Walid went on a South African safari adventure to capture its spectacular wildlife and local culture
A loud banging at my door finally got me out of bed at 5:00 a.m. I don’t know how Jason does it, but a mere 3-4 hours of sleep mean I’ll be dozing off behind the shutter while waiting for a good shot. Still, I know that photography’s Golden Hours are paramount. We made it to the park around sunrise and we soon faced a diversity of animals: a wildebeest uninterruptedly grazing; a kudu breastfeeding its calf; zebras staring at us with bewildered eyes; and storks stretching their wings close to a small pond. A pregnant giraffe also stood in our path to show off its majestic height and beauty, as if modeling for us; I made sure she had her share of shots, and we got good footage of animal behavior.
It was almost midnight, and we were still on the search, I was cold, tired and disappointed. Lions, hyenas, cheetahs and other wild animals were not around! I think I began dozing off a bit in the back seat when - out of the blue - the driver spotted a lion walking past our vehicle; that was enough to wake me up from my lethargy. Finally! There he was, the king of the jungle, the famous hunter and largest of the wild cats, walking his land freely and proudly. We approached him slowly and noticed he was limping as if from a recent fight. We tried not to bother him much while he rested. As I was shooting a few pictures from the vehicle, I heard Jason say something about stepping out and taking a ground photo at a closer distance. Yeah, right! But he wasn’t joking! He actually climbed down the vehicle to get closer to the lion. Our sights were locked on the lion resting with its eyes closed while Jason was taking his shots. Suddenly glimpsing Jason, the lion moved his brown hairy mane; his piercing eyes glittered in the spotlight’s beam and he quickly stood up stretching his tasseled tail then growled with an eardrum-bursting roar. I was close to wetting my pants as Jason sprinted back to the vehicle. Jason’s eyes told me that if the lion hadn’t been tired, his advice to other photographers would be to think twice before trying such a stunt. We left the lion in peace and went back to the lodge.
After only two hours of sleep, I was a zombie at 5:30 a.m. We checked out but I still wasn’t sure where we were heading. We stopped on our way for snacks and I grabbed 2 cans of Red Bull when I remembered our talk about a ride in the South African Defense Force Oryx helicopter, which Guts had arranged with a colonel he knew! Fantastic!
The helicopter arrived and we met with the rescue team and a rescued couple whose house had been completely destroyed by recent floods. Feeling safe and confident, I started enjoying the scenery and moving from one side to the other. It was hard to focus, compose and shoot photos while standing steadily; the easiest way was to crawl towards the doors and kneel. Very little communication is possible in this noisy setting so it’s good thing I remembered Jason’s advice to increase the ISO to benefit from faster shutter speeds.
We finally made it to the airport and caught our flight to Cape Town. When we got there I was taken aback by the amazing scenery there; the city is nestled along the slopes of Table Mountain and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. As we planned our day, Guts notified us that Table Mountain was closed due to cloudy weather so we decided to spend the day at Robben Island. Throughout history, Robben Island had been mainly used to isolate political prisoners. It was here that Nelson Mandela spent decades imprisoned during the Apartheid regime among other political prisoners.
As we arrived, Jason confiscated my digital camera and had me use his Hasselblad Xpan Panoramic film camera instead! The first thought that crossed my mind was to flee into the group of tourists ahead! It’s not that I don’t like film cameras; I own a Holga CFN 120 and I love it. It’s just that I got used to shooting digital since I find it faster, more convenient and flexible. Anyway, I only had 10 photos remaining on his film camera, which should suffice for the prison visit. The repetitive shutter release sounds coming from Jason’s two DSLRs finally decided me to take my first shot! I framed my shot onto the prison’s wall, chose the appropriate aperture bearing in mind the depth of field, depressed the release button to get a reading of the shutter speed, changed the ISO for correct exposure then focused and took the shot with minimal hand shake – I hope. Too bad I couldn’t see what took me 4-5 minutes to compose and freeze, but I enjoyed every second of it.