[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is from Paolo Altomare, an economics student based in Italy. Some images below may be disturbing for some viewers due to the graphic nature.]

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5Portraits from the Mara is a series I shot in the Masai Mara, Kenya in mid April.

I had the opportunity to visit Kenya this year and my mind immediately went to the safari scenes you see on Nat Geo or BBC Wild. I wanted to take close-ups of free roaming animals; I wanted to portray them in their own habitat.

When I first started to design the shots, I thought about the equipment needed. I own a Canon 6D and a Canon 24-105mm f/4, which for sure would not have been enough to get the shots I wanted. So, I  rented the Canon 100-400L IS, which after a lot of reading, seemed the best-suited lens for my goals. However, after a few tests, it was clear that it was not enough either. Therefore, a friend of mine lent me his APS-C 650D. 

When I arrived in the Masai Mara, the biggest game park in Kenya (actually bordering Tanzania), I was surprised of how huge the plains were. You could look every direction and actually see animals. As soon as I got in the Jeep, I set up my tripod and the tele lens on it and hung the camera with the shorter focal around my neck.

And it worked just fine! I did the whole safari with two camera bodies 6D+24-105L for close ups and 650D+100-400L for distance. The effective focal length of 640mm was just fine for me. Perhaps the only miss was the ISO capability of the 6D, but not having to change lens and two camera bodies at once was great!


The technical issues I had to overcome were mostly about avoiding blurry images due to the wind and the long focal length. I used shutter speed of over 1/1000s with a fixed aperture of f7.1 or at times f11. The cameras were on manual, but the ISO was on auto in order to adjust to quick changing light conditions. 

My suggestion for shooting animals is relying on AI Servo and using spot metering. It was also important to choose a single focus point and stick to it in order to compose the image properly.

Also, due to the cloudy weather, I used a quite high White Balance, and adjusted it later on Adobe Camera Raw.

The images of the lions are quite common to me, so I tried to portray some particular angles or scenes which looked more difficult to achieve to me and more rare. The one I am most proud of is the one of the cheetah walking toward me.


Another particular scene I managed to portray is a hunt scene. [WARNING: Image below is graphic and may be disturbing to some]

After a zebra takedown from lionesses, hyenas and vultures rush to get some of the prey. The poor zebra is torn apart from the hyenas, which fight each other in order to get some food. In the background many, many vulture wait patiently to snatch some food. It certainly was the most crude, cruel wildlife scene I’ve ever seen.


A random encounter turned into a male of Agama Agama. A colorful lizard, which in reproductive season grows these brilliant and contrasting colors. Its mantle reminds the Spiderman colors: vivid blue and red make for an amazing specimen.


More images of the series can be found on my 500px page. Please follow me for more updates. This series will be showcased in Milan, Italy in July. For those interested for more information, feel free contact me on my Facebook profile.

 About the “How to Shoot It” Series

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