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

NPhoto - - Over To You -

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 [3] 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 [1].

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 [2].

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…

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