Kenya – People

I’ve recently returned from a brief, five day trip to Kenya on assignment with a journalist from the Independent, his piece should be running soon and I’ll put something up on here when it does. But in the mean time I wanted to share a few of the other photos that I took whilst I was there.

Kenya is an amazing place, I have been there once before a few years back and you cannot fail to be impressed by a country that has had a difficult time recently. The first hurdle we had to cross was navigating through the early morning rush hour traffic as we drove out of Nairobi following the eight hour flight from London. Chaotic hardly begins to describe it as cars move randomly along the streets without any obvious right of way or traffic rules. Cars crawl along bumper to bumper, if your horn isn’t working then your in trouble.

As the traffic stops and starts as it grinds along, the street sellers approach the waiting cars with all manner of products hoping for a sale, everything from daily newspapers, DVD’s, steering wheel covers, flags, ceremonial machetes, plastic windmills and other assorted collections of trivia. It would be interesting to discover how many of these steering wheel covers they actually sell?

Nairobi seems, at least in the relatively small part of it we were passing through, to be a city of huge contrasts. On the one hand you have very impressive buildings with amazing architecture and mixed in around it there are signs of great poverty but it all seems to blend into one massive, sprawling sea of people, noise and traffic.

After breaking free of the rush hour traffic and getting further into the countryside the roads become less congested but are less well maintained and some of the potholes are pretty serious and can catch out the unaware. Its also worth keeping an eye out for sheep and cattle that are frequently moved down the sides of the road.

One thing that immediately strikes you is the rich, red colour of the soil as you drive through the open plains, contrast this with the lush greens that seem to come to life as the rainy season starts between March and May and you have heady mix of dark colours that grab your attention.

Maybe as a way of giving themselves more colour, to break up the dark rich earthy colours that colour the landscape many of the buildings, signs and window shutters are painted in bright colours – as you pass by you cannot fail to notice the bright yellows, greens, reds and blues that jump out and grab your attention.

Equipment and advice…

I took 2 camera bodies with me on the trip, both Nikon D2x, a large amount of memory cards, probably aroung 20Gb in total, you can never have too many memory cards! As for lenses I was using a 17-35 mm f2.8 and a 85 mm F1.4 on the bodies and carried a 50 mm f1.8, as it turned out I never used the 50 mm but it was there as a reserve in case one of my others went down.
One SB 800 speedlight fitted with a 1/4 CTO gel, an off camera flash cable, spare camera batteries, notebook, pens, memory card wallet, blower brush, paint brush for the dust and a chamois leather and lens cloth. Basic kit but essential.

For editing I had my laptop, portable hardrive for backing up and the usual leads and cables carried in a small canvas bag.
I carried my kit in one of two set ups depending on what I was doing, either a small canvas bag on my shoulder or three Domke pouches on a belt, both of which allowed me to move freely without too much weight.
Power supply is the same as UK so the plugs we use are fine although I did have a converter just in case and as it happened one of the extension sockets I used was originally from Germany so it came in useful. If you are going to have time to shoot wildlife (photographically that is!) then take some longer glass.

Take the minimum of kit that allows you to pack and move quickly and one thing I found handy was a small canvas bag from Domke that I used to keep all my cables, leads, mouse and phone charger in which made it easier to pack up into my daysack. It’s worth considering weather protection from the dust and the occasional heavy downpour, this time, fortunately we never had any rain but the dust did get pretty bad, especially when driving. I found that when we were driving along I used to rest the camera on my lap and cover it with my shemagh, this helped keep the dust off when it got particularly bad but meant I could bring it to my eye and use it quickly if there was a good pitcure opportunity as we drove along. I also had a couple of gortex bags that I had made a while ago by a local seamstress which are ideal for keeping all the other bits and bobs in and keep them clean.
One thing to definitely take is some lens cleaning solution, there were a couple of occasions when I tried to clean some crap off my lens and it left a horrible smear all over the lens and no amount of rubbing would remove it but a quick spray from the lens solution and it cleaned right up. Don’t forget to fit UV filters over your glass to protect them, better to damage or scratch a 20 quid filter than your more expensive lenses and it’s worth carrying a couple of spares in case of damage.
One final thing to consider is the battery life of your laptop, I was quite lucky and had access to electricity most nights so was able to charge my stuff up but there were a couple of occasions when the laptop ran out of juice so a spare battery might be an option if you can get hold of one. I have been looking at the solar charger equipment available to see if there is something that will pack enough punch to charge bigger equipment than just mobile phones but without bringing too much extra weight.

The time difference in Kenya is 3 hours ahead of the UK, currency is the Kenyan Schilling but US dollars are taken in many places. Make sure you get your jabs before going especially your yellow fever and get your malaria tablets, if your visit is last minute and you don’t have much time then consider Malarone, you can take these 2 days before you go and a week after you return and they should be ok but make sure you seek medical advice from a doctor before you go to see what is best suited to your needs.
The main airport in Kenya is Nairobi Kenyatta and flights from Heathrow (Terminal 4) go there usually once a day and the flight time is around eight hours on either BA or Kenyan Airways – So take a good book! A visa is required and can be obtained either before going or on arrival at a relatively small charge. Internet terminals are available in the airport at a charge.

Africa is an amazing place and photographically it offers many opportunities for all types of photography. There is something pretty spectacular about being out in the African bush as the light fades, quickly, as your close to the equator, and soon the sky is filled with the millions of stars making up the constellations of the Milky Way, so clear it doesn’t seem real. Despite the torment of this great continent it isn’t surprising that people who visit quickly fall under the African spell.

One response to “Kenya – People”

  1. Grahamf4 Avatar

    Portraits are spot on Ian. really enjoyed them. The man behind the fence is almost an abstract. This is a good article especially with and the low-down on getting there, currency etc. Belongs in a magazine Ian.


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