Captivating images often have three things in common; the subject is interesting, the composition is engaging, and the light illuminates but does not dominate. Any one of these three elements can stimulate a viewer, but when all three pieces of the puzzle are assembled into a single photograph, your audience can climb into the picture and "be there." While it might appear that the subject is the one key element that makes a photograph successful, I would argue that any subject could be made to look interesting in the "right" light. Today's game drive was as much about the light as it was about the subject.
The best light occurs during dawn and dusk.
Today the game drive began at 6:00 a.m. and ended at 7:00 p.m. By now Tamy and I were a blend of extreme fatigue and enthusiasm. Our sleep was brief, but the potential of each new day provided the incentive to extract ourselves from bed. We reassuree each other by saying things like: "We're in Africa, let's not waste is on sleep," or "Suck-it-up, we're going to get really good light now!" These cheap motivational tricks worked better when I was ten years younger, but now they just seem like trite little platitudes. So there we were, tired and enthusiastic, sitting in the Land Cruiser with a lousy boxed-breakfast, thermos of coffee and photo gear.
Our safari group was split between three vehicles and three guides. Terry (the tour leader) sat shotgun with Joseph (the lead guide), Michael (the "Bush Cook") sat shotgun with Clementh, and Mousa (the third guide) captained his "ship" alone. Mousa had to deal with us today. Tamy and I stood on the truck's seats with our heads and torsos exposed to the elements as the cruiser lurched down into the savannah. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was slowly climbing above the rolling hills and kopjes. Fatigue was replaced by the anticipation of something good. Sadly, the landscape appeared to be void of anything interesting. Like "Winnie-the-Poo and the Blustery Day" when it "rained and rained and rained...," we drove and drove and drove. By the time we stopped for lunch we had traversed some 75 km and had very few photographs to show for the effort. Our excitement for the "good light" was replaced by disappointment.
I decided to venture off on foot while Michael prepped another incredible bush lunch. Realizing that the clouds had offered a bit of drama, I scampered into the savannah to do a bit of landscape work. The endlessness of the savannah grass and big blue skies makes Montana look like a finite Christmas globe. My disappointment was beginning to fade as I began to see the landscape take form in my viewfinder.
By the time lunch was over, we were all refreshed and ready for an afternoon adventure.
It was 3:00 p.m. and we all began to think that the day was a going to be a bust. Sure we had seen some wildlife, but it lacked the drama of our previous game drives. We'd stop, photograph a few birds or some gazelle, and move on. Where were the cats, elephants, giraffe? Where did they all go?
Deflated and tired from the early start, we began to accept the reality of the day. It was at this point that the safari god began to smile. The real day's adventure began with a sharp turn to the left onto a dusty and burnt road. The savannah had been torched to black ash. All three trucks sliced through the ashen road in pursuit of the imperceptibly small dot in the distance. The black dust swirled into dust devils and coated our faces, bodies, and cameras... by the time the day was over we looked like poorly decorated actors in a low-budget minstrel show. She was beautiful sitting on the blackened termite mound. The cheetah sat proud surveying her savannah. We made a cautious approach and managed to spend a good half hour with her before she walked into the endlessness in search of some good meat.
The tension and disappointment dissipated as we made our way back to the lodge. The light was diminishing as the sun began to sink into the horizon. Once again the safari god smiled. The lioness had sunk her face into the hide of her wildebeest. Every once in a while she'd stand, glare, and resume the feast. She was weary and detested the vultures that flew above. She was in perfect light.
Today was not a disappointment and the safari god smiled.
©2000-2010 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission