you feel excited and further fuels your passion for it. I am in a fortunate position where my job offers me the platform to hone in on and explore this excitement and passion for the two mediums that bring me immense joy and pleasure in life; wildlife photography and helping others explore and capture their photographic visions.

My name is Penny Robartes, and I am a Wildlife Photographer and Photo Tour Leader for ORYX – Worldwide Photographic Expeditions.

In October 2016 I lead a private photographic safari to South Africa’s 5th largest game Reserve, and one that I have had the pleasure of photographing at often, Madikwe Game Reserve. For 5-days my guests and I would be focusing solely on their photography, enhancing their understanding of their camera from a technical and creative aspect and taking control of the outlook of their images. The promise of a private photographic safari is of high value – it is utterly dedicated to you, your needs as an individual, your growth and understanding, and your expected outcome. Where a private photographic guide comes in is to offer you all the above, and then make you reconsider your expectations by showing and giving you so much more.

That, that is what drives me, and that was my focus for the duration of the safari.

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There are many photographic opportunities to focus on whilst on safari. Our game drives offered us the opportunity to explore Madikwe Game Reserve and encounter the various wildlife that call this destination home.

To say that we had spectacular wildlife encounters would be an understatement, and they were many and diverse! From plains game to the famous Big 5, we saw it all and more in a variety of situations and settings. We left no stone unturned in terms of what we could do photographically when we approached each sighting. With only the three of us to our own private vehicle, it afforded me the chance to delve into the specific needs of each guest and their unique visions. We captured an array of moments and told our personal stories of it through our own angles and perspectives of the scenes. As a photographic leader, one of my main attributes is to inspire my guests into exploring the endless possibilities that photography offers us, and use that inspiration to capture images that they may not have thought of or known how to. I have never felt more rewarded than when a guest takes a photograph and positively beams at the image that they created.

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But game drives weren’t the only means of photographing the wildlife and further exploring the creativity and visions of my guests on this safari…

We had a far more intimate experience available to us. One where we could sit and gaze at what was occurring in front of us for hours on end, whilst playing with different techniques and mastering others.

Day and night.

We had an underground hide right by the lodge’s very popular waterhole to play in. And play we did!

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It was a 5-day private safari that was filled with laughter, learning, exploration, inspiration and growth. Isn’t that a perfect reason to make you feel excited and that will further fuel your passion?

My name is Penny Robartes, and I am a Wildlife Photographer and Photo Tour Leader for ORYX – Worldwide Photographic Expeditions. I hope to experience your photographic journey with you.

Stay passionate,

Penny Robartes