Couple days at Sabi Sabi can make you feel like a genuine wildlife shooter.
And, truth be told, if you get a fast piece of long glass, and a good digital camera, some nice light, and a bit of patience and opportunity, here, you can come up with a pretty postcard of an animal that is definitely wall worthy. Something nice to look at. Maybe even gorgeous. But I think on some of the work of my passionate colleagues at Geographic, and I realize that with their work, there is always the fillip of difference, an inflection of editorial significance, a story telling note that imparts to the photo the power of memory. Reference the work of Nick Nichols, or Joel Sartore, or Paul Nicklen with leopard seals, and you’ll see what I mean. My humble attempts at the animal world fell far short of that standard.
That’s okay, really, ’cause it’s not what I do, and just having a single crack at amazing the natural history world does not constitute expertise. I am acutely aware that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, especially when it comes to picture making. Moose Peterson I ain’t. There were lots of moments out there where I was over or under-lensed, or missed the essential timing needed for a shot. And my tried and true people picture practice of minimizing my ISO and thus maximizing my quality led me to use some shutter speeds that were simply inadequate for critters. A lion turning his majestic head may seem like a mild movement to the naked eye, but your file tells a different story. Lots of my pix had the vaporous tinge of lack of sharpness.
It’s refreshing, actually, to know, that even after 35 years of doing this that I can still feel utterly overmatched, like a sophomore in a basic photo class with an assignment to explore depth of field.
As good or bad as some of my pictures were, I would have had very little to show for my efforts were it not for Rich De Gouveia coaching me along on a steady basis. He is an experienced ranger, and also responsible for the Sabi Sabi photo output, and their social media presence. His Sabi Sabi blog is a frequent reminder of the wonders he sees out in the bush on virtually a daily basis. As good as he is with a camera (and the pictures in this blog are here mostly because of his direction) he is even more knowledgeable about animal biology and behavior, and he did his best to get me into the head of a lioness surveying a herd of Cape buffalo. (Buffet!) Despite his cues, I still found the anticipation of a shift in direction or tactics tough to keep up with at camera.
He was teamed with Tracker Jack, who had eyes beyond. We’d be bumping along a dirt track, and I’d be enjoying the ongoing blur of grass and trees, and Jack would raise his hand, slow the vehicle, and point. And there would be not some bird, or squirrel, or other type of smallish, easy to miss varmint, but a big, honking, breathing, snorting mammal, like an elephant. I mean, some of these creatures could barely fit in a one-car garage, I’d just, you know, miss them. He and Rich are an amazing tandem, and their efforts got my lens pointed in the right direction.
A couple days at Sabi Sabi was soul cleansing, to be sure. It was my first opportunity to see a truly serene and beautiful stretch of Africa. In many previous visits, such as to Rwanda after the genocide, I witnessed turmoil, nobility , beauty and pain in equal measure.
Truth be told, I was photographically more in my element on the concrete streets of Joburg, where, lo and behold, I found, if only briefly, dancers.
These dancers and drummers are part of a troupe called Drum Cafe, and, under the direction of Warren and Tammy Lieberman, they just launched a unique, and completely stunning road show in Edinburgh, Scotland, called DrumStruck. The percussive energy and cadence of the music is infectious, and the explosive physical talents of the group, which includes a dance tradition from the mines of So. Africa called gumboot dance, just draws your lens.
Many thanks to Marli and Chantal, of Nikon South Africa for arranging a wonderful visit to not only engage the So. African photo community, but also to finally see this astonishing place on the globe, which I had never visited.
For the technically minded, the wildlife pix were all shot with a combo of a D4, D800E, a 200-400mm lens, or a 70-200. I trundled a 600mm to So. Africa, but didn’t need it. The guides and trackers at Sabi Sabi are so good you just don’t need the extra glass.
What an amazing world this is to carry a camera around in. More tk….