Yes, No, Maybe

What is the response to “Would you go to Uganda again?”

The yes is the overarching answer. I would jump at an opportunity to go back to Uganda and Africa in general. I didn’t realize how quickly I could fall in love with a place and a people. There are many significant needs there, too many to name.

Gospel Mission Africa is doing its part to meet some of the needs, including working with pastoral leadership, supporting women and children in an effort to make generational changes, and looking at self-sufficiency through agriculture and small business endeavors to improve the lives of those they reach. If you are inclined to support mission work in this part of the world, I would encourage you to reach out to them and learn more about what they are doing in Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The no is a very small piece. Surprisingly, I would not go to do a safari again in the way that we did it if I’m expecting to photograph it. As a photographer I would do a safari, but I want it to be the focus of the trip where I can plan accordingly. I would take different gear. I would also research how guides work and find one that matches the expectations of photographers.

The maybe is also related to the safari piece and really isn’t a maybe, just a different way of looking at things. When doing a safari with those who are not photographers, it’s ok to set the camera aside and enjoy what you see. Sometimes we think we have to capture everything and that simply is not the case. When I put my camera down I was able to connect more with those I was with and enjoy their own wonderment at what we saw. That alone made it much more enjoyable.

In the end, though, this trip was about helping a mission document what they do. It was to capture their meetings, show what the women were working on, and just help them be able to explain their work. Doing that helped me to gain an appreciation for Africa and those living there that I might not otherwise have.

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The Logistics

Now that I’m beginning to settle back into life I thought I’d share a little about the logistics of the trip. There were things I learned along the way that might be useful in the future.

My kit was pretty basic, too basic in fact. At the time I was packing rumors were flying around the news that TSA was about to expand an existing policy that excludes all electronics larger than a smartphone from airplane cabins. The rule currently applies to about a dozen airports in the Middle East and the expansion, if implemented, would cover all of Europe.

While the plan was still being developed, it was said that it would be implemented within 24 to 48 hours of the official announcement. That meant I needed to plan accordingly. I normally carry my gear with me when I fly so I can carry more and feel relatively safe. Checking it, though, was not something I wanted to do. So I chose to go as light as possible.

One body. While I got by with one body I certainly wouldn’t recommend it on a trip like this for a couple of reasons. First is the simple fact that equipment can fail. If it does fail then your trip is done.

There is also the issue that sometimes you want to shoot with different lenses without changing back and forth. I ran into this a couple of times. I was shooting with the 24-70mm and would want my 50mm for the wider aperture. The problem is that shooting more of a live documentary style of photo you can lose the image you want during the few seconds​you are changing lenses.

So what did I take?

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The body was my 6d. A crop body would have been useful at times but I felt like I needed the ability to shoot in low light. The 6d did the job admirably.

As for lenses I knew that I would want them all but I also knew not to take them all. The 24-70mm was on most of the trip. I did shoot with the 50mm and the 70-200mm as well, but the 24-70mm was my go to lens. During the last day of shooting I coupled the 70-200mm with a 2x teleconference giving me the range of 140-400mm. I’ll talk more about that below.

Flash. I was told to take a flash. In reality it wasn’t useful. If you are going to use flash you generally want to bounce it off neutral walls or ceilings. Go back and look at the photos taken indoors. They are dark and the ceiling is the tin roof above.

I did use flash a few times the first day. Once was with a group shot as dusk was setting in. The others I didn’t even post. I’m glad I had it in case I needed it, but it was dead weight on this trip.

Batteries, the funny thing about batteries is they are easy to set aside and misplace. I took 4, or so I thought. When I went to change a battery a few days in since I forgot to charge the one in my camera the night before I became panicked because I couldn’t find any of the other three. I was able to charge the one I had during lunch for the afternoon, but I was concerned about the day at Murchison Falls. That evening I went through my suitcase and nothing. I emptied my backpack twice. I finally found all the spares in a side pocket I don’t use.

I also took six 32gb and one 64gb flashcards. Each one was in a separate case with tape sealing it closed. The tape was my indicator as to whether it was empty or used. Coming home the cards went into a card wallet that I carried in my pocket attached to me with a clip.

Finally, you need to know about electricity. Do your chargers need a converter to change voltage or simply an adapter? If your power supplies say 100-240 volt you can get by with an adapter which is less expensive than a converter.

Think twice about which you want. What do you want to charge or use? You’ll probably have at least one charger for the camera. Then add to that as you’ll want to keep your phone and tablet or computer charged. So that is three things plugged in overnight.

Do NOT think that you can get an adapter and plug a power strip to it. Consumer strips bought in the U.S. are rated for our 110v electricity. An adapter only changes the prongs on your plug. It does NOT change the voltage. A converter changes the voltage down to 110-120v. Plugging a power strip into an adapter will cause a fire. No, I did not do that. I did take an adapter so I ended up switching out chargers all the time to keep things ready for use. Next time I’ll do a converter and strip.

Filters. Yes I took filters. They stayed in my bag most of the trip. Why? Again, I was shooting in dark spaces or on the go as a photo presented itself. I didn’t feel I could take the time to adjust or screw on a filter. Others might feel differently, but given what I was working with I couldn’t see it working. If I were taking time to arrange people or compose for a sunset, yes the filters would have helped.

As I packed I took pictures of every serial number on my equipment. I felt it was important to have a date stamped photo showing that I had the equipment when I left the country.

When I came back through U.S. customs a CBP officer stopped me and asked to see what I had. No problems. He knew each piece of gear in my bag and it’s value. He also suggested that travelers can take their equipment to a CBP officer when they are leaving the country and register their equipment on a form 4457 that the officer fills out. This records all the serial numbers and a description. He said that if the gear is stolen they then have the ability to look for it later.

That said, he didn’t look at my gear to see if I had any that was stolen. Maybe because I told him up front the total value and it was close to his calculations so he assumed I was legit.

So was the gear sufficient? Yes and no. Given the circumstances it worked. I was not satisfied with the 70-200mm and 2x teleconference during the safari. I did get some ok pictures but I wish I had my longer lens. However I wasn’t going for the safari, I was going to help out a ministry through my photography. The safari was icing on the proverbial cake. It wasn’t my focus. Otherwise I was satisfied.

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls is a wildlife reserve in west central Uganda. Lake Albert separates parts of the reserve from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lake Albert incorporates both the Victoria Nile and the Albert Nile rivers, the Victoria Nile originating in Jinja and the Albert Nile flowing out of Lake Albert. My understanding is that the two combined are referred to as the White Nile.

As we waited to cross the Nile River into the park on the ferry at first light this morning, a pod of hippos and a baboon or two greeted us in the early morning light.

From that point forward we saw primarily giraffes, water buffalo, warthogs, hippos, and kob…lots of kob. Occasionally you would find a pair of oribi, however they aren’t as easy to find as they run in pairs as opposed to herds. Unfortunately we didn’t see many elephants and those we did see were usually turned away from us.

Then we spotted a lion. First there was a lioness walking among some antelope. They must have known that it had already eaten or that the day was heating up. They kept their eye on the lion, but never ran. As we followed her we found her join a small pride that included a male. Our guide told us that there are about 300 to 350 lions in the park and it can be hard to find them given the size of the park.

After watching the lions for a few minutes we ventured on toward the Nile River and Lake Albert where we would turn around and head back to our campsite. We continued to see many of the same animals as before and I am amazed that you see multiple types of animals in the same line of sight. The above image of the lioness walking among the antelope is just one example.

After lunch and a bit of time to rest we took a ride up the Victoria Nile toward Murchison Falls.

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Along the way were the usual suspects. This included hippos and crocodiles. There were numerous birds of various types, including this African Fish Eagle.

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As the tour was ending it became more and more of a reality that tonight is our last night in Africa. I am not ready to go home. I would stay longer if I could, maybe permanently.