On Safari With Professional Photographer, Randy Hanna
Updated: Sep 7
"Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on Earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it? How can you explain the fascination of this vast, dusty continent, whose oldest roads are elephant paths?" - Brian Jackman
When I first realized that our dream of going on safari was about to become a reality, somewhere deep in my soul I knew that life was about to change forever. I've known professional photographer and safari guide, Randy Hanna, for over a decade and his stories of his time in the bush, his office, lit him up. He has been touched by the African soil and he gladly shares his passion for the continent with those around him. My husband and I, along with my uncle and aunt, were about to experience this world first-hand, and Randy was our guy.
Randy spends several months out of the year in Africa, so his connection to the people, fellow safari guides, camp staff, his knowledge of the area and the wildlife, and his understanding of the best photography locations are incomparable.
I'm a published travel writer and photographer, and there is always room for growth. I don't like using another photographer's content for my travel articles unless absolutely necessary. In order to avoid this, it's imperative that I step up my own photography game to create the most beautiful imagery. I'm currently shooting with a Nikon Z5, and as mirrorless seems to be the wave of the future, there's always a learning curve with any new technology. If you're like me, a hands-on learner, then the best way to improve your skill is to be thrown to the wolves, or the elephants in this case. On-the-job-training in the African savanna with Randy Hanna will immediately sharpen your eye for subject matter, lighting, composition, the rule of 3, and how to make a photograph more pleasing to the viewer. It required quick thinking and creative prowess. For me, there's no better classroom.
When I first started using a "big camera", it was a Nikon DSLR D500, and I had it on the AUTO setting for months. I was just a point and shoot kind of gal. Knowing what I know now, thanks to Randy, this is like owning a Ferrari and never driving faster than 50mph. A bit of a waste in technology and engineering. A proper camera has multiple settings for a reason. They want the user to be in charge. Most Smartphones will automatically adjust and adapt to lighting and the surroundings, which takes all the guesswork out for us. Is this really what we want from our high-performance photography equipment? Although I had a general understanding of my camera settings, I didn't realize how much I was missing until I learned through Randy's great instruction and guidance just how magnificent my images could be. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions."
The first safari of each day started just before the sun came up and lasted until lunchtime. This was a great way to learn about sunrise, mid-morning and early afternoon lighting, and how quickly that lighting can change. One of the things I was most worried about was spending too much time adjusting my camera settings, and in turn missing great shots. Randy's tutelage is the perfect fusion of acquired patience and skilled swiftness. He talked us through every step, in real time, as the lighting was changing and subjects were on the move. He made sure we understood why we were making each and every change, so that once out of his African classroom, we could recall these details on your own and recreate photographs to be proud of, with or without his presence. This is just one of the many reasons why he is an expert in his field.
"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."
- Benjamin Franklin
Aside from his incomparable photography, Randy is also a skilled safari guide. He has spent much of the past few decades on this beautiful continent, and with the help of our local guide Guddy, not only showed us how to take memorable photographs, but the best places to capture them. In the Masai Mara alone, we observed three female leopards, two with cubs. We captured two rival hyena families "laughing" and fighting over a meal, giraffes strolling the savanna, two Cape buffalo in heavy discussion, wildebeests, zebras and gazelles congregating by a watering hole, a pride of lions frolicking at sunset and a mother cheetah teaching her two young cubs the necessary hunting skills.
Once we finished lunch, we had a few hours to relax back at camp before heading out on our evening safaris. Randy always made time to look through our images from the day and discuss what worked and where there may be room for refinement. His feedback was always spot on. I can tell you that once I got home and started looking through all of my images from our time on safari, the improvement with my composition, lighting, sharpness and overall comprehension of this art form was clearly evident as each day progressed.
The key to capturing any great image, especially wildlife, is patience. It's not uncommon to sit quietly and wait, and then wait some more for the perfect image. You are in their playground now and these animals do as they please. This time allows for more camera familiarization and epic Q & A sessions from inquisitive safari goers. And believe me, these guides have an answer for everything.
In Amboseli, learning to be patient was a huge plus as we waited eagerly for herds of elephants to cross the plains for water. Randy has spent so much time in this area and studied these elephants year after year, so he knows the slightest movement or nuance to look for when coming in close proximity to these magnificent giants. I have never felt this much exhilaration in my travels as I did when looking into the eyes of this matriarch.
In both safari camps, we had the honor of meeting and interacting with the Maasai. Hearing stories of their upbringing, customs and way of life, left an indelible mark on all of our hearts. One of the many reasons I travel, is to connect with different cultures in this unique way. Randy has this type of connection with the Maasai, and they respect and adore him in return. When the opportunity to visit a nearby village was suggested to us, we all "jumped" at the chance. Pun intended. And yes, I jumped alongside members of this Maasai tribe. I shall never forget it! We were welcomed into their homes, met their children and wives, spoke with a medicine man and invited to take photographs of their elder tribesmen. The warmth of their smiles and the hospitality that was shown to our group, is something that we will treasure always. Because of Randy's investment in these relationships, he was able to share this experience with us and reveal yet another reason why Africa is so special to him.
If an African safari is on your travel bucket list, I hope you will start planning this unrivaled adventure sooner than later. Bring family members or close friends along to share in the experience, invest in a "big camera" with a few decent lenses, apply for the visa, buy the sunscreen, get in touch with Randy Hanna, and get ready for the ride of your life!
Julie Stevens - A Model Traveler
You can enjoy more of our safari highlights on my YouTube channel.