The world of wild animals by Andrey Gudkov

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Wild Zambia. Photo safari — the plain truth

Africa. The continent full of mysteries and secrets. World of amazing animals. And, of course, safari. When mentioned, this concept causes bright associations at any man, such as high-class vacation, as in a movie live exotic passing outside Jeep's or minibus' window; animals which you have got used to see only in a zoo and here they promenade freely, do not paying any attention on cars with tourists; elephants herd drowsily dragging to drinking place in the rays of arising sun, jumping antelopes, giraffes, lions, hippopotamuses, graceful hunting leopards. And the big migration+ Oh! Stop! This spectacle is so superb that its scale impresses not only experienced tourists, but also old salted professionals. And then, after safari, in front of chimney, you discuss the things seen taking a bottle of “Sherry” with other adventures-hunters just like you. And then+ Stop! All these are not for you. Because we will talk not about simple tourists, but about people to whom safari is a job. We will talk about professional photographers at safari, or advanced fans that try to become professionals. We will have a look on safari from another side, which is not that attractive as many straights imagine. We will take a look on safari via photo camera image finder. Professional photo camera.

THE COUNTRY OF PINK HAZES

The tempted travelers and judges of Africa should undoubtedly visit Zambia. The territory of the country is stretched from Tanganyika Lake up to Kaprivi strip in Namibia. It borders in the north on Democratic Republic Congo, in northeast -on Tanzania, in the east - on Malawi, in the southeast - on Mozambique, in the south - on Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, in the southwest - on Namibia and Botswana, in the West - on Angola. Victoria Falls, great Zambezi, Kariba Lake - a place of extreme fishing, which waters simply teem with crocodiles, a wood of fossils Churundu with numerous prints of 150 million years old trees and subjects of the Stone Age, and also a copy of a Neanderthal man's skull, which estimated age is more than 100 thousand years. But the true pearl of Zambia is by right its national parks. Our trip is to the national park Kafue - the oldest park of Zambia, which territory is comparable to Wales.

Amazing wild animals photos of glossy magazine covers are just beautiful front, behind which stands pertinacious and unsightly photographer's work. Exhausting heat, sweat, devastating sun, pernickety dust, endless early wake-ups, many hours of watching object of shooting, many days of searching for an animal to find and finally get required view, dozens kilograms of equipment which you have to carry on always, lack of elementary living conditions these are a few things you have to be ready for. Two ideas “to wait” and “to bear” - must become your friends. I shall try to half open the door to the world of professional photographer-animalist, to tell about some features and nuances of this job, to share experience with readers and adepts of this photography genre. So, we go step by step.

General recommendations

Before going to photo safari, think what for do you need this shooting? Do trip and equipment expenses correspond to final result? Plan your route in advance. Learn about features of the region you're heading to before the voyage. Read some literature and search the web. If possible take a look on photos of other photographers. This will give you understanding of shootings which have already been made.

The most common photographers' mistake at safari is incoherent clicking of everything that moves. On the right, on the left, up, down+. Finally, when the film is shot, or all flash cards are full you realize that there is not a story! There is plenty of everything, but there is no story! A story cannot be repeated and money is already spent. Therefore, choose object of shooting before safari and try to “work it off” exactly, but from all narrative sides. This, on professional language, is called “hold on the story”. Of course, if something interesting appears, do not lose a chance to shoot it. Probably, you will be able to use these single cadres somewhere later.

Your guide is your everything!

Many tourists coming to safari perceive guides (in most case they are also drivers) as trivial part in chain of tourist services, which they receive having paid for standard tourist package. It is like don't forget to take with you knife and folk in the restaurant once you paid for dinner. And a guide, while receiving next set of tourists for guardianship, is 100% sure that he will shoe them only a bit of exotic and tourists in any case will like it. Indeed, these strange tourists will be excited about elephants herd passing by in 100 meters. It doesn't matter that almost all elephants are covered by stocked bush and can be hardly seen only in binocular. Nestling to their cars glasses, they will be happily clicking their cameras, making boast of almost the same views to each other. And THAT shadow which has glimpsed for a second by car it has been hunting leopard. Having shown a smile on his face, he can always say that there are few animals because it is not a season, and it's hot and all animals have hidden in stocked bush, and only this morning zebras have been passing this path, and he can not drive closer to that lions, because it might be dangerous, and he can not move away from the route specified. And he can say many other things. But+ only not to you!

Guide must know that you're professional and you will do anything for the required shoot. Thus and so, he should leave all his prepared beautiful fairy tales for tourists. You're not a tourist. You have come here to work. And his job is to help you. And when you are be creeping by lush spines to lions lie to shoot kits closeup while their mom is at hunt guide will be creeping behind you, protecting your back and, eagle-eyed, looking around for lioness not to come back beforehand, otherwise+ this shooting might become the last one for both of you. Or he will be standing with you for a couple of hours in black and warm because of sun waterlogged bog slush, waist - deep, holding on his back 7 kg of equipment and waiting while hippopotamus start yawning, opening up his enormous chap, giving you a chance to “aim” and make cherished shoot.

That is why during the trip the guide should become you father, older brother, teacher, best friend, assistant, buddy, at all in one. He must jump of happiness when you, finally, got needed shoot, and must be distressed for you and like you and do not sleep all night long, because today you have again driven through in vain.

Guides staff, normally, consists of local population, who orientate perfectly in animals habits, know all paths, behavior features, places of maximum concentration of those or these animals, possible dangers when meeting wild animals. That is why result of your work will depend on if you manage to find understanding with your guide.

Working with guide starts even before safari. Namely the first contacts lay the ground of your relations. Explain in details what you want to shoot. Which animals you are interested in, and which you're not. At the same time, inquire him about local fauna features. Which animals he has met recently, if animals are active, etc. Finally, at the end of your conversation, you will have complete picture of local animals world state, which will let you build the work plan correctly. And one more thing. Be grateful and do not scrimp for bonuses. Do not be restricted by modest “thank you”. Nobody has ever cancelled money motivation.

What to wear

There are some general and well-known criteria for choosing safari clothes comfortable, longwearing, preferably made of cotton. I will not repeat it in this article. However, I still would like to point out some features.

First of all, try to use clothes with long arm and made of thick material. Why? There are several reasons. You will have to stand up before sunrise. Mornings in savanna are coolly and rarely-moist. Besides, if you would need to mount guard over animal for a long time under scalding sun, long arm would save you from sunburns. If you would get to wade through rough and thorny African flora, then long sleeves will save your arms and you will need them later. And the last. Gad-flies and tsetse flies rage in the places of maximum animals' concentration and in boggy places there are also gnats and mosquitoes. And you will have to sit like a log waiting for required shoot. A bite of big gad-flies is very painful, and tsetse flies are simply dangerous. Long-arm short will be your natural protection.

Secondly, shoes must be light, comfortable and longwearing. High lacing boots are the best choice. Safari boots which are sold in abundance in specialized local shops, are of course good, but only for tourists, learning local fauna from the window of air-conditioned microbus.

Thirdly, use in your work special photographic waistcoats with many pockets. Domke or Cam-Fis-Pro waistcoats have gained good reputation. I liked the last one more because of better cut and pockets arrangements. For this but not tricky thing is just irreplaceable for a photographer. Many little devices, such as caps and lens covers, brushes, bulbs, towels for optics, films, flash-cards, and especially when there are many of them and you should not get into a mess where are already shot, and where are empty ones, screws and platforms for supports, which you need always and should be within reach, are placed easily in endless bottomless pockets of such waistcoat and can be taken out easily whenever required.

Equipment

I will not compare digital and analog cameras. Let everyone make his own choice. As for me, I prefer Canon. Let's talk about equipment, which every professional photographer should have at safari.

Of course there is no sense to come to safari without long-focus camera lens. These can be camera lens with changeable focal distance and also with constant. Normally I use 2 camera lens. These are Canon 100-400 mm and Canon 600 mm. Both are of “L” series and with image stabilizer. Until now such range has completely coped with the tasks settled. Besides, there is reason to take with you transitional ring of 1,4X or 2X reduction range.

The support is compulsory “must have”. It should be heavy and very stable, because only 600mm camera lens weights more than 5 kg. You cannot practically shoot by hands only with such camera lens. Besides, support excludes “moves” at long-time exposure.

Flash can also be useful, especially when you shoot at night, sunrise or against sun. But do not get very addicted to it, because hard flashlight can scare an animal.

As additional equipment I take a pair of special pencils to clean optics by Lenspen, pear for blow-down, towels for camera lens cleaning. And one more thing. Try to shoot by several cameras at the same time. This will allow you to work on the fly, not wasting time for camera lens change. Indeed, very often you have only few seconds to be able to shoot a great view.

A bit about security

Colleagues, please remember that no shoot, even the greatest one, worth human life. Sure, it is a risk to work in “wildlife” genre photographing. But risk must be justified – always. Here are some advices and recommendations to photographers going to safari.

First of all, do not step out the car if there is no special need. This can cost you life, and your guide – prison. Take into account, that wild animals surround you and they perceive you as banal food when you're outside the car. Animals treat car calmly and interpret it as big animal, which has right for territory just like them.

Secondly, do not provoke an animal, do not vex it, do not wave your hands in order to make animal active. Animal's reaction to your gestures can be very different from fear to sharp aggression. And you will not be ale to do anything. Animal is much faster and dexterous than you.

Thirdly, if you have stepped outside the car and found yourself in front of predators, such as lions, leopards, hunting leopards, do not turn back to them not for the world. Your back is a signal for an attack. Slowly, without hoicks, try to move away; herein do not fix your eyes on a predator.

Fourthly, never step between animal's young and female. When cub disappears from mama's range of vision, female pushes the panic button and this certainly means big, big troubles for you. In my practice there was an accident, when minibus with tourists stopped between mama-rhinoceros and careless child. Mammy, like a shot, stroke with a run such a violent blow to the car, that minibus simply flipped over. And only gunshots were able to frighten the furious animal away.

Fifthly, I want to talk about elephants separately. These gigantic and sluggish giants always bring plenty of positive emotions to tourists. But boisterous elephant is like a heavy tank against soldier with wooden gun. Where is no place to run away in savanna, and random trees will not save you. Anyway elephants run much faster than people. Therefore, during shooting stay safe distance away from elephants. For instance, elephants in Kenya are more peaceful, but in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Uganda are very aggressive. And there are reasons for it; the first one is uncontrolled extermination of elephants by poachers during many years. Of course strict laws have already been enacted by today, prohibiting hunting of these animals, but, as it turned out, elephants do remember evil, which man was bringing to them and still consider man as a treat. And they know how to protect themselves, believe me.

Sixthly, a bit should be sad about hippopotamuses. They are sluggish, funny and sulky on pictures and in a movie. But do not provoke them. Hippopotamuses can run relatively fast. And if you watch their lives from a boat or motorboat, do not swim to close, especially during coupling period. While mating games stags can be very dangerous. Statistics show that hippopotamuses are the reason of majority of safari tourists' deaths. It looks weird, but these are plain facts.

And the very last thing. If you're offered helicopter flight and intend to make some air shoots, check safety belts before the flight. Remember that during shooting your hands will hold camera and lens, i.e. you will not be able to hold on. Photographers are venturesome and devoted people, and while shooting might simply fall out helicopter in pursuit of a view. Unfortunately we have not yet learned to fly. So keep situation under control.

All pictures have been taken in “Kafue National Park”. I express gratitude to management of Wilderness safaris and to camps Kapinga and Shumba stuff for the help in the organization and carrying out of photographs, and also personally to my guide and driver Lexon Munuma — for his professional approach to business, compulsion and competence.

Separate gratitude to the professional photo laboratory PROLAB and Elena Skornyakova for the help in processing images.



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Acknowlegements:
Special thanks to designers Dmitry and Vladimir Jakovlev for professionalism and original creative decisions;
to translator Irina Kharakterova for qualified texts translation.