Sep 282012

Today’s Photo: Warthog on the Move

We needed to make a decision. The river branched off to the right, but our guide informed us it was a dead end and led the rest of the group to the left. Up ahead, I could see a number of animals by the water’s edge, including a couple of warthogs, right where the group was heading. It gave me the feeling that if we went right, when the animals got spooked by the rest of the group, they’d run past us. Also, I’d discovered on this trip that warthogs may be my favourite animal in the world. I don’t think anyone could not look at a warthog and smile. They’re funny little creatures, that just about live up to their portrayal in The Lion King. Although, I get the feeling the real ones are a little bit smarter than Pumba.

So, we went right, and paddled hard to get up enough speed to beat the group to the point where the two stretches of water nearly met. We were careful to stop paddling and glide quietly onto the beach, bringing the nose of the canoe up onto the sand so as not to send any animals scampering. Sure enough, as the group passed, the warthogs were first to get spooked and ran back into the brush, taking a route just in front of the nose of our canoe. I fired off a few photos frantically and got the one below.

Now came the tricky part of catching up to the group. Fortunately, on the way into the little inlet, about 2 thirds of the way down, I’d spotted a shortcut. The spit of land dividing this section of the water from the main river narrowed to about a canoe’s length. Again, we paddled hard, but didn’t glide in gently this time. We rammed the shore sliding up as far onto the shore as we could. As I was in the front I hopped out. The water was deep enough to disguise a crocodile so Chris couldn’t get out until I pulled the canoe in far enough. Then we quickly slid it across and I hopped back in as Chris pushed me out into the river and jumped in the back. We were safely back with the group.

Warthog running, tail held high, on the sandy riverside of the Zambezi River with waterbucks watching and green foliage behind in Zambia.

Sep 212012

Today’s Photo: Lonely Lion

Our junior guide, who typically stayed at the back of the group paddled up ahead and caught up to our main guide. Then, they made for the shore. It was about lunchtime and I thought that was why we were stopping. Instead, we were told to stay in our canoes and just beach them slightly. Then, we saw her, camouflaged extremely well amongst the brush, a lone lion, just 30 meters away.

We sat and watched her for a while as she sat and watched us, very casually. She’s an old lion, we were told, and had likely had to leave her pack and attempt to fend for herself. She seemed tired and had a sadness in her eyes, that I think you can see here.

After pushing off and continuing down stream our guide praised his assistant for spotting her and confessed it was a good thing as he’d planned on stopping there for our lunch break!

The Technical Bits

Camera: Canon 5d Mk II
Lens: EF 70-300mm f/2.8L USM
ISO: 100
Exposure: 1/50 at f/8

Taking the Photo: I zoomed in far as I could and made sure that I set the focus on the lioness’ eyes as she gazed back at us. I was shooting handheld as I was sitting in a canoe at the time. I shot three bracketed images but chose not to use them.

Processing: I decided not to use the bracketed images as there was too much movement in the scene, from the lion to all of the foliage around her. I tried creating an HDR image by adjusting the exposure levels in Adobe RAW, but realized that I preferred the single exposure to the output from Photomatix so just adjusted contrast in Photoshop and bumped up the detail in Topaz Adjust.

I had to make a substantial crop in order to zoom in further on the lion. As the 5d mk II uses a full frame sensor this was possible without the resulting photo being too small.

Software: Photoshop, Topaz Adjust

Lone old lioness who seemed tired and had a sadness in her eyes lying on the ground camouflaged in the brush in Zambia.

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.


Jan 082012

Blue canoe and paddle on the shore of the Lower Zambezi River, Zambia at sunrise with the trees and orange sky reflecting in the river.

I’ve called this photo Safe Harbour, but that’s probably debatable. It was taken the morning after our first night camping on the Lower Zambezi. The day before, after a few hours of paddling, we’d had a taste of the upcoming rainy season. Clouds loomed and bellowed across the sky. We saw rain falling in front of us and behind. It was also raining to our left, where the storm was coming from. Debate raged, while the wind picked up, as to whether or not it was heading directly at us or would pass just behind. Our Zimbabwean guide, called CB, quelled the debate. He was a soft-spoken individual, typical of the people we’d met during our time on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. He told us we’d be making camp an hour earlier than planned. The storm was heading straight for us and the strong winds increased our chance of capsizing. We began to paddle a bit harder than the previously relaxed pace of the day. The landing spot pictured above came into sight and CB gestured for us to head in. At this point, we experienced just how terrifying an angry hippo can be.

“Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!”

CB was suddenly animated and we spun around in our seats to see what was happening. The second-last canoe was moving faster than I knew a canoe could. I swear it was actually on a plane, the nose rising and falling with each paddle-stroke as it ploughed through the water. About five feet behind was a hippo, surging through the water with it’s head bobbing up and down with each forward thrust. We’d find out later that, apparently, one of the people in the last canoe struck what he thought was a rock with his paddle. As you can probably guess, it was a submerged hippopotamus – the creature second in line to the mosquito for causing the most deaths per year in Africa. The chase probably spanned about 15-20 feet or so, before the hippo calmed down, but it definitely gave us a taste of what we’d gotten ourselves into.

Once we reached land and pulled our canoes ashore, the rain set in. Most of us had rain jackets. Chris and I had lightweight rain jackets that didn’t shield you from the impact of the rain, and this was rain like I’ve never experienced. It was coming in sideways and the drops must have been the size of marbles. You could feel the impact of every single one. We were better off than George though, an Aussie we’d met back in Livingstone who decided to join us. He’d left his rain jacket on a bus a few months earlier and, not having any need for one in the dry season, hadn’t replace it. Four of us stood next to each other, with our backs to the onslaught, for him to hunker down in front of us and try to stay dry. It didn’t work very well. The rain didn’t take long to pass and we set about making camp.

It quickly became evident that this would be an interesting night. We were setting up on sand, amongst dried elephant and hippo dung. As it turned out, the grassy, muddy field behind us was a popular night-time feeding place for elephants and hippos. On top of this, it was hot. Keeping the fly sheet on the tent was not an option, so we slept with nothing but a mesh tent separating us from the outdoors.

A quick wave of our flashlights revealed the startling close glint of eyes in the darkness and we settled in for the night. Just prior to falling asleep I heard the trumpet of an elephant. It sounded like it was right outside the tent. I remembered CB’s advice that we would hear animals and they would sound far closer than they really were. With this in mind, I drifted off to sleep. I woke up a few times in the night, once to the sound of hyenas, another to the sound of lions, and repeated the mantra that they could be heard form a great distance away. I drifted off comfortably each time.

However, we had at least one very close encounter. In the morning, my tent mate Chris told me he’d woken up to the unmistakable thud of elephant dung hitting the ground. We’d become accustomed to this sound on our elephant-back safari a few days earlier. He said he actually felt the vibrations of it hitting the ground. Sure enough, we found a fresh deposit just outside our tent. I only wish he’d woken me up so I could try to shine a light outside and spot one. This might be why  he didn’t wake me up.

As I mentioned this photo was taken in the morning, just before the sun came up. I’ve combined 7 exposures from -3 to +3 in Photomatix and then cleaned it up in Photoshop.