Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Elephant crossing, (and camera crushing) at Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

One of my favourite sayings harps back to the days of the A-team, when Hannibal, the leader of the motley bunch would say, with thick cigar in his mouth: “I love it when a plan comes together”.

photo workshop, mashatu, c4 images and safaris, shem compion

This was how I anticipated my weeks of anticipation for my 8 days to be spent here at Mashatu where for the first 4 nights I was hosting a photo workshop with my company, C4 Images and Safaris where you can see what we saw and photographed here. Trust me, it was another cracker, not to be forgotten in a while, and that’s what I said after the May workshop… Nevertheless, the reason I was so excited was after the workshop, I stayed on to do some marketing work for Mashatu.

My excitement stemmed to the planning of a specific shot I wanted since my last visit 6 weeks ago. Mashatu’s elephant population is extremely relaxed. So much so, in that I was willing to put a wide angle lens low on the ground right next to their daily routes on the ‘elephant highway’ to get a scenic and wide image of these large animals.

Studying the elephant movements of Mashatu on my many visits here, I knew a scene exactly where in it would take place. Each time I had been here, I had seen herds of elephant crossing. Of course, as soon as I came prepared, nature and Murphy being as they are, all the elephants had changed tack, with their daily routes coming from a completely different angle. Oh the joy of working with wild subjects!

For 4 days I studied the movements of the elephant with the rangers. We concluded that there was no real exact daily movement like in the summer months. The elephants were moving widely into and out of the mopane veld- making predictions very difficult. In the end we decided to stick with any relaxed herd we could find and anticipate their movement to place the camera down. His worked very well, and I managed to get some great shots with different scenes. However, the image of a herd crossing the river still eluded me. Added to that the fact that the elephants weren’t staying long at the water sites, we were having a rough old time of things.

Day 8 arrived and still that one shot eluded me. Leaving camp we found a herd in mopane. This would be our last attempt at the desired image and so we stayed with the herd until they headed directly to the Mojale River. We drove ahead and anticipated where they would exit out the far side. A nervous and wet minute in water followed, as I set up the camera in a dead bush right on the side of the waters edge. Then the wait began. Where did the elephants come out? 100m upstream of the camera... With Bashi, my (elephant whispering) ranger enticing them closer with some soft words, the herd slowly moved down towards the camera. It was an agonisingly long 20 minutes as the herd moved right past the camera, totally ignoring the clicking. After a week of looking for good scenes and crossing points, I was getting my shots.
All I could think was “I love it when a plan comes together”!

Exactly then, a bull elephant walked out of the bush into the river and started smelling some of the female’s. He was sexually active and clearly had one thing on his mind- meaning his mood would not be very friendly. He walked past my camera and immediately heard the shutter. His trunk snaked forward into the bush and sniffed at the camera. By now I had turned from celebratory, to a nervous wreck. The elephant grabbed my camera, throwing it into the wet mud. It was like watching a man throwing a sweet into the ground.

It stopped clicking, obviously. And the elephant left it alone. We quickly drove closer and got the camera out of the mud. It had been buried half into some sandy mud- hard enough to hold my weight… Intense stuff! After a quick inspection, all worked, good work Nikon.

I did end up with my shots, but a lesson was learnt: Don’t start your celebrations before the last elephant has come along.
I guess that is why the A team had BA Baracus!

Exposure information:
Nikon D300 - 10.5mm fish eye lens
Exposure – f 8 Shutter Speed: 1/160sec
Exp. Comp. 0. EV
ISO - 400
Flash - none
Exposure mode– Aperture priority, Metering Mode– Matrix
File type– NEF (RAW)
Focal length: 10.5mm
Gorilla pod
Remote release.
Shem Compion

This essay first appeared on
Read more!