Jan 052012

On my recent trip to Africa, each of the five of us had one thing we really wanted to do. Soniko’s one thing was an elephant ride. I didn’t find it that appealing until we got to Livingstone. Then, for some reason I decided it had to be done. So, off we went, along with Chris and Shannon. When we arrived the head guide told us that all but three people would be riding tandem. A man there with his two daughters was quick to jump on the opportunity to ride solo. He was quickly followed by Chris and Soniko. My slow reactions meant I had to share with Shannon. Nothing against Shannon, but having your own elephant would have been pretty cool.

In the end, this worked out in my favor. As it turned out one of the elephants allocated for Soniko and Chris didn’t feel like going for a walk that day. They don’t force these massive animals into anything. So, Soniko and Chris ended up sharing an elephant. I have many close-ups of this situation that I don’t think I’ll release to the world. It’s hard to look good when you’re riding tandem on an elephant with another dude.

Despite this, in a way they were lucky to get their elephant. As Shannon and I trundled along at a comfortable pace we heard a crack from behind us. Chris and Soniko’s elephant had just ripped a branch off a palm and was tearing away in the wrong direction – nimbly crushing the branch with ts trunk. Our driver (no idea what you call the guy steering the elephant) told us that their elephant tended to misbehave and preferred going where  it pleased. It became clear they were in for the more exciting ride. The guides had taken the head elephant, along with the solo man’s two daughters, to bring Chris and Soniko back to the herd. This never really happened and gives rise to today’s photo.

About halfway through our trip all the other elephants did as their drivers told them and we all waded through ankle-deep water. That’s elephant ankle depth. As usual, Chris and Soniko’s elephant did its own thing. She had spotted a shortcut and there was nothing that could change her mind – she was going to swim across that river. This photo captures the moment as their driver is attempting to help Chris get his foot back in the stirrup. They’d had to lift their feet as high as they could to keep them out of the range of crocodiles.

This was a tricky photo to take and process. I shot three exposures hand-held. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it became more difficult due to two factors. First, I was on the back of a lumbering elephant. Second, the elephant was facing the wrong way, placing these guys over my right shoulder. To overcome these issues I zoomed out a little further to account for the bouncing camera and set a larger aperture than I’d have liked to speed up my shutter speed. I felt like I’d turned my upper body so far that my shoulders were perpendicular to my hips. It hurt, but going home without this picture was not an option.

In processing it quickly became clear that the pictures were far from aligned. I had to put faith in Photomatix’s auto align to fix this for me. It did a pretty good job except for the island on the left. This was completely blurred out. I wish I’d noticed the issue before my last check of the picture. Masking this area out didn’t look quite right, so I started from scratch. I actually used the selective ghosting tool in Photomatix to fix this. I also used this on the trees in the background, just to be safe, and of course the moving elephants.

Two elephants with riders taking a swim in the Zambezi River in Zambia.

  6 Responses to “Dip on a Rebel Elephant”

  1. [...] a previous post (Dip on a Rebel Elephant) I wrote about how Soniko and Chris’s elephant was a bit of a rebel. Here, early in the trip, [...]

  2. Thank goodness the elephants didn’t decide to submerge themselves with all those crocs swimming around!

  3. Great job JP!!!……..lol…………this photo looks like a postcard……almost unreal!!!…….beautiful…. :)

  4. Wow, that was a wild adventure. Did Soniko enjoy his elephant experience? How did you manage to carry your camera gear on an elephant?

    • I’m trying to remember how I carried the gear. I had my 70-300mm lens on the camera and I think i borrowed a small bag from Chris to carry my other lenses. Once I got on the elephant it was pretty clear I’d only be using one lens. Never would have been able to make the change up there. And even though the elephant could pick up anything we’d dropped for us I’m pretty sure a lens wouldn’t have survived the fall.

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