Safari, so good!
Richie Willis was the winner of our issue 50 competition to win a trip with CNP Safaris, and it’s reawakened his love of wildlife photography
As a graphic designer I’m used to dealing with photographs, but it’s only recently that I started to dabble in photography, mainly concentrating on aviation. In issue 50 (September 2016) I entered the N-Photo competition in association with CNP Safaris, on the back page of The Apprentice. A few months later, when I received an email to say I’d won the competition, it certainly came as a bolt out of the blue!
Jump forward to June 2017 and I meet Lou Coetzer of CNP Safaris at Johannesburg airport, who will be my host for the week’s safari on the Chobe River, Botswana. CNP Safaris runs a specially modified camera-boat set up specifically for wildlife photography, with swivelling chairs and tripod columns for mounting heavier lenses. The kit I use for my hobby tends to be more towards the ‘budget’ end of the market, so I made the most of the Nikon D700, AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens and 1.4 teleconverter that was supplied. Within five minutes of being out on the river we encountered a bull elephant, and the safari had really begun.
We took two boat trips per day, the first around sunrise to catch the assorted wildlife at first light, the second in the afternoon to catch the golden light prior to sunset. Full credit must be given to Kuwana, the boat’s driver, for managing to manoeuvre the boat into the best position for photos. It’s no easy task given the receding water levels and pods of hippos, some of which displayed the need for a decent dentist  as a territorial warning when we were getting too close. Given the size of their yawn, the message was easily understood.
There were a few challenges involved with photographing the hippos. I was mainly trying to guess who was going to yawn next, but they also mark their
territory very messily (spreading dung with their tails) so we had to be careful with the cameras.
Elephants were a frequent sight through the week, whether singly or in groups. I found them walking along the river’s edge, swishing the long grass about in the water prior to eating it. I caught families visiting the water, and even two elephants fighting. However, a good chunk of one afternoon was spent just watching an elephant playfully giving himself a mud bath .
I have to admit that prior to the trip my knowledge of ornithology was rather limited. Fortunately Lou and Johan, the two tour leaders, were on hand to advise which species were which – thus I managed to get shots of many birds, including the vibrant bee-eaters in the morning light .
In between the two daily river trips we had an hour-long workshop where Lou or Johan offered constructive criticism of the shots I’d taken so far – rating them, suggesting improvements to composition and camera settings, and editing in Photoshop.
Finally, I’d like to thank Lou Coetzer, Johan Greyling, Kuwana and Fennie (my camera-caddy for the week) and everyone at CNP Safaris for, quite literally, the experience of a lifetime. In fact, all I need now is to win another competition (or the lottery) so I can do it all again…