Botswana…dream-maker, equipment-breaker (Part One)…

As the old adage suggests…if you can see the white of the eyes then you’re pretty close. This is even true in the case of elephants. For the most part, an elephant’s eyes seem tiny compared to their colossal grey bulk and are lost somewhere amongst cavernous wrinkles and behind a curtain of wiry eyelashes. It was this white of an elephant’s eye that I was seeing through my viewfinder. That’s how close we were after spending several frustrating days searching for that shot which captures the essence of northern Botswana more than any other – thirsty elephants reveling in water.

Northern Botswana is not only one of the world’s premier wildlife-watching locations, it also  happens to be my favourite destination for photography and wildlife. As a result, being on the Selinda Reserve to the east of the Okavango Delta with the inspirational Great Plains Conservation and Botswana Tourism as my hosts, I was in my element. Our guide Reuben was making my job a lot easier too. Always thinking one step ahead by considering the light and lay of the land, he instinctively placed the vehicle in the right place each time without me needing to ask. Our only problem was that the resident elephants were being unusually skittish and seemed to be thinking even one step ahead of Reuben. Finally, after combing the reserve by boat and truck, we chanced across a relaxed herd approaching the water.

I lifted my chunky 400mm f2.8 lens and rested my beanbag between it and the side of the vehicle to give me a steady platform. All lined up while quenching their thirsts, the herd of pachyderms was performing wonderfully. Just as I pressed the shutter to fire off the first frames though, my camera all of a sudden became strangely light in my hands and the view through the viewfinder became nothing but a white blur. My five kilogram lens had inexplicably unclipped itself from the teleconverter and tumbled the best part of two metres off the side of the vehicle. After some initial muted cursing and a scrambled recovery of my most prized piece of gear from the sand below, I was able to come up with one positive from this embarrassing blunder – at least we weren’t shooting from a boat as we had been doing the previous evening. It turns out that an accumulation of Kalahari dust had made the clip holding the teleconverter to the lens stick and fail.

Painful lesson number one learned…keep your gear as clean as possible or you’ll spend several lonely hours picking sand out of every corner, crack and connection while everyone else is having a good time! I guess at this stage I can also pay homage to the build quality of Canon equipment if a lens can just be picked up and dusted off after such a sickening tumble to the sand below.

Lesson number two was as potentially disastrous but more a result of my own over-confidence. Check back soon for how not to waterproof a camera…

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

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4 Responses to “Botswana…dream-maker, equipment-breaker (Part One)…”

  1. Great shots. Liked these. Especially the elephant poring water on the body is superb.

    • Neil Aldridge Says:

      Thank you very much! Some of the elephant shots from this trip I am very pleased with and I’m looking forward to sharing the best with you all soon.

  2. How did you manage to capture the image of the elephant pouring water???

  3. Neil Aldridge Says:

    Hi Mehreen. We were sat at a waterhole watching this matriarch and her herd drinking and bathing. She started to throw water over herself. She did this a few times – luckily facing me each time – and so I just slowed the shutter speed down a little to capture some of the movement in the water.

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