36 Moments and Their Consequences
The heating was searing. The African sun beating down, causing beads of sweat to form on brows. Not that I cared. This was Africa. We were heading out on Safari. This was Botswana, the land of exotic creatures, and I, being a biologist, was in my element. I hardly noticed the heat but I did notice the light; perfect for photographing wildlife.
Back in 2007 the medium was film. I had a great Canon camera with a powerful zoom lens capable of taking superb close-ups. Back then film and processing was expensive. You never quite knew what you had captured until the film was processed and you could not afford to snap away. Each shot had to be carefully considered. Before we set off I’d loaded a thirty-six shot film – thirty-six precious images to play with.
We had already been on safari in Zimbabwe, rising at dawn’s first light, setting off in a truck with blankets over us to banish the chill, bouncing along dusty tracks to pull up close to giraffe, elephants, warthogs and hyena. The experience, while spine-crunching, had proved exhilarating; the wild beast so much more exciting than you could encounter in a zoo. To come face to face with a bull elephant, huge ears flared, trunk raised, great tusks directed at us, as he guarded his herd while they crossed the trail a few feet away, was simply awesome. To pull alongside a huge fully-grown giraffe and watch as her nimble tongue stripped green leaves off spiky acacia tree-tops, amazing.
Today was different. No early shivery start, or hurtling down dusty tracks; this was safari in style.
Following a rather too satisfying lunch a dozen of us boarded a small flat-bottomed pontoon boat with full canopy made ourselves at home on cushioned seats. A young boy brought us cold beer as we set off down the Zambesi in search of wildlife – the forward motion creating a soothing cool breeze. A full stomach, cool beer and magnificent scenery – what could be better?
I had my camera ready. Before long we came across a pod of hippos and our captain sidled right up close. We were surrounded with hippos; they surface all around us gawping at us as much as we were at them. I was in ecstasy, selecting shot after shot. On the shore a mother trotted along with her baby trailing her. I clicked, picturing each frame.
Further along, now on my second beer, the captain homed in on some lily pads. A giant monitor lizard was delicately picking his way in searching of prey. I waited and captured him with his long, pink, forked tongue fully extended.
By now it was mid-afternoon. Ahead of us a herd of elephants emerged from the bush making for the river. The captain quickly took us up close as they splashed, obviously delighting in the cooling water. The elephants were playing, squirting water from their trunks up in the air, splashing down over their backs turning the dusty grey to mottled black, baby elephants bounding into the water under the watchful eyes of the adults. I zoomed in as they frolicked. In one shot I caught one of the matriarchs spraying water in the air so it formed a rainbow arc of glistening jewels in the air above her. I carefully selected my shots, each one a chosen moment, a framed work of art – a mother with baby, a close-up of a face, an action shot.
Soon, sated with nature and beer, we headed back. We spotted a huge crocodile, mouth gaping and tick-bird at work. We drifted in close. I was on my thirty-sixth shot. I had to make it count. I waited and waited until I had exactly the right angle and clicked. I knew I’d got it. My thirty-sixth beauty.
I took a second. Thirty-seven. Sometimes you squeezed a further shot out of a reel. But by the time I got to forty I knew something was wrong. I clicked and clicked, wound on and wound on. With a sinking heart I knew. The film had not engaged with the sprocket.
All those thirty-six carefully chosen shots now only exist in my mind’s eye.
That was it. I made the jump and went digital.