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A Behind the Scenes Look at a few of our Photographs

We all have photographs that, while they may not be the ultimate in photographic art, are memorable and have a special place in our heart. I thought what we’d do here is have a look at some of mine - photographs that I have shot over the years that have meaning for me and that show an interesting technique or effect or situation.

Field rangers on patrol

Anti Poaching unit on patrol. Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. KwaZulu Natal. South Africa

This one goes back a few years - to 2008 when we were shooting for our book In Search of the African Wild Dog. The field rangers in Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park patrol regularly for poachers' snares and use dogs to follow the insurgents' tracks. We’d been working with them for a while, shooting various scenarios and activities and it was now very late in the day, the sun having long since set. Twilight is a particularly difficult and uncomfortable time to be out on patrol because the low light conditions reduce visibility - it can get very tense out there.

I wanted to bring out that tension in the photograph and achieved that by cutting the head off the guy in front (not literally of course) and having the ranger at the rear look out of frame, both making the viewer “uncomfortable”. Also contributing to this feeling is a long exposure (0,4sec at f6.3. ISO 400) guaranteeing some blur, while Pat had a flash with a small “beauty dish” off to camera right. The huge lucky break on this one was the dog looking straight into camera as it walked past.

I used a Canon 1Ds MkIII with a 24 - 105mm lens at 24mm. Exposure was 0,4 sec at f6,3. ISO 400.

Cave church near Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims at a Christian religious ceremony in a cave (where there is a source of Holy Water) at St. Neakutoleab Monestry near Lalibela. Ethiopia.

We were just outside Lalibela in Ethiopia shooting pictures of the incredible monolithic churches that the town is so famous for and, purely by chance, came across this Coptic church celebration taking place in a cave on a mountainside. It was the most wonderful experience, almost biblical in feel and we were seemingly transported back thousands of years in time. All around us people chanted, danced and sang, ignoring us (the only tourists) completely. In the brick sanctum in the background priests anointed pilgrims with holy water dripping from the roof of the cave into huge troughs carved from rock.

Lighting was quite difficult here. Shafts of sunlight shone through gaps in the wall at the mouth of the cave and the rest was relatively dark. I positioned myself in a corner in the shadows, using this darkness and that of the ceiling as a natural frame, exposing for the bright areas so that I didn’t burn them out. Later, in post, I was able to pull out detail from the dark parts of the frame, relying on the wonderful dynamic range of the Nikon D800 I was using at the time.

Exposure was 1/200sec at f10 and the ISO set at 800. The lens was the very useful 16 - 35mm at 16mm.

Grizzly Bears

Coastal brown bear, also known as Grizzly Bear (Ursus Arctos) female and cub. South Central Alaska. United States of America (USA).

A few years ago we were very fortunate to go across to Alaska to photograph grizzly bears - the coastal grizzlies as they are known. We flew to the lodge where we were to stay (flying is one of the most common ways to get around Alaska), hugging the western coastline of the Cook Inlet, the scenery from the light aircraft just spectacular.

No sooner had we arrived (we had not even been shown to our room yet) than we were hurried off to the beach to shoot our first bears. But it’s raining…. Blank stares…. We soon learnt that it rains a lot in Alaska and if you’re going to let a little rain bother you, you are not going to get much photography done!

I’ve always enjoyed shooting low angles for wildlife and the only way to do this was to lie down on the sodden, freezing cold sand, trusting in our rain gear to keep us and the cameras relatively dry. We’d been shooting for some time when this large female and her cub came walking along and by the time we saw her it was much too late to move. So we just lay there, shooting pics and hoping she’d keep walking… She did!

It was the first “proper” outing for our Panasonic GH5 cameras and 100 - 400mm Leica lenses. This combination is phenomenal, the small Micro Four Thirds sensor making that 100 - 400 the equivalent of a 200 - 800mm lens on a full frame camera and weighing in at just 1.7kg in total, making hand held shooting a synch.

Exposure was 1/600 at f5,0 and ISO, 800. The bears were so close so we shot at just 113mm (226mm in full frame terms).

Gorilla female

Mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei). Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Uganda

We’d climbed through the steaming rain forests of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda right onto the nettle covered summits where the gorillas like to feed, snooze and chill out. We arrived soaked with sweat and rain and covered in glutenous mud from flailing about on the slippery paths, to find a very relaxed bunch of gorillas. After a while I noticed a young female about 10m away - just beyond the reach of the 70 - 200mm Nikkor lens I had on my D800. She was low on the ground so I sat down, my monopod between my legs getting a few shots of her in the nettles. She knew I was there and after watching me for a while came sidling over in that sort of sidewise motion that gorillas have.

Now, the park officials are most insistent that you do not get any closer than 7m to the gorillas but, clearly, no one had told the gorillas this! She lay down in front of me, on her stomach, chin in her hands looking and smiling at me. At this stage I was also lying down and we spent the most amazing, wonderful, special few minutes like that - a moment between gorilla and human that I will treasure forever. She got so close that at one point I had to wriggle away because the lens wouldn’t focus close enough.

After a while (a long while) she moved off, disappearing into the thick vegetation while I swallowed heavily, trying to get rid of the lump in my throat. What really makes this pic is that I was on the same level as her - if I was higher or lower than her it would not be nearly as powerful.

Exposure was 1/250 at f4,0 and ISO set to 400. Focal length was 75mm.

Rhodes’ Baobab, Mashatu.

Stunted baobab, dead-rat tree (from the appearance of the fruits), monkey-bread tree  upside-down tree or cream of tartar tree (Adansonia digitata). It's know as Rhodes' Baobab because his initials are carved into the bark on the west facing side of the tree. Mmamagwa archaeological site. Mashatu Game Reserve. Northern Tuli Game Reserve.  Botswana

There’s an ancient human settlement site - an ancient city, if you will, that goes by the name of Mmamagwa. It’s part of Mashatu Game Reserve, just across the Limpopo River in Botswana. It’s a really special place and we’ve spent quite a bit of time there over the years enjoying the stark, rugged landscape and revelling in the quietness. The baobab is somewhat stunted, growing on the top of a very rocky ridge, Cecil John Rhodes’ and Antonio de Silva’s (Rhodes’ secretary) initials carved into the bark on the tree’s west facing side.

I wanted to emphasise the tree’s rocky surroundings and its position in this huge wide open environment and undoubtedly the best way to do this was to shoot it as a panorama. I used a 14 - 24mm lens on my Nikon D800 set to 16mm and got really close to the rocks, shooting about 8 individual shots which I stitched together in Adobe Lightroom.

I used an aperture of f16 to achieve a huge depth of field and an ISO if 400. Shutter speed was just 1/40sec and, of course, the whole thing was shot on my wonderful little Gitzo Traveller tripod.

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