Postcards from Kenya

In Postcards From..., The Craft, The Life Creative, Thoughts & Theory, Travel by David106 Comments

My work in Kenya didn’t go as planned. Story of my life, right? But I’m not referring to the fact that my first two days in Kenya were spent in bed in a tent in the bush, with an IV fluid and antibiotic drip, trying to get a fever down. I’m not referring to the fact that unseasonable rains changed everything, including the presence (scarce!) of animals that we were there to photograph. I don’t even mean the fact that one of my cameras kept malfunctioning at the worst of times. Like the one single cheetah sighting we had, where I raised my camera and…nothing. No focus, no aperture, just the obvious signs that camera and lens weren’t talking to each other.

Nope. I don’t mean those. I’ve come to somewhat expect those detours. My creative journey seems inevitably bound to the unexpected. It’s like my muse wants to make sure I can bounce back from the distractions before she gets serious about getting down to work. I can’t be the only one.

So, no. Kenya didn’t go at all to plan. It went wildly off course and in that unexpected new mental territory under the sign that says, “Well, shit. Now what?” I found answers I didn’t know I was looking for. A glimmer of something new. I found the kind of flow that comes when you bite down on a challenge and see where it leads. I found the kind of flow that only comes when you realize you care deeply about something, that you’re truly excited by something and you chase it, even when all you’ve got are little hints it might work.

So yes, the animals were harder to find this year. The rains were partly to blame. Whatever it was, the savannah all felt very…lonely. And to begin with, I felt uninspired—though that probably had more to do with my lingering sickness and a head that felt a little foggy. I didn’t have the strength to be clever, to really work the scenes the way I often do to look for the strongest compositions. So I started playing with what I had: a feeling of loneliness (where were all the animals?), often expressed by just one single animal on the savannah, placed centrally in the frame, shot almost entirely with my 24-105 lens. In development, I pulled the colours a little towards a storybook palette, a little fantastic, perhaps surreal. I was just playing, trying to tease out a feeling that was not so much “Where the Wild Things Are” as much as “Where Are the Wild Things?” As I kept at it, I started identifying a feeling of longing in the photographs I was making.

Doubt. I’ve never doubted my process (or the results) as much as I did last month. It seems like doubt is never far from our best work. I’m beginning to think that doubt has a way of making our work stronger. Not if we only doubt. Not if we let the doubt paralyze us. But if we let the doubt be a question, a challenge to which we rise, I think it nudges us forward in necessary ways. Helpful ways. Speaking for myself, if I doubt myself or the work I’m making, I tend to work it harder. To rework it more often. To refine it with greater rigour. My doubts don’t make me give up; they keep me honest and they keep me at it until the hope I see in the work itself is stronger than whatever lingering doubts remain.

But there’s something more. Doubts can also lead to doubling our efforts in unproductive directions. When we question whether the choices and decisions we’re making are “the right ones,” we spend a lot of creative energy speculating about what can’t yet be known. We stall. We end up choosing no direction at all. No risk.

I wonder if there’s a better way. Instead of worrying so much about making the “right” decisions before we pour ourselves into the work, what freedom would we find (and how much stronger might our work be?) if we instead put that energy into making the decisions right with our work. Take a risk, make a choice, and then keep working it until that choice feels right.

What I mean is look for the glimmer and chase it. See where it leads. Work it until it feels right. Pick a direction and follow the thread. Especially if the early efforts make you feel something, that bright spark of recognition when what you’ve made feels very much like yours, even though you’ve never seen it before. Even if it’s different (hell, especially if it’s different) and you worry it’s somewhat outside the usual box of your vision or voice. Make the decision, then work it until it feels right, like the work is truly yours. Let the doubt push you there!

I have no idea where this new work is going. But it thrills me. Is it good? Don’t ask me. That’s not a question I worry about. But it does feel like mine. And it’s throwing off sparks for me, and I’m hoping something catches fire, if only in my heart and imagination. When that happens, it’s all so much better than whatever else I had planned.

Thanks to all of you who checked in on me while I was gone. Sorry I was so quiet for so long. Kenya was my first big trip with my prosthetic leg and it all felt kind of daunting. In the end, despite the creative challenges, the trip went really well. I’m approaching nine months as an amputee and every day feels like progress. Next up is a week off the west coast of Vancouver Island photographing the spectacle of the herring spawn (think bears, wolves, otters, sea lions, and eagles coming together for a big party), and not long after that, I’ve got two expeditions to photograph coastal wolves. Then it’s bears in the Khutzeymateen, a trip to the Arctic Ocean as autumn comes to the tundra, more grizzly bears as the salmon start to run, a trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa, and just like that, another year is gone. It’ll go quickly, but it’ll be filled with wonder. I hope you’ll join me along the way.

For the Love of the Photograph,


  1. l have been very busy so only had the chance to read this now. You write so well and l too love this series of photos like so many in the comments above. So sorry to hear you were ill though and that you think it all started in London! l visit London often and every time, l or my husband get sick 🥹. Good for you to get over it and tackle and rise above the photohraphic challenges ! Good luck with everything on all the forthcoming trips you have lined up! 👍

  2. Hello David
    Just working my way through your book “The heart of the photograph” and it is so inspirational to see that you stay true to your values in this latest set of photos. Impactful to say the least! Whilst on my part so much to learn but what an enjoyable journey it is with your work as company.

  3. I absolutely love this series of photos and your choice of color palette. Please keep these fabulous photos coming along with your stories, they make my day…..

  4. Thank you for these beautiful images, David. Your words, your focus, the light you chose … all form a gentle reminder that changing the way we see life changes our response to it.
    Christine .

  5. David,
    I wake daily with images of Lewa, Masai Mara, and Amboseli in my head. Thanks for making it happen. It was certainly an experience that I’ll treasure for the rest of my days. Jo
    PS. Hope Cynthia is feeling well. I am.

    1. Author

      What a time we had, Jo. Will carry those memories in my heart forever. I’m so glad you and Jim were with us!

  6. J’ai reçu votre newsletter depuis quelques jours déjà. J’ai décidé de la lire ce matin, juste avant de faire une sortie photo dans l’environnement sauvage de la ville de Montréal! 🙂
    Merci de parler de la photographie autrement!
    L’inspiration vient aussi par la lecture, grâce à vous!

    Bravo pour ces photos du Kenya et surtout, bravo pour vos futurs projets!
    La vie continue!

    1. Author

      Merci beaucoup, Jean. Forgive my replying in English. I read French well enough but my spoken French lacks…grace. 😂 Thank you for your very kind words. I hope your expedition into wild Montreal was a success, and that you came back without injury! 😉

  7. As always, your thoughts inspire. There ‘s always something to selfishly take from you. It’s as if you don’t just show me a tray with delicious cookies you just baked, it’s more like you handed us the tray and we can actually take one, taste it, and then go bake our own. Back to our cameras, fleshing out small ideas, feeling them grow. Inspiration. Thank you.

    1. Author

      Be selfish! Take more than one! I mean, leave some for everyone else, but I try to make enough to go around. 🙂 Thanks for the very kind words. You made my day, Andie.

  8. When I looked up the word resilient, I found your picture!
    I’m impressed that even with all the hardships, you have found a way to express your vision beautifully both in photos and words .

    1. Author

      LOL. Thank you, Dwight. I think most of us have the ability to bounce, to be resilient. I just do enough dumb shit that it’s more obvious than others. 🙂 I very much appreciate the encouragement.

  9. When I looked up the word resilient, I found your picture!
    I’m impressed that even with all the hardships, you have found a way to express your vision beautifully both in photos and words .

  10. It is so sad, and yet so beautiful. The emotions evoke a time in the future with climate change and animals disappearing. Beautiful color palatte. All with a wide angle lens, remote triggers, and weather challanges and more. Wow. These images are haunting. Thank you for sharing your experience.”Next up is a week off the west coast of Vancouver Island photographing the spectacle of the herring spawn (think bears, wolves, otters, sea lions, and eagles coming together for a big party)” I had to laugh, so hopeful the animals will show up! Here is to your next adventure, and the full schedule you have planned out for the year. I look forward to the images you create and the stories you share. You are such an inspiration!

    1. Author

      Thank you for that, Kellie. I’m hoping the animals show up too! Right now the weather looks daunting (temps around freezing which is pretty nippy out on a boat!) but as long as the herring do what the herring do, and they do it on my schedule, we should be fine! 🙂

  11. David
    The best part of your narrative is that the spirit, enthusiasm, “dauntedness”, and creativity are all still there despite the amputation challenges. It is so good to hear your voice and see your work. Glad you come out of this so strong, vibrant, and full of piss and vinegar.

    1. Author

      Wait, what? PISS and vinegar? I thought it was salt and vinegar. No wonder my chips taste so weird! LOL. Thanks for that, Andy. (now I gotta go buy some different chips…)

  12. I have always loved and admired your ability to convey your unique humanity and heart in every word you write and every image you create my Friend. You are and have a wonderful gift and we are blessed to have you as a mentor and contemporary in this world of photographic opportunities and realities. I thank the Lord to see you thrive and excel despite the setbacks. Godspeed!

  13. David,
    You are really a nut, but my kind of nut. Running around the world—jeez, what the hell? You exhaust me and kindle absolutely no fire in me to go to Africa; you confirm all my worse preconceptions about it. NAYTHELESS!!! This is a GORGEOUS color palette! It is totally yummy—that immersive blue. My favorite is the second one of the hippo with the birds flying up like the wings of angelsYES!!! Very Gabriela Iturbide—-archetypal, suggestive, shuddering with meaning.

    Your essay on doubt makes me miss your podcast —why can’t you podcast from the field, more spontaneously and casually than a written script; I know you work your prose—it doesn’t always have to be that crafted to be compelling.

    That looks like a fairly frenzied itinerary: a lot of DOING. Show me the cracks where you are BEING.

    Crazy dude, I love you!

    1. Author

      Thank you, Sandy! To be fair to Africa, whatever I had was caught and building steam while I was in London. It just hit its stride when I got into the bush in Kenya. Bad timing is all. Thanks too for the encouragement. I miss the podcast too, but the timing just isn’t right to bring it back. I just don’t have it in me right now. To your point, it would mean more DOING and I’m at my limit right now. Lots of BEING going on, usually in the DOING. But I know my limits and for now I have to learn to walk before I can run. 🙂 Sending love right back. I’m grateful for you.

    2. Hello David,
      Just read Postcards From Kenya again. Your words are so inspiring and combined with your photographs I enjoyed reading it several times. I’ve never been to Kenya but I have spent lots of time in the Pacific Northwest. Hope things go a bit better on that trip. All of your adventures sound amazing even when they’re not as smooth as you hoped. Thanks for sharing. Stay well.


  14. Hey David,
    Just so you know, I appreciate muchly, this idea of JUST TRY IT. Because in the end, it me I want to satisfy, so I better go for it.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Valerie! I think “just try it” has to be one of the best definitions of creative work. There are no guarantees, but unless we risk it and see if the results work, we’ll never get anywhere.

  15. Wow David, il’s so good to hear from you and to know that your post-surgery progression is going well. The way you did post-treatment is really compelling our attention and we feel “respectful” about the scene. We feel that you care about this life and the savannah. In french, we have the expression “s’endimancher” , it means to put our nicer clothes because it is Sunday (dimanche)… to get the best look (or expression ?) of ourselves. You did the same to transmit that you care about this life in savannah.
    The use of a wider lens makes us feeling closer to the subject and his environment, and being more in relationship with the animal, the same way you taught us about people… I’am not surprised that you felt it was in line with your Vision.
    It is reassuring for us to have a mentor who could also have difficult time in making photograph ( like we do so often) to finally find a way to experiment new ways to reach “the best expression of his Vision” and to share his humanity.
    Thanks a lot for sharing this experience with us and ” Beaux bonjours from Sherbrooke”
    Claude b.

    1. Author

      Merci, mon ami. It’s always so good to hear from you. I hope you’re well! (I love the idea expressed by ‘s’endimancher’ – it’s perfect!)

  16. Great work as usual David. Your perseverance through your challenges…whether physical, mental, or equipment is an inspiration for us all. Your honesty makes me rethink the bullshit I too often do not face and conquer. Thank you

    1. Author

      Thanks, Ron. We all have our own bullshit – I can deal with amputation but getting up in the morning and getting to work? Now that’s the hard part! LOL.

  17. merci pour toutes ces photos très intéressantes à étudier
    J’espère que vous récupérer petit à petit (moral et santé)
    A bientôt en ligne

  18. Hi David, Sorry to hear that your trip didn’t start well. Your images are ones to dream about for us photographers. So inspiring. Hope your next trips go well and you bring back some more great images for us to enjoy as I am sure we all do.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Ron. Nothing wrong with a slow start. I’m thrilled with the work I eventually created and that feels like a win to me. In time I’ll forget the challenge of the first couple days. 🙂

  19. Stunning images David, I love to see the animals in their native environment, Africa. While I understand there is a place for close ups I love an environmental portrait (animal or human), I see so many close up images of animals in Africa, the animals could be situated anywhere, perhaps not even be in the wild ( unless there is a compelling reason for a close up), which in some cases I am sure is true.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Millie. I completely agree. The longer I do this the less satisfying those closer portraits are. They feel a little like low hanging fruit at this stage, like a phase I needed to go through but I’m hungering for more now. The work I most love from other artists all has a broader feeling, something more…expansive? Anyways, thank you for the encouragement. It means a lot.

  20. I love this work! And really love hearing you talk about your experiences and process. I’m sorry for all the hardships on it, and it was so healing to hear you not focus there. I’ll draw inspiration and direction from this whole story for a long time.

    Wishing you a wonderful rest of your year w/ a full schedule of wild and sounds-like rugged trips.

    Thank you for being a beacon in this world. <3

  21. These images are so compelling. Your writing is as well. That you can write so beautifully, transparently, vulnerably as well as make images that are breathtaking is such a gift — thank you. That you can find the courage to dig so deep is inspiring. I hope you continue to grapple with life and share with us.

    1. Author

      Lois, thank you for such generous encouragement. I don’t know what life has for me (who does?) but what a joy to share the grappling with others! 🙂

  22. Hi David,

    I am sorry about the illness but delighted with your ability to express the experience so we can share and learn. All your pieces impact me but this one set a new level of insight.
    Many thanks

    1. Hi David,

      Whatever magic you did with the colour of the atmosphere in these photos gives a poignant touch of melancholy – almost like a partly oil-tinted old sepia photo. Lonely, moody in a nostalgic way – seen through a lens of grief perhaps, a paradigm shift, adapting to a permanent change. Same Kenyan wildlife, but approached warily, respectfully, from a low angle that has us looking up to them as they join the horizon like mountains, looming against the clouds.
      …and I love the translucence of your Egrets against that white sky….
      Onward – have a great year!

      1. Author

        Thank you, Aleta! I’ll try not to let it go to my head but it would be impossible for praise like that not to go to my heart. Thank you! 🙏

  23. Sorry it was a difficult trip. Doubt really is a difficult battle….we have all experienced it. You made some amazing images from your trip.

  24. Sorry to hear you have been hitting the potholes that come in the road called life, sometimes they are just damn inconvenient, however if it led to these amazing photos you can say the road was worth it! Great photos! That rhino is incredible! I look forward to your captures on the West Coast, as I am originally from there. Beautiful there, it fills a place in me like nothing else. One day I hope to go back.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Kathy. It does seem like the potholes make the journey more interesting. Wears out the tires, though. 😂 The road is always worth it if you find a way to enjoy the journey. Hard doesn’t mean bad, it just means hard. Thanks for your kind words. I’ll do my best to make some images that make your heart happy.

  25. I love that you embraced the “feeling” that the scenes presented to you. I adore the photo of the rhino with the white egrets(?, sorry, not a bird expert!) and the solo rhino shot where it’s rhino and dark clouds. Spectacular! And inspirational for us to always remember that, even if we don’t get the conditions we hoped for before going on a trip or photo session, we need to just roll with it and keep an open mind. The nuggets of gold are there to be found if we push our curiosity. Also, I’m soooo glad that you are making so much of the next year (and beyond) now that you are able to explore the world again!!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Geri. And right you are about the egret. Thanks for the kind words. What adventures lie ahead! I couldn’t do it without people like you.

  26. Dare I say, David, that these are your most expressive wildlife photos/projects, of the many I’ve seen. The solitude, the longing, the sadness – it’s all there, along with your typical fantastic compositions. Your use of point of reference, often from very ground level – feeling almost underground at times, gives us a sense of where we humans exist in this land. While I don’t want you to get a big head, there are similarities to the way your images make me feel, to a photographer I absolutely adore, and believe you do as well: Nick Brandt. Wonderfully done and congrats my friend.

    Sometimes life, along with our muse, takes us in unexpected directions. It’s those that follow that leading and say, “show me the way” rather than those that fight it, that often find themselves breaking through the ceiling of their own creativity.

    1. Author

      Terrel! How wonderful to hear from you. And thank you! Your enthusiasm means a lot to me. Your comparison to Nick Brandt is well taken (even if I’m not sure I agree!). He’s one of my favourite photographers.

  27. For over twelve years your photographs and words have inspired me, David. My photographic journey has taken twists and turns, ups and downs, and pauses. Along the way your books and blogs have always provided pause for thought, a gentle prod (sometimes a push), questions to ask, or an unconsidered perspective.

    Here’s wishing you sparks and fire!

    1. Author

      That means more to me than you’ll even know, Gary. Thank you! What an honour to have you in my little corner of the world for so long. Thank you for that. 🙏 To sparks and fire, my friend! 🔥

  28. You write so beautifully David and touch my heart and inner core of creative being. These photographs are incredible and totally capture the feelings you described. It’s helped me understand more about the “story” in a photo.

  29. Your blog always seems to hit on a thought or feeling that I have been struggling with. Confirms to me that all creative people go through the same process. This group of photos is a great example of adapting to the environment as it presents itself and finding your personal way of communicating that feels authentic. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and struggles in a way that many of us can relate to and learn from.

    1. Author

      Thanks for being there to share with, Ann. You’re right, we do go through similar processes, similar struggles. Means a lot to me to know we’re not alone in this very human pursuit. Thank you for letting me write for you.

  30. Thank you David! You are truly an inspiration- in your images and in your words.

    1. David

      Can you tell me how you lost your leg. I am sorry that I don’t know.

  31. “It seems like doubt is never far from our best work. I’m beginning to think that doubt has a way of making our work stronger. Not if we only doubt. Not if we let the doubt paralyze us. But if we let the doubt be a question, a challenge to which we rise, I think it nudges us forward in necessary ways. Helpful ways.” Boy, did I need to read this today! Your writing is about so much more than photography. And your timing is uncanny. Thank you.

    1. Author

      Thanks for saying so, Elena. It’s such a privilege to write for people like you and know that my words make a difference.

    1. Author

      Great, now I want lemonade. Lemon martinis anyone? 🙂 🍸🍋 (Thank you for the very kind comment, Stanley!0

  32. Totally inspiring but, should I be surprised, you always somehow manage to pull yourself and us (the others) up to another level. Brillant, David, please keep us growing ! Elise

  33. These are quite wonderful images. They separate from the plethora of fauna usually seen in Kenya, to a different ‘isolationist’ view that is rarely shown. Glad you are returning to active function after your health issues, and hope to see more of your work as you progress. Thank you again.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Errol! Thanks, too, for the kind words about my leg – seems like everyday things get a little more normal (or better than), a little stronger. I’m still a little clumsy but I’m figuring it out! :-)🦿😉

  34. Hello David,
    I like this new look of your African photos! The loneliness of some animals can show how mankind leaves the whole world alone, disturbing living space für men and animals – tearing down the forest, poison on plants, plastic in the oceans and CO2 destoying the ozonosphere.
    The lonely rhino on the before last photo might tell all this. And that is great, David!!! Thank you very much for showing us!

    Did you also take some of your wonderful photos of men oder women oder childdren?

    With best wishes Beate

    1. Author

      Thank you, Beate. No, I didn’t photograph people on this trip. My work has been increasingly focused on wildlife and so I’m committing my time to those efforts. Perhaps one day I’ll return to photographing the culture but for now I’m finding the wonder in the wildlife.

  35. Great images, no matter what you might say! The second up from the bottom is truly fantastic. Love it. I know the rhino is centered, but it just makes it more powerful. What a fantastic world it is….

    1. Author

      Thanks, Tom. This was a hard trip but I’m thrilled with the results. I think there’s a correlation between challenge and creative flow, so I’m grateful (now) for the hardships I had to push through. I appreciate the enthusiasm – thank you! Hoping you’re well.

  36. I love these images, especially the low angle that allows you to include so much beautiful sky. On a typical photo safari, most of the shooting is done from a vehicle. Can you tell us how you managed to get these great low angles (without lying down in front of the animal)?

    Thanks for sharing your vision.

    1. Author

      Hi Justine! Thanks for this. The low angles were sometimes a matter of finding subjects on slightly higher ground so that shooting from a vehicle I could still achieve eye level (the trio of elephants, for example) but at other times I was either out of the vehicle (with permission) and shooting low, or more often shooting with my camera on the ground and using a remote to fire it.

  37. Absolutely beautiful images. And your stories are always so inspiring. Thank you for sharing and all the very best to you David!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Angela. The honour is mine. It helps to have such wonderful people to write for!

  38. Looking at the photo brought back memories of a long time ago when I traveled to Nakuru Park in Kenya. Thank you for the beautiful photos and valuable writing.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Kisung. Been a long time since I’ve been to Nakuru too. I hope they’re good memories. 🙂

  39. I don’t get much opportunity to photograph wildlife and I love reading about your travels and seeing your latest creations.
    Keep ’em coming!

    Regards, Jackie
    Cape Town, South Africa
    (I would guess your travels to SA wouldn’t bring you so far south, as the game parks are up north)

    1. Are you kidding? Those solitary “pensive” shots are totally sick! Subject matter without distraction, wonderful!
      And that’s the hardest thing to do, simple, meaningful and extremely loud with, “man this is a big place to be lonely”
      Love ALL you stuff. Thanks

    2. Author

      Well, that’s 2 votes in this thread for Cape Town. I wish, but not this time. We’ll be at Sabi Sands for 4 nights (Ulusaba) and a night in Jo’berg before heading home. Thanks for the very kind words. 🙂

    1. Author

      HI Kim – Not this time, I’m afraid. Jo’berg and 4 nights at Ulusaba in Sabi Sands. Dying to get to Cape Town, though!

  40. I love the colour palette on this latest series. I wonder if you would have found it if everything had gone the way you’d planned. Your resilience and determination are an inspiration to me. thanks David

    1. Author

      So kind of you to say, Kristin! I think you’re right. I probably would have headed in another direction entirely if it had all be easier, or just a repeat of my previous experiences. Kenya was hard, but it was amazing! Thanks for such kind words.

  41. David, David, David,
    Bless your heart.

    My observation but the words are for anyone to borrow:

    “Wonder is uncertainty on our own terms.”

    Keep on, brother.

  42. Excellent post, David. Your thoughts about doubt are right on; and they fit with what many spiritual people have said about the importance of suffering in order to mature, to learn.
    Glad to hear you’re getting along with your new leg. Especially that you’re not letting it stop you!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Bob. Suffering, failing, doubts- they’re all challenges that make us who we are. Hard, but not necessarily bad. 🙂

  43. I know you bring people with you in Africa, any chance eventually for Vancouver ! Eagles sounds amazing

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