Monday, August 3, 2009

National Geographic/Getaway Wildlife Photo Workshop

Join Shem Compion on this unique one day photo workshop where he will take you through the most important aspects of wildlife photography and digital workflow. Not only will he cover the usual techniques but he will also be highlighting how you can use digital workflow to easily get your work out there for all to see. Shem will also be talking about marketing your images and getting them to the right people. It promises to be popular talk, so get in touch with Tracy-Lee for booking information.

When: 4 October 2009
Where: Kloofzight Lodge, Muldersdrift
Cost: R700
Bookings: Tracy-Lee Behr
021 530 3379

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Dusting Desert Elephant

It had been a long drive. Sesfontein, the town where we were based is far from anywhere. The last 100km of ‘main road’ took 2 hours- that after 2 days of hard driving on gravel toads to get here. We were all knackered, travel sore and far from any conveniences of soft lodges. As far as I’m concerned, Damaraland is frontier country- a place with long roads that lead to petrol refuel pumps and nothing more. It’s a place of endless plains and mountains and wind and dust. And it’s beautiful; stunningly so.

sesfontein, desert elephant, damaraland, shem compion

The following morning was another full day- Driving up the Hoanib Riverbed in search of the elusive desert elephant. It takes about an hour and a half to get into the actual riverbed, but once in, and surrounded by the huge cliffs and arid mountain scapes you just stare in awe at the wonder of the place you are in. Water, still from the good rains in March, was seeping down the riverbed, creating a splash of blue and green amongst the harsh, browns and dustiness of the mountains. It was simply spectacular.

The real beauty of this area is that the animals here are all free roaming. No fences, no reserves- just wilderness. We saw huge lion tracks, giraffe, gemsbuck, baboons, springbuck and some very interesting wading birds due to the water in the riverbed. But by11h00 we had not yet seen an elephant- and it was hot. Of course we continued and by midday we reached a water hole, where we found a bull elephant drinking. Not being a reserve, these elephant are a little bit belligerent, so we kept our distance. As he finished his drink, he walked closer, to a dusting spot. With the backdrop of the rugged damaraland mountains, it was a perfect scene. The elephant started dusting enthusiastically right in front of us. I’m not sure how much of it was bravado, or how much was true dusting. Either way, it was really impressive!

I started out shooting wide, showing the elephant in its environment, and then worked closer until this frame came into the viewfinder. On seeing it, I knew it was destined for black and white, as I wanted to emphasise raw, rugged, dry, and dust in this series of images. This image shows exactly that.

We arrived back at Sesfontein after dark around 18h30. It had been a 12-hour long game drive in the dust and heat. However, the joy of finding these elephants far outweighed any long day. The hard work had been put in, and the rewards had been quite sweet.

What defines a desert elephant?
The main adaptation is that they can go without water for much longer than normal elephants, which need to drink at least once a day. Desert elephants also travel much further distances and will walk 40-50km, (with 80km being recorded) per day to get to water. These two are their most characteristic features. These elephant are not a different species to the normal African elephant; their name should really be “desert adapted elephants”, but are generally termed as “desert elephants”. Perhaps in a few million years they will be another species…

Exposure information
Nikon D300 - 200-400mm lens
Exposure – f 6,3 Shutter Speed: 1/1000sec
Exp. Comp. 0. EV
ISO - 250
Flash - none
Exposure mode– Aperture priority, Metering Mode– Matrix
File type– NEF (RAW)
Focal length: 260mm
Beanbag support in vehicle

Shem Compion

This essay first appeared on
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