Mountain Gorilla Photography Tips & Advice Update 10/2021

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Gorillas are the largest primate in the world. Gorillas are very intelligent, they have strong personalities and they are very emotional. Gorillas are my favorite animal and I think that everybody should take a trip to see them in the wild.

In this article, we will talk about some interesting facts about gorillas and we will give you some tips that will help you to capture amazing photos of these wonderful creatures.

Where Can The Gorillas Be Found?

Gorillas are the most sought-after primates for photographers, and they are almost impossible to find in the wild. They are found mostly in the forests of central and western Africa, and are extremely difficult to get close to. Even if you are lucky enough to spot one, it will probably run away from you. Try Rwanda or the Congo, or even Uganda if you are extremely adventurous.

The only certain way to get close to a group of wild gorillas is to go on an organized gorilla trekking trip. These trips are expensive (usually around $3,000 per person) and involve a lot of risk. Not only do you have to worry about getting attacked by other animals, you also have to worry about getting sick or dying from some sort of exotic disease that the locals have.

But the rewards make it all worthwhile. Once you have had the privilege of spending time with a group of wild, intelligent, beautiful and charismatic creatures, you will carry with you a memory that will last a lifetime.

Selection Trekking In Rwanda, Congo Or Uganda Trip

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Gorilla of Rwanda – Canon EOS 5D Mark III – Focal Length 70mm – Aperture ƒ/4 – Shutter Speed 1/200s – ISO 200

If you want to photograph mountain gorillas in the wild, you’ll need to book a gorilla trekking trip. It’s important to do your research and find out exactly what you need to know in order to make this type of trip a success.

Rwanda, Congo and Uganda are small country in Central Africa with an extraordinary natural beauty and it is home to one of the last populations of mountain gorillas and western lowland gorillas. These endangered primates can be found in the forests that of the Rwanda Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the only place on earth where mountain gorillas can be reliably sighted in the wild. The mountain gorillas are the stars of the show on a gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda, and they are the main reason why so many people choose to go on these treks.

What Equipment To Bring?

+ Lens

I was once given a book that had hundreds of great ideas for photographing wildlife. One of the ideas was to use to “tele-lens” the animal. This works particularly well with gorillas. Just point your camera at the animal and zoom in until the background is just a fuzzy blur. Then, press the shutter and your animal will freeze in mid-action as though someone had pressed the button on his or her behalf. It’s a great way to get action shots, especially when the subject is not aware of the presence of the camera.

For lenses the go-to is the 70-200mm f2.8. It has great image quality and an extra f-stop will make a big difference. A prime lens wouldn’t work well in most cases since the distances can vary substantially and you may not be allowed to move around. Also, something like the 24-120mm or a 16-35mm lens is useful to get shots of people or the forest along the way.

+ Bring Gloves

Gorillas live in the forests of equatorial Africa, so it stands to reason that most of your photos will be taken there. Bring along a pair of leather gloves to protect your hands from the sharp thorns of the acacia trees and other plants in their habitat.

+ Rain Jacket & Rain Pants

When I first started photographing gorillas, I brought a rain jacket and pants with me just in case. The reason for this is simple: You never know when it is going to rain. And when it does, if you are dressed properly, you won’t get too wet and will be able to continue your work immediately. Of course, you should always use common sense and if you are really sure it will not rain, you don’t need to bring the gear. Just make sure you are prepared in case it does rain.

+ Hiking Boots Or Shoes

Hiking boots or shoes are an essential part of any serious photographer’s kit. They protect your feet from the elements and offer better traction on slippery surfaces.
Another advantage is their tread pattern and the fact they have a very hard outer shell. This gives you a lot of grip on the ground which is useful when you are trying to set up a shot and be steady.

+ Long Socks

You never know what kind of weather you’re going to get in the jungle, so it pays to be prepared. Bring a pair of long socks and put them in your camera bag. You can then wear those same socks when you are out and about and if the weather turns nasty, you won’t have to worry about getting cold feet.

Gorilla Photography Tips

1. Gorilla Behaviour

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Gorilla of Rwanda – Canon EOS 5D Mark III – Focal Length 70mm – Aperture ƒ/4 – Shutter Speed 1/200s – ISO 100

Gorillas are fascinating creatures and their behaviour is equally as fascinating. If you want to photograph them in the wild, you need to learn how to anticipate and exploit their natural tendencies… Gorillas like to use their arms for balance when they climb trees and will often hold onto a branch with all their strength, even though they can see that it’s not necessary.

Try to get close enough to them to see their expressions clearly, but not so close you become a target. Learn to read their body language and when you think they are comfortable, give them something they like (like a treat) to entice them to stand still for a few seconds. Then, quickly take the shot.

2. Gorillas Obscured By Vegetation

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Gorilla of Rwanda – Canon EOS 5D Mark III – Focal Length 105mm – Aperture ƒ/4 – Shutter Speed 1/200s – ISO 800

When you are photographing a gorilla in the wild, it is very hard to get a clear shot of his face. Gorilla are usually partially hidden by foliage, and even when he is not, the angle you must shoot from is often such that you cannot see his face either. Gorillas also have an amazing ability to sense when they are being watched, and will instantly change their behaviour to avoid attention. However, this does not mean they will not interact with you. If you are patient and keep your cool, you just might get some great photos of a shy, curious gorilla.

Also, try to photograph the gorillas from a little higher up, so you are not so much a part of the scene as an observer. This will give you a better perspective and also give you the ability to see the other aspects of the environment that may be relevant to the image.

3. Harsh Lighting

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“Gorilla mother with her new baby. Kissing and showering it with love like that of a human. Amazing gorilla trekking through the Congo to see the Eastern Lowland gorillas.”

You see, when you photograph a gorilla in the wild, the lighting is often very harsh. The sun is directly overhead, and the shadows are long and deep. This means that whatever light is left is coming from a very narrow slice of sky, and the light is reflecting off the sharp edges of the rocks and vegetation around the subject. To make matters worse, the gorilla is often in the shade of a large tree, so whatever light is available is scattered and diffused by the foliage.

The first thing you need to do is get close to your subject. Gorillas often live in the wildest, most inaccessible parts of the forest and they will not come down to the lower levels where humans typically live. So you’ll need to find a way to get above them. If there are other gorillas in the area, try to get as close to them as possible without alarming or antagonizing them.

Next, you need to figure out a way to direct the light from your flash into the cloth or paper. A white sheet of paper works great for this purpose. You can either hold it in front of the flash, or use a reflector to bounce the light onto it.

4. Don’t Be Afraid To Show Them In Their Environment

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NIKON D7000 – Focal Length 40mm – Aperture ƒ/7.1 – Shutter Speed 1/200s – ISO 200

Most people are scared of gorillas. They see these massive, smelly, hairy beasts lurking in the rainforest and think they are going to leap out and eat them. But that’s not true at all. Gorillas are very shy and easily spooked… and… when they are in their natural environment, they are far less likely to attack humans.

They are herbivores and will only eat plants… and… most of the plants in the rainforest have been consumed by other wildlife. So, if you are patient and respectful, you will get some great photographs of these gentle giants. Just remember to always keep your distance; never get too close, and always make sure you are not blocking their path.

5. Look Around For Other Gorillas

Gorillas love to hang out together. Look for groups of them and pay attention to how they interact with each other. You will see a lot of tenderness, affection and playfulness between the males, but also a great deal of roughhousing and intimidation. The females are often aloof from other males, but can be extremely friendly with each other.

6. Don’t Rush

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Virunga, Congo – Fujifilm X-H1– Focal Length 135mm – Aperture ƒ/7.1 – Shutter Speed 1/18s – ISO 3200

The first rule of photographing a gorilla is, don’t scare the damn things. Gorillas are among the most intelligent of all primates, and will avoid humans like the plague if they sense we are threatening.
Either way, you should not be rushing to get the shot; instead, you should be carefully setting the scene up so the gorillas are as comfortable as possible.
If you are going to use a tripod, set it up as far away from the gorillas as you can.
If you are not using a tripod, then the best thing you can do is, to find a stable spot, and then, once the gorillas are used to you being there, to start shooting.
If you move around too much, or even appear to be moving at all, the gorillas will become nervous, and will either run away from you or attack you. Neither of which is what you want.

7. Have Patience

The secret to great gorilla photography is the same as the secret to great photography in general: Patience. Gorillas are famously fickle creatures, and it can take weeks of non-stop effort to get them to cooperate. They may be surly, unfriendly, and even dangerous… but… they will respond to patient, persistent and friendly gestures, they will put on a show for you if you give them enough time. All you have to do is be still, quiet, and observe.

8. Photograph The Entire Experience

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“A trip to the landlocked country in Africa reveals visual surprises”

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda – Sony ILCE-7RM2 – Focal Length 17mm – Aperture ƒ/4 – Shutter Speed 1/200s – ISO 2000

You should consider photographing trips instead of just the destination, you get to photograph the local people, forest, the culture, and the environment. This way you will be capturing the entire experience, including all the fun stuff that happens along the way. You can use this technique with any kind of travel writing, but it is especially useful with “Trip Journals” which are diaries you keep while on a trip. It is a great way to help you remember what you did, where you went, and how you felt while on your adventure.

Conclusion

There are a lot of people who like to take photos of gorillas. But, many of those people don’t have any idea how to take good photos of them. Gorillas are very sensitive animals and they don’t like to be touched by humans. So, it is really important to know the right way to take good photos of them.

The tips and tricks mentioned in this article will help you take better photos of gorillas. Photography is a great way to capture special moments in our lives and share them with others.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you will take away some really good tips that will help you improve your photography skills.