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Phil Douglis | profile | all galleries >> Gallery Thirty Two: On Safari -- expressing the essence of nature tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Gallery Thirty Two: On Safari -- expressing the essence of nature


“Safari” is an old Arabic word meaning “to travel.” Over the years, the word has come to define one of the most exhilarating of all travel experiences – an expedition to observe African animals in their natural habitat. The safari photograph typically functions as a record of the experience. Safari-goers “collect” animals with their camera, just as hunters used to collect animal specimens with their guns. They record the appearance of what they see, so that they can remember and affirm each and every encounter. Yet seldom do they use their cameras to go beyond describing the animals they view. Very few safari-goers seem to make photographs that express their feelings about these very special animals, telling a story about their lives, or their struggle for survival within an endangered ecosystem. It is not that difficult to make safari images aimed at expressing the essence of nature. That is what I will try to demonstrate in this gallery.

I spent the first two weeks of 2006 on safari in Zambia, deep in the heart of central Africa. It was my fifth wildlife safari, and by far the most productive photographically. For thirteen successive days, I explored Zambia’s most spectacular and game reserve, South Luangwa National Park, during its lush emerald season -- the time of the rains.

In this gallery, I offer 56 images that I hope will convey the feeling of a return to Eden, expressing the essence of the natural world in its most basic form. I will discuss each image in terms of how I apply the principles demonstrated in this cyberbook to Safari photography. I used an eight megapixel Panasonic FZ-30 to make these photos. It features an amazing 36mm-420mm Leica lens with image stabilization, allowing me to use its long telephoto in low light situations with remarkable clarity. This long lens is ideal for photographing distant animals -- it can be extended to over 500mm by reducing the resolution (size) of the image, and even to more than 600mm or 700mm by reducing it further. Its flip-out LCD viewfinder allows easy use at low and high angles, making it the single most useful tool for travel photography that I've used to date.


During the 13 shooting days of this trip, I made more than 5,000 images. I kept just 200 of them. Guilt free digital photography makes such lavish shooting possible. However I made no images without purpose or forethought. For example, to make the most of a moving animal subject, I often used my camera’s multiple image feature – holding my finger down on the shutter button to make four or five shots of an animal’s behavior instead of just one. The placement of a leg, the direction of a head, the spacing between subjects, often changes from frame to frame. It might take a burst of five or six shots to get one that works – but since each image is free, there is no downside to such a practice.

I always take a laptop computer with me on my travels, and during the four-hour break between morning and afternoon game drives I would download my images to it. My one gigabyte memory card holds over 200 high quality digital files – and I usually came close to filling a card on each of my 26 game drives. (That’s how I know I shot about 5,000 files on this trip.)

None of these images could have been made if not for the encouragement and knowledge of Rocco Morelli, a veteran of many Zambian safaris, who convinced me to embark on this wet-season adventure via the Africa Discussion Forum at Fodors.com. The challenge of putting this trip together was made so much easier by the help of Barry and Tara, owners of Luangwa River Lodge, and by the hospitality of Paul and Sonya, managers of Star of Africa's Puku Ridge Tented Camp --my bases of operation. Both of these camps were able to offer me private game drives, creating opportunities for the thorough and patient photography necessary to make images such as these. I shall always be grateful to them, and to my guides, Victor and Abel, who knew the habits and often the locations of the lions, elephants and, in Abel's case, even the elusive leopard in these images.

These 56 images were selected from the portfolio of 100 safari pictures I have posted in a digital travel article at: http://www.pnd1.smugmug.com/

Since posting the 56 images I made in Zambia in 2006, I have added four more images shot on a tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park, India in 2008, as well as others made in the US since then. They are at the beginning of this gallery.

This gallery is presented in "blog" style. A large thumbnail is displayed for each image, along with a detailed caption explaining how I intended to express my ideas. If you click on the large thumbnail, you can see it in its full size, as well as leave comments and read the comments of others. I hope you will be able to participate in the dialogue. I welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas, and questions, and will be delighted to respond.