Landing in Nairobi last month, my usual fears were running amok. Would my luggage arrive with me? Would I have problems at customs? Would the bartender at the first camp be able to make me a decent Old Fashioned, of which I was desperately in need? You know the ones. But most heavy of all, the one weighing me down after so many safaris that I’ve now lost count, was this: would the work—the photographs—be good?
Or would I just do what I’ve done before, unable to find a new angle or shake off the old ways? Would I end up mowing the same patch of grass over and over, which is a real risk in any pursuit at which one begins to find some level of comfort or success?
I didn’t go to Kenya to make larger, sharper versions of the photographs I’ve made before. I went to make photographs that were, well, see, that’s the problem; I had no idea. I’ve grown in the last year, and creatively, I’m almost unrecognizable since I did my first safari in 2009. I wanted photographs that were more, I don’t know . . . visceral. Photographs that evoked more, if to no one else but me. In the back of my head, I heard the echo of something Jay Maisel once said: if you want more interesting pictures, then be a more interesting person.
My slightly adjusted version goes like this: if you want more interesting photographs, have more interesting experiences. Try something new.
Fortunately for me, I’d planned an itinerary that gave me some options where new and interesting experiences were concerned. For one, I’d planned for three nights at a rhino conservancy in the north, a place suggested to me by my guide in Nairobi the year before because I’d be allowed to get my cameras closer to the rhino than ever before. I’d also planned for four nights in Amboseli, known for large tuskers walking daily across the lake bed in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and then two nights in the south, where I’d booked some helicopter time to get me over the soda lakes known for colourful swirls of algae blooms and flocks of bright pink greater flamingos.
I had a blast. It was the most fun I’ve had with cameras in my hand in a while. But it was also (and here I’m coming around to my point) really hard. It was so outside my comfort zone that I felt like I was starting over. The helicopter especially had a way of making me stupid, like I’d never held a camera in my hand before. But it was all different. Walking with a wild elephant and then (somewhat counterintuitively) lying down in front of him as he approached is not a skill I’ve already learned. There’s no eBook for that; you just do it. You figure it out (mostly, what you figure out is how to hold the camera still and not soil your pants while still composing your shot).
The rhinos were different. One doesn’t (I am told) lie down in front of rhinos. But back in Nairobi, a friend had given me a metal cage that was just large enough to put my camera in—a contraption designed exactly for this purpose, and he suggested I give it a whirl. “Your guides will help you get it where you need it,” he said, and then I ran off to download a remote app to connect my Sony A1 to my iPhone, giggling like a little boy at the thought of getting my cameras so close to something so large.
A couple of weeks later, I was working with two guides whose skill was matched only by their patience as we worked to get the cage into the path of southern white rhinoceroses while fighting the very buggy remote software and trying at the same time to pay attention to composition and moment and keep my fingers crossed that at some point it would all come together. Most of the time, it didn’t. The connection between camera and iPhone would drop, the rhinos would go the other way, or they’d walk past it, tipping it over as they went. But I didn’t need it to work all of the time; the times it all goes wrong don’t matter (though they teach good lessons)—I only needed it to work sometimes, and it did. Brilliantly.
I had three nights to get the rhinos right. That meant focusing. It meant saying no when the radio was buzzing with news of a leopard or pride of lions. It meant going out each morning before dawn and returning after sunset, and skipping the traditional cocktail as the sun went down. It meant the answer was always yes when one of my wonderful guides smiled at me and said, “Shall we try just one more time?” (knowing he’d be saying it again and again until the light was long gone).
There’s an opportunity cost involved in being focused. What if the lion or leopard sighting was amazing? It takes some discipline to stick to the task, especially when the rhinos (and the remote software) have a strong mind of their own and the task isn’t looking promising. This was well outside my comfort zone, and when things weren’t working, it meant I was missing two shots: the one I was working on (i.e., screwing up) and the one I was saying no to elsewhere—the one with the three-legged leopard juggling five warthogs in perfect light.
The aerial photography was mind-blowing. Lake Magadi is a soda lake in southern Kenya, sitting a couple of kilometres from the Tanzanian border. The pH in the lake makes it prone to incredible algae blooms, and the results are bright and shifting colourful swirls. I was there to photograph these patterns with flamingos (fingers crossed) flying over them to give scale and life. How hard could it be? Well, it turns out there’s a huge learning curve. Time of day matters. Light matters. Keeping your shit together long enough to consider composition while the helicopter banks hard enough to make you reconsider your lunch choices matters, too. It’s just not easy. It crossed my mind several times that I could be making safer photographs (and certainly a little easier) back on the ground.
The best photographs I’ve made in the last 37 years have all included an element of risk. Sometimes that risk was physical, but most often, it was creative or psychological. The risk is often that the person I want to photograph will say no, or the photographs will be crap. The risk is that taking the time try a new approach means you’ll be missing the chance to do the stuff that does work. The tried and true. Sure, you’ll be repeating yourself, but better to go home with some version of what you’ve done before than nothing at all, right?
I don’t think so. I guess there’s an argument to be made to get your safety shots but is “safe” the best we can do? Is the goal of all this the creation of a photograph that’s only slightly different than the one you made before? I mean, if you liked the last one, you’ll like the next one, right? Perhaps. But I’ve found there is a law of diminishing returns at work, and I’m generally less satisfied with the same old stuff, even if the image is technically better. It just doesn’t thrill me. More importantly, I’ve found the risks that scare me are the ones most guaranteed to teach me some new thing, a new skill, or even just give me the proof that I really can do this. They’re the opportunities for a new challenge, and challenge—risk!—is necessary for creative flow. It’s where we do our best work.
Your risk is not my risk. Some of you will never feel the need to lie down in front of an elephant (in the company of guides and spotters who knew what they were doing). Some of you have no interest in helicopters or learning to use an iPhone to control your camera. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to bother with the remote trigger thing. Too fussy, I thought. Too unpredictable. The results were too uncertain. Of course they were uncertain! It’s all uncertain! And that’s where we learn, grow, and find ourselves face-to-face with the unexpected. That’s where we find ourselves outside the rut we’ve been in, and it’s where we find—unexpectedly—a new groove. Those are the experiences I’m after.
Science disproves the idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. We old dogs (some older than others) are, in fact, much more teachable. We’ve learned how to learn. We’ve got less to lose. But oh, are we timid at times.
It’s just easier to do what we’ve done and what we know works for us. But is it still working? The same-old, same-old? Is it still challenging you? Does it bring you the same rewards or joys? Or could the same-old be a foundation on which to build something new? A launching point for new experiences?
My own version of same-old is what gave me the muscle memory to do what I needed to do with the camera when I was otherwise distracted by the huge tusker in front of me. It gave me the recall and the instinct to do what I needed to do in the helicopter without thinking so I could focus more on the art direction than not falling out or trying to remember how to change my settings.
To return to my point, the magic is outside the comfort zone. Sometimes we’re forced there, but most often, we need to choose it. New experiences, new technology, new creative challenges, and new ideas—new tricks for old dogs. Maybe for you, it’s photographing people. Ack! Are you kidding? That’s terrifying! Exactly.
Maybe it’s as simple as changing the time of day during which you photograph. What? Photograph at night? But I don’t know how! Precisely. Maybe it’s time to learn to use strobes, create multiple exposures, or explore ICM. But what if I fail? Yup. But what if you don’t? And what’s “failure,” anyway? Don’t you mean, “But what if I learn?”
A good photograph is the product of many things. Light and our choices about it. Use of space and time. What we do with colour and perspective. Our choice of optics. Yes, sometimes it’s also the gear. A good photograph happens at the intersection of so many things, to which I want to add one more: risk. Play with the light, the gear, your point of view, and the choice of moment. Play with it all, because we learn when we play. But don’t play it safe.
I’d love to answer questions about any of this. Using remote triggers or helicopters, or if you just want to say hello, you can do that on my blog here. I’d love to hear from you.
I came across you and your work as I recently purchased one of your books and today ordered another 2 of your books 🙂
Signed up to receive your newsletter. I learned something on masking last night after watching your video – thanks
Today I was reading this article as I am in a creative rut with my photography and this is just what I needed. Thanks
A question for you though on using your iphone as a trigger? Was there a reason why the iphone and not a more dedicated style trigger? Was it convenience?
Andrew in Ottawa Canada
Hi Andrew, welcome here! I used my phone for a couple reasons. The first is simple: I didn’t know when I went to Kenya that I would have access to the camera cage I eventually used. So an app on the iPhone made sense. But even if that were not the case, to be wireless is important to me – I need to be able to drive around after placing the cage. And no wired or dedicated remote I’ve seen yet allows me to look through the lens of the camera and make all the changes I want to make – aperture, ev, shutter, focus point, etc. And the iPhone app cost me $30, which is a good price for something I was only experimenting with. I’ve since decided to do more of this, perhaps with other beasties, and I still haven’t found a better solution. Hope this helps!
I figured it was something just so simple and cost effective
You inspire me so much. Thank you for taking the time to teach us to get out of comfort zone and take a few chances. You are blessed in so many ways.
Well done sir. That image from the helicopter is amazing!
I believe that I’ve read in the past that the process you used to photograph the rhinos, is also used by “some guy” named Nick Brandt – who happens to be one of my favorite photographers. He also photographs a lot in Africa, including elephants, tuskers, rhinos, etc, but I’m pretty sure you’ve talked about him at some point and are very familiar with his work.
Sometimes I wonder if your newsletter isn’t part photography revelations and part life coaching session!
I am an old dog who struggles with new tricks, but you have a way of explaining things that make them understandable.
“But what if I fail? Yup. But what if you don’t? And what’s “failure,” anyway? Don’t you mean, “But what if I learn?””
is gold. I tend to shy away from things I don’t think I will succeed at. But if every potential failure is a learning opportunity, then the possibilities are endless 🙂
Your photos are stunning and make me miss Kenya even more.
Loved reading the article and how you were able to get out of your comfort zone and try new things.
The photographs are amazing!
I’m lucky in that I have a group of photographer friends who love to push me and others out of their comfort zone. We meetup when we can and share stories and ideas, plus walk around and find things to shoot. We also take part in a online scavenger hunt, that helps me create new and different photographic art.
Anyway, keep sharing the awesome posts and images!
Thanks, Wade. You’re a lucky man. Too few of us keep company with people who insist on pushing us rather than re-enforcing our belief in our own PR. Challenge is where flow is found, and the comfort zone is only comfortable until your butt gets numb. 🙂
This definitely struck a chord in me! I have been struggling with the same-old, same-old so much that I haven’t picked up my camera in months, Ugh! I want to try something new, but haven’t figured out what that might be yet. I will never be lucky enough to go on a safari (thanks for taking us along with your photos), but there are many places in my surrounding state that I can investigate. I really don’t want to end up with a numb butt, LOL!
Can you tell me about your online scavenger hunt? My photographer friends and I are always looking for something new to try.
Daaaaa-vid! Haven’t I already told you to get out of my head????!!!
WTF, buddy, it’s bad enough I kicked my own butt all morning on this very topic then you come along and do it all over again, only better!
Yesterday, I was privileged to hike into the Titan Grove in the California Redwoods.
I took my favorite creative lens, Lensbaby Trio 28.
AND a 70-120 mm vanilla lens AND my iPhone.
I took a dozen shots with my Lensbaby, then I freaked out and became afraid that I would go home with gobbledegook.
So I shot a bit of 70-120 mm, none of which looked like anything in the end.
Mostly I shot stupid cell phone—you know—straight up, the tourist thing—dozens of them—I could just kick myself—oh, wait! We both just did that!
My very few Lensbaby shots showed that was going to be the only way to shoot something unique and spiritualized of these great trees. But I barely got started when I chickened out. What is up with that herd instinct? I did the same thing the other night with sunset over the sea stacks, although fortunately I spent more time getting the weird shots I like: doubled, folded, refracted and reflected.
Okay, okay, so I’m not throwing myself down in front of a herd of charging elephants or locking myself into a shark cage like Some People We Could Mention, but it’s my little version of the same thing.
Amazing photos, though, David, in spite of and because of the insanity. That helicopter shot should win Wildlife Photograph of the Year—make sure you put it out there where the judges can see it.
As the kids say, “You’re all that.”
PS Earlier message received and compassionately noted.
LOL. Thank you, Sandy. Your comments and emails are always good for a chuckle, but you know it wouldn’t be the same if I obeyed, got out of your head, and moved on down the road. 🙂 I’m here for ya! 😘
David, way off subject here however you once talked about a specific pen you used when journaling. Do you recall what that was?
Hi David. I guess it depends how far back we’re going but for the last 10 years or so I’ve only used a Montblanc Le Grand Rollerball for journalling. It’s almost as good as the Pilot G-2 rollerballs I used for years before that but much more expensive. LOL.
Thank you sir. You answered my question perfectly. Ill stay with the Pilot after seeing that price.
Elephants terrify me, but I suddenly have the urge to lie down in front of one! Fantastic image !
Thank you, Jackie! It’s a good urge but probably best done with guides that know the elephants. 🙂
I DID lie down in front of a rhino once in Kenya. Guide and armed ranger said it was OK as it was 60 ft away. I kept saying “Really? You sure? Still ok?” as it came closer and closer. By the time it was about 20ft in front of me and they whispered “don’t move!” of course I freaked and just had to get up. Lived to tell about it, obviously, but will make my own decisions from now on. Living in Kenya I get the chance often to do stupid things. And oh yeah…you were here again and didn’t call!!!
This put a huge smile on my face, reading your descriptions of how you got these shots. And that elephant pic is perfect! Rhino composition, amazing. And the flamingos look as if they were superimposed in crispness over the dimples of rough watercolor paper, such a stunning shot.
Thanks for the peek and sharing your risks and fun, lots to think about!
Thank you, Michelle. You’ve got me blushing over here. 😉
So lovely to receive your email and to hear of your new adventures. You always manage to inspire and give a friendly push in a new creative direction – and always with a sprinkling of your trademark humour. I loved the mental image of the three legged leopard juggling the warthogs!
🙂 Thank you, Jackie!
“There’s an opportunity cost involved in being focused.”
There’s also an incredible opportunity cost, if you _aren’t_ focused. Like jumping lines at the ice cream shop, you often end up being further back than if you’d just stayed put.
You got your images, because you stayed focused :).
You got it! I guess the point I was making is there’s always, no matter how many times you do this, the creeping voice of FOMO. It always FEELS like you’re missing something more than possibly gaining something. Thanks for chiming in JT!
HI David….what an exciting trip to be on. Could not believe how close you were to the elephants & rhino’s. Talk about unusual shots. Wish I could have been there to get the shot of the elephant laying under the vehicle. What a great idea for a shot. Have you thought about changing both of the photos to black & white? I think they could really stand out. Let me know when you’re going back as I want to do that trip
Thanks, Jim. An email to you is the next thing I do after this. You asked about black and white though and yes, it’s tempting but I think the colours are strong and work well together. And, TBH it seems like everyone is working in B&W with this kind of stuff and I’m loathe to be another David Yarrow (much as I respect him).
Oh David, your emails never fail to inspire and entertain me! I appreciate your hefty nudges to get out and try something different and your imagery is guaranteed to make anyone smile. I’d never before considered the possibility of a three-legged leopard juggling five warthogs in perfect light, but that vision made me chuckle and will now be forever lodged in my imagination!
Thank you so much for that, Helen! If you find the leopard let me know! 🙂
I certainly will, but I fear the nearest I’ll get to that in rural England will be our little black carpet panther (named Lucy) chasing a bat around our living room! 😂
David! More details, please!
How did you get the Amboseli guides to let you get out of the truck? Our guides were adamant that we had to remain in the vehicle.
What lodge did you stay in at Amboseli?
Did you see Craig?
Which rhino reserve ~ Olpejeta?
Eagerly awaiting more photos ~ cheers!
Thanks, Scott. I’ll send an email about the rhinos privately due to sensitivity about locations and poaching, but yes, you’re in the ballpark. Amboselli is (in part) a National Park. No getting out of vehicles in the park. But there are also conservancies. We were staying at Tortilis Lodge in Kitirua Conservancy adjacent to the park and our guides were wonderful to work with. Going back in January if you want to come. 🙂 And, yes, we saw Craig. We spend a morning with him in Kuku Conservancy. Took a while, and 6 trackers to find him, but it was a wonderful encounter. Email on its way this morning!
I just read this post (read it in the newsletter, then came here for a comment)
I have been following you for years, read alomost all of your books and ebooks and learned a lot from your way of thinking. You have a very vivid way of telling a story and a nice touch of humor in there as well.
Recently your newsletter were on the brink of being too much advertising for your course and not enough newsletter.. ..stuff..
I understand that you of course have to make a living too, so I usually just skip over the advertising parts if I don’t fell interested, but sometimes it just feels like “Where is that good old David DuChemin story I love to read?”
..and then you release a story like this. A story that feels honest, intriguing, fun and makes me want to go out at shoot more.. do more..
I love it, and I guess that’s why I will keep following you and your work.
You make my favorite photography newsletter. Keep up the good work.
Thank you, John! Yes, there are times that the cost of getting the emails is a week of listening to me jabber on about my courses, and yes, it’s how I make my living, but some people just complain or unsubscribe so thank you for your patience. 🙂 it’s a tough balance, but I’m grateful for people like you who give me a chance to find it. Thank you!
Great great shots David. They are really beautiful. Amazing to see you continue to push the edges to make better and better images.
Thanks for sharing.
Thank you, Kelvin! 🙏
There is something magic about the timing of your email / blogs. It seems to me that they arrive with a message I need to hear, just when I’m ready to hear it. This is no exception. I was just struggling to put words to the feeling of dissatisfaction I’ve been feeling with my photography, and now I don’t need to, or at least I know where to start. It has been ages since I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. And, have you noticed when you stay in your comfort zone it shrinks, and even things that used to be in it, seem, somehow to be scary again? So, thank you for your thoughtful and open posts. And, as always, thank you for your wonderful images.
Thank you, Nancy. That makes me very happy. I often hear that there’s something uncanny about the timing of my emails and I really can’t account for it except that if I’m thinking about or wrestling with something there’s a good chance others are too. I try to be relevant and listen to my gut. And I love the comment you just made about the shrinking comfort zone. Mine tends to both shrink and expand – give it a chance and it’ll swallow my creative life whole! 🙂
Great and inspirational stuff David, and timely as I prepare to take my A1 on our first ever African Safari to Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. For me, now retired, everything is just that little or lot bit more risky than before. Your thoughts, experiences and comments give me encouragement and a real sense of excitement as I look forward to our own unique experience. Hopefully my gear, my learning and all my experience to date, will help me get some unforgettable and beautiful images. Thanks again, cheers, Sean
Hoping you and your A1 have an AMAZING adventure, Sean! Get out there and try it all!
Hi David! I can’t say I’ve done much photography in a long while, but I continue to read your work and translate it into what I’m doing now. Your words of stepping out of the slippers and into some stilettos (paraphrased) resonates. I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for a couple of years and it’s time to shake it up. Thanks for the nudge. Dance anyone?
BTW – killer job on the rhinos. Damn!
Slippers for stilettos? You know I hate it when others come up with better metaphors than I do, right? 😜 Thanks for that, Trina. I’ll pass on the dance, but drinks on the boat when the weather warms up? You bring the stilettos and the boat, I’ll bring the wine (and Cynthia).
Beautiful pics David. Specially the elephants one
Thank you, Diego!
Good read, I enjoyed it.
I share a similar perspective. I’m about to head off into the islands of Micronesia for the second time, keen to shoot it differently.
It’s an age and stage thing I think (we’re of a similar vintage), that we reflect on our body of work and want to shake it up a bit. I’m a tourism and travel photographer and, while a formulaic approach continues to meet my clients needs, its not as satisfying to me creatively as it once was. So, rather than shoot what’s obvious to me, I’ll head out this time chasing more incidental images, the things in front of me that people don’t see. Instead of bright light, I’ll be looking into the darkness for subtle shades of light, for an interpretation rather than a record, soft, sensual, emotive images that speak to me as an artist
It’s hard, as you’ve intimated, not to revert to type, to give way more to your intuition than what’s worked for you in the past.
But I love that, as photographers, we even get to think like this and go out the next day to put it into practice. And that – as elusive as it is – that one defining photograph we’ll proudly hang in our studio, is still out there just waiting for us to find it. 😉
An “age and stage thing” – you nailed it David. Thanks for chiming in. Your comment needs to be read and re-read, there’s some real insight in there. Have a great adventure in Micronesia. I hope you have some interesting challenges – that’s where the flow happens!
Reading your photo newsletter is great fun and encouraging.
The ideas you gave Andy regarding walking around Toronto are very interesting for me.
I will try out these ideas in Locarno, Switzerland.
Thank you, David!
The pleasure is mine, Hanna. Thank you for reading.
“If you liked the last one, you’ll like the next one, right? Perhaps. But I’ve found there is a law of diminishing returns at work, and I’m generally less satisfied with the same old stuff, even if the image is technically better.”
THANK YOU for putting words to what I was sensing lately and just couldn’t articulate, even to myself. The thought above will be kept in my pocket for all my outings in the coming year.
You’re very welcome, Jennifer. Thrilled that those words resonate so well with you. 🙏
This week for me, you seem to have pushed a series of “right buttons” steering me toward an important set of decisions as to where to go next as I re-kindle my love of making (and now editing) photographs. I have been considering what to add next to my 50mm kit lens – wide? or telephoto? Beyond the Shutter has sent me back through the images that I have made over the past year with my transition to Digital after a long lost stretch with film. Although it wasn’t the trend that I was primarily looking for, most of the images that I prize from this year of re-kindling have been made with a borrowed 18 -135 zoom lens, and have very much favored the wide-angle end of the spectrum.
In my 20’s I hungered for that long lens – now I am moving closer to my subjects. I just finished going back to review your chapter on photographing people from “Within The Frame”. Here, you have challenged this old dog ( about to turn 70) to learn some new tricks and to step outside my comfort zone. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!!! Photographing people it is! If you can lay on the ground and photograph that huge Tusker at 24mm, I should be able to walk up to someone at the Farmer’s Market, engage them, and take their photograph.
Thanks for the “push”! And keep your insights coming as they are hugely appreciated!
“If you can lay on the ground and photograph that huge Tusker at 24mm, I should be able to walk up to someone at the Farmer’s Market, engage them, and take their photograph.”
Yes, Paul! Exactly. Sure, the long lenses are sexy and I’m sure Freud would have some spicy commentary on this (Back off, Sigmund, sometimes a lens is just a lens!) but they’re easier to use and don’t “feel” the way a wide angle can. I’m over here in Nanoose Bay applauding your choice and for picking up the challenge!
Thank you! I am starting something new with my photography. Your letter is exactly what I needed to read.
Thank you for these reminders and photos! The flamingos and algae esp capture my wow. 🙂
Just read Lori’s comment above about your communications and I completely agree w/ her. Your generosity with ideas, information and pointers keep me coming back. Oh, and I recently watched your old comedy vid. on YT. Really great! Plus, I saw the same attention to detail and extensive practice that I see in your photography.
Thank YOU, Joolz, though I’m sorry you had to sit through my comedy. That’s time you’ll never get back. LOL.
I really appreciate your challenge – and the fact that you recognize that for some of us it may be as simple as shooting something different, or at a different time of day. Having been on two safaris, my goals were much more basic: get the Big Five. Still need to get a rhino shot, and you’ve given me some good ideas about getting photos of elephants. I don’t think I’ll ride a helicopter or lie on the ground, but I can think of new ways to approach the process. Again, thanks for this post…and all of them.
Thanks, David! Having readers like you is why I think I have one of the most remarkable communities of photographers on the internet. What an honour to serve you. 🙏
SO glad I scrolled all the way down the email about Safari old dogs – your selfie with tongue “stuck” to the camera and glaciers behind is SO creatively good and funny. You make my day. Thanks for all your words of wisdom and sharing about simply learning and experimenting. You should come to Point Reyes CA some time. It is mostly national seashore. Elephant seals are on the beaches now (Dec-March) and we could take you on some wonderful trails. There are resident Great horned owls at Kehoe Beach trailhead. Amazing to watch them go out to hunt at dusk.
Thanks, Margo! Yeah, that photograph was made in a moment of levity in Antarctica years ago. Still one of my favourites. LOL. Point Reyes is on my list. I’ve been there but spent no real time. A friend of mine is in Monterey and talk about it often. The owls sound fantastic!
Love your e mails and the stories of your adventures. The photographs were stunning and different.
Thank you, Carol!
Outstanding photos David. Thank you for throwing down the challenge. I look forward to taking it up. I really appreciate your insights and spirit.
Thank you for that, Boyd. Means the world to me. It’s nice to know that others benefit from the effort. I’d do it even if no one was reading (well, for a while, anyways!) but knowing you’re out there is the icing on the cake. Thank you!
You get so many comments you might never see mine and that’s ok. Just wanted to say thanks for the reminder to take risks and get outside my comfort zone. I’m working on it; trying to give my own spin on the familiar and unfamiliar alike. All I need to please is myself and, generally, others will be pleased as well.
Stephen, I LOOK for your comments. 🙂 I read everything, my friend. Thanks for the note. I hope you’re well!
Wow, David. Thank you for such an insightful and interesting newsletter. In some ways, your experience reminds me of Zen Buddhism’s “Beginner’s Mind”.
Love the photos you posted in the newsletter and I’m looking forward to seeing others you took during that trip.
Thank you for being so good at what you do… and for sharing it with all of us!
Thanks so much for that, Carol! Means the world to me to know that what I write has some impact for others. 🙏
Great post! And what a unique perspective and way to use a wide angle on location. I am an old dog, just starting to try out new tricks and let go of the need for external validation. It is very liberating to learn to play again.
What would you say were the downside of the Shutter App? I was wondering if using the interval shooting function on the camera would give the same results.
Hi Bonnie! Honestly, in hindsight, it’s not so much the Shutter app that was buggy as my application of it. We were constantly drifting in and out of range in the Land Cruiser, trying to both direct the rhinos and stay out of their way, and sometimes we’d get too far. The metal cage didn’t help. I contemplated interval shooting, but where the Shutter app does shine is in the ability to (a) see what’s going on through the lens of the camera, (b) change shutter, aperture, EV comp, and ISO, and even the focus points, and (c) hit go and stop when needed and not burn up entire SD cards with 50mb files shot at 5-10 fps. So the Shutter app is actually pretty good, though it had a learning curve for me. But I sure could have used more range because as soon as I got to the edge of that range the connection really struggled and go super laggy. Is laggy a word? It is now. 🙂
Just a quick thought on your intermittent link between phone and camera. I’m no technician but I do know the signals between them are very low power and one of the MANY things radio waves do not like is metal. Potentially a part of your problem was your protective cage around your camera. As an alternative, I have seen radio-controlled model cars with a DSLR bolted to them used to photograph wildlife…..
Stay well out there and best wishes to you both.
Yeah, you nailed it Will. I think the metal cage played a big role in limiting the range. I’m going to experiment as I build my own cage, with aluminum, and I’ll rope an engineer into the process and see if we can limit that interference while still keeping the cage light and protective. I’m also going to look for a used camera and lens just for this purpose. The Sony a1 is a very expensive body and there’s no reason I need to subject my best cameras to the possibility of getting stomped by a Rhino or chomped by a bear. I’ve though of RC applications but not sure I want the complications.
Thanks David! Timely and inspiring. Next week, I’m not going to Africa (seems to be popular here), but just a photo walk with a group here in Toronto.
My challenge? I don’t find the city visually inspiring. This isn’t Paris or Venice! But still, I’m going on this walk and now I’m thinking, how can I make this different from previous walks? What should I be looking for?
I’m thinking about it. Thanks for the prod.
Hey Andy. We’ve all been there, man. What works for me is looking not for “pretty pictures” but for specific challenges. Can you just look for great shadows, for example, and play with those as compositional devices? What about reflections? Or choose a specific theme and constraint (ie. photographing the city in motion and ONLY using shutter speeds below 1/15 as just one example of a theme and constraint working together to fire your creativity and give you something specific to work towards rather than “I’m looking for a pretty picture” – the pursuit of which I find much harder than working the theme/constraint angle.). Let me know if that helps!
Thank you for sharing David.
Beyond pictures I find beautiful and extraordinary, your description of the journey is incredibly inspiring and helpful.
Thank you so much, Francoise!
David – thanks for sharing – I love the new perspectives that you have provided. While I don’t see myself doing any of those things (except maybe a helicopter) – the thoughts of doing things that you haven’t before and trying something different is exactly what many of us need!
It’s the secret of the creative life, Linda. That and gratitude. We need change, we need challenge – both of which are necessary to lead to flow. Our problem is the fear of change and failure, the very two things we most need! What’s new and challenging for me will be different from what’s new and challenging for you. 😉 Thanks for chiming in.
What a wonderful adventure! Thanks for sharing your insights on trying something new.
The honour is mine, Jim. Thank you for reading!
This latest newsletter is quite timely (and inspiring as always) as I’m heading out to Kenya tomorrow and like you I am wondering what to do differently. In the Mara and Amboseli you must remain in the vehicle of course, and I don’t think we’ll have a camera cage. Your rhino photo is fabulous, and well-deserved reward for the effort. I’ll certainly work on some motion blur to try and capture the action differently. In any case you can only deal with what the photo gods give you, and be thankful that you have the opportunity to witness what you do.
Our trip ends at Lake Magadi. Did you stay at Lentorre? We’ll be there to take advantage of their hide for night shooting and then one day we’ll do the helicopter ride.
Hi Bill! Yes, there are places where you’re limited to staying in the vehicle, but some of the conservancies in the Amboselli area aren’t strict in the same way the National Parks are. But other places give some latitude. Even in the vehicles there are ways to get that camera into new places – leaning over the side has become business as usual for me (though never too comfortable!). As for Lake Magadi, yes! Lentorre is the place. It’s wonderful. And hot!! I spent a lot of time in my little private plunge pool between flights. The hide is wonderful too. I spent two nights at Lentorre and one of those in the hide, seeing little more than a porcupine (which looks so cool in backlight) and some dik diks. But then I skipped the second night and a leopard and 4 lionesses showed up, so there are good possibilities.
I hope you see this, I’ll try to email you, but here’s a few notes:
Helicopter / aerials – I found most of my shots were in the 70-200mm range. 1/2000 of a second, f/8 gave best results. Put the ISO on auto and use your EV comp. If the sun is bright, you’ll want that EV comp on -1.0 to -2.0 or thereabout so you don’t burn out the highlights on the flamingos. Watch the composition! It’s all about the patterns and the flamingos but if you get seduced by the idea of flying birds you’ll end up with only one half of what can make those photographs so beautiful.
The hide. If you’ve got a fast lens bring it. It’s dark. Even fully lit, I was still at ISO 6400 and using LOW shutter speeds. High burst mode is your friend to get the best shot at some sharp images. The edge of the watering hole is not too far away so you probably won’t need more than 300mm, but I found a 24-70 and 70-200 range the most useful. Plan to spend a lot of time in the quiet and the dark, but it’s a great experience. My only wish, which I’ve relayed to them, is to have a mic outside piped into speakers on the inside so you can hear what’s going on. The frogsong was amazing when I was there, but I’d like to feel a bit more immersed in what’s going on outside.
Have a great adventure!
I don’t have a question, David, just a comment. I was thinking as I was reading your email that you have the best photography email newsletter out there – and I don’t even need to see any others to know that. Extremely well written, engaging, and long enough to provide detail to flesh out your thoughts where so many others would present their story in, well… grunts. ☺️
You just made my day, Lori. That’s my goal: to create world class photography writing that’s thoughtful, helpful, and free from the usual nonsense so prevalent in the photography world that distracts and discourages. Thank you for reading (though I admit to feeling my words are often also no more than grunts, I hope they’re helpful grunts)! 🙂