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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Allure Of East Africa


Beyond the dramatic wildlife, eastern Africa is also one of the richest tribal regions in the world. These unique cultures have drawn the attention of photographers since the medium’s beginnings.

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Members of the Kara tribe along the Omo River, southern Ethiopia.
Should You Pay For Photographs?
The answer is complicated because each situation is different. I try to find ways, other than money, to compensate people for their time. Sometimes I take the warriors out to the local bar for drinks; other times, I bring flour to the women to free them from spending hours grinding it. Another approach is to make gifts of their session. Often, many people I photograph have never owned a photograph of themselves. A hand-sized printer that produces business card-sized images straight from your camera becomes a big hit and a nice way to show respect and gratitude. Create a relationship with your subject, and you may be asked less often for compensation.

If I take a person from their work/livelihood for a three-hour photo shoot that I intend to market, then I get a signed release, and I pay them just as I would pay a model. My view is that for those few hours, they're working for me and should be compensated, which is much different than a short village visit.

Avoid handing out money for photographs in a local market or along the road; it promotes begging, which often leads to harassment just for taking snapshots. Every photographer has a different approach, but keep in mind that your actions will create a standard that may hamper the photographers who follow.

Making Your Plan

This memorable trip demands meticulous planning. While it's entirely possible to go on your own, ask these basic questions:

 What's your tolerance for the unexpected?
 How much research do you want to do?
 Do you want the responsibilities, extra cost and problems from going it alone?
 Do you know the wet and dry seasons, and how they affect accessibility?
 Do you have the time to build relationships, get lost and learn the land, or is it better to go with someone who already has these relationships and experience?

Overlooked and undervalued, time is the critical factor in your aim to capture award-winning images. For a lucky few, time is abundant, but the reality is that most photographers have a short window. Limited to three weeks or less? It's best to go with someone who will take you to where you need to be.

Some points of experience:

 Trekking with the gorillas is done in groups of eight, and it's better to be with seven other photographers than with regular tourists. The guides determine which group of gorillas you get to visit.
 If you fly solo into a reserve and use the camp cars, you'll ride with whomever they put in your vehicle, including small children who have a much different agenda than you!

You can see more of Piper Mackay's work and sign up for her workshops and photo tours at her website, www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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