Posts tagged ‘wildebeest’
The Rescue of the Valkyries:
After only two hours of sleep, I was a zombie at 5:30 a.m.We checked out but I still wasn’t sure where we were heading. We stopped on our way for snacks and I grabbed 2 cans of Red Bull when I remembered our talk about a ride in the South African Defense Force Oryx helicopter, which Guts had arranged with a colonel he knew! Fantastic!
A 5-hour ride to Hoedspruit in Limpopo got us to a hospital helipad. The helicopter arrived and we met with the rescue team and a rescued couple whose house had been completely destroyed.South Africa hadn’t witnessed anything like that in the past 30 years but the team reassured us that there had been no fatalities since everyone had been rescued from the area.
We then boarded the huge Oryx helicopter with its side doors removed. It was my first time in a helicopter and that was not a normal one either. We were about 12 people inside and there was still room for more. I parked myself in the back with Guts, Jason buckled up in the middle and Dan was filming from the front. Soon we were up in the air. I wasn’t fastened to anything, but the sheer force of the air coming in from the side doors helped me balance myself. Feeling safe and confident, I started enjoying the scenery and moving from one side to the other. It was hard to focus, compose and shoot photos while standing steadily; the easiest way was to crawl towards the doors and kneel. Very little communication is possible in this noisy setting so it’s good thing I remembered Jason’s advice to increase the ISO to benefit from faster shutter speeds.
We arrived above the flooded area and I could see the aftermath of the floods; areas soaked in water, washed-out trees and shattered houses. It was a mess. Then the rescuers demonstrated a rescue drill for our benefit. The pilot hovered towards the Three Rondawels peaks, the Blyde River Canyon– the 3rd largest canyon in the world – and the Lowveld view point. On the way back, the pilot went crazy and performed exciting maneuvers in the sky that made my day! Imagine a full wide view of the land on one side of the door, and a view of the vast open sky on the other side. That is one heck of an adrenaline boost!
We finally made it back and landed after almost a 2-hour helicopter ride. We collected some more information about the rescue operation and headed to Manyeleti Game Reserve.
We arrived there and made it straight into the park, as we had only 2 hours before the park closed and it was getting dark. When we stopped, Jason started filming eagles eating fire ants in the middle of the road but I gave my attention to a wildebeest behind us and walked towards it with camera in hand after Guts reassured me that it wouldn’t charge. I framed my shot, chose a shutter speed of 1/13 (ISO 1000) to motion blur the wildebeest as it ran into the bushes.
On the way back, we stopped to listen to the sounds of insects and various animals at a swamp, then made it back to the lodge for dinner by a campfire.
20 Jan 2012
A Chilling Roar After Midnight:
A loud banging at my door finally got me out of bed at 5:00 a.m. I don’t know how Jason does it, but a mere 3-4 hours of sleep mean I’ll be dozing off behind the shutter while waiting for a good shot. Still, I know that photography’s Golden Hours are paramount. We made it to the park around sunrise and we soon faced a diversity of animals: a wildebeest uninterruptedly grazing; a kudu breastfeeding its calf; zebras staring at us with bewildered eyes; and storks stretching their wings close to a small pond. A pregnant giraffe also stood in our path to show off its majestic height and beauty, as if modeling for us; I made sure she had her share of shots, and we got good footage of animal behavior.
We continued our trip through a narrow road leading down to the other side of the reserve and stopped as Jason caught sight of a narrow stream running down the hill. I was impressed by Jason’s photographic vision, his eagle eye capable of scanning every scene and finding a frame – that comes with experience, I guess. This side of the park offered beautiful landscapes but limited wildlife except for lazy hippos swimming in the pond; the elusive cheetah that we knew to be around was nowhere to be “spotted”!
After 5 hours, the sun was getting hotter so we returned to the lodge for a late brunch and some rest before the evening drive. We talked about arranging an evening helicopter to take some aerial shots and headed back to the park, all the way to Namboomspruit Golf Course but unfortunately it was getting late and Jason thought we’d better postpone until the following morning as the weather was a bit cloudy.
We continued driving around the park for the next 3 hours. We didn’t spot anything new, until we finally came across a herd of elephants in a field of tall grass. It was close to sunset. Accompanied by “Guts” and an armed tracker, Jason decided to follow the herd on foot. Dan and I saw his bulky figure disappearing in the field and we were supposed to meet up with them at the other side of the road but after 15 minutes there was still no sign of them and it was getting dark. We remained cool and I helped our driver hold the spotlight and direct it all over the place. I admit I was worried and I didn’t know whether I was on the lookout for more wildlife or Jason’s trampled body! We finally saw him and his party walking towards us safe and sound.
It was almost midnight, and we were still on the search, I was cold, tired and disappointed. Lions, hyenas, cheetahs and other wild animals were not around! I think I began dozing off a bit in the back seat when – out of the blue – the driver spotted a lion walking past our vehicle; that was enough to wake me up from my lethargy. Finally! There he was, the king of the jungle, the famous hunter and largest of the wild cats, walking his land freely and proudly. We approached him slowly and noticed he was limping as if from a recent fight. We tried not to bother him much while he rested. As I was shooting a few pictures from the vehicle, I heard Jason say something about stepping out and taking a ground photo at a closer distance. Yeah, right! But he wasn’t joking! He actually climbed down the vehicle to get closer to the lion. Our sights were locked on the lion resting with its eyes closed while Jason was taking his shots. Suddenly glimpsing Jason, the lion moved his brown hairy mane; his piercing eyes glittered in the spotlight’s beam and he quickly stood up stretching his tasseled tail then growled with an eardrum-bursting roar. I was close to wetting my pants as Jason sprinted back to the vehicle. Jason’s eyes told me that if the lion hadn’t been tired, his advice to other photographers would be to think twice before trying such a stunt. We left the lion in peace and went back to the lodge. On the way, I dozed off for a few minutes but I woke up just in time to foil Dan and Jason’s plot to film me snoring. I dragged myself after 19 hours of wildlife tracking to my lodge for just two and a half hours of rest before the next day.
19 January 2012
Into the Wild
I was up at 7:00 a.m. and thank God the sun was finally up too. The weather looked promising and I was excited about the day. I packed my bags and joined the team for breakfast during which I kept coming at Jason with questions inquiring about his career and technical expertise. He told me about his encounters with some world-known photographers, such as James Nachtwey, Steve McCurry and many others. It’s a good thing I kept my notebook at close reach.
We loaded the 150 kilos of equipment into the minivan (interesting side note: Jason’s 80 kilos of gear alone weigh more than my actual body weight!) We had a long 5-6 hour drive ahead of us to the Entabeni Game Reserve. During the ride, Guts shared with us some facts about the history of South Africa and some of the landmarks that Pretoria had to offer. It was such a beautiful and upscale city that I wasn’t surprised to find out it was a second home for some celebrities such as Madonna and Michael Jackson whose high luxury villas are mostly lined up in Watergloove 101 street.
We then made it atop a hill offering a wide viewpoint of Pretoria and stopped to take some photos. Dan was filming Jason as he was explaining some photography tips while shooting a flower, approaching it from different angles and changing the background. I could see from the resulting images how each composed frame would change the mood of the flower. He also shared with me his personal preference of shooting with manual focus all the time. I practiced this recommendation while micro shooting a locust and I was surprised by how much better control I had and how much sharper my photos became. We also drove through Pretoria’s central district where we chalked off some street photography.
On our way, we stopped at a remote village down a dirt track where we took permission from the person in charge to take photos and document the lives of the residents in their harsh living conditions. With so little hope and in a country where they can’t be hired because of their age or skin color, they hope they can get at least the equivalent of USD 3,000 so they can start their own workshop that would provide work for the whole community. They still have rents to pay and fines to evade, yet all their income comes mostly from church donations
After 3 more hours of driving, we finally made it to the park. We quickly checked in and took our first evening game drive. I was very excited and pleased at the sight of animals grazing in the wild, not encaged behind bars at zoos; we could spot at a close distance impalas, giraffes, zebras, kudus, waterbucks, wildebeests, warthogs and various types of birds. We spent the next 4 hours driving around the park, taking photos and filming. I was struggling with my 70-300 mm F5.6 Sigma lens to capture some sharp photos at night so Jason offered to let me use his spare zoom lens the following day. Finally, we left the park and headed back to our lodge for dinner. After dinner, Jason went through my photos and had some comments on them with regards to clipping, equidistance and exposure.