More Elephants

Elephant Greeting. South Africa – April, 2006
Canon 1Ds MKII with 100-400mm f/5.6L IS lens @ ISO 1250

Do you remember the line from the movie The Wizard of Oz “Oh no, not the flying monkeys!”

Well, that’s how I feel whenever I see another picture of an elephant, or a lion, or a monkey, or just about any wildlife. Yes, going to Africa to view and photograph wildlife is a trip. Literally and figuratively. I recently got back from a safari, and I’d do it again tomorrow (just as soon as I get fully over jet lag).

But, let’s face it. Does the world really need another photograph of an elephant? Hundreds of thousands of very fine photographers have by now taken millions of really good photographs of these magnificent creatures. So other than the pleasure of doing ones own (which is reason enough), how does one find a way to say something different; something that others will enjoy seeing without the speech bubble appearing over their heads, saying –Oh no, not more elephants.



Elephant Family. South Africa – April, 2006
Canon 1Ds MKII with 100-400mm f/5.6L IS lens @ ISO 1250

Following two weeks in Namibia on the photographic expedition / workshop which Andy Biggs and I ran in April, 2006, Video Journal producer Chris Sanderson and our wives, Charlene and Teya, went to Shamwari, a game reserve in South Africa. This was simply a vacation; a chance for a little R&R after a very intense time in the Namib desert. Also, Teya had never been on a wildlife safari before, and so this was to be an opportunity for some enjoyable wildlife viewing in an easy location.

What this wasn’t was any sort of serious wildlife shoot. We went out twice a day for three-hour game drives, the first before dawn and the second in the late afternoon. Mid-day was spent by the lodge’s pool. How hard can that be?

But of course when we were on the game drives the photographer in me was always keen on doing the best work that I could. On the early morning that we encountered a small herd of elephants the light levels were very low, and the elephants were very muddy. The dim light, combined with the Canon 100-400mm lens which I was using, made shooting wide open along with a high ISO setting a necessity. Not exactly a formula for high quality images.

But, rather than fret I remembered a conversation that I’d once had with a fellow photographer when we were out shooting together a few years ago. We were in an area with thick underbrush and I was light-heartedly complaining about how messy nature was. His response was – Embrace the mess.

I often think of that comment when I’m faced with a difficult shooting situation. Low light, not-so-sharp lens, slow lens, cliched subject. So I embraced the situation, set the lens to 400mm and the ISO to 1250, and just enjoyed myself.

Elephant Mud. South Africa – April, 2006
Canon 1Ds MKII with 100-400mm f/5.6L IS lens @ ISO 1250

When I got home, looking at the files I found several that I enjoyed. But mud-covered gray animals photographed on a gray day just didn’t lend themselves to colour treatment. So I converted the images to B&W. I also decided not to do any noise reduction. Taking this gritty interpretation to its logical extreeme I tinted the images a shade of brown and also vignetted them somewhat.

Now they looked like what I’d seen. Not necessarily what the camera had captured, but much more like what we had experienced at that early morning elephant mud bath.

So. More elephants, I’m afraid. But maybe ones seen in a somewhat different way. If not – carry on.

May, 2006


Updated: March 7, 2015