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Are you using flash; if not, why not?

flash photography
When I first picked up a camera, I did not even know what it meant when someone said, “the light has gone flat,” and I would not want to complicate it even more by using a flash!

When most of us started on our photographic journeys, we understood there was good light, bad light, and the “golden hour”, a very simplistic approach, yet incredibly limiting. Recently, I have been viewing through years of my work, and I cringed at how long I stayed in the space of “good light.” I yearn to go back and retake so many photographs with the light anywhere but over my shoulders!

Yes, I chat about light constantly, but light adds tone, mood, and atmosphere to an image. The direction of light, such as side lighting, gives depth to a subject, illuminates dust and smoke, and has a much more dramatic effect in a photograph. The most powerful tool a photographer can have is learning to see the light and knowing how to use it. Top professionals build an entire style around the way they use light.

A defining moment in my photography was when I purchased my first flash, slapped it on my camera, and tried to create the “WOW” factor I saw in the work of other photographers I greatly respected. I soon discovered it was not the additional light that mattered as much as the direction it was coming from, so my next purchase was triggers to take my flash off the camera. At first, I could almost faint with excitement by what I could create when working with off camera flash in tribal areas, but I found it was impossible to use when photographing wildlife. No longer satisfied with boring, over the shoulder light, I began positioning the Land Rover around the wildlife so they were illuminated by side or back light. Understanding the direction of lighting and the depth of impact it had on my images elevated me as a photographer.

Since I love to keep it simple, I soon began using these directional natural light techniques in all my images. I have now made being conscious of the light the driving force behind my photography. My approach is, if I have picked up my camera, I already find my subject fascinating; consciously thinking about the light first, gives more depth to an image than a surface impression of an exotic subject. However, natural light has its limitation, especially when shooting environmental portraits. If you are exposing correctly for the environment, the landscape, your subject is in, then your subject will go dark. No matter how good your camera is, it is impossible to capture the entire tonal range in this situation. This is where using a simple fill flash to lift the shadows can make or break your photograph. Yes, it is another piece of gear, and there is a little more technology involved, but it is simple, and it can be the difference between an incredible image or an unusable one.

Light shapes the way a viewer perceives the subject. It is the strongest tool to communicate your experience to your viewer. Being conscious of the light during the photographic process is the first step in creating more meaningful images as opposed to mindless snapshots.

Are you thinking consciously of light before clicking the shutter?

Are you using flash; if not, why not? Please share your comments below, so we may all benefit from your ideas.

Below are a couple of images, before and after, showing how significant using a little fill flash can have a huge impact on your photograph. The first set of images are of the exotic Gelada baboon found in the simians mountain. In the first image I did not use flash and the eyes are completely dark, which is the most important element for my viewer to connect with the subject. This could not have been corrected in post as the eyes are so dark there is no detail to retrieve even if you are shooting in Raw. Not only did the flash illuminate the eyes, but also revealed a hint of his, “red heart” that had been lost to the shadow cast from his long chin.

In the second set of  images I loved the way the back lighting was illuminating the head piece. By exposing correctly for the backlight my subjects face went completely dark, so I used a little fill flash. Although you can still make out some detail in the image without flash, the shadows are too dark and the image would not hold up by trying to lift them in post.

I also used fill flash in the image at the top of the page. The sky over the background of the Simiens mountains was stunning, which is what I exposed for, and used a little fill flash to light up my subject. Without flash, creating this image would have been impossible and an incredible opportunity to make a stunning photograph would have been lost!

 


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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Turkana Festival; incredible tribes of Northern Kenya

Kenya safari

I have finally made it back to Kenya and hope to catch up on some post before my safari season kicks off in a few weeks. This past May I took a small group of photographers with me to the Turkana Festival and it was incredible this year! Whether you drop in by charter aircraft or take the adventurous drive across the Chalbi desert to this remote tribal region, your first view of Lake Turkana is magical. Known as the Northern Frontier, the Turkana Basin remains one of the most untouched tribal regions in Africa. Lake Turkana, also known as the Jade sea, straddles the Ethiopian border. The Omo River feeds Lake Turkana and the beautiful tribes along the Omo River continue down through this entire region.

Nowhere else in Africa, or in the world, do I know of an event where so many exotic, colorful tribes gather in one area. The Turkana festival was started as a way to unite the tribes as a community, and promote peace between them. As many as 14 different tribes/ethnic groups such as the Randille, Samburu, Turkana, Dassanach Gabra, Borana, El Molo, Konso, Sakure, Garee, and Waata will gather in a kaleidoscope of color, dressed in their most elaborate traditional clothing, beading, head ornaments, and paint made from the red ochre. Simultaneously, during the festival, the tribes will gather in their individual groups playing traditional instruments, singing, and dancing for hours at a time. There simply is no way to describe the sensory overload of colors and sounds; one must simply experience it to believe it.

We spent several days at the festival where we could freely photograph all the tribes, but I was also able to arrange special private visits to various villages and incredible photographic opportunities along the shoreline of the lake. I have been spending a lot more time up in this Northern Frontier region, building relationships with the tribes, as I used to spend a lot of time in the Omo, before it opened up and mass tourism came into the area. This area is still under-explored and raw. However, as I wrote for years about the Omo, this amazing remote tribal region is changing at lightening speed. Now is the best time to visit, while it is still special and before mass tourism and photography groups flood into this area along with all the modern changes soon to come when one of the largest wind power projects is complete.

Besides the festival, a highlight of our trip, we also visited two of Kenya’s premier wildlife reserves; namely Amboseli and Samburu. Africa is an incredible tapestry of ancient cultures, exotic wildlife, and dramatic ecosystems, which are mesmerizing for the eyes, mind, and soul. Only in Kenya am I able to offer such an incredible mix of both tribes and wildlife on a single safari. You can download a free copy of my ebook on Kenya to view photographs from all the locations we visited or join us for the Turkana Festival and Wildlife Safari in 2017 and capture your own incredible images.  Continue reading here


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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Africa Calling

africa safari

I had no idea, when I wrote about becoming a nomad for a year, how such a risky decision would turn out. In the modern world, we are conditioned to play it safe, work a real job, buy a house, save our money, and travel the world when we retire. Living in such an environment makes the fear of taking risk, especially during midlife, a catastrophic roadblock. This is when it is vital to realize thousands of people jumped off the path of normalcy, and they have not ended up broke, living on the streets, with people passing by, spattering in disgust, that they should have kept their good paying job.

When I returned to the US, from East Africa, in early March, I found both of my parent’s health in serious decline. With all hands on deck, we had only six weeks to find a good assisted living environment and move them out of their home of 50 years. During these weeks, my father landed in the hospital again, my brother had ankle surgery, which put him out of commission for weeks, I fell and broke a rib hours before a speaking engagement, and the tidal waves seemed just to keep on coming. It took every moment of each day to sort through five decades of memories and handle all their affairs. Outside of my editorial deadlines, my business and life would have to be on hold, until the waters were calm.

Just when I thought I could catch my breath, two days after the big move, I received an unexpected call from my doctor notifying me there were abnormal asymmetrical findings on my mammogram, and I would need to come in for immediate testing. During the ultrasound, I could clearly see the masses at which they were looking. The fear that gripped me over those next seven days was debilitating, and gave me a holistic perspective of what fear really was. When I received the news they were only cysts I thought I would bounce right back, but the last two months had taken a huge emotional and physical toll; my spirits remained low. Four days later, I boarded a plane to Kenya, took my seat, and slept almost every moment during the back-to-back 10-hour flights.

Instinctively, as I was stepping onto the rich red soil of Kenya, a huge smile crept across my face. In that moment, I realized that when I am in Africa, I smile a little more and a little brighter. There is a bounce to my step and a burning passion in my spirit. I engage in sillier conversations with the friendly local people, and I live fully in the moment.

A few days after my return to Kenya, while I was in Samburu leading a safari, I received a text that my parent’s house had sold, and escrow would close by mid-July. My risky choice to live an alternative life without an address, flying by the seat of my pants, had just become a wise decision. My plan had been to stay at my parents for a few weeks in July/August and during November, but it was easy to change directions when I only had a few bags of stuff and my gear to worry about. I simply searched through Airbnb Nairobi and found many great options. At the end of my safari season, instead of returning to the US for a month, I will take off in the Landy on an adventurous scouting trip. I will argue that we need much less than we think we do in order to be happy.

During our safari, while standing amongst fourteen tribes, at the Turkana festival in Northern Kenya, I thought about the phrase, “living the dream”. Too many people believe that phrase represents a life without stress and financial worries, where you have the freedom to experience whatever it is you desire. This allows people to believe if they stay working in a soulless job long enough, they will finally put themselves in a position to, “Live the Dream.” However, this philosophy does not seem to work if most of your thoughts are dreaming about the life you wish to be living, instead of fully living the short life you were given.

These past few months have given new meaning to the term, “life is flying by.” I spent many hours out on the patio of our family home, reflecting on how fast one of the biggest chapters of my life had come to a close and what I wanted the rest of the book to look. I do not understand how life will turn out or where I will settle in 2017, as I have learned this alternative lifestyle is completely possible and seems to suit my gypsy spirit. What I know is that when I am behind my camera, out in the wildlife reserves or tribal areas of Africa, I am alive; I am living the dream. It is not a dream of financial freedom, without stress, hard work, or without continuous risk, but it is a life of experiencing what I once dreamed about for years. I have come to believe more in the philosophy that dreams do not work unless you do.

These are just the thoughts of a passionate, nomadic photographer, which you can easily dismiss, but let me ask you this –

Where do you want to see the footsteps of your life, when looking back through the images you have captured?


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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A Photographer’s Life in the Bush – What A Week!

Well, you can say, “It has been one of those weeks.” Those wonderful, “African Rains”, of which everyone dreams and Toto sings, have made a huge mud pit of the Mara, and it is the dry season!! At one point in my life, I thought it would be amazing to tough out the mess during the raining season, with big cats in a downpour and dramatic skies, but after this past week, I am rethinking that one. It had been raining for days when I first arrived at Little Mara Bush Camp. That was ok, as I had just finished 3 weeks in Ethiopia and could do with some down time, using the Internet to catch up on tons of emails. My mobile office there has a great view along the river, with Hippos to keep me entertained.

Little Mara Bush Camp
hippos at play
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After a hot day, which dried the roads a bit, I would venture out for an afternoon drive in the Landy. That, in itself, driving through the African plains, is incredible! I just started using infrared photography, so I was only looking for elephants or giraffes along the mass savannas with dramatic skies. Sometimes, I can wander out from camp and find them the minute I pop out of the bush, so I was happy to stay close to camp for a few days. However, on the third day, one of my external drives crashed. Then, while I was backing-up my back up, my computer crashed, or so I thought. Actually, it was not charging and simply died from running out of battery – Thank God! Once I got that all sorted, I was ready to race across the Mara, the next morning, in search of lions (Rekero pride with cubs) and Cheetahs (either Malika or Armani and their cubs). Well, of course, that night, we were pounded again with those wonderful African rains, hard enough to seem like a stage 5 hurricane.

At that point, it was time to pull on my big girl pants, put on my big rubber boots, and get out there to kick some *** anyway. So I did just that, except… I got stuck only a few km from camp! My windows were down in anticipation of quickly coming upon some great wildlife action, but all I managed to do was annihilate everything inside the Landy with mud! Luckily, my buddies from Intrepid camp came by within a few minutes. I threw on my rubbers, jumped out, chained up, and they pulled me out. Then, we proceeded to the Talek river, which was way too high, but since the Intrepid driver made it, I followed. Water flew up over my bonnet, and I was too focused on getting across to notice the water coming in along my floor. Yep, a lot got wet that shouldn’t have. A few hours later, we could no longer cross that river, so the adventure continued slipping, sliding, and driving sideways across the marshy plains. Finally, we made it across Olare Orak River and back into camp!!!
getting rescued
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All part of the adventure in the search for the perfect image and stories for the rocking chair!!

Here are a just a few of the infrared images I recently captured in the Maasai Mara. Visit my Piper Mackay Photography Facebook page to see a few I shot in the Omo Valley. I have a lot to learn about this new medium, but I am very excited about it.

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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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The Power Of Light

Piper1_BV2U2017-Version-2I recently posted the above image on FB and it became one of my top 20 images posted. Let’s be serious, it is a portrait of a buffalo. There are so many images that have required huge amounts of effort, uncomfortable accommodations, beans and rice, long drives, sand storms, harsh rains, impossible muddy roads, and yet it was a photo of a Buffalo that the crowd went wild over? This is the perfect proof that the reaction was not about the subject, but instead to the light and the emotion it created.

When we first pick up the camera, we are told there is good light and bad light. We go on thinking this for years as we click away. However, there are all different types of light, all day long, that can be a creative tool for the photographer who understands how to use it. While we cannot control the natural light source, we can learn how to manipulate the light through creative camera settings and simple tools. Light on a subject is one of the most powerful tools we have to convey drama, mystique, and emotion. The use of light in a photograph can be the deciding factor between an amazing image and boring or terrible one.

Learning to use natural light should be a prerequisite for all photographers before spending a lot of money purchasing expensive flash and lighting gear. When I first picked up the camera, workshops teaching dramatic natural light either did not exist or there were so few, I did not know of them. This is what inspired me to create Spirit-N-Light workshops. It was through my tribal photography that I started to study how other photographers in other genres such as fashion photographers and commercial photographers used light. Slowly, I taught myself how to use flash and off-camera flash, which was thrilling. This is what ultimately elevated my wildlife photography, as I was no longer satisfied with “over the shoulder light”, and I was constantly seeking out dramatic light.

Pushing to use available natural light to create drama, mystique, and emotion in my wildlife photography subsequently made using natural light the most powerful tool in all my photography. I became increasingly frustrated with lighting equipment failures and the slower set up process. I found using natural light to be much more powerful and freeing. It also creates more engaging photographs with my subjects than when you have flashes going off. In hindsight, it would have been much easier to learn how, when, and why to use an artificial light source if I had had a solid grasp on how to use natural light first.

The concept that I like to get across during the Spirit-N-light workshops is that it is a given that your subject is exotic. If you have picked up the camera and are ready to click, I am assuming you are excited about your subject and it is exotic to you, whether it is a rock or a lion. So, forget about your subject and ask yourself, “what is the light and how does it impact my subject?” Even a rather plain subject in dramatic lighting, such as a buffalo, will always make for a more dynamic image than a great subject in bad or flat light. Once you understand the power of light you will notice it everywhere in your everyday life and it will broaden your creative horizons.


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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Artistic Vision Beyond the Obvious

artistic vision
FAR
too often we get too caught up in the excitement of our subject to take a step back, take a deep breath, and allow our own artistic vision to flow. We arrive at an exciting destination and switch from artistic vision to, “getting the shot”. We travel half way around the world dreaming of the unique images that we are going to create, but when we arrive, we panic; we cling to safety and shoot what is in front of us in fear of “missing the shot”. Staying safe ensures we will come home with images to show and share; proof that we have been to some remote, exotic location.

When we first pick up a camera, we are so excited by the possibilities that we are happy just learning the buttons, dials, focusing and exposure. We use the camera as a tool to seek out the exotic, snapping away, and are thrilled when we take a technically acceptable image; it’s in focus, the exposure is good, and nothing is clipped out of the frame. This is an important part of learning the craft, but we end up stagnating in this learning phase for way too long. Every time we get back from a location, we begin to wonder why our images aren’t more exciting. They are from a different place in the world, but technically they seem to be the same. The faces are different, the background is different, the animals are different, but the style is still boring and lifeless.

Whether it is a portrait of a lion or a portrait of a person, STOP CLICKING!! There are times when I still take that quick grab shot to satisfy the nagging need of, “getting the shot”; a habit that is hard to break, but it is a quick one or two clicks and then I quickly move on. Most times, when editing my images, I delete the “safe shot”, as it has no emotion, no connection, or creative expression. It is only a snap shot of something I found extraordinary or exciting in that very moment.

I am constantly striving for motion and emotion in a still photograph. This generally means I am breaking all the rules by manipulating my camera settings to over expose, under expose, or to create movement using slower shutter speeds. This also means that I risk deleting 99% of what I shoot; in turn, possibly “missing the shot”, but who is “the shot” for? Learning to trust your artistic vision, letting go and thinking quickly all come when you have confidence in your process because you quit caring about what others think. When you become so completely immersed in what stirs your soul that you lose yourself in the artistic process, your photographs will become artistic beyond the obvious.
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In this image I slowed my shutter to 1/50 and focused on the still subjects. The edge of the river dropped off. The wildebeest would pause until the build up from the back pushed them forward catapulting them into the river. The slow motion of wildebeest falling into the water puts movement into the image.

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Dust is always one of my favorite moody elements; add light, a slower shutter speed of 125 for a softer focus and the movement of the elements and you have an artistic painterly image.

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This is a pan-blur technique. I slowed my shutter to 1/30, focused on my front subjects, held down the shutter while panning with the moving herd.

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In the migratory herds, the zebra tend to be calm and still, while the wildebeest are are nervous and constantly moving. Similar to the fist image, I slowed my shutter to 1/20, focused on the still zebras, and the moving wildebeest in front are blurred by their motion.

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When elegant herds are on the move they surround the babies to protect them. I chose to go in really tight, focusing on and framing the young elephant, and slowing the shutter just enough to blur the motion of the faster moving older elephants.

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I have not been in the Mara just after the big rains. In some area’s the grasses were as tall as my Land Rover. Although it was challenging, I love the creative aspect of all the tall grasses. As the light was getting bright and I was heading back to camp, I came across these two Dik-Dik’s standing very still. They are usually very shy and run off quickly.  I made the creative choice to use a slow shutter speed so the blowing grasses would blurr and to over expose the image, creating this artistic look.

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There was beautiful light at sunrise, I could have easily captured the technically perfect shot with golden light on this lion, but I chose to do the opposite. I position myself for backlighting and underexposed by -1.67.

Nevada Wier recently wrote a great article about techniques that help you to make unique and personal images. Learning, developing and grasping these techniques before you travel half way around the world will give you the confidence to take artistic risks. You can grab your camera and hit the streets to practice or take a creative workshop. Personally, I am more inspired by surrounding myself with other passionate photographers feeding off each other’s creativity, rather than going out solo practicing tips I have read about. This is one of the reasons I love teaching the spirit-n-Light Creative workshops. Although I am there helping photographers with their creative process, I always come away inspired by their images, passion, and ideas.


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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Living with Lions

africa safari

A gentle wind blows across the plains as prides of lions lie in the shade of the acacias, waiting patiently in anticipation. At any moment now, a dust cloud will gather over the horizon, as thousands of wildebeest thunder through the tall grasses of the Maasai Mara; marking the arrival of the Great Migration. During migration season, the Maasai Mara is arguably the greatest wildlife photography experience in the world.

I am currently in the Maasai Mara, at Little Mara Bush Camp, which is my home for the next three weeks. This is a fascinating time to be in the Mara. The grasses are the highest of the year, providing tremendous opportunities to capture artistic and unique photographs. I am slow to click the shutter, as my focus is on creating interesting and powerful images through the use of dramatic lighting, slower shutter speeds, creative exposures and different white balance choices. Each morning starts before sunrise, quickly fading into the heat of the day without seeing another vehicle. It has a feel of a private reserve; the calm before the storm.

I have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours photographing in this reserve over the past decade. What’s so different about these three weeks is that I am driving my own Land Rover. I must admit, it takes the experience to entirely new heights. I feel even more connected to the wildlife and this extraordinary place; no longer a visitor, but a feeling of belonging. Over these three weeks, I will be maneuvering over rough roads, crossing through rivers with rocky boulder bottoms, and sliding through the wet swampy black cotton soil, covering as much of the Mara as possible. Some of the most important skills for a wildlife photographer to have are to intimately know a location, understand the animal territories and behavior, and to build strong personal relationships in the area.

I wish to not only improve my own skills as an African wildlife photographer, but to specialize my guiding skills for those joining me on safaris.

Africa truly awakens your soul, as it did mine, on my first safari eleven years ago. I will savor these three weeks and immerse myself fully into every moment. As always, it will be hard to leave, even if only for a short time. I will return in August and September to lead my annual safarisKenya Wildlife Safari and Great Migration Safari, during the height of the migration season. No matter how much time I spend in the Maasai Mara, it is never enough; it never gets old. Most all who have been here would also agree.

You know you are truly alive
when you are living among lions.
Karen Blixen – Out of Africa

Piper_2_Elephant-Africa-Safari-Blog


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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One Life; Dream it, Chase it, Live it.

Land Rover
If I were practical, I would not be a photographer living in Kenya. I have always been a dreamer and a dream chaser. For weeks, I went through the grief between practical and heart racing as I traveled through Kenya and came in and out of Nairobi. Those of you that have traveled with me over the last five years know about my crazy infatuation for Land Rovers. I sat behind the wheel of a Land Cruiser, driving the rough roads of Northern Kenya, but at the end of the day, I was sitting behind a Toyota truck. It was just not the same; no matter what my head told me, my heart never fully agreed. It only took a decade of hard work, adversity, wanting to quit, and a huge investment for me to make my dream of living in Africa happen, so why would I suddenly stop taking risks and start being practical?

Really, I kept an open mind until the end. I said, “Whichever one comes my way is the right one.” Well, on my way back through Nairobi from my first trip to Turkana, I rolled past this Landy. It only took about 30 hours and I had the keys. I guess it was love at first sight, as I had test drove several Landy’s on this lot since mid-December. It only took another four days to get stuck in the black cotton soil, or rather high centered and temporarily delayed, proper. The next day I broke it. These things have now been checked off the list, stuck and broken, and I continue to look for a place to make me a bumper sticker that says, “I would rather be pushing my Landy.”

Nairobi jeep
I am now in the process of preparing for my photographer in residence in the Maasai Mara, from July 1-21! She has been thoroughly checked by two top mechanics, with great results. I needed new brake pads, a few belts replaced, a small short fixed, and a few bolts tightened. She is now at the famous Schuhmacher’s, Land Rover conversion specialist, to have a hatch put in the roof over the front seats.

I know those of you who are practical, will be thinking, “You should have gotten a Land Cruiser”, but my philosophy of “One Life, Live It”, has allowed me to live my dream completely. At the end of the day, if it all goes south, I could just simplify my life by breathing deeply, throwing my stuff in the back, opening my eyes, and hitting the road for another long adventure down a bumpy dirt road.

Africa
The vision of my African Dream was always in a Land Rover. Dreams don’t chase themselves. I could not justify letting fear and practicality stand between me and the dream; I had to go all the way.


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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7 things I miss the most about the US

piper
I only had about seven weeks to settle into life in Nairobi before I hit the road again, but it was enough to get a taste of real life. Although I have spent 1-3 months a year in Kenya for the past decade, even staying in Karen—an area in Nairobi—with friends for several weeks, living there is still an adjustment. I am currently back in the states leading my Spirit-N-Light workshop, speaking at three events, and taking care of some things that did not get done prior to my departure.

Several people have commented they are surprised I am back so soon, and I laugh because some of those same individuals keep asking me when my 2016 safari schedule will be listed. Most of my schedule is planned out a year in advance. Therefore, when I moved to Kenya, I already had events scheduled in the US, bringing me back a few months after my arrival. Currently, I am planning to visit the states twice a year: once in spring and once in autumn. The idea was to flip where I spend my time, spending the majority of it in Africa and only a few months in the US.

When I return to Kenya in April, I will post what I love about living in Kenya. If you would like to receive this post by email, subscribe here.

1.Family, friends, and my cat.

I have traveled excessively for the past two decades, more for my fashion career than my photography career. I am used to being away from my family, friends, and pets for half of the year, but living halfway around the world from them is a quite a different experience. After several long days in front of the computer, I can’t just hop on my bike, or into my car, and meet up with friends and family. Skype is great, but it is not the same.

As for my cat, she is living a very spoiled life with my parents, but I miss having her with me. I have a greater appreciation for my wonderful family and friends than ever before.

2. Familiarity

I miss the ease of familiarity in everyday life: banking, the market, the freedom of hopping in my jeep and knowing where I am going. All the things I did in everyday life without having to give them any thought. For the first few weeks, just going to market was like being a deer in the headlights. I recognized very few of the brands; from seasonings to soap, it was all unknown and I had no idea what to choose. I laughed at myself for being so naive about to how big of an adjustment these types of everyday tasks would be in the beginning.

3. Trader Joe’s and ground turkey

I am a single woman who prefers to spend her time doing many things in life other than preparing a meal. Trader Joe’s made this task simple, tasty, and healthy. T.J.; please come to Nairobi. Subway is already here. The one item I have not found is ground turkey. It is one of the only meats I usually eat, so I miss it.

4. Coffee and my American size cup!

Yes, many of you are thinking that Kenya is known for its great coffee. I, however, have gone through about 6 brands and I still have not found one that suits me. I even have a friend whose family owns a plantation. I will be stocking up while I am here. I also miss my big American size coffee cup, as I can’t seem to find one in Kenya. That goes back to the to idea of familiarity, of just not knowing where to go yet. So, I will be bringing my cup with me for now. Few things give me more pleasure in life on a day-to-day basis,than a big cup of fresh coffee and a hot shower.

5. American TV

There are evenings when I just want to plop down on a comfortable couch, put my feet up, and zone out while watching a favorite program. I can’t stream through Hulu or Netflix, but I have discovered I can buy TV on iTunes. Since I don’t watch much TV, this is working for me at the moment, but I miss the ease of just flipping through several cannels of quality programing. I have the NatGeo channel and CNN, but that is about it. Oh, BTW, I also don’t have a couch yet, but it is on the list. LOL.

6. The beach

In southern California, I lived a few blocks from the beach. Everyday, after sitting in front of the computer for many hours, I would either bike or walk along the ocean. This pulled me away from the stress of life and allowed me to be a part of the calmness of the moment where my creativity easily flows. I now live in a beautiful, garden-type setting, where I take daily walks, but it’s not the same. I still miss the beach.

7. Photography events

I was fortunate to live in a city that had many incredible photography events. I love socializing in person and the inspiration it can bring. I miss being able to hop into my car and visit the Annenberg Space of Photography lecture series, the G2 gallery, and local photography club events. Make sure to take advantage of these types of events in your own back yard.


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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Experience the Extraordinary

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

― Eleanor Roosevelt

africa safari

It is the adventures and experiences that create the excitement that feeds one’s soul. When life starts to feel mundane, it is time to take an adventure; grab your friends, book a flight, head into nature, climb a mountain, dream about the future, feel the freedom, and experience something that makes your heart race. Take more than an epic journey; experience an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word. A single decision can be the defining moment, which changes the direction of one’s path in life. This is what happened to me a decade ago. Making that sudden decision to go to Africa taught me to jump out there, live boldly, and experience the extraordinary.

Although my camera is the drive behind seeking adventure and capturing compelling stories, it is the incredible experiences that stay with me long after the click of shutter. Last year was no exception. I had the opportunity to spend up close and personal time with the young orphaned elephants that were being reintroduced to the wild. We were invited for an exclusive stay at two of the David Sheldrick properties near and in West Tsavo.

Each morning we awoke at sunrise to go down to the stockade for the elephants’ morning feeding, before they headed out into the wild accompanied by their keepers. Midmorning we would join them again for their noon feeding. They would then head to a small water hole where they would interact with the wild elephants that had also come in for a drink. It was fascinating to watch. Both the orphans and the wild elephants would then wander down to a larger water hole for a mud bath. We could lay right beside their water hole, photograph them, play with them, or even get a personal dusting from them! We were able to interact with them, one on one, for several hours.

In the evening we were able to greet them again as they came in from the wild to spend the night in the safety of the stockade. The orphans will decide for themselves when it is time to stay in the wild, as one evening they just don’t come home, so to speak. It has now been placed in the top 10 experiences I have had in Africa.

More amazing than the experience itself was witnessing the incredible dedication of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the keepers who dedicate their lives to help save these amazing animals. I have supported this organization for many years, including donating proceeds of my exhibit “Wild on Earth” that was held at the G2 Gallery in 2013, to the organization. They continue to show the world that we can make a difference. Because someone cared enough to take action, these orphans now have a chance to live a full life in the wild. You can learn more about this amazing organization and the work they do by visiting their website.

This year, I am excited to be able to take 4-5 photographers with me, for an exclusive visit and up-close personal encounter with these gentle giants. Proceeds from our visit will go back to the DWST. Here are the details. Below are a few of the images from our visit.

Vuria, who I adopted, coming from the water hole with the wild elephants

Vuria, who I adopted, coming from the water hole with the wild elephants

Click here to continue reading  www.pipermackayphotography.com.

 


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PiperMackayPiper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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