Andy Gregory, winner of The Spring Capture More Open Days photo competition shares with us his experience of what it’s like to shoot animals on a safari, a photo safari of course!
I have recently retired as a Police Sergeant from West Midlands Police after thirty years’ service. I have been a keen photographer since my teens when I bought my first camera from the old ‘Kays Catalogue’ in 1983, a very heavy metal Russian camera, a Zenit 11 35mm SLR. I undertook a City and Guilds photography course at night-school, but only continued as a hobbyist when I joined the police in February 1987. Prior to my eldest son being born in 1992 I upgraded to a Canon EOS 10 (35mm camera), and in 2006 I bought a Canon EOS 10D second hand as I entered the ‘digital age’. In 2015 I upgraded again to a Canon EOS 7D and am now looking to go into ‘full frame’ photography with either the Canon EOS 5D MK III or MK IV.
The winning image I have entitled ‘Homeward Bound’ and it was taken at the beautiful Aquila Private Game Reserve in South Africa (see www.aquilasafari.com). Along with my fiancée Joanne, I recently headed out to Cape Town to spend two amazing weeks with my cousin Mark, who has lived there since 1975. Mark has a beautiful home overlooking Table Mountain and Robben Island and while we were there we discussed the opportunity of us participating in a safari trip. Mark suggested the Aquila Reserve as it was only about 100 miles north of Cape Town and not too difficult for us to navigate to. We borrowed one of Mark’s company pick-up trucks, or ‘bakkie’, a lovely Ford with air-conditioning (in South Africa, people of all language groups call pick-up trucks a ‘bakkie’, which is a diminutive of Bak, Afrikaans for bowl) and headed north. We arrived at Aquila and were greeted by wonderful staff, a glass of wine and a beautiful lodge to stay overnight.
The Aquila Safari Lodge is a 4-star establishment in the Southern Karoo. The reserve is a 10,000-hectare conservancy and is home to the African Big Five game animals, the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros. The term “big five game” (usually capitalised or quoted as “Big Five”) was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Neither Joanne nor I agree with hunting and would not entertain visiting anywhere that allows such practices, and thankfully Aquila is a family-friendly site that looks after their animals.
The lions and leopards are housed in separate enclosures but the remaining animals roam free. Over the two days we had two wonderful safari trips out as well as the Big Five we saw ostriches, zebra, hippopotamus, springbok, Cape porcupine, Chacma Baboon and giraffe. I was able to take some wonderful photographs over the two days and found the sight of the elephants particularly moving. They are such amazing and graceful creatures and the two large African elephants walked slowly past our vehicle. At their closest, they were about five metres from us, but at that stage the sun was directly behind them causing glare in my camera. I waited until they’d walked past us and our driver turned our safari bus slightly so I could take some shots as the elephants disappeared into the distance.
The late afternoon sun was now low to the left of me and the shot was taken with my second-hand Canon EOS 10D. Due to the number of pictures I had taken on our trip and the lack of available memory cards (Compact Flash) I had changed my camera settings to low/medium resolution (jpeg, not RAW) to try and get more shots onto the card. I was using a cheap 70-300mm Tamron lens and the settings were 1/125sec, f/5.6, 70mm focal length, ISO100. As we were in an open-backed safari coach with about twelve other people I was also using a Calumet monopod to keep my camera as steady as possible on the vehicle. I am particularly pleased with the image due to the leading lines from the lower left of the shot, into the frame. The images of the elephants are quite striking and I love the thought of this one following its mate. These two beautiful beasts have been together for many, many years and follow each other across this beautiful site, never leaving the other’s side. Sadly, the image is not particularly high-resolution, but it just shows what can be achieved with quite basic equipment.
I would love to turn my photography hobby into a part-time business, and particularly enjoy wildlife photography, sports and landscape photography. I also like to work on portrait photography, street photography and photographing bands at concerts, gigs and music festivals. If I could combine my love of music, with my love of photography, that would be my dream career after thirty years’ public-service.
I am really proud of this shot and it brings back wonderful memories of a truly fantastic trip to South Africa.