Photographing a Wildebeest Migration - Digital Photography School

Photographing a Wildebeest Migration

Brothers Will & Matt Burrard-Lucas are Wildlife Photographers from the UK. They aim to use teamwork and ingenuity to take striking and original images of wild animals in their natural environments.

wildebeest_herd.jpg

As wildlife photographers, finding new ways to portray well-covered natural phenomena is often one of the biggest challenges we face. We recently visited the Serengeti in Tanzania for the annual wildebeest migration and coming up with a new way to portray this incredible event was our primary objective.

The ‘Great Migration’ as it is known, is the largest mass-movement of land mammals anywhere on Earth – around 1.5 million wildebeest and up to half a million other grazers, undertake an annual 3,000km round trip as they follow the rains and fresh pasture. As the animals travel between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya, they are forced to cross the Mara River. The sight of thousands of animals battling against this mighty river is one of the Natural World’s most dramatic spectacles.

When the wildebeest reach the banks of the Mara River, they congregate in massive herds, sometimes containing tens of thousands of individuals. The animals can dither on the banks of the river for many hours until one brave individual finally ventures into the river and the others then rush to follow it across. Sometimes ten thousand can cross in just half an hour.

wildebeest_mayhem.jpg

It was difficult to convey the scale and the drama of the river crossings through still photographs alone so we decided to film some time-lapse sequences. Our clips show the wildebeest entering the river in waves and being dragged downstream by the current. We have never before seen wildebeest river-crossings recorded using time-lapse: this may in fact be the first time it has been done.

wildebeest_migration_curve.jpg

We also filmed some telephoto video clips using a Canon 1D Mark IV and a 600mm lens to show the mayhem and chaos as the wildebeest tried to drag themselves out of the water and up the steep riverbanks. We spliced together our time-lapse clips with this normal footage to create the following short film:

We recorded the time-lapses using a DSLR camera on a tripod, which was snapping around three shots per second. We ensured the camera was set to manual exposure and manual white balance so there was no flicker between consecutive frames. We then used Quicktime Pro to generate the time-lapses. For some of the clips we removed alternate frames to speed up the motion even more. The pan and zoom effect was added later by cropping in on parts of the time-lapse clips. Finally, we licensed the music from a royalty-free music library and compiled the film in iMovie.

Another technique we used to exhibit the scale of one wildebeest herds was to create a massive stitched panorama from over 30 overlapping images. This created the equivalent of a 300 megapixel photograph. If you click on the preview below you can explore a high-resolution version of this panorama (it has been shrunk to around 50% of the original size but is still over 16 thousand pixels wide!).

Great Migration Panorama

When creating this panorama, we again set the camera to manual so that each frame had the same brightness. We were careful not to change the focus or the zoom with each shot. A focal length of 80mm was used so there was very little distortion in each frame. This made it easy to stitch it together using the ‘Photomerge” function in Photoshop.

We hope our work conveys something of the drama and the magnitude of this incredible migration. You can see many more pictures from our trip on our Wildebeest Migration page. You may also be interested to read about the rare pink hippo that we photographed during the same trip!

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  • http://www.thelowcountryphotographer.com Shane Clevenger

    Wow! Great captures. I bet it took some time to get all those time-lapse shots. Turned out great.

  • Judy

    I wish I had seen the BEFORE I went to witness the wildebeest migration last month. Thank you!

  • http://thymindseye.com/c/blog/ chew

    Great shots! And very interesting.

  • John

    Great Shots!!!

  • http://kirantarun.com/lens Kiran

    Awesome tips and great photography skills. Please tell me you folks are working for NatGeo by any chance? ;)

  • http://www.fashionnarts.com jkar

    Can I post this on my blog(the video), if you permit. I will pay due credit and put your links visible enough for visitors to click. This is a dramatic annual event and it is one of my dreams to capture such migration.

  • Shaun Kokkin

    AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!! Love the time lapse!!!!!!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/archideos/ ArchiDEOS

    Well DONE Bros…Superlike!!!.. Great tips…Hoping someday i will shots same scenario on migration.. keep it up…

  • http://www.shotslot.net shotslot

    Wow! Great post and amazing images, really impressive piece of work, cheers!

  • http://www.naylorsphotography.com/ Tim Naylor

    I saw the other side of the migration when we visited Kenya, these are the ones that didnt make it:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/naylors_gallery/5060666367/in/set-72157624992556799/

    Regards.

  • http://www.burrard-lucas.com Will

    Thanks for the comments guys!
    jkar, no problem, I don’t mind if you embed the video in your site.

  • Samir Bhanji

    Awesome.I stay in Kenya ,but have never got the chance to see the migration. This work is excellent!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/cpando/ cpando

    great job, thanks for sharing it and for thelling a bit about how it was made!!!

  • eduardo ribeiro

    FANTASTIC!!!!
    BRILLIANT!!!
    NGM material

  • http://msummersphoto.com margaret

    WOW! That video is amazing! I also love the photo of the “S curve” of wildebeasts going into the water. Some of the best I’ve ever seen!

    I’m going to Tanzania in April for the first time. I hope to herds of wildebeast, tho I know it’s not migration time.

  • Chris

    Very Nice. I have watched many docs by NG and BBC and I haven’t seen such great timelapses. It must have been a great experience!

  • Doug Ross

    Very clever montage.
    Obviously different locations, reasonably well put together.
    Pity about the over-dramatic descriptions – the “battle” against the “mighty Mara” was not evidenced.
    Some of it was remarkably familiar!
    For example, a scene very similar to a recent TV wild life documentary of overcrowding hords desperate to climb back up the bank away from the river because there were crocs in the water .. and I waited .. was a croc going to get a young beast? Maybe it was ‘deja vu’?
    Co-incidence ?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanjeed/ Quazi Ahmed Hussain

    The best time to visit Kenya for viewing the great migration is August-September as it occurs at that time. I had been there in July 2009 and was not fortunate enough to watch it. However, they were arriving in herds and it was visible that they are getting ready for the famous river crossing.

  • Debb

    I love the panoramic shot. Brilliant. I especially like the hippos watching the whole going on.

    Well, you know why it takes them forever to get crossing….they’re all waiting for someone else to go first in case there are crocs around. Wildebeest (and zebra) migration is a croc eat as much as you like buffet!

  • http://www.whitepetal.co.uk Paul

    Super shots, got nothing like that here in the UK – well except for football fans leaving the stadium after a match!?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/gipukan Rob Gipman

    Nice idea indeed, should have thought of that when I was facing a herde of 4000 Cape Bufalo’s in Kedepo Valley when a calf was just born. I filmed the first steps of this calf with my 7d and an ef 100-400L. It was ok but I shot some more film with the latest being a Rare Shoebill stork near Mpigi in the swamp of Lake Victoria in Uganda. It’s a bit wobbly as I was in a boat and with no tri-pod at hand.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1GXpta_QAM

Some older comments

  • Rob Gipman

    March 24, 2011 12:42 am

    Nice idea indeed, should have thought of that when I was facing a herde of 4000 Cape Bufalo's in Kedepo Valley when a calf was just born. I filmed the first steps of this calf with my 7d and an ef 100-400L. It was ok but I shot some more film with the latest being a Rare Shoebill stork near Mpigi in the swamp of Lake Victoria in Uganda. It's a bit wobbly as I was in a boat and with no tri-pod at hand.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1GXpta_QAM

  • Paul

    March 20, 2011 01:34 am

    Super shots, got nothing like that here in the UK - well except for football fans leaving the stadium after a match!?

  • Debb

    March 18, 2011 01:39 pm

    I love the panoramic shot. Brilliant. I especially like the hippos watching the whole going on.

    Well, you know why it takes them forever to get crossing....they're all waiting for someone else to go first in case there are crocs around. Wildebeest (and zebra) migration is a croc eat as much as you like buffet!

  • Quazi Ahmed Hussain

    March 18, 2011 01:27 pm

    The best time to visit Kenya for viewing the great migration is August-September as it occurs at that time. I had been there in July 2009 and was not fortunate enough to watch it. However, they were arriving in herds and it was visible that they are getting ready for the famous river crossing.

  • Doug Ross

    March 18, 2011 09:40 am

    Very clever montage.
    Obviously different locations, reasonably well put together.
    Pity about the over-dramatic descriptions - the "battle" against the "mighty Mara" was not evidenced.
    Some of it was remarkably familiar!
    For example, a scene very similar to a recent TV wild life documentary of overcrowding hords desperate to climb back up the bank away from the river because there were crocs in the water .. and I waited .. was a croc going to get a young beast? Maybe it was 'deja vu'?
    Co-incidence ?

  • Chris

    March 18, 2011 09:11 am

    Very Nice. I have watched many docs by NG and BBC and I haven't seen such great timelapses. It must have been a great experience!

  • margaret

    March 18, 2011 04:47 am

    WOW! That video is amazing! I also love the photo of the "S curve" of wildebeasts going into the water. Some of the best I've ever seen!

    I'm going to Tanzania in April for the first time. I hope to herds of wildebeast, tho I know it's not migration time.

  • eduardo ribeiro

    March 18, 2011 03:47 am

    FANTASTIC!!!!
    BRILLIANT!!!
    NGM material

  • cpando

    March 18, 2011 03:40 am

    great job, thanks for sharing it and for thelling a bit about how it was made!!!

  • Samir Bhanji

    March 18, 2011 03:13 am

    Awesome.I stay in Kenya ,but have never got the chance to see the migration. This work is excellent!

  • Will

    March 18, 2011 02:49 am

    Thanks for the comments guys!
    jkar, no problem, I don't mind if you embed the video in your site.

  • Tim Naylor

    March 17, 2011 10:48 pm

    I saw the other side of the migration when we visited Kenya, these are the ones that didnt make it:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/naylors_gallery/5060666367/in/set-72157624992556799/

    Regards.

  • shotslot

    March 17, 2011 08:54 pm

    Wow! Great post and amazing images, really impressive piece of work, cheers!

  • ArchiDEOS

    March 17, 2011 04:59 pm

    Well DONE Bros...Superlike!!!.. Great tips...Hoping someday i will shots same scenario on migration.. keep it up...

  • Shaun Kokkin

    March 17, 2011 04:05 pm

    AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!! Love the time lapse!!!!!!

  • jkar

    March 17, 2011 03:05 pm

    Can I post this on my blog(the video), if you permit. I will pay due credit and put your links visible enough for visitors to click. This is a dramatic annual event and it is one of my dreams to capture such migration.

  • Kiran

    March 17, 2011 02:47 pm

    Awesome tips and great photography skills. Please tell me you folks are working for NatGeo by any chance? ;)

  • John

    March 17, 2011 12:09 pm

    Great Shots!!!

  • chew

    March 17, 2011 10:38 am

    Great shots! And very interesting.

  • Judy

    March 17, 2011 08:31 am

    I wish I had seen the BEFORE I went to witness the wildebeest migration last month. Thank you!

  • Shane Clevenger

    March 17, 2011 06:17 am

    Wow! Great captures. I bet it took some time to get all those time-lapse shots. Turned out great.

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