Oct 282012

I found this image of a fisherman in Zambia, with his dugout canoe, that I processed quite a while ago but never posted it. I think at the time I was going through a panoramic phase and decided I needed to post something that wasn’t in this format. Then, I forgot about this image. Upon finding it, I remembered I like it and that it should be online.

Standing fisherman in a dugout canoe on the lower Zambezi river in  Zambia with vegetation and hills in the background

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.

Aug 222012

Robbed in Italy – No more Camera Gear!

If you follow my website regularly you’re probably used to me missing an occasional post, but you’ve probably wondered what’s happened over the past week to stop me posting for days on end.

I was in a really good mood as I drove towards Portofino where I’d overnight before hopping on a train to get to the Cinque Terre just before sunrise. For the first time in Italy I had a plan that would definitely result in good pictures, rain or shine. I’d even used the Photographers Ephemeris to figure out where to position myself that evening for sunset in Portofino and where to run to from the train station  in Riomaggiore. Then, I realised I should stop to get cash as I was running short and had a toll to pay shortly. So, I pulled off into a service station.

I considered just fueling up and getting cash at the gas station. Then, I thought there may not be an ATM there so stopped outside the food place as I was sure there would be a cash-point there. Before I hopped out my girlfriend debated whether or not to get out of the car or stay and wait. In the end she came inside with me. As you’ve probably guessed, we returned to the car to find it had been rummaged through and pretty well cleaned out of every electronic good we had. My entire camera bag was gone, as was my girlfriend’s laptop, iPod, phone, kindle and, most worryingly, passport! The passport was particularly annoying because it meant that rather than continuing on to join my family in Portofino we’d have to return to our hotel North of Genoa so we could get to the embassy in Milan the next day.

My particular moment of terror was caused by the fact that I thought they’d gotten my laptop and, more importantly, my external hard drive with all of my unprocessed photos from Africa, Prague, Iceland, Bermuda and Italy. Fortunately, I’d been able to fit my laptop in the correct compartment in my carry on bag, which it doesn’t normally fit in. Somehow, this was the only zipper we had that wasn’t opened. I’m now looking into online backup solutions to avoid that feeling again. They’d also managed to damage my laptop screen in the process. Since then it has magically fixed itself. With the busted laptop screen, and being generally pissed off, I decided to give the site a break for a few days and just chill out round the pool.

On a positive note, it seems when you see the worst of people it’s often closely accompanied by the best of people. After desperately looking around trying to find the bastardos (I learned that from the Italian cops) I realised I needed to call the police. I approached the first people I saw, two Italian ladies that didn’t speak a word of English, and managed to communicate to them what had happened and get the emergency number from them. It’s 112 for anyone interested. I quickly discovered that the person on the other end of the phone didn’t speak English so thrust my phone into one of the ladies’ hands. She told them what had happened and informed me the police were on their way, all in improvised sign language. They then proceeded to run around trying to find someone who spoke English. They found an older lady with her husband who spoke a bit. These four people waited with us for the police, and even called them again about 5 times, for well over an hour. The original two ladies kept hugging us while the older couple called us to the back of their car and fed us a load of fresh figs. They were delicious.

There were a couple other particularly helpful people but I think I’ll continue this story another night. Long story short, I have no camera equipment, though it’s insured, so you’ll probably get to read about me agonizing over what to get with the insurance money. I’m also far short of the number of photos I had expected to get in Italy and a little concerned about how I’ll keep the daily photos going until my next substantial trip (likely not until 2013).

Today’s Photo: The Spring at Acqui Terme

This elaborate fountain is actually a natural spring, the use of which dates back to Roman times. When you get up close to the flowing water a strong smell of sulfur singes your nose-hairs. I saw this and knew I needed to take a photo. I set up and fired off a load of shots even though I wasn’t happy with the white background provided by the overcast sky. As my family arrived, as we’d agreed to meet for dinner at a pizzeria in this square I noticed that there was a gap in clouds approaching from the left. So, I waited. I waited so long that I had to have a menu brought across the square to me so I could order.

On top of that, there were a lot of people  walking about the square and it was too light for me to set a slow enough shutter speed to remove them. So, I shot 5 sets of bracketed photos with a break between each so I could mask out most of the people in the square.

Piazza Bollente with it's sulfuric scented 75° Centigrade fountain with light and dark cobblestone designs surrounded by attractive stone buildings with shops and restaurants in Acqui Terme, Piedmont, Italy


Jul 072012

We’d turned the canoe sideways and were drifting down the Zambezi as I photographed a huge group of elephants taking a refreshing dip. I had my big lens on… 70-300mm. I started out fully zoomed in and was gradually zooming out as we got closer. Suddenly, I couldn’t zoom out any further.  I dropped the camera from my eye. We were VERY close to these elephants. Then I heard Chris’s voice from the back of the canoe, “Keep taking photos J.  I got this.”

I kept taking photos.

Three African elephants drinking at the water's edge of the lower Zambezi in Zambia.


Jun 272012

Late Night Tonight

I’ve decided to stick with my rule of not posting photos from the same country two days in a row (I know I’ve broken it in the past), but I’m desperate to work up some of my Iceland photos. I expect I’ll be up late tonight doing just that. On top of that I was in the middle of redesigning the site when I had to take a break to travel to Iceland. I really want to make a little more progress on that tonight.

For those of you patiently waiting for my tutorial, I did make a lot of progress before leaving. I find I work best on the weekends when I can really dedicate a lot of time to it. I’ll be putting in some more effort this weekend.

Today’s Photo: The Journey

Canoeing down the Lower Zambezi makes use of the old cliché “the journey is half the fun” really come into its own. Drifting casually down the river (while carefully keeping your limbs in the canoe) is punctuated by moments of intense activity and excitement. A lot of the time this is brought on by hippos hanging about in the shallows. The problem posed here is that when hippos get scared they head for deep water. So, if you’re in between the hippos and the deep water, you’ve got a problem. As a result, the approach is simply a bold game of chicken, in which you steer straight at the hippos in an effort to move them into the deep. Other exciting moments resulted from elephants coming down to the water to drink and play, which Chris and I may or may not have gotten dangerously close to. Other times the excitement was that we had an opportunity to get out of the canoes, whether it was to eat lunch, make camp, or go for a swim in a “safe” stretch of river. I say “safe” because, when asked, our guide said we were safe from crocodiles in the shallow water because we could fight off a crocodile there. Now, I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, if I’m having to fight off a crocodile I am already in serious trouble!

This photo was taken at one of the calmer moments as we floated through a narrow channel of the river. I’ve changed my approach to photos with moving subjects. Rather than trying to combine three different exposures I’m working with one RAW. Using Photoshop’s RAW converter I create three images by adjusting the exposure of the original. Then I combine these three images using Photomatix. This way, I don’t have to deal with loads of ghosting issues. If you look through my gorilla photos by clicking the category to the right, the last few have employed this method and you should be able to see an improvement over my earlier attempts.

Two canoes floating through a narrow channel of the Zambezi River on safari in Zambia

Jun 132012

Today’s Photo: Snacking Elephant

I wrote about this experience previously, here. We’d pulled our canoes up to an island in the middle of the Lower Zambezi. I thought we were there for a closer look at these elephants and started firing away. When I turned around I realized that our guides were setting up for lunch. We sat and ate lunch with these giant animals no distance away. They didn’t seem to be bothered by our presence. After about half an hour they walked to the other side of the island where they splashed into water and swimming off down the river, trunks raised like snorkels.

Group of elephants eating on the grass besides the lower Zambezi River in Zambia.

Something Interesting: How to Survive a Suicide Shower

I had the pleasure of using a few of these shower contraptions while traveling through Bolivia and Peru. They use electricity to heat the water… in the shower head. Bare wires are not uncommon. I thought they looked a bit questionable but didn’t give them a second thought, I was typically desperate for a shower. None of the shower heads actually shocked me, though a few friends of mine got zapped. I did get a pretty nasty shock off of a light switch hanging from my ceiling with bare wires on the back though.  This is an interesting little article on suicide showers with a bit of advice in how to go about showering safely when faced with them: How to Survive a Suicide Shower.


May 152012

You stand in Zambia, on the shore of the broad Zambezi, gazing towards Zimbabwe from Zambia. It’s surprising you can feel so energized after a night being woken by such noisy neighbors – elephants trumpeting on the salt lick behind camp and lions rumbling across the river. They’re far away but sound as if they’re knocking on your tent flap.  As the flaming sun slowly emerges from below the horizon, lighting the smooth flowing waters in front of you, the peace is shattered by the grunting of a nearby hippo. Your canoes are ready to go, but they’ll have to wait a little longer as the smell of breakfast, bacon and scrambled eggs, wafts to your nostrils. After eating your fill the Zambezi will continue to provide surprise after surprise, bend after bend. It’s  going to be a good day.

Three blue canoes on the Zambezi riverside with an orange sun rising over the horizon leaving orange streaks on the water in Zambia.

If you fancy waking up to this scene, you can buy a print here.

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.



May 022012

That’s right, I’m posting yet another photo of the fishing canoes used on Lake Kivu, Rwanda. I love them. they remind of two days of absolute relaxation reflecting on the most amazing, tiring, action packed, three weeks getting a taste of three very different versions of Africa: Cape Town, Zambia, and Rwanda.

The boat here was left behind by the fleet, which can just be seen on the horizon. At night, you could look out to the horizon and all you would see were the lights of the fisherman’s lanterns against the dark sky. These guys go out rain or shine (100% rain while I was there). Although, I guess I’m assuming they go out rain or shine, as I did not see them fishing under any beautiful, starry night skies.

This photo is a combination of 7 exposures, ranging from -3 to +3. The boats actually moved around quite a lot so the ghosting tool in Photomatix was particularly useful.

Triple fishing canoes used on Lake Kivu, Rwanda under a stormy sky with the rest of the fleet seen on the horizon.

Apr 062012

Another view of the shoreline of Lake Kivu occupied by the Padis Malahide Hotel. I was actually staying in the room you can see in the picture, just above the beach. If you look at this photo in full size you can see the church featured in this post. Just to the right of the frame is the dock where the fishermen set out every night and returned the next morning.

Shoreline of Lake Kivu occupied by the Padis Malahide Hotel in Rwanda