Photographic Sketches from the World of Work
This is a funny picture and looks a lot more like a manic photographer instead of a Wildlife Photographer. Tom Brakefield took this picture of me just before I started off in the Ultra Light Craft. The more serious aspect of this is, that you had better not change your roll of film while in the air because the lawn mower propeller is situated directly behind your back and if a strong gust of wind happens to tear one of your film cases loose and it flies into the propeller, it certainly would not be very funny. So in order not to have to land every ten minutes to change your film, it is advisable to carry several cameras around your neck. These here are equipped with focal lengths of 2,8/24 mm, 2,8/55 mm, and 2,8/70-210mm. I was able to gather best results with these while in the sky above the Masai Mara : 24 mm for wide range, 55 mm for most and in turn the best scenic pictures, and 70-210 mm for wildlife shots. In combination with an open aperture and automatic timer, so that the camera uses the shortest possible shutter speed. The Ultra Light Craft is extremely suitable for aerial photos because of the slow speed with which it flies and you donīt have a window pane between subject and camera.
90% of my pictures are taken through an opening in the car door, because that angle provides a better perspective from below and turns out better pictures. Sometimes you do have to take the pictures through the sunroof of the car, simply because the radius from below is not wide enough for the camera to follow the cheetah on her hunt or the grass is too tall, and every time when a Leopard is lying in a tree or on a rock, in order to avoid a photo perspective that is too steep. Since the sandbag is only a quick improvisation in the composition of wildlife photography, I brought a board with me for situations when you have a bit more time and mounted it in front of me across the sunroof in order to place two rotating heads on it. With this you can always have two focal lengths fixed on one spot and sometimes you really gain valuable seconds, because you have to readjust the two lenses when they are mounted on sandbags.
Many of todays reflex cameras have auto focus and/or an electronic adjustment support. This works in a way, so that with a 100% focus you see a green or black spot in the seeker which gives you the signal that the focus is now set perfectly. These two technical supports are priceless and extremely important for me while taking pictures at nighttime. In the light of the spotlight or from the flashlight I can certainly make out the subject, but it is impossible for me to manually focus exactly with these remnants of light. Further difficulties provide the fact, that you should not use white adjustment light, since it irritates the animals, but rather a red light to which they usually do not react at all. To adjust the focus in this red light is even more difficult.
Since I was not especially satisfied with the light of the normal flashlights and not with the strong flashlights that are supposed to have a beam which reaches up to 1.000 meters either, I went and bought a lamp especially designed for hunters from Kettner for DM 39,50 that can be attached to the cigarette lighter of your car and taped red foil over it. The result was fantastic: at a distance of 20-30 meters outside in the darkness you can still work with an auto focus and photographing Africaīs Wildlife in the dark turns into pure pleasure.
Here on this picture you can see the equipment for my work in the dark: the camera has a SB-24 Flash, that is sufficient for the reflector setting of 85 mm, with a 200 ISO film up to about 15-20 meters distance, depending how bright it is and the aperture (with an aperture of 5,6 10m, an aperture of 4,0 15m and with 2,8 up to about 20m). I use this rather small flash because it doesīnt burden the equipment so much and you donīt have to make so many modifications on the vehicle. If you specialize in night photography it is advisable to use a stronger Metz flash rod. On the left side on the photograph above, you see the spotlight with the red foil. It is always fascinating for me to see just how fast and exact the auto focus works in the dark with just a little red light when I have difficulties discerning the desired object in the dark seeker.
Paradise, the Leopard is lying in front of my vehicle and is just dozing. This is a twofold, odd, fascinating and somewhat uncomfortable situation: on one side of course I am absolutely rapturous to have this fully grown wild Leopard come down from her tree of rest and lie down next to my car. It is so fascinating to see such great feline from such a close distance. Unfortunately it is pointless from a photographic point of view because the angle is too steep and the background too restless....
This is a little problematic since there is a rule that says you should not get closer than 20 meters to one of the large cats. Well now, I did not go to her, but the cat came to me and probably wanted to use the vehicle as cover, but the tourists and rangers that come by later wouldīnt know that. For them it would just look like a wildlife photographer tried to get as close as possible to Paradise, and is crowding her private sphere. That is the reason why I always put more distance than what the feline may herself want, between us, whenever I heard that other vehicles were approaching, in order not to give the wrong impression.
Dr. Horst Hagen, one of the greatest authorities of the wildlife of Eastern Africa, who has written numerous books about this fascinating world and whom you can encounter very frequently in Africa. Here he is taking pictures of "my" Leopard.
This is the vehicle of a British film maker. You can tell professional film makers by their vehicles. They replace the passenger door with a boarded gate on which the support for the heavy movie camera is mounted and hang outside of the vehicle. This one has a third possible alternative (a covered scaffolding most likely to hang from in order to shoot film material from a ground view) installed in the front, above the radiator.
During the different tours, I experimented with my equipment to try and arrange it as best as possible. Twice I took the big Lowepro Supertrekker with me, which did not turn out to be very feasible, for the simple reason, that it was no fun to drag this huge thing around with me. The best combination of equipment for me has turned out be the following: next to me on the seat and ready for use, the long focal lengths attached to the camera and a sandbag underneath it so that it is bedded nicely and wonīt fall off as easily. Next to that, the backpack with another ready for use combination of a 300mm attached to the second camera. On the floor the Kodak cooler with the films and in the door, the window disc pod with the large Lumpp-pivot head, braced by a one-legged tripod. A second sandbag is available for shots taken in a hurry and under pressure through the sunroof.
During the course of time, you tend to meet quite a few interesting colleagues in the Masai Mara. Here it is the French wildlife photographer Michel Denis-Hulot. He spends about 6 months a year on a regular basis in the Mara and lives in this 4-wheel-drive VW Van during that time. Up on the roof he has a permanently attached tent that he only has to open in the evenings. It is a lot more comfortable up on that roof, then in the car at night and the space he would normally need to stow bedding and frame can be used for other things.
The nature photographer Jean-Paul Ferrero from Australia, who can also be found on a regular basis in the Mara River Camp. Since he hates Mosquitoes he usually uses a net or just kills them. Our reminders that you are not allowed to kill any animals in a wildlife reservation didīnt phase him at all.
An unknown film crew. To make movies is somewhat more extensive as well as expensive in comparison to taking pictures of nature. There were 7 members of the film crew in these two vehicles.
Anup Shaw, a colleague who lives in Nairobi and works frequently in the Mara together with his brother Manjoj.
The American colleague Tom Brakefield looks very skeptical here and seems to be waiting for better times.
Here you can see Jonathan Scott in full action. He more or less is living in the Mara half the time and the other half he spends with his family in Nairobi. He has published numerous fantastic books about the animals of the Masai Mara and the Serengeti and he is also one of the few "Triple Talents": he can take pictures, write and draw.
Such a Kodak film cooler is with me at all times in the vehicle, placed on the floor next to my seat. To the left the Fujichorme Sensia -100 films for almost all takes. In the center the red Kodachrome-200, for the "blue hours" either very early or very late. Since the K-200 has a bit of a brown tint it is very suitable for taking pictures with too much of a blue color balance like before sunrise or during rainy weather in order to even the colors out a bit. Next to that, all the way to the right, the Fujichrome-400 slide films, for absolutely hopeless situations where light is concerned. The color situation of the 400 slide films is catastrophically bad and one should only use them when it is extremely necessary.
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