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About Andy


I am an avid adventurer, conservationist, teacher, and outdoor photographer whose photography celebrates the African landscape and its rich wildlife, people, and culture. My photographic safaris allow my travelers to not only enhance their understanding of photography, lighting, and wildlife, but to develop a life-long admiration for Africa ‘s beauty and culture.

Banana Republic recently used my photographs as the cornerstone of their Urban Safari campaign, and my images were seen in all 750 stores around the globe, as well as in their billboards, catalogs and annual report. I was also the winner of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year in the ‘Wild Places’ category in 2008 and a highly commended in the ‘Creative Visions of Nature’ category in 2007.

I launched Gura Gear in 2008, in an attempt to deliver lightweight camera bags to the market. I was looking for a lightweight camera bag to hold all of my photographic gear, and there was nothing desirable on the market that suited my needs. After spending 2 years with many prototypes, the Gura Gear Kiboko bag was born. More products are now available on the Gura Gear web site.





Entries in Chimpanzee (4)


Trip Report Part 1: Great Apes Photo Safari


Chimpanzee, Kibale National Park, Uganda


I am recently back home from a pair of back-to-back safaris in east Africa, and this trip report is part 1 of 3 in the series. Part 1 will cover my primates trip, Part 2 will cover the wildebeest migration in Kenya and Part 3 will cover a post safari extension to the greater Amboseli N.P. region of Kenya. So here goes!

Our Great Apes Photo Safari took place between two eastern African countries, Uganda and Rwanda. We trekked for two primate species, chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. Chimpanzees can be found in many different countries, and on our itinerary we chose Kibale National Park, Uganda as our location. Kibale National Park is a premier location for observing and photographing wild chimpanzees, as we are allowed to obtain ‘habituation’ permits. These permits allow us to trek with chimpanzees and observe them from sun-up until sundown. I cannot stress the importance of this setup, as a normal permit scenario allows for only 1 hour of contact. All-day permits are incredible important for photographers, as there are so many behaviors these beautiful and dramatic primates go through throughout the day.

Our trip began in Entebbe, Uganda, where my small group of 7 people gathered after making the journey over to Africa. We met for dinner and drinks, enjoyed a few smiles and talked about our upcoming trip. We flew up to Kibale the next day, and over the next three days we trekked through the forest to find and keep up with our subjects.


Chimpanzee, Kibale National Park, Uganda


Trekking with chimpanzees requires a significant amount of walking at the same pace as the troop, which is quite demanding


Chimpanzee, Kibale National Park, Uganda


Chimpanzee, Kibale National Park, Uganda


Gear used for primates:

The primary photographic gear amongst our group was a full frame dSLR with a 70-200mm f/2.8. Some had other lenses, however the 70-200mm f/2.8 was, by far, the most used during our three days with the chimpanzees. Since the light wasn’t abundant under the forest canopy, I was often shooting at f/2.8 and at ISO values ranging from 800 to 6400. My most common ISO value was either 1600 or 3200. Since I prefer shallow depth of field I rarely stopped adown past f/2.8. I did bring along my Phase One camera equipment with me, however due to the fast moving nature of the chimps I needed to use a system that was better suited for the environment (I did use the Phase One system with the mountain gorillas).


Restful Sleep


The Thinker

Chimpanzee, Kibale National Park, Uganda


After our three days of chimpanzee trekking we flew down to the border of Rwanda, crossed the border and continued on to our lodge in the Virunga Mountains. This move from Uganda to Rwanda also brought us higher in elevation. We then spent the next three days treeking at higher altitudes for the mountain gorillas, which almost always brings people to tears when they see them for the first time. Our first trek took us to see the Umubano family group, and this hike was (thankfully) one of the easier ones I have had over the past few years. On the second day we saw the most famous of the families, the Sabyinyo group, with its elder statesman Guhonda as its silverback head of family. Guhonda is now and old man by mountain gorilla standards, and this was my third time to see him. He is so gentle, yet powerful.


Guhonda the Silverback





For the mountain gorilla treks I primarily used my Phase One camera gear, as gorillas move much slower and it was easier for me to compose, focus and shoot than when we were with the chimpanzees. Our treks were often very very muddy, which required stamina and good balance, however the effort was always worth it in the end. If you are considering a primates trip, please be prepared for aerobic exercise at altitudes up to 10,000 feet and for 6 to 8 hours. Each day. These trips aren’t for everyone, however I have never had a customer not see what they were there to see, even if they didn’t partake in all of the available treks. These days do wipe people out, with myself included.





I have a primates trip scheduled for 2015, and the trip is already sold out before I even had the chance to do a trip write-up to market it. Due to the high demand for these trips, my co-leaders Randy Hanna and James Weis will also have trips planned in 2015 and beyond.




Mahale Mountains National Park (Part 3 of 3)

Today we did the same morning routine again, and again went out on our morning hike with the chimpanzees after breakfast. The hike was much longer today, and I think we were gone around 4 to 4.5 hours. In the whole scheme of what these hikes could be, it was certainly middle of the road. The forest behind our camp is quite dark with dappled light coming through, and this is very difficult for photography. One has to pay attention to every little light source, and hopefully one of those light sources can help illuminate a dark face.

I decided to take my D700 instead of my D300, primarily because I was wanting to shoot higher than ISO 1600. My shutter speeds from my first attempt weren't quite what I would want, so I took the risk that my subjects would be closer to me and I could get close to filling the frame at 200mm. Technically we are not allowed to be closer than 10 meters away, however the chimpanzees make the rules in the jungle and they would come close to us after we had stopped at the 10 meter point.

Here are some photos from the day:


Nikon D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/200 @ f/2.8, ISO 3200



Nikon D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/1250 @ f/2.8, ISO 5000


The Thinker

Nikon D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/400 @ f/2.8, ISO 4000


A Walk In The Forest

Nikon D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/1000 @ f/2.8, ISO 5000


Nikon D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/320 @ f/2.8, ISO 6400


Nikon D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/800 @ f/2.8, ISO 6400


'Chimping' wild animals in the forest

Nikon D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/640 @ f/5, ISO 6400

Today's light was technically better than on our first hike with the chimpanzees, as it was more overcast. The challenge was that I easily lost at least 2 stops of light because of it. I was very very happy that I chose to bring my D700 instead of the D300, and when I go back to Mahale I will definitely take the best low light camera in my bag. I would rather have better pixels at the same ISO or be able to push it higher, even if it means cropping. Fewer pixels that are better will definitely trump the larger file sizes.

My time at Mahale was a magical one. I had amazing travelers/customers who I absolutely loved spending my time with, the setting along the shores of Lake Tanganyika were otherwordly, and at the top of my list was spending time with the largest free-living colony of chimpanzees on the planet. It isn't for everyone, however I am now hooked on photographing primates in the wild. Large primates. Chimpanzees have human qualities in many things that they do, and it is easy to bond with them (this only goes 1 way, as they don't really regard us when were were there).

Highly recommended. Greystoke Mahale is a location that isn't to be missed.


Mahale Mountains National Park (Part 2 of 3)

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise, ate a leisurely breakfast, and then our guides told us what the day's activities were going to be. We were going to split into 2 different hiking groups, and we would hike until we had spent up to an hour with the wild chimpanzees. A hike can be an hour or it can be 8 or more hours. I depends on where the chimps are in the forest. We got lucky on our first day and the troop was located by the park rangers and they weren't too far away. They were close to the beach, however they were a few kilometers to the south. That's easy, let's take the boat! :-)

The best and most appropriate camera gear for photographing chimpanzees in a dense forest is a camera with decent high ISO performance as well as a fast zoom. I took my Nikon D300 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens. This wasn't ideal, and I replaced the camera with my Nikon D700 for my hike on the second day. I did shoot some images at ISO 1600 with my D300, however I really wanted faster shutter speeds or a tiny bit more depth of field. Lesson learned. Since no other photographic equipment was needed, I just hiked with the camera and lens over my shoulder with the camera strap. Easy.

On our first encounter we ran into an adult male by the name of Darwin. Darwin walked down a path towards us, and I only had a few moments to rip off a few photos. I remember my breathing pattern was hurried, as we were hiking in a hot forest for half an hour, and I also had a medical mask over my mouth. He stopped only feet away from us, and he completely ignored us. It was like we were invisible. And that is what I loved the most. He didn't feel threatened at all that we were there.



Nikon D300, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/160 @ f/2.8, ISO 1250




Nikon D300, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/250 @ f/2.8, ISO 1250

We spent an hour with at least 25 individual chimpanzees, and what struck me the most about them was how emotional they were. Raw emotion. I could easily tell the mood of each and every individual, and it made for excellent photography!


Nikon D300, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/160 @ f/2.8, ISO 1250


Nikon D300, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/320 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600


Nikon D300, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 1/200 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600

After our hike, we returned back to the beach and we took the dhow back to camp. A nice lunch was waiting for us, and after lunch I sat back and enjoyed a nice conversation with the camp staff. As the heat of the day set in, we decided that we would take the dhow out onto the lake for some cocktails and photography. What a combination.


Our afternoon boat ride on Lake Tanganyika


Sunset at Greystoke Mahale


We got back to camp right after sunset, and all I could think about was how amazing the day was. Walking with primates in a remote and pristine location made my list of things to do before you die. Wonderful dinner. Dead asleep by 9pm. Up tomorrow morning to do it all again. Oh yeah.


Mahale Mountains National Park (Part 1 of 3)

Back in October of 2009, I led a safari to the remote region of Tanzania where the mountains meet the sea, where wild chimpanzees rule the jungle, and also where one company has managed to pull of an extraordinary experience for their guests. If you are interested in a very unique safari experience, read on. If you appreciate other peoples' wanderlust to locate remote places on the planet and come home with rich photographs and memories, you should also read on.


I normally lead my photographic safaris to locations which are rich in mammals and birds, and these locations are almost always accessed with Land Rovers twice each day: a morning game drive and an afternoon game drive. The safari which I am about to describe began in this manner out on the open savannah of the Serengeti National Park, and after 6 days of that style of safari we traded in our diesel vehicles for other modes of transportation: long bush plane flights, boats on Lake Tanganyika and hiking with our feet.

Our destination was Mahale Mountains National Park, which lies on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania. Lake Tanganyika is estimated to be the second largest fresh water source on the planet, second only to Lake Baikal. The lake also borders the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Zambia. Mahale Mountains N.P. (now referred to just as Mahale in this blog entry) is a large sanctuary for wild chimpanzees, as well as many other animals and birds. Mahale is extremely remote and difficult to get to, and required us to fly on a private chartered Cessna Grand Caravan across Tanzania for half a day. We landed along the shore of Lake Tanganyika, and we were picked up by the staff of the camp where we were to stay for the next 3 nights, Greystoke Mahale.

Our boat was large and comfortable, and the camp staff greeted us with big smiles, cold drinks and a wonderful lunch. The boat ride took us from our airplane to our camp, about a 2 hour journey. The scene was very dramatic, as the mountains met the deep lake with only a small sliver of beach in the middle. As we enjoyed our cold beer, vagetable samosas and sandwiches, we imagined just how many wild chimpanzees were in the forest just off the lake's edge. Researches have some idea, however there is no easy way of doing a census due to the difficult terrain of the area.


Our dhow for the next 3 days

After our relaxing 2-hour journey on the boat, we turned around a bend and all of a sudden we saw our luxurious camp out on the beach. It was like Robinson Crusoe meets civilization. Well, sort of. My idea of luxurious is likely very different than that of those who will only stay at a Ritz Carlton property, but this place was fantastic. I have a habit of taking over camps completely, and this is what we did with the Greystoke Mahale camp. We had full run of the place, and I am glad that we arranged it this way. The camp is set right on the lake's edge, and the main building is where all meals are served. All individual huts where we slept were slightly out of sight from the water, and were very very comfortable by any standards.



Greystoke Mahale, along the shores of Lake Tanganyika


The dining hut, Greystoke Mahale


After our arrival on the beach, we were greeted by the camp staff who helped us off of the dhow. Grins from ear to ear, my guests settled into their huts for a quick afternoon nap. Some took a short hike in the forest, and others relaxed to watch the sun get low in the sky. The camp is on a small piece of land that happens to be level. Everything behind the camp is a steep and thick forested mountain. You can see the following image to fully appreciate what a hike in the mountains means. We would soon learn what that meant.


Mahale Mountains from Lake Tanganyika.

(notice Greystoke Mahale camp at the water's edge)


As the sun set we all gathered for drinks at the bar, and we talked about the long journey to get there. I thought about that one for a minute: If I left my home in the USA it would have taken me about 40 hours to reach there: car, plane, plane, car, car, bush plane, refuel, bush plane, dhow. The camp manager said that the closest road to us was easily 50 to 100 miles away, and I could certainly believe it.


The common area of Greystoke Mahale


Getting ready for a meal in the dining hut

As we sipped our drinks, the sun set behind the mountains in the Democrative Republic of Congo in the distance. I thought to myself "why haven't I made it here before now". I didn't have an answer for that one, as I had always imagined photographing wild chimpanzees, but I never got around to planning the trip. I was looking forward to 3 nights at Greystoke, and was especially looking forward to photographing wild chimpanzees in their own environment.