Happy New Year!
Rather than annoy everyone on my mailing list by sending them an American-style Christmas newsletter telling them all the wonderful things I’d been up to, I thought I’d write this post instead!
It’s been an up-and-down year for me professionally. I won a few competitions (here, here, here and here), of which one led to a sale of my jumping penguin at auction and another led to an interview on London Live. I also went on three big trips to Tanzania, Kenya and south-east Asia (including Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand). Finally, I gave a talk at Beckenham Photographic Society and taught a couple of half-day photography classes in Richmond Park. On the other hand, my image downloads through stock agencies stopped growing, and I didn’t manage to sell any prints at either of my exhibitions at 508 King’s Road and Lumi Arts or through online galleries - apart from one that turned out to be paid for by a stolen credit card!
It was my first trip to Tanzania, and it was great to be able to visit iconic places such as the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater as well as Tarangire, Lake Manyara and Oldupai Gorge. I’d booked the week-long Classic Tanzania Safari with Exodus as it covered all the areas I wanted to go to, and, although it wasn’t high season, we certainly saw our fair share of wildlife. I came home with a dozen five-star shots that I considered to be among my all-time favourites, but the best one happened by accident.
The lilac-breasted roller is one of my favourite birds. It’s a beautiful little thing and quite commonly seen in East Africa, although it’s call is so harsh that it reminds me of the worst kind of Essex girl - beautiful to look at but awful when she opens her mouth! Anyway, I was on a game drive taking a straightforward portrait of one of these birds when, suddenly, it took off - or rather it didn’t. It just fluttered its wings and settled back on the branch. Fortunately, I happened to press the shutter at just the right moment to capture the bird with its wings outstretched (above), and this shot was later chosen for the Opening Shot double-page spread in Outdoor Photography magazine.
I went to Kenya with Exodus again, this time on a Photographic Safari with Paul Goldstein, my favourite wildlife photography guide. Paul always gives you the best opportunities to take pictures of the animals, and this was the best safari I’ve ever been on. On most safari trips, you drive around in a truck until you see an animal, you take a few pictures and then you drive around until you see another one. This was different. Paul paid for a ‘spotter’ out of his own pocket to search for lions, leopards and cheetahs in the conservancy, and he’d radio in the location of whatever he saw. As a result, we spent almost all our time with the big cats, and - inevitably - that meant we saw a number of kills. I’d seen a chase before in Africa, and I’d seen various cats and vultures feeding from a carcase, but I’d never seen an actual kill. This time, I saw five! We spent time with two cheetahs, one with one cub and one with four, and we saw them kill three Thomson’s gazelles and two scrub hares - which was doubly amazing as the mother just caught the hare without killing it and then allowed her cubs to learn how to do it themselves!
The other thing I enjoyed while in Kenya was being able to practise Paul’s favourite technique, which is the slow pan. He taught me how to do it in Spitsbergen a few years ago, but it’s not easy: I took 1,504 slow pan pictures of seabirds one day and only kept four! However, when it works, it produces a picture that captures a sense of movement and energy better than anything taken at 1/1000 of a second. The basic idea is to choose a slow shutter speed and then follow an animal as it moves from side to side. The shutter speed has to be slow enough to blur the legs (or wings) of the animal and the background but fast enough to keep the head sharp. You have to be pretty brave to use those settings as you risk losing a whole bunch of great picture-taking opportunities, but it’s worth it when it works.
My trip to Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand wasn’t really a photography trip at all. It was organised by the wife of an Australian friend of mine I’d met watching sport at my local pub, and he wanted to celebrate his 50th birthday by getting a group of friends together to visit a few South-east Asian countries - and fire a bazooka!
The firing range was the first place we went to in Cambodia. Sadly, Kevin missed the target with the bazooka, so he tried again with an RPG - and missed again! Not a good start, but at least the local beer was only 50 cents a can! After the trip to the range, we took a tour of a Khmer Rouge political prison called S21 and a mass grave in the ‘killing fields’. It was all very sobering stuff. We then flew on to Siem Reap to see the palaces of Angkor Wat.
The boys and I took a rickshaw tour one day, and then one of the women and I took a balloon ride to get an aerial perspective. It wasn’t my usual subject matter, but I’m glad to have been able to tick it off my bucket list, and I can quite understand why it inspired the Lara Croft Tomb Raider franchise.
Our next stop was Vietnam, where we visited various battlefield sites, including the Cu Chi tunnels, Long Tan and Can Gio. It was rather disturbing to hear our Vietnamese guide gleefully telling us about all the inventive ways in which they killed American soldiers in the war - almost as if he was a German guide at Auschwitz telling us how proud he was of the gas chambers! Anyway, at least at Can Gio there were dozens of long-tailed macaques to photograph.
Our final destination was Bangkok, where we visited a couple of palaces and temples and also spent a very entertaining day at the floating markets. The women were keen to buy lots of knick-knacks, so they spent most of their time haggling with the stallholders. Gerlinde was the Negotiator-in-Chief, and she did a great job of getting the best price for everyone.
It was great to see my friends again (and make a few new ones), but I’ll stick to wildlife trips in future…
So that’s a quick review of 2018, and now I just have to let you all know of my plans for 2019. The big news is that I’ve been hired by andBeyond and Cottar’s to be the resident photographer at various safari lodges in Tanzania and Kenya. We’re still sorting out the paperwork and waiting for a park fee waiver that may never be issued, but I’m hoping to be teaching photography for three months in two lodges in the Serengeti and a month at Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp just over the border in the Masai Mara. It’s a great opportunity, and it came about quite by accident. I happened to read about a photographer who had managed to get 365 nights of accommodation in Africa in exchange for the rights to his images. I thought it was a rather good idea, so I simply Googled ‘safari lodges in Kenya’ and ‘safari lodges in Tanzania’ and sent around 50 emails asking for the same kind of barter arrangement. Pretty soon, I had 18 replies inviting me to stay for free, and two companies asked me to teach photography: andBeyond and Cottar’s. We’ll see if it all works out, but I’m really looking forward to it, and I hope it’s something I can repeat in the years to come. I’m also due to lead a trip to Botswana and Victoria Falls to see the lunar rainbow in August 2019, but that depends on finding enough guests to make it financially worthwhile. Fingers crossed, and all the best for 2019…!