I’m very aware of the seemingly contradictory nature of this statement, but sometimes I regret the day I ever picked up a camera.
Photography and film are two incredible mediums through which to record events out in the bush. Not just events, but moments, scenes, things which you want to have more than just memories of, for yourself or posterity.
The trouble arises when one finds oneself becoming too concerned or addicted to capturing that photo. This is always a risk you take as you refine your craft more and more, and I suppose if you end up being a professional wildlife photographer or filmmaker, you are kind of obligated to always be after that next great shot. Having said this, there should always be at least an attempt at a vaguely objective appraisal of a scene; it is important to ask yourself the question, “what will I get from this photo?”, and if the answer is “not much”, it’s probably better to put the camera down and just enjoy.
Often I’ll find myself with over a hundred almost identical images of whatever it is we were seeing (the curse of digital!), and not only am I now faced with the task of deleting 90% of them that would just be wasting space on my hard drive anyway, but I realise that I formed very little emotional attachment to what it was we were viewing in the first place. And this is the crux of the matter, and a debate which I guess will never be fully resolved. To take the photo or not to take the photo?
Living in this incredible environment, the Londolozi staff are fortunate enough to be presented with regular photographic opportunities, particularly the rangers and trackers who are out in the bush every day. We can therefore afford to be a bit more picky about what we choose as photographic subjects. If a guide isn’t convinced the photographic conditions are right for capturing a great photo – or at least a bit of experimentation – chances are that he or she will leave the camera in its case and simply watch what’s in front of them. It is almost a fact that once you put a camera in front of your eye, it acts like a filter between what you are seeing and potential emotional involvement. An elephant walking towards you will fill your entire frame before you suddenly wake up to the fact that it’s almost on top of you.
Lions tearing into their prey can be immortalised through your camera lens and body, but having taken the photographs, essentially only viewing the sighting through one eye, you have been spared a lot of the anguish or empathy you may have felt if watching the scene unobstructed by digital gear. I suppose there are benefits to this, in that a distressful sighting can be rendered less difficult to watch. An extreme example of this could be conflict journalism, in which war-time photographers are able to detach themselves from the horror they might be amongst by simply focusing on the photography.
I bring all this up because of a sighting we had a couple of mornings ago. We found the Tatowa female leopard in long grass down in our Open Areas, and within two minutes of viewing her, a sounder of warthogs had erupted from a nearby burrow and the leopard had chased down a piglet, killing it within seconds and then carrying it off to a thicket to feed. The rawness of the scene we were witnessing was almost tangible, yet being out in the bush with the specific intention of filming interesting wildlife behaviour, we were very aware of our need to capture what was happening in front of us on film, and in the scramble to get our gear out and into action, we were unable to focus on actually taking in and appreciating the scene for ourselves. In the rush of quickly rigging up the video camera to try to capture what was left of the sighting, Amy and I were very aware that there was a strong conflict of emotions in both of us; a desire to simply watch and take in what was unfolding, and the pressure to capture it on film.
There’s no real answer to all this, I suppose. No right way or wrong way.
We’ll keep watching Nature’s drama play out. We’ll record as much of it as we can. But I imagine that every once in awhile, we’ll have a sighting that commands our total attention and presence, and we’ll leave the cameras in the box. A special sighting that we’ll keep just for us…