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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


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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

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