My imagination goes wild in Madagascar. Perhaps because visiting the country feels like such an intrepid adventure, the word ‘Madagascar’ itself sets visions of exploration in my mind. In this blog I write about some of Madagascar’s photographic highlights.
I haven’t visited a more photographically diverse place than Madagascar. “What lens should I bring along today?” was a question that I had trouble answering whilst co-hosting ORYX’s Madagascar Photographic tour in 2017. The one minute we’re photographing a lemur up close, the next minute there’s an endemic bird species, then a reptile, then we find ourselves creating portraits of the local Malagasy people…. all in a beautiful setting which we contemplate shooting a landscape of. That’s the problem with Madagascar. But we’re not complaining!
The most iconic mammal species of Madagascar are its Lemurs. They are classified as primates and endemic to the island. Today, there are nearly 100 species of lemurs in Madagascar. Until shortly after humans arrived on the island around 2,000 years ago, there were lemurs as large as a male gorilla!
This Coquerel’s Sifaka was photographed with a wide lens (Canon 20mm f/2.8). A flash was used to illuminate the subject while shooting into the sun. The sifaka of Madagascar are distinguished from other lemurs by their mode of locomotion: these animals maintain a distinctly vertical posture and leap through the trees using just the strength of their back legs. The Malagasy name ‘sifaka’ comes from the distinct call this animal makes as it travels through the trees: “shif-auk.”
The Fossa is a rare endemic species of Madagascar. It looks like something between a cat and a mongoose, and is the largest carnivorous mammal on the island. On tour with ORYX, the Fossa is one of the species we hope to observe and photograph. A key location with great potential to see the Fossa is Kirindy Mitea National Park. We travel to Kirindy during our optional post-tour extension which I would highly recommend doing.
The image above was photographed using a 20mm lens with flash. I positioned the camera on the ground along a faint path that I anticipated the Fossa to walk along. A remote was then used to trigger the camera when the subject eventual obliged.
Berenty Reserve is a privately-owned reserve that lies about 80 km from Fort Dauphin. The opportunities to photograph Verreaux’s Sifaka hopping on the ground makes the immediate area around the lodge very special. Another mammal of great interest that we will come across is the Madagascan Flying Fox. The bats roost in their hundreds at Berenty and have an impressive wingspan of 100–125 cm (39–49 in)!
Madagascar is a paradise for macro photography, and the island’s smaller creatures are the main attraction for this type of work. The Giraffe-necked Weevil (yet another endemic!) is one such peculiar critter found in the eastern rainforests of Madagascar. They make for incredible photographic subjects for our guests.
The neck of male Giraffe-necked Weevils (pictured above) are 2-3 times longer than that of females (below).
Another characteristic species of insect that we recently encountered on tour must be one of the most beautiful lepidopterans of the Earth, the Madagascan moon moth or comet Moth (Argema mittrei). With a wingspan up to 20 cm, it is only the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) from Asia, that becomes even bigger.
Photographing this spectacular subject is a real treat for any nature enthusiast and passionate wildlife photographer. Snapping off a number of images from different angles to document a species is great fun and gives us the opportunity to admire the animal from difference perspectives. After the initial excitement, I enjoy suggesting that our guests slow things down a notch, look at the subject from a more ‘creative’ point of view and experiment with composition and light.
Reptiles & Amphibians
Madagascar is home to about half the world’s 150 or so species of chameleons. The colouration and texture on their skin helps create images with strikingly fine detail. The chameleons you’ll find in Madagascar vary in size dramatically. For smaller species and young individuals, a macro lens works wonders. For larger species, such as the Parson’s Chameleon, most mid-range or telephoto lens will be more than suitable to photograph them. Unless of course you want to try your hand at close-up images of eyes, tails, feet or patterns on their skin – that’s where the minimal focusing distance on your macro lens is key.
The image above was photographed at night in Madagascar’s Berenty Reserve. An off-camera flash was wedged in a tree behind to illuminate the subject and surrounding dust particles. The result was a dreamy and rather surreal scene which for me encapsulates my thoughts on the Madagascar experience.
On our many walks exploring the regions nature reserves and parks we are constantly on the lookout for new things to photograph. We are bound to come across numerous frog species on these walks and if we are lucky we may encounter a snake or two.
When it comes to landscape photography in Madagascar, the island’s famous ‘Avenue of Baobabs’ immediately springs to mind. This prominent group of baobab trees tower like giants guarding the dirt road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina in the Menabe region in western Madagascar. The road is open to the public and becomes rather busy at times. Early mornings are less crowed as the average tourist accommodated in the area generally won’t leave early enough to view sunrise at the trees. We leave in the dark hours of the morning to enjoy magnificent views of sunrise.
Its striking landscape draws travellers from around the world, making it one of the most visited locations in the region. Sunset is also very productive photographically, especially when you position yourself to avoid unwanted elements in the foreground including people. That said, having local people making up the foreground can in fact add to the composition of the scene – so do keep a lookout for such opportunities!
The day may be over as the sun disappears below the horizon, but the night has just begun. Night photography opens up a whole new world of creative possibilities! This is the ideal occasion to get to grips with using your camera on full Manual Mode to experiment with Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO. It’s times like these that your ORYX Photo Tour Leader’s willingness to pass on their technical skills is invaluable.
The image above was photographed using a Canon 1D mkIV and Canon 20mm f/2.8 lens with a slow shutter speed of 25 seconds to capture the lights of a vehicle that drove by as well as the stars. Landscape photography is the only time on a Madagascar photo tour that a tripod is absolutely essential. Do be aware of luggage weight restrictions when bringing your tripod. I would advise bringing a steady but lightweight tripod and basic tripod head.
Madagascar is incredibly diverse in terms of subject matter. We want you to return home from an expedition with a portfolio of images that captures the country’s natural beauty from mammals to insects and everything in between!
Kirsten is a Photo Tour Leader for ORYX private and scheduled departures. As one of ORXY’s youngest leaders, Kirsten’s future expeditions are sure to be exciting adventures in search of nature’s fleeting moments… more about Kirsten Frost