In the month of March, Londolozi is showcasing some of our best photography and photographers alike. This five part blog series will take readers behind some stunning imagery and discuss how the shot came to be. The episodes will delve into the stories behind images and the photographers who capture them. In this process we’ll be highlighting some tips and tricks that we hope will inspire you when capturing imagery of your own.
First up in the series is our eagle-eyed Ranger Chris Taylor, who was recently promoted to Assistant Head Ranger. He embodies the Londolozi family philosophy and has now cemented himself as a leader in the space. Chris began to pursue photography as his passion during lockdown, and in a short space of time has amassed a world class gallery. His stunning imagery is underpinned by a true love and understanding of our wild spaces.
Stories behind the shot
Ranger, Chris Taylor, and Tracker, Euce Madonsela, are in the Londolozi bushveld on an afternoon drive. The dynamic duo are driving guests who are searching for a birding experience and it’s been a successful afternoon, no surprise considering Chris’ birding prowess. As the sun makes its way toward the horizon, dust particles are held in suspense. A beautiful golden light paints the Londolozi bushveld on a journey toward dusk creating a perfect photography scene. Chris knows the southwestern grasslands well. He has prior knowledge of a rhino midden in close proximity and decides to chance his luck.
As he rounds a corner Euce pipes up signalling to Chris, “There, Mfo!” A large rhino bull stands in the clearing. Its wrinkled skin feeds off the mottled oranges and yellows and a scene you couldn’t dream up becomes reality. There is no rush to pull out cameras, no fear of missing the shot. Chris pulls his guests into the rhino’s world and they absorb the scene for a second. He feels an experience behind the camera becomes noteworthy when it’s shared without the camera, and people, first. This rhino is in no rush and so they settle into an hour-long photography session.
Mistakes make photographers
Chris and Euce have seen a similar scene before, about two weeks prior, and Chris lays out the mistakes he made:
“I had been planning this image, it’s one that I always wanted to take.
I had an opportunity a week earlier. A rhino presented straight on, for a beautiful portrait shot.
I thought I had what I needed!” He exclaimed, with an air of disappointment creeping into his tone.
“I was so excited to edit the images, but when I got home to analyse the image in post-production my heart sank.
I realised that my aperture was too low. The images focused on the horn or the eye, but never incorporated both. I missed the essence of the shot.”
Consider a mistake you’ve made in your life. Now think of how easily you could fix things if given the chance to relive that moment. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. This missed opportunity haunted Chris, so when a similar scene reappeared, his prior mistakes were the first things he considered. I don’t know about you, but my two cents, he learned from mistakes and perfected his process. My advice to the photographer: don’t fear mistakes, make them, it’s the only way to learn and grow your process.
The essence of the photograph
I wanted to find out why this image held so much meaning to Chris. And when questioned, he broke into an animated monologue:
There are two key aspects to this image that make it one of my favorites. Firstly, I managed to get the horn in focus.
In this image the horn is the focal point. It cuts the image in half forming the line of symmetry down the centre of the shot.
Secondly, I captured focus in the rhino’s eye. This is a window into the animal’s soul and brings out this large bull’s personality.
There is currently a lot of media hype around rhinos. They are an iconic animal that deserve the attention that they are getting.
Whilst more needs to be done to curb rhino poaching, I felt proud of the shot and I hoped it would raise awareness.
I hope to bring people into the rhino’s world and educate people, that is what I get out of a shot like this.
The challenges of rhino photography
Here’s what Chris considers when photographing a rhino:
People often revert to up-close, portrait, wildlife photography. Which is easy when dealing with the gleaming yellow eyes of a lion, or the stunning rosettes that pattern a leopard. But a two-ton rhino bull leaves you feeling like you’ve got a little too much animal in your frame. A rhino’s eyesight is poor at best, which is no surprise considering the tiny peepholes it views the world with. When photographing a subject so large and an eye that small, it’s easy to lose sight of key focal points that you use to enhance the personality in an image.
It’s almost impossible to find an emotion or expression on a rhinos face, something to build your image around. With a lion or a leopard we look into their eyes, we read their emotions and they are more similar to us than we think. But with a rhino we can’t read their expressions, or look into the depths of their eyes. There is a loss of understanding.
Consider these challenges, now add the rhino’s grey hide to the mix. It glares in harsh sunlight and when in the shade it loses all texture.
It’s tough to get a sense of depth in your image. You need good light, also a bit of shadow on the body. The light on this evening was just perfect.
The importance of the Oxpecker – multiple subjects in photography
A key aspect of wildlife photography is incorporating more than one species into an image. And just a tip to anyone pursuing photography in sub-Saharan Africa – an Oxpecker is a photographer’s best friend. They are involved in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with a variety of animals and feed on ticks, dry skin, even mucus, and tears! In this image, an Oxpecker is perched on the face of the rhino and in doing so brings colour to the fore. It also brings a focus to a large negative space on the rhino’s face and incorporates a story in an already brilliant image.
In concluding I say that this image is layered with meaning and showered in class. So many brilliant photographic aspects and then multiple different stories and narratives built into one still image. This picture is truly worth 1000 words. It is born of a deep and passionate love for wild spaces and the animals that inhabit them. And it’s one of many brilliant images that populate the gallery of Chris Taylor.
Next up in the series will be ‘the gadget guy’, Managing Director Chris Kane-Berman. Having called Londolozi home for 30 years, his experience is unmatched in the space and his passion for the ‘latest tech’ will be a focus in our next episode. I look forward to continuing our photographic journey next week!
Learn more about Photographic Safari
At Londolozi, wildlife photography holds an important place. We use it as a way to reconnect with nature, with the animals that inhabit the Game Reserve with us. This is why this article isn’t the only one we written in this photography series. If ever you want to learn more about wildlife photography, please feel free to consult:
- Photography Series Episode 2: Generations through the lens
- Photography series episode 3: People in nature
- Photography Series Episode 4 – Country and Critters
- Photography Series Episode 5: Londolozi’s Eye
If you want to know what wildlife photography is at Londolozi, check out our Photographic Safari experience page! Or find our what our ranger Nick Simms had to say about his experiences in photography