Twi­light African ele­phants

NPhoto - - Into Africa -

One of Frans’s most cel­e­brated images,

Twi­light of the Giants was made in the Chobe Na­tional Park in north­ern Botswana in 1989. Frans cap­tured the shot dur­ing a year-long as­sign­ment to doc­u­ment life in the Oka­vango Delta, and this im­age be­came the cover for his book, Oka­vango: Africa’s Last Eden.

“What you see is a gath­er­ing of bull ele­phants at a wa­ter­hole at twi­light,” ex­plains Frans. “The colour in the im­age is caused by a dusty sun­set. It’s the end of the dry sea­son and all the dust cre­ates the kind of at­mo­spher­ics that turn the sky a pinkpur­ple, which the wa­ter re­flects as well.

“What makes it re­ally mag­i­cal to me is that there’s a full moon ris­ing. I’d worked that wa­ter­hole for a while, so I’d seen these ele­phants com­ing and go­ing ev­ery day, and I knew the moon was go­ing to rise, so I po­si­tioned my­self in the right place ahead of time. I set my cam­era up with a wide-an­gle lens rather than a tele­photo, and in or­der to equal­ize the light values on sky and wa­ter, I slipped a grad­u­ated neu­tral den­sity fil­ter on to the lens.

“When I look back at the images I took be­fore and af­ter, it’s clear that there was only one per­fect frame. Be­cause, of course, the ele­phants were mov­ing all the time. So there was lots of plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion, but ul­ti­mately it’s serendip­ity, and that’s what I like – to be at the in­ter­sec­tion where prepa­ra­tion pays off and I know I’m in the zone, but then there are amaz­ing mo­ments that are unan­tic­i­pated.”

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