If you haven’t yet, be sure to visit our Leopards of Londolozi website, which we launched last year as part of our 90th Birthday Celebrations. It profiles the various territorial leopards seen around the reserve, as well as a number of deceased individuals who now find themselves immortalised in digital media.
When compiling all the information and media for the website, one snag we kept running into was the lack of digital media from anytime prior to the early 2000s. While a lot of the guides were also taking photographs then, their photos were on slide or plain print film, and very few digital cameras were in use. A number of ex-rangers were very helpful by having their slides digitized for us and then emailing them through, and as the leopard site develops further, we are hoping to gain access to more and more archived photos of prominent leopards like the original Mother, the Sunset Bend female, and others whose names are household legends at Londolozi but of whom pictures are hard to come by.
I write this as a direct result of the vast number of photos on my hard drives that I was wading through only this morning. I have access to literally tens of thousands of images at the click of a button, every one of which is a sighting I remember, most of them clearly. Don’t be fooled by the number of images though, a number which isn’t even that high compared to some photographers. 90% of those photos I could delete immediately and never miss them. 95% probably! Digital cameras mean one can simply click away without worrying about the cost of photo development, and it is very easy to take a couple of hundred images in a game drive. Chatting to some of the rangers from years past, it’s clear that the approach to photography was a very different pastime than it is now. A lot of ex-rangers will tell you how each shot would be carefully considered before that shutter button was pressed, as every photograph was money spent.
A huge upside to the digital revolution is clearly the ability to take photos without worrying about either the cost of a photo or the lag-time between taking the shot and reviewing it. Working a 6 week cycle and having to wait until your next leave to get your photos developed must’ve been incredibly frustrating, especially if you had been in an amazing sighting and couldn’t wait to see how your shots had come out. Also, unless you were meticulous about recording what your settings were for each photo, you wouldn’t be able to refer back to see how you went wrong (or right) and what could have been done better to improve an image.
These days, one can take a photo and review it immediately. A slight adjustment in aperture, shutter speed or ISO settings can turn the next image from mediocre into a great one, and you don’t have to stress for weeks to know if the photo turned out ok. With digital, a lot of the stress and frustration has been taken away from a photographer’s life, and the instant feedback one gets on your back-of-camera screen is in itself a great tool to significantly speed up improvement in photographic ability.
I would love to know the ratio between the number of shots modern rangers take when compared to the men and women from the pre-digital era. I don’t think it would be stretching it to say 100:1? Maybe that’s an exaggeration. I just know I’ve come home from some drives with easily 500 photos on my memory cards, and that’s with a camera that doesn’t have a particularly high frame rate. Other guys I work with have camera bodies that shoot at double the number of frames per second, and when you’re dealing with image sizes that are over 30mb each, you are soon looking at gigabytes worth of photos per game drive. Whilst photo development isn’t really a cost anymore, storage space is, so if you want to save the majority of the pictures you take, you are going to start running up bills in the hard-drive line. I guess the new technology isn’t exactly without its issues either then.
I’m rambling a bit here; these are simply musings about digital photography and how it has changed things for guides in the bush.
I think the key issue for me revolves around the ease of just keeping that shutter button depressed on a digital camera. Whilst you can simply blast away, confident that if your settings are right you should capture at least a couple of decent photos, does the ease with which digital cameras allow us to do so mean we necessarily should do so. This goes back to something I wrote about a few weeks ago, about the conflict of viewing vs photographing. I’ve had sightings which are so unbelievable from a photographic point of view that the noise of that shutter clicking away acts almost like a drug; the light is perfect, the leopard is lying on a log, a glint in its eye, the bush is lush green behind it…. any subtle shift in its position represents a new photo to be captured. And every time I put my camera down, telling myself I’m actually getting greedy, something will change slightly in the scene, invariably resulting in me picking the camera up again and taking more pictures.
These days I’ve had to try and ration myself, to try and recognize that absolutely optimum moment in a sighting, and if I can at least get some semblance of a useable photo right then, I can put the camera away and simply enjoy.
If unsure about the best photographic opportunities when out on drive, asking your ranger is usually a good place to start. When should you be taking photos and when should you not? It can be tempting to take some photos of the first impala you seen on your first game drive, but the ranger will almost certainly know if a better opportunity is likely to present itself.
Better yet, if your ranger is taking pictures him- or herself, that’s usually a good sign that you should be doing the same.
I’ll stop here without a definite conclusion.
Take pictures, don’t take pictures. Digital vs slide. These are discussions we can continue ad infinitum, when the real beauty of the bush is just how much of it is subjective.
At the end of the day, it’s all up to you.