Archive for the ‘cheetah’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Flow & Travel Photography   6 comments

Rising pre-dawn to climb Tajamulco, highest peak in Central America, a half-asleep state gave way to flow as the sun rose.

Rising pre-dawn to climb Tajamulco, highest peak in Central America, a half-asleep state gave way to flow as the sun rose.

Flow, or “being in the zone” is all the rage these days.  It’s considered to be how creative people create.  While that’s true, flow is not that uncommon.  We’ve all experienced it.  I heard a radio interview the other day and the guest referred to flow as something experienced by people at the highest level.  I think that’s too narrow a way to think about it.  Any time you get 100% engaged in an activity and lose track of time, you’re in flow.  Flow will help you progress toward expertise, but being very good at something isn’t a prerequisite for flow.

This series, which started with the idea and concept of flow, has moved on to how to foster the state in different types of photography.  Today let’s look at travel photography, which consists of shooting a wide variety of subjects in unfamiliar places.  I call the entire western U.S. my home area and by definition travel takes me to countries outside the U.S.  My travel photos lean heavily toward cultural subjects, including people, but includes landscape and wildlife.  While traveling I photograph far more people (and fewer landscapes) than I normally do.

A bit of a cliche, but prayer flags and the Himalaya are just too big a part of the scene in Nepal to pass up.

A bit of a cliche, but prayer flags and the Himalaya are just too big a part of the scene in Nepal to pass up.

When you’re traveling and shooting there is no shortage of distractions.  So flow is not that easy.  Here are a few tips:

  • Observe & Engage.  Just as it is with other kinds of photography, keen observation and then intense engagement with your subjects is a sure route toward experiencing flow.
  •  Filter & Focus.  Traveling can overwhelm the senses.  It’s one of the great things about it.  But in order to do your best photography focusing on the subjects that you want to shoot is necessary.  The kind of concentration required to capture images with strong subjects can help you experience flow while doing it.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t get a few overview shots that establish context and show the place you’re in (you could also do this with video).  But it’s easier to get into flow and capture good images if you zero in on one subject at a time, filtering out the rest.

With huge views of the Nepali Himalayas outside this teahouse, I shifted focus to smaller things.

  • Quality vs. Quantity.  Let’s be honest.  Travel can be hectic at times.  That’s probably inevitable.  But your whole trip doesn’t have to be this way.  If you plan an overly busy itinerary, you shouldn’t expect to experience flow while shooting.  And you should expect more snapshots than quality images.  You simply can’t have both quality and quantity, and this goes especially for traveling.  As you plan your itinerary, choose one or the other and be happy with the consequences of that decision.

 

  • Slow Down.  I prefer to plan a light itinerary and cover less area in more time.  This way I get to relax and spend some time with subjects.  When I take the camera out in some new place, randomly exploring with no real destination in mind, flow comes much easier than when I’m rushing to move on to the next place.  Leaving real time for deep exploration is a key to successful travel photography (and travel in general).  Of course during the trip there will always be those times when you have to hurry to catch a train or to check out.  Just don’t let that pace infect your entire journey.
Angkor Wat's West Gate is an easy subject to like, but it took patience and time to shoot it with pedaling commuters and the sun in the right position.

Angkor Wat’s West Gate is an easy subject to like, but it took patience and time to shoot it with pedaling commuters and the sun in the right position.

  • Make it About the Journey.  While it’s important to get to your destination in order to spend time exploring and shooting, the journey is at least as important.  Sometimes it’s more so.  You’ll encounter some of your best photographic subjects while you’re traveling from one place to another.  So a second key to travel photography is being ready at all times to capture images.  You may prefer your phone for this, or a small point and shoot camera.  It doesn’t matter, just keep observing and shooting things that are interesting along the way.
I was rushing to a waterhole where the game was supposed to be when I stumbled upon this cheetah stalking the grasslands: Etosha, Namibia.

I was rushing to a waterhole where the game was supposed to be when I stumbled upon this cheetah stalking the grasslands: Etosha, Namibia.

  • Be Flexible.  This is good advice anytime you travel, whether shooting seriously or not.  But consider this:  you can take yourself right out of your game if you get uptight about the inevitable changes and screw-ups that occur during any trip.  Being upset about things that are outside your control means you’re not about to enter flow anytime soon.  I won’t claim to be perfect in this regard.  But isn’t it better to look upon an unforeseen left turn in your trip as an opportunity to photograph something unexpected?  Go with the flow so you can experience flow!

I didn’t plan on attending this rough ‘n ready rodeo on Omotepe, Nicaragua. But I let my hosts drag me there and didn’t let their fun with my flag get in the way of a good time.

  • Be Outgoing.  Some of the best travel images are of people, often showing something of their unique culture.  But unless you play at being a paparazzi, you’ll need to break out of your shell and approach strangers in order to get good people shots.  Luckily, most people around the world (not all) are happy to be approached by tourists.  You may be rejected occasionally.  Don’t let that stop you.  All it takes is one great interaction to make your travel day.  Once you’re with an interesting local talking and laughing, all the time shooting great candids, photo flow can’t be far behind!
This Himba boy in northern Namibia was cute in how serious he was about standing tall and noble.

This Himba boy in northern Namibia was cute in how serious he was about standing tall and noble.

By the way, a future post will go into more depth about photographing people in strange (to you) surroundings.  Thanks so much for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

At Tikal, the ancient Mayan city in Guatemala, rainy weather and the late hour made it feel empty and helped me to experience photo flow.

At Tikal, the ancient Mayan city in Guatemala, rainy weather and the late hour made it feel empty and helped me to experience photo flow.

Etosha National Park   Leave a comment

Etosha is a very large park in northern Namibia that is dominated by one of the biggest dry lake beds (called pans in this part of the world) you will ever come across.  With only a few days before my flight home, this was literally squeezed in at the end of my recent 3-month trip to southern Africa.  The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly my cheetah sighting.  I had not seen this cat in my travels, and along with wild dog was the only major African animal species I had not seen yet.

Two cheetah cubs in Etosha National Park, Namibia, appear to be taking turns keeping watch.

Most people enter Etosha from the south (Anderson Gate) or east (von Lindenquist Gate).  The far western (Galton) gate is  nearly forgotten, largely because this region of the park was closed to the public for years.  A couple of years ago it was opened, and only recently has the only lodge in western Etosha been accepting guests.  Since I always try to do things with a twist of difference, I made a detour after visiting the Himba people (previous post), driving up through gorgeous, unpopulated hill country to the Galton Gate.

A curious young springbok with stubs for horns and huge eyelashes in Etosha National Park, Namibia.

I arrived too late to enter the park, but the friendly (and lonely) ranger set me up in a campsite.  I was very comfortable, and I heard lions calling in the night, but from outside the park.  His wife showed up next morning, wearing bright African dress, and she was delighted to allow me to photograph her.  I later sent her some photos.  This should go without saying, but if you are traveling, make sure to never promise to send photos to someone unless you are certain you will do it.

Entering the park, I immediately headed to Dolomite Camp, which is only an hour or so from the entrance.  Dolomite is perched on a long ridge of (what else?) dolomite.  This craggy outcrop rises dramatically from the surrounding wildlife-rich plain.  Beautiful chalets are perched along the ridge, with decks that have stunning views of classic African savanna.  What a place!  A bit spendy, $100/nt with no activities or meals included, but well worth it.  It was near the end of my trip & I was treating myself.

Checking into my airy chalet, I took a cool shower and parked myself on the deck, cold drink in hand.  I spotted some zebra, antelope and even giraffe through my binoculars.  Later I enjoyed the ultra-refreshing pool and chatted up the young Namibians tending bar.  I chilled out for the whole afternoon in fact, a hot one that “forced” me to take numerous dips in the pool.  Then toward evening, I got into my little rental car and did a game drive through western Etosha, which was empty of other tourists.  I drove the dirt roads (passable in 2WD as long as you drive carefully) and saw the rare black-faced impala, the strangely intense kori bustard, and also the red hartebeest (a funny-looking critter).  No predators though.

When I returned to camp, the moon was rising over the savanna, and the evening breeze had kicked up – very beautiful.  By the way, Africa newbies might be confused when they hear the word “camp” applied to what are actually lodges. Camp is often used when the lodge does not even have an attached campsite, and is pretty luxurious.  This is the case with Dolomite.

Next morning, I woke early and went out on the deck.  Soon I saw a herd of antelope below, and while slowly sweeping my binoculars over the area around the herd (this can net you a stalking predator), I was rewarded with lion!  The first one I saw was a big female, who was staring intently at the herd from thick cover.  I found the rest of the pride nearby, including the male (who was still sleeping, go figure!).  After watching for awhile with no attack, I walked to the breakfast cafe for coffee.  I told the staff about the lion, and one of the young girls working there wanted to see.  Since the lion could not be seen from the main camp, I took her to my chalet and pointed them out. She was amazed.  Turns out these were the first lion she had seen in Etosha (she had just started working there).

Termite mounds dot the savanna of Etosha National Park, Namibia.

I finally dragged myself away from Dolomite and drove into the heart of Etosha.  After about 5 hours, I caught sight of the enormous Etosha Pan.  This is a tan expanse of pancake-flat dried lake bed that is 130 km (80 mi.) long and up to 50 km (31 mi.) wide.  You cannot even see to the other side it is so huge.  It is surrounded by typical African bush/savanna, peppered by large termite mounds (image above) and waterholes where animals gather.  The campsites along the southern margin of the Pan are situated near these waterholes, but they are not really that great.  They are much like Kruger’s, in that they have restaurants, pools, and simple cabins, but those that I saw were somewhat ratty in appearance as compared with Kruger.  But they do work for campers like me, and I had no problem pitching my tent at them.

A rare blue crane feeds near Etosha Pan in Namibia.

A gorgeous cheetah rests after a hot day in Etosha N.P., Namibia

Now on to more animals!  After photographing a pair of rare blue cranes (above) next to a viewpoint over the Pan, I drove toward Halali Camp and saw a vehicle stopped on the road.  I scanned the bush for what he was looking at, but realized I was looking out too far.  As I drew closer I saw them: a family of cheetah!  Woohoo!  I had finally seen cheetah!  Mom and two cubs lay at the edge of the road just chilling out in preparation for the night’s hunt.  I started snapping away, with my Canon 100-400mm f/5.6, and a crop-frame Canon 50D.  I had close to 600mm of focal length, but still could not fill the frame with the cubs.  This is because I was not parked as close as I could actually have gotten without scaring them away.

I’m conservative in this regard, and feel you must strike a balance between getting close enough for good shots, and yet keep enough distance to avoid drastically changing the animals’ behavior.  Since light was getting lower as dusk approached, it was hard to keep my shutter speeds high enough (a common challenge on safari).  I noticed the other guy there had a mount for the door of his 4×4, with his big lens attached.  That is the ticket, I thought, for my next African safari.  You will undoubtedly use such a mount more than you use a tripod on safari.

I did catch some adorable shots of the babies, who were fighting sleep.  Mom was so sleek and graceful!  The other photographer and I had them to ourselves for awhile, until an overland truck arrived.  If you don’t know, overland trucks are basically big 4×4 transports, like a mini-bus on steroids, which carries (mostly young) tourists inside.  They are popular with travelers on a budget, since they typically camp out on their long routes through Africa.  Many overland trips travel from Nairobi, Kenya to Cape Town, South Africa.  This means being on the road for a month or more, all with other people you don’t know, and on somebody else’s itinerary.

It is likely obvious that I do not have a high opinion of the overland option.  I saw many overland trucks pull into a campsite late in the day, where the tourists proceed to hang out as a group, catching up on the internet.  They then pull out next day, usually before daybreak.  This is not my idea of a memorable travel experience.  They tend to pass through Africa without really interacting much with locals, yes doing many of the activities and seeing most of the sights, but all in a rush, and on a superficial level.  I won’t even go into the cliques and politics that inevitably take place along the way.  Ugh!  But if you are one to sacrifice quality for quantity, by all means do it.

Back to the cheetahs: the overland truck stopped in the middle of the road, startling the mother who rose and grew nervous.  Then the truck squeezed through, further disturbing the family.  The tourists, who cannot open their tinted windows, had maybe a 3-minute sighting before being ushered away to keep on their schedule.  But the family was still there in the bush by the road, and the light was getting very nice as the sun set.

A mother cheetah leads her cubs through the savanna near Etosha Pan in Namibia.

Mom led her family off in a row, stopping to scan the meadows (above).  I had brilliant photo opportunities as the setting sun hit their sleek bodies.  I did get some pretty good photos, but I am a perfectionist and next time will be certain to have the door mount for my big lens.  A gorgeous sunset led me to camp, and I had a glow about me for hours from the cheetah sighting.

A big elephant in Etosha N.P., Namibia shows how dexterous a trunk can be.

But there was more.  On my last full day in Etosha, I stopped at a waterhole on the way to the southern entrance.  While photographing very interesting-looking ducks there, I was about to leave when a herd of elephants showed up, including babies.  They proceeded to splash and spray muddy water all over themselves, making all sorts of racket. Since I was parked on the grass very close to the waterhole’s edge. I got good (not great – it was high noon) pictures and video.  They were leaving now, and the head cheese, a huge specimen, was trailing the group.  He (or she?) was looking at me now, and pulling her trunk into all sorts of contortions (showing off?).

Then the big elephant came over and stood immediately next to my open driver’s side window, blocking my retreat.  I realized he could have simply hooked his tusks under my little car’s body and flipped it into the waterhole with no effort whatsoever.  I dared not start my engine, since that can startle an elephant and cause violence.  So I just froze there, managing to grab a couple shots & a brief video.  They are super close-up!  She stared down at me, watching me.  I could not even close the window for fear of her reaction.  Finally, the big bruiser slowly meandered away, destroying small trees in the process of using them as scratching posts.  My adrenaline was really pumping.

After that, the herd of wildebeest, the close-up of the jackal, the black-faced antelope buck, they were all anticlimactic.  I reluctantly left the park, and drove back to Windhoek on a good paved highway with little traffic.  Next morning I was on an airplane heading to Jo’burg, and then to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I unexpectedly was bumped and had to spend the night (not a bad thing!).  Then it was back to the good old U.S.A., and a serious case of reverse culture shock.

Africa had changed me for certain.  I had finally completed my dream trip.  I would say I had knocked off a big item on my “bucket list”, but I detest that term.  I’m really not a list person anyway.  Don’t like to list accomplishments, don’t like to keep track.  It’s too much like competing with other people, or even worse, with yourself.  Each stage of life brings new priorities in life, and my goal is to live in each moment, not fret about a bucket list.    But if Africa is in your sights, strongly consider an independently-oriented trip.  However you do it, do not let any fear of danger or crime dissuade you from taking control of your own trip.  Africans are friendly and honest people, and will welcome you with open arms.

The bush in Etosha National Park, Namibia, has abundant open spaces and few large trees. Thus they are in heavy demand for weaver bird nests.

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