May 092012

I like this photo a lot. It’s not often I’ll open a post like that. The thing is, I’m not sure if it’s that this is that good a photo or if it’s more to do with the memory associated with it. We stopped here for our first lunch on the Lower Zambezi. This is actually on the Zimbabwe side of the river and is the first of two times I’ve set foot in the country (both within a day of each other). You can see where we actually set foot in Zimbabwe for the first time, down by where the canoes are beached. We’d spent about two hours paddling to reach this spot and it was pretty nerve-wracking. We weren’t used to the canoes and were still pretty paranoid about wild animals. It’s funny comparing those first couple hours with the next few days where we became perfectly comfortable floating down the river… for the most part.

When I took this, HDR was still quite new to me (I guess it still is) and I was fascinated with the textures I was able to portray. When I saw this tree I knew that I had to photograph it’s old wrinkled and cracked bark. I also liked the idea of capturing the canoes on the shoreline through the trees, which would be difficult with more traditional photography methods. After eating lunch everyone took a snooze. I thought this was interesting as we were completely exposed to any wild animals that should decide to stroll past. I became numb to this threat over the next five days, except for a couple of moments when I wasn’t in sight of the rest of the group (bathroom breaks mostly).

As the group snored around me,  which I decided was a natural wildlife deterrent, I set about taking the following photo, which I must have tried to process twenty times before. I hope you like it.

Old tree with cracked wrinkled bark and five blue canoes on the shoreline on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe.



Apr 232012

Mornings on the Zambezi

I’ve posted photos from my canoe safari down the Lower Zambezi before (you can click “Zambia” in the categories to the right to see them). Inspiration for this particular adventure came to me a while back in National Geographic’s Journey’s of a Lifetime. It outlines 500 of the world’s greatest trips and is one of my travel bibles. Out of these 500 journeys, this one stuck out in my mind. My desire to take this trip was cemented when I bought what would become another of my favorite travel references, Ultimate Adventures from Rough Guides, and I found the Lower Zambezi canoe safari in there as well.

Both books summarize the sights you’ll see as you drift down the river including elephants, numerous hippos, and crocodiles that slowly disappear from view. Both books also mention how you’ll be able to silently approach the wildlife in your canoe, getting much closer than otherwise possible. On our trip, we managed to sneak up on a skittish warthog without scaring it away and pass within spraying distance of a sizable herd of wallowing elephants. We even managed to see a pack of wild dogs, a very rare sighting.

What neither book tells you about, however, is the incredible feeling of waking up on the shores of the Zambezi River. This feeling may be partly down to the elation felt after surviving the night surrounded by wild animals. It may just be because it means getting to leave the confines of your tent, or that breakfast is on the way. I think for me, that incredible feeling was fueled by waking up to sunrises like the one below. Everything feels perfectly still, the river slides smoothly by, while a fiery light show spreads from the horizon.

Lower Zambezi Fire

I have to question whether I can call this an HDR photo. I went through the usual process and combined 7 exposures, but then I masked out large amounts of detail to create silhouettes in front of the sunrise. I felt that so much detail on the bank directly in front of the sunrise was too distracting. However, I did maintain detail pulled out to the left and right of the photo. This would not have been possible without the HDR process. What do you think? Can I call this HDR? Let me know in the comments section.

Fiery sunrise with land and trees in silhouette reflected in the Lower Zambezi River in Zambia

Operation: Horseshoe Bay Postcard

I mentioned yesterday that I’d be going down to Horseshoe Bay, for sunrise, everyday this week, to take the standard photo from on top of the rock at the West end of the beach. I figure if I research the conditions and go down everyday I’ll get better at predicting the best locations and times to shoot wherever I go. Naturally, this is a useful skill when exploring new places with minimal time. Admittedly, this isn’t the most creative shot, but there’s a reason why so many people endeavor to capture it. It’s a good view.

My decision to head down there was initially inspired by a new tool I’ve discovered, called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris“. This tool allows you to predict where on the horizon the sun will rise relative to your position. At the moment I’m testing it out using the free desktop version, but I can already see that I’ll likely be getting the app for iPad so I can keep track of the sun in Iceland.

As you can see in the screenshot below, at the moment, if you stand on the rock at Horseshoe, the sun will rise just at the end of the point at the very end of the beach. I thought this would make for a nice composition.

So, at 5:40 this morning I woke up completely confused as to why my alarm was going off as it was still dark. I was even more confused when I looked and saw the time. Then I remembered the plan. I looked outside and couldn’t see any clouds and figured it was completely overcast. I nearly went back to bed, but decided I should at least check it out to see if the Photographers Ephemeris had gotten the position right.

Upon arrival at horseshoe things actually looked promising. There was still a half hour until sunrise and already color was breaking through the clouds. But then, after scampering up the rocks I realized just how windy it was. 20 knot winds felt pretty intense up there. Looking across the beach I saw a crack in the clouds that I thought might allow the colours of the sunrise to escape and light up the sheet covering the beach. Sure enough, this is what happened. It was pretty spectacular, but short. This intense colouring only lasted for a few minutes and then faded drastically. Unfortunately, it was so windy that the photos I fired off are all blurry. I knew they would be, I could see the camera vibrating with the shutter open. Even so, I learned a few points from this misadventure:

  1. Overcast skies aren’t an excuse to go back to bed, or not shoot. The sunrise actually provided a brilliant backdrop for the beach, even if the light on the sand was a bit flat.
  2. Sunrise time and location are not the only variables to take into account. Weather matters, a lot, especially the wind if shooting long exposures. Looking at WindGuru (a site I use a lot when looking for good wakeboarding weather) it looks like the next few mornings will be better than today, but still a bit hit and miss. I may have to extend this project another week to get the results I want.
  3. I’m in the habit of leaving my lens hood on no matter what. I’ve never found a reason not to, at the very least it helps protect my lens. While trying to still the camera in the wind I realized the hood was acting like a sail. When I took it off the shaking calmed down drastically. By the time I did this the colour had dropped down. I should have taken a set of photos to see if this was enough to get sharp photos… but I didn’t.
  4. On a positive note, the Photographers Ephemeris was really accurate and the sun rose right where I’d pictured it would. It does look like it will make for a good composition, so worth going down over the next few days.

At the moment it looks like the wind will be between 15 and 12 knots, which should be easier to work with. Unfortunately, the weather men are predicting lightening storms. I’ll still head down to check it out. At the very least I may get to capture some lightning off the beach. I sure as hell won’t be doing it from on top of the highest rock around though. At the moment, I’m predicting getting the shot I’m after on Thursday. The wind should be low enough, and the weather predicted is partly cloudy.


Apr 022012

During the wet season water cascades over these cliffs. During the dry season you get to walk along them. It’s amazing how the water carves this chasm in the landscape. While down in the gorge rafting I felt like we were surrounded by mountains. As a result, when I went micro-lighting a couple of days later I was shocked to see just how flat the landscape is. It’s completely flat, all the way to the horizon, but for this fissure gouged out of the Earth’s surface. Also shocking is the zig-zag shape of the gorge as the waterfall has cut back on itself, forever retreating, the old face of the waterfall being left dry as a new face evolves.

I shot 7 exposures bracketed from -3 to +3 but decided that the two extremes were not adding any detail so I only used 5 exposures, bracketed from -2 to +2. After running the exposures through Photomatix I actually masked in a lot of the original photos to keep the shadows looking natural. I really like the details that have come out in the turbulent water below. You can get a closer look by clicking the image and selecting a larger size.

View of Batoka Gorge, Zambia with a rainbow between the gorge above the flowing river.

Mar 062012

Waking up before sunrise is pretty easy when you’re sleeping in a mesh tent surrounded by the sounds of wild animals through the night. Light moving across the flat landscape was a welcome sign.

“You’ll hear animals through the night. They’re going to sound very close, but sound travels a long way here.”

That was the last thing our guide said to us before the group separated into their respective tents. It had been raining, a hard rain as reported in an earlier post, so our fly sheets were on. They were heavy with an almost rubbery feel. It didn’t take long until people emerged in the darkness, flashlights in hand, to remove the stifling material. The fear of another downpour led to discussions on whether to leave it on, leave them half on or take them completely off. My tent mate and I settled on taking it all the way off, but laying it down carefully so it could be pulled up rapidly if need be.

Following this we turned to the darkness. A quick waft of the flashlight revealed a disturbing number of glinting eyes – presumably hippos. Hippos that were already on land and probably only 50 meters from us – they looked back, not moving. I guess they were content to munch away on the long grass surrounding us. With this revelation we returned to our tents. Now, nothing but a thin mesh separated us from the elements, and the wild animals. To be honest, this is exactly what I was after. Why sleep in the bush if you’re just going to lock yourself away? Also, it was much cooler this way.

Just as I dozed off to sleep I was startled by the trumpeting of an elephant. It sounded like it had to be on the same island as us but I repeated the mantra “they sound closer than they are” and drifted off to sleep. I was woken regularly through the night by every noise you feel like a night in the African bush should provide. I heard hyenas, lions, more elephant trumpets, and hippos grunting. This was always punctuated by an eerie silence that you knew would be broken at any moment.

My tent-mate, however, was fortunate enough to be awake for our closest encounter. Having been on an elephant back safari just days before he was finely tuned to recognize the sound of elephant dung hitting the ground. He woke up to feel the ground moving and quickly recognized the thudding. It didn’t take long for him to conclude that an elephant was crapping right next to our tent. I asked if he’d turned on his light to take a look, but the closeness rendered him incapable of moving.

We awoke to a red sky, having survived the night, and exchanged the stories of sounds I’ve just recanted here. Then we hopped out to check the area. Sure enough, there was fresh dung right next to our tent.

Following this discovery I set about capturing the sun rise. I’ve got a lot of photos of this scene from the night before. I’m not happy with any of them. This morning, I took only one photo of this scene, and I’m thrilled by it. I find that I’m always happiest with photos I’ve had to wait to take. For this one, I identified where I thought that sun would be coming up, framed up the picture and waited. I waited for quite a while and the sky was pretty blue all the way across. I began to wonder if I’d misjudged the location of the sunrise and somehow missed it. Then the glow intensified and I knew it was about to peak over the horizon. 7 exposures later and I was packing up my gear.

Glorious star-burst sunrise peeking over the horizon on the Zambezi River in Zambia.


Feb 282012

After a day on a bus, from Livingstone to the Lower Zambezi, we arrived at our home for the night, Zambezi Breezers. Upon arriving it was immediately clear where we would be spending our evening. This shot is taken on a deck built out over the banks of the Zambezi.

Sitting and relaxing, as the sun retired, we watched chartered fishing boats make their way back to their respective lodges and locals make their daily commute home by canoe. They all traveled the crocodile and hippo infested waters with the same manner of craft. They were very simple and appeared to be made from one tree trunk. The back-end seemed to always be submerged and while paddling they let their legs dangle over the sides into the water.

Sunset on the Lower Zambezi River, Zambia with local men in simple canoe riding with back end in the water.


Feb 202012

Victoria Falls at low water lets you really explore the falls. They have a real untouched feel about them. On one side there’s a simple path leading you past views across the Batoka Gorge. On the other side you can leave the path to walk across the top of the cliffs. There’s nothing to stop you walking right up to the edge, as you can see in this picture.

I’ll be visiting Niagara Falls in March and wonder how it will compare. I’m expecting a lot more attention to be paid to safety, distancing you from the falls. I’m also expecting there to be buildings visible all around the falls. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’ll certainly make for great photos either way.

Victoria Falls at low water showing Batoka Gorge in Zambia.

Feb 062012

Jollyboys Hostel menu of activities includes a combo price for white water rafting and a booze cruise. It sounds like a fantastic idea and it really is. What’s not such a good idea is indulging in the booze cruise  the night before the rafting. Although, taking category 5 rapids head on is probably the best hangover cure in the world, unless you’re Cameron.

There are a lot of booze cruises going on in Bermuda and they’re great. But this one was a completely different concept all together. First of all, we were on a river. Second of all the water was chock full of hippos and crocodiles. On shore, you can see elephants and warthogs. It really is an incredible experience. The open bar doesn’t hurt. We paused to watch the sun dip below the horizon before heading back to dock, and I snapped this photo. It’s a  pretty basic sunset shot, which I wouldn’t normally take, but I thought the clouds were particularly interesting. I used my 14mm lens to compress the sky into the image.


Glorious sunset over the Upper Zambezi River in Zambia with really majestic clouds.

Feb 052012

This is where the hike to the Devil’s Pool at the top of the Victoria Falls becomes a swim. The pool is located just on the other side of this waterfall. To get there, you have to swim up-stream against the current and then across. There’s a rope strung across in case anyone should succumb to the force of the water. Fortunately, it’s not actually a particularly difficult swim.

Victoria Falls at low water in route to Devils Hole with a double rainbow in Zambia


Feb 032012

It’s hard to leave Water Horse Safari’s Fly Camp on the Zambezi river after 3 nights there. It’s got the best showers in the world. You stand there with a chest height wall around you and solar warmed river water pouring over you. At the same time you’re spotting wildlife running past in the clearing ahead of you. They’ve got toilets, welcome after a night in the bush. They’ve got a table under a canopy and they have two-men mesh tents with comfy single beds in them. Square meals were prepared nightly and wine, poured from a bag, was available. Perfect.

Each morning we woke up to the sounds of grunting hippos and this view across to Zimbabwe. It doesn’t get much better than that.


View across to Zimbabwe from Water Horse Safari's Fly Camp on the Zambezi river in Zambia with blue canoes on shore, large tree and glorius sunrise.


Jan 242012

Our last day paddling our way down the meandering Lower Zambezi was an exciting one. By now, the surroundings were familiar and comfortable. Working in tandem to navigate the river was almost second nature. It even became easier to suppress the fear of crocodiles that occasionally welled up in my mind. This was despite coming closer to the eerily calm reptiles than we ever had before.  As we approached midday, we spotted a group of elephants on an island. After paddling into a small inlet, and walking a very short distance, we were approximately 30 feet away. The elephants acknowledged our presence, but continued munching away and even moved closer. I was completely focused on grabbing a good photo. Once I realized that most people had already moved on to return to the canoes I turned to follow. It turned out that we weren’t departing. Our guides had prepared lunch for us, the usual beautiful fresh salad to accompany the most processed meat in the world. They were some form of Frankfurter, but were fluorescent pink on the outside and white in the middle. So, we ate and watched the elephants munch their way back across to the other side of the island. Then, they started to head to the water and we followed. They took the plunge and meandered their way down the Lower Zambezi.

Elephants eating grass on an island in the Lower Zambezi in Zamiba.