Get Down and Get Dirty: African Safari Photos with Marc Muench

Marc Muench ( has been a professional landscape and sports photographer for over 20 years. Marc is now the "artist in residence" at for Smugmug, where he contributes on a regular basis to the "Muench University" critique thread. He is currently the photo editor of the National Parks guide, published by The American Park Network, which contain many of his images taken throughout the United States National Park system. Marc teaches several photography workshops, and today, he's sharing some wildlife shots from his latest African safari trip.

A photographer’s job is to present something interesting, compelling, and ultimately moving to the viewer. There is one definite way to have fun while doing this, and that's to just get down!

While on Safari in Africa, I have learned that there is an entire new world to see when you're a foot off the ground. Scale becomes exaggerated and horizons appear to disappear. What’s closer to the lens becomes larger, and when you creatively place your subject against the sky, you can set it apart from its environment as if it were on stage. While in Amboseli National Park, it became apparent that from 4 feet off the ground, most of the mirage disappeared as opposed to just a foot lower!

I’ve spent a large part of my life on my feet, exploring landscape compositions. When I find something intriguing, where the foreground is beginning to line up with a great background and the mid-ground is not interfering, I carefully maneuver my head into the place where everything aligns itself. This process has become very important to me as I have learned that even an inch can make the difference between a good image and a great one.

I don’t even set up the tripod until I have located this exact spot or headspace. With this in mind, I began studying the various locations I could get myself into while in open and closed safari vehicles. This exercise must have appeared quite odd to the guides as I am about as flexible as a sheet of plywood! Eventually, I realized that there were some great places to be had for sure, like holding the camera up high from a pole, or down low between the wheel wells. What really intrigued me, however, was the concept of getting myself out of the vehicle and getting down with the termites.

I have learned that the safe time to leave the safari vehicle is when the animals are in certain locations, either up wind or out of sight. Actually, there can be many of these safe times if you pursue them. The animals in most game reserves are accustomed to the shape and silhouette of a vehicle. If you are on the opposite side from the animal and stay behind a wheel to keep yourself from breaking the silhouette of the vehicle, the animal will not be concerned. Of course, I always work with the guide and make sure he knows he is in charge of making the call whether or not it’s safe to exit the vehicle. Once on my belly, I use a shallow depth of field and good old fashion timing to create an interesting portrayal of the animals.

Life is short, so get down and take pictures!

To learn more about Marc's workshops, including his safari workshops, visit

Africa workshopsAfrican safariAfrican wildlife shotsOctober 2012SafariWildlife photography