A nature photography tour of Madagascar part 5: Isalo and Ranomafana: Digital Photography Review

Previously in this series, I talked about my visits to Andasibe NP, where I shot lemurs and chameleons, and to Tsingy Rouge NP, where I shot beautiful formations made by erosion. I also talked about shooting sifaka lemurs and baobab trees in Kirindy Forest reserve and about visiting several secluded stops on my way to the southern part of Madagascar. This time, I’ll talk about two short but fruitful visits: one to Isalo National Park and the other to Ranomafana National Park.

Isalo is a National Park in the Ihorombe region of Madagascar. It is a sandstone landscape dissected by wind and water erosion into rocky outcrops, plateaus, extensive plains and up to 200 m (660 ft) deep canyons. The park was created in 1962 and has been administered by the Madagascar National Parks authority since 1997. It includes landscapes considered part of the subhumid forests ecoregion. This ecoregion is home to numerous endemic species and has been given Critical/Endangered status because only small areas of native habitat remain, and most of those are highly fragmented.

As you’ve seen in previous articles, this fragmentation of ecosystems and, thus, the endangerment and rapid decline of endemic species is, unfortunately, very typical of Madagascar. Ecotourism is thus a most powerful and important tool to preserve what’s left of the fragile habitats and beautiful species of this poor country.

Isalo might not have infinite landscape photography attractions, but it does have some nice locations with fantastic rock formations, the principal of which is the famous rock arch. As with many locations in Madagascar, this arch is very crowded at sunset with tourist groups and locals but surprisingly empty during sunrise.

The arch can be photographed from both sides. The easier eastern side is basically connected to the road and is thus harder to shoot when it’s crowded, but getting to the shooting spot on the western side requires some agility and a bit of climbing and is thus much emptier, even during sunset. Thus, I chose to shoot the arch from the west during sunset and from the east during sunrise.

The eastern side of the rock arch during a cloudy sunrise.

Canon 5D4, Canon 11-24mm F4
11mm | F13 | 4 sec | ISO 200

The western side a few minutes after sunset, under a strong post-sunset glow. This phenomenon happens when the western horizon is clear of clouds. The glow is surprisingly red and reflects beautifully off of brighter surfaces such as the rock arch.

Canon 5D4, Canon 11-24mm F4
13mm | F13 | 8 sec | ISO 200

Apart from the arch, there are eroded rock formations nearby, surrounded by fields where termites build huge mounds, which can serve as nice foregrounds.

A termite mound under post-sunset glow. I took this shot right after the arch shot since it was located just two minutes away.

Canon 5D4, Canon 11-24mm F4
13mm | F13 | 4 sec | ISO 200

As for wildlife, Isalo has a small variety, including the sportive lemur and the red-fronted brown lemur, which I had already seen and photographed. It also has a decent-sized population of the ring-tailed lemur, perhaps the most famous of this primate family.

Getting to the ring-tailed lemurs was a bit of a challenge, and it took some precarious rock climbing to get to the point where they were hanging out. Still, nothing extreme. Upon getting to the lemur group, I got plenty of interesting poses by the lemurs, which were super cute and fun to shoot.

“Why hello there!” It seems like this lemur was a top model in a previous life!

Canon 5D4, Sigma 150-600mm F4.5-6.3
238mm | F8 | 1/1600 sec | ISO 400

I intentionally left some negative space on top of the frame since that’s where the lemur is looking.

Canon 5D4, Sigma 150-600mm F4.5-6.3
150mm | F5 | 1/1600 sec | ISO 200

I will talk about ring-tailed lemurs much more extensively in the next article, but for now, I will say that it’s not only their beauty but their wonderful behaviors that make them a joy to shoot. One such behavior is licking the branches for a taste of pheromones. Both male and female ring-tailed lemurs have scent glands that secrete pungent substances, which some lemurs find irresistible!

Like other lemurs, this species relies strongly on their sense of smell and territorial marking with scent glands, providing communication signals throughout a group’s home range. The males will participate in stink fights by dousing their tails with their pheromones and ‘wafting’ them at opponents. Additionally, lemurs of both sexes will scent-mark trees, rocks or other objects by simply rubbing their faces and bodies onto it. I guess the eyes say it all.

Canon 5D4, Sigma 150-600mm F4.5-6.3
421mm | F6.3 | 1/640 sec | ISO 800

What I’ll talk about next wasn’t the next stop in my trip after Isalo. That stop deserves its own article, so for now, I’ll skip it and talk about the very last stop – Ranomafana NP. The park protects more than 41,600 hectares (161 square miles) of tropical rainforest at elevations ranging from 800 to 1,200 m (2,645 to 3,937 ft) and is home to several rare species of plants and animals. Out of these species, I had a really good time shooting the golden bamboo lemur, a medium-sized lemur endemic to the area.

Golden bamboo lemur. These guys are super fast and jump around constantly, but once in a while, they’ll stop and allow a shot or two. I think they’re absolutely beautiful!

Canon 5D4, Canon 70-300mm F4-5.6
300mm | F5.6 | 1/160 sec | ISO 800

This was the second bamboo lemur I shot (the first was the gray bamboo lemur in Andasibe (see the first article in the series), but it was the most photogenic, and by far the harder one to shoot. I had to run across narrow trails through thick vegetation, sometimes only to find out the lemur had already gone away. But I was very happy with this final shot: a golden bamboo lemur inside a heart-shaped leafy frame.

It’s hard to beat cuteness in a heart-shaped frame. This was a difficult shot technically, as it was very dark inside the thick vegetation, and my camera found it hard to focus. Only a few shots turned out good, and this is my favorite. You may remember framing as one of the methods I discussed in my landscape composition series—I would say it’s even more useful in wildlife photography!

Canon 5D4, Canon 70-300mm F4-5.6
300mm | F5.6 | 1/250 sec | ISO 2000

In the next, final article in this series, I’ll talk about the crown jewel of my Madagascar visit: Anja Reserve.

Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveller based in Israel. You can follow Erez’s work on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates and to his YouTube channel.

If you’d like to experience and shoot some of the world’s most fascinating landscapes and wildlife with Erez as your guide, take a look at his unique photography workshops in Madagascar, Greenland, the Lofoten Islands, Namibia and Vietnam.

Erez also offers video tutorials discussing his images and explaining how he achieved them.

More in this Series:

Selected Articles by Erez Marom:

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