A Non-Photographer's Photography Safari: View From An Interloper
[Photographer definition: A person who takes photographs]
I have been on two of Trai’s photography safaris – to Kenya and Rwanda - and I absolutely loved them both. Getting up close with the animals was an amazing experience and I enjoyed the company, the atmosphere and the whole ethos of the trips. They were truly great life experiences which I will never forget.
I can still smell the Hippo river from the Masai Mara, that sweet rank odour, and the look of the male lion as he lazed on a hillock in the sun, with his hunting harem close by. The close encounter with a Silver Back in the Volcanoes National Park as it walked between our group and we all respectfully crouched down and avoided eye contact. His size was immense and he had pure presence as he stopped to observe and be observed, like a time-served hollywood star entering a party.
These were beyond holidays, they were adventures for the mind, body and soul. Meeting local people and hearing their journey and how they lived, opened up a new knowledge and understanding, adding to the experience and the level of immersion. The physical exertion of the treks into the forest of the Virunga mountains heightened the sense of journey and anticipation. In the Mara the open sided truck journeys allow in all the sounds, smells and colours so that you are surrounded and enveloped by the world of the African plains.
Then of course there are the ‘golden light’ moments when everything has that beautiful hue and the sights and colours are even more pronounced and alive. The coat on a Cheetah comes to life, and a herd of buffalo emerge from the golden mist like something almost biblical in its majesty.
I have seen all of this on Trai’s trips and feel like because of them I know more, I understand more about the environment, both animal and human. The wildlife and the people and their stories are real to me. I put my hand against the paw of a female lion whilst she was sedated as vets put a tracking collar on her to support conservation and understanding. The size of her paw against mine was a surprise, so much larger than I had realised from a distance. Her fur was soft and warm. She was a beauty and the experience brought a lump to my throat. A year later Trai informed us that the lioness had been poisoned by a farmer along with all her cubs and they had all died. I felt that as a personal affront and loss as I had not just seen that lion but had been connected to her for a brief moment that had a lasting impact on me.
The worlds that I inhabited on these trips were brought to life and I have lots of photos to remind me and take me back there.
But this is where I need to make a confession. I do go on Trai’s professional photography safaris but I am not a dedicated photographer. I’m not even a serious photographer. In fact, possibly the greatest crime of them all, I don’t even have a DSLR. It’s true, I don’t have lenses the size of small children that have cost more than the holiday itself!
I started off with a point and shoot. Last year I upgraded to a bridge camera as I wanted to have better mementos of my trips but thought the changing and carting around of lenses for a DSLR wouldn’t work for me at all. I like it simple. I like my camera equipment light! However thanks to Trai’s patience and persistence with non-photo geeks like me, and her quest to send us home happy with something to be proud of, I do now have an have an understanding of ISOs, aperture, shutter speed and white balance to help get a better photo in different settings. But that’s probably about as far as I am bothered to take it, which is good enough for me. I realise this does however make me a heathen of the photography world, an interloper, a charlatan!
But there are real benefits for the non-photography obsessed who go on these trips. Photographers need time, they don’t want crowds, they want good access to their subject, they seek the best light and environment. When you are encountering wildlife that is the best set-up for anyone. You get more time with the animals to really experience them and you aren't fighting others to get a view. I’ve experienced the ‘lets all surround one lion with 10 trucks’ safaris and it was not a great experience for me or the lion.
Another great thing about these photography focussed holidays is that you go with real photographers who do care about these things and know how to take a good picture and you start to watch what they do. So if they are all down on the ground on their bellies getting the shot, I copy. If they are waiting for the right light, I wait with them. If they need the truck moved back by one centimetre to frame the perfect shot, I go with it. All of this helps me get a better photo that I’m happy to show to my pals on my return. And my pals are suitably impressed as my photos are looking way better. Of course I have seen what the more serious ‘togs’ on the group produced and mine are nothing in comparison, but my pals aren’t seeing theirs so I happily revel in the glory and hang on to the pretence.
So if you are usually a photography widow/widower or want a holiday with a friend who is obsessed with their f-stop, or just want a better quality wildlife experience as a solo traveller, these holidays are the perfect answer for you. Whilst your companions are checking their settings and changing lenses, you can have a hassle free experience in the most amazing settings with some beautiful wildlife and even get some decent ‘snaps’ to show off at home and feel smug about.