Recently, I had the pleasure to interview travel photographer extraordinaire Ken Kaminesky and ask him about his past and upcoming photo safaris in Tanzania.
The original audio interview has been published as episode 125 of The Traveling Image Makers podcast that I host together with Ralph Velasco. What follows is a transcript of the parts of the interview that are specifically about Tanzania, Zanzibar, and photo safaris in general. It has been edited for readability.
This is the second half of the interview. Click here to read the first half.
Ken Kaminesky is a veteran commercial travel photographer, FujiFilm Global Ambassador, writer, consultant, and entrepreneur with over twenty years of experience in the photography industry. His work has been featured worldwide in numerous commercial and editorial publications, including the New York Times and on the cover of National Geographic. His passion for travel and the incredible landscapes and people he encounters along the way are the inspiration for his popular blog, and the other publications he writes for.
This coming August, I will be one of the tour leaders of the Tanzania VIP Photo Safari, organized by Ken’s company, Discovery Photo Tours. If you’d like to live the experiences and see with your own eyes the scenes recounted by Ken in this conversation, check out our current offering.
There will be places where people will be able to take a walk out of the vehicle?
There’s one place that we stay at where you’re able to take a bit of a guided walk out, time permitting and safety permitting, But if they know that those animals in the area, they obviously won’t let you do that. There are places where you get out of the vehicles. We have lunches and things like that, but to go out on long walks, well again this is the territory of lions and leopards. I think it’s best to save the walks for the next time that you’re up in the Canadian Rockies.
What about sundowners?
We do those kinds of things, like stopping and having bottles of wine and snacks and coffee ready for us. We are able to sit and have a nice little picnic area. When we do it, that’s really a lovely part of a drive. Our guys know exactly where the safe places are and there are no worries about that whatsoever, but I’ll just make a little comment on the sundowner thing.
Yes, that’s an African tradition. Everyone who goes on a safari loves their sundowners but that’s also a time when the light is at its nicest, so I don’t really encourage us doing the sitting and drinking coffee and tea at sunset. I encourage us to be finding another great place to photograph with the most beautiful light of the day. These are after all photography tours. That said, you can always pull out and, if everyone else is photographing, and you want that nice glass of wine you can do it while we’re all taking photos. No problem.
How is life on safari?
At the camps, we certainly have the opportunity to sit around the campfire, share stories from the day, have that drink or two and relax before we hit the sack and wake up again bright and early so we can start capturing more amazing stuff the next day.
The days are long, the days are full, and the days are exciting. For those people who have never been on an African safari, I can tell you that your jaw is going to hit the floor, your fingers are going to stay on that camera trigger from the moment you get out in front of your first animals to the moment you get back to the camp. Most often because there are still opportunities, even outside the parks, to see some beautiful animals that you just never know what’s going to happen right in front of you. Every day is another adventure where you just don’t know what you’re going to see.
We were running separate vehicles last year. We wouldn’t all stay together and at the end of the day, we would have great stories to tell each other about what each vehicle was able to see and capture. It would encourage us for the next day to hopefully be able to do the same thing.
It’s so nice to get to a place like that where you have the opportunity to lounge back at the end of the day in decadent luxury and know that you’re going to be back on the road again, taking more epic photographs the next day.
Do you get a chance to experience the local culture and customs on such a trip?
One of the things that we do is to visit a Maasai tribe village and get to know the ceremonial dance that they do when we get there. It’s beautiful. The men and women all get together from the village and come out and sing and dance for us. It makes for great photography and video opportunities for our guests. Plus you get a chance to actually talk to them. Most of them speak English and so we spent several hours there mulling about and getting insight into how they live in these villages because it’s a completely different way of life.
There are crafts that they make that you can buy. I’ll be honest: some of them are not made by these people, but it’s nice to be able to support people who obviously are less fortunate than us and to leave the place better than when we got there. We get a chance to visit a little schoolhouse that they have and to spend some time with the children, who serenade us, which is really heartwarming and beautiful. I really enjoyed that.
On the first day, when we get there, we will let take you to a beautiful cultural center in Arusha, which is where our first hotel is, near Kilimanjaro. The artwork that they have there is just insane. It is so beautiful. I wish I could walk away with dozens of the sculptures that they have there. They’re just so intricate and ornate. It’s all of wildlife or African scenes and most of it is local made.
They have a section with just one giant room that’s full of African masks from all over Africa. I always tend to pick up a mask wherever I go if that’s part of the culture and that’s something I give to my mom from each of my trips. She’s got a nice wall of masks back home from my travels and hers. So if you’re into art and culture there’s certainly that side of it.
In Zanzibar, where we wrap up the tour for a few days, Stone Town is a very historic city. That’s a sad side to that part of the East African slave trade that took place very much so in Stone Town. Through a guided tour you’ll be able to get a better insight into that part of African history.
Just photographing in and about Stone Town is really cool, especially old Stone Town, that still has all those lovely doors, kind of like what you see in Morocco, and beautiful beaches for swimming. You can also go sailing, which we definitely invite people to do. There’s an animal preserve there that we encourage people to visit and where you can actually interact with several of the animals and get a chance to see what these people are doing in terms of trying to preserve species of animals.
So there’s a whole variety of things. I don’t like to make my tours so centric on one specific thing. Our tours are also very friendly for couples and spouses who are not into photography. You only need a pair of binoculars to enjoy this and even your phone to stay in Zanzibar to take a few snapshots. The joy that I think anyone can get out of being on a safari and just witnessing these kinds of things is–and I don’t mean this lightly–kind of like changing. At least it was to me. It just opened up my eyes to so much and made want to find ways in the future to make sure that we can keep going back there and contributing to the local economy so that they can continue to sustain anti-poaching squads and other things that are so dearly needed over there.
Please give some suggestions about traveling with lots of photo equipment, when going to a safari.
You have to consider the weight factor. If you’re going bring a 300mm, 400mm or even a 600mm lens to someplace like Tanzania you have to understand that we’re also taking some internal flights inside the country on small planes. Even the bigger planes today are very much more conscious about the weight of the gear that you bring. I don’t know if you really want to check that super expensive lens that cost you eight to twelve or fifteen thousand dollars.
To see the way the luggage handlers handle that kind of stuff is rather nerve-wracking. I’d look at the slower but more compact zoom lenses, in terms of telephoto. But if you want to bring your big 400mm super telephoto, you can and I know a lot of people who do this as well and that’s fine. Just make sure that it’s securely packed and you may, of course, pay a little bit extra in terms of baggage fees in order to bring it with you. If you can afford fifteen thousand dollars, then you can afford an extra hundred bucks, I think, for the joy of bringing it with you.
The tip that I would give to anybody is: if you’re going on a photography trip and you’re taking any kind of flights and you’re traveling with a companion, go and register separately and leave your camera bag with your friend and then have them do the same thing and leave their backpack with you while you check in. It’s just some little tricks that we have to do in order to be able to make sure that our gear is safe.
I don’t mind paying the extra fee if there is that possibility. I wish that there would be some standard rule or some special dispensation for photographers, videographers, and other people who carry sensitive equipment. People carry musical equipment and I’ve heard these kinds of stories from people who’ve had their Stradivari violins damaged because of negligence from the airlines. Here we’re not talking about tens of thousands of dollars, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not over a million dollars worth of musical instruments.
Would you recommend bringing a drone on a safari?
I would seriously suggest that people do not bring it because, first of all, in all the national parks it’s absolutely forbidden and you might be freaking out these animals with the drones. That’s certainly disrespectful and I would not allow that on any of the tours that we do. I did not see a single person using a drone anywhere in any of the parks, so I’m I’m happy to see that they do respect the sanctity of that place.
In Zanzibar, you could, but I don’t think that that’s gonna be as epic as what you could potentially see with the drone on a safari. Perhaps one day, when these things are minuscule and silent and less obtrusive, that could be possible but I suggest you don’t.
Any parting words from you?
I keep thinking that we’re so fortunate to be living in today’s day and age, where we have the means and the technology to be able to capture what we see in front of us in great detail. But we’re also–and this is the sad part–living in a time when we may be one of the last generations to really see this kind of thing happening in the wild. So I really urge people to go and see this for yourself. Join us or find a way to do it in a way that opens your eyes and opens your heart to all these beautiful creatures. Let’s all try to find a way to make sure that this is there for generations to come.