Tuesday, July 1, 2008

If a 5-ton elephant is charging you, it’s not the best time to stop and take a photo!


By Becky Wolfe

Africa! The land of Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and every photographer's dream trip. Pack your camera, leave your inhibitions and go! There are many ways in which Africa can be explored and for my particular journey, I chose an open-air, overland truck. I was roughing it. The driver of the truck was also our guide, we slept in tents, and we followed a basic outline starting us in Zimbabwe, into Zambia, up through the friendly country of Malawi, the safari lands of Tanzania and Kenya and into Ethiopia.

I suppose a serious photographer can approach Africa with a specific goal in mind, planning on shooting elephants at dusk, herding near a watering hole with acacia trees in the scene and giraffes in the distance, taking into account the light and shadows, exposing for both to make the perfect blend for an award winning cover photo...but I recommend you forget all that.

"Don't treat each click of the shutter as a National Geographic hopeful."

Take Africa as it comes and don't miss a thing by being so busy planning the perfect shot. Approach Africa like a kid on Christmas morning and get excited! To me, there was no more exciting place I could be. Every site and sensation was new, every smell, every landscape and, of course, every creature. I didn't want to miss a thing being too focused on what I was seeing only through my lens.

Tons of photo opportunities

The first time I saw an elephant, a whole herd of them crossed directly in front of our truck in South Luangwe National Park in Zambia. I was so awestruck that I didn't even think to take out my camera. All I could do was stare. But then, I had a moment of panic after they had passed, thinking I had missed my elephant photo opportunity. My guide reassured me that we would see many more and to just enjoy my first sighting as a visual memory and the excitement I felt at that moment.

The elephant sighting opportunities were plentiful and I was not disappointed. There were great photos to be had in each game park visited. We saw them in herds, we saw them with babies, we saw some alone, we saw them crossing rivers and we even found ourselves running from a charging one on our way back to our campsite after a night of a few too many Amarulas. I didn't think to take my camera out for that shot either...no time! You can see some of my elephant shots in Figure A and Figure B.


Here are some elephants in the Tarangire National Park, along with a little baby elephant. (click for larger image) FIGURE B

Elephants are crossing the river in the Samburu National Park. (click for larger image)

And this is how it went with most of the animals I saw. The photo opportunities were good and bad. When I saw giraffes for the first time, I was ready with my camera. I started snapping away when they were way in the distance, camouflaged among the trees. The photos were awful! You could hardly tell there were giraffes in the scene. But it didn't matter at the time because in the next game park, especially in the Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, the giraffe photo ops were plentiful and I was able to get clearer, closer shots that were definitely keepers, like the one in Figure C.