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

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.

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.