Sunday, November 29, 2009

Kruger Park

African Elephant, near Lowe Sabie Camp

Cape Buffalo, near Punda Maria Camp

Boabab Tree, near Punda Maria Camp

Punda Maria Campsite

Elephant Skull, near Letaba Camp

Submerged Hippos in the Oliphant River.

Hippo on the bank of the Sabie River

Hyena, near Lower Sabie Camp. This guy would make a Pit Bull look like a Toy Poodle

I had originally planned to drive into Zimbabwe, an area I travelled in extensively during my time in South Africa in the mid-90's. I had really fallen in love with the area, and wanted to see for myself what the years of economic turmoil had to done to her. As I got up near the border, I met the local police inspector at my hotel bar. He said that you can travel in Zimbabwe, but you need to take all the fuel and food you need for the trip, as outside of Harare, there isn't much of either available. The condition of the refugees coming across the border is appalling, as they're essentially walking from Harare to the border with no food. With my little car, I thought it would more reckless than adventuresome to do Zimbabwe, so I cut across to the north end of Kruger park, and worked my way down to the southern most part, a distance of nearly 600 kms.

Kruger is a South African national park, similar to Banff or Jasper back in Canada. While there are some very expensive private camps inside the park, catering mostly to foreign tourists, there are also very reasonable priced public facilities and restaurants. For my three nights/four days in the park, the bill was less than R1400 (about $200.00 CAN), and that included a night safari drive.

I must admit that I really loved the northern sections of the park, even with temperatures in the high 30's celsius, and a lot less game than the lower sections. The above makes the northern park areas almost deserted, while the southern part is closer to Yellowstone Park at labour day, wall to wall with brash Jo'burger's and their floosey wives, all armed with 'big 5' game check lists.

Tech Stuff:
While I brought a 300mm f/2.8 lens, I found it too big to use in my very small Fiat car, so all the game pics were shot with my AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8, and the scenics with my AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8. I used my Nikon D700 for all the photos.

Kruger Park at Night

Civit Cat

Spitting Cobra

Spring Hare


Something I really enjoyed at Kruger was the night drive I took at the Lataba Camp. We were on the back of an open safari truck with sets of spot lights mounted on it, and it was led by a park ranger. Most of the animals in the park are nocturnal, and bush there is alive with life.  Believe me, you would not want to be on foot here at night.

The crown jewel that got away was a hunting Leopard we spotted. By the time I got the camera up, it had disappeared into the bush.

Tech Stuff:
I've stayed away from giving a lot of technical information, as I've really been travelling light, with one camera and three lenses, but this shoot involved some problems.

First of all, it's really dark. Most of the time, I had the D700 camera dialed up to either ISO 3200 or 6400. It's the environment the camera was built for, and it handles the low light beautifully.

To get the colour balance, I asked the ranger to train the spot light onto some white cars in the parking lot, and then used those as white balance point so I would have a clean look to the photos, not the orange "in the headlights look".

I used my AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 with the vibration reduction, as most of the shutter speeds were in the range of 1/125th to 1/30th of a second.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Apartheid Museum

The Apartheid Museum is a must see. It's a thought provoking place, and being a journalist for the tail end of, a bit of personal history as well. Above is a self portrait in the mirror display.

This is a frighteningly realistic solitary confinement cell they had mocked up. It's a lot smaller than it looks in the photo, and I was getting seriously wierded out after only a few minutes in there.

This bad boy is a Caspir armoured car, one of the most recognizable symbols of the Apartheid days. This what the police used to patrol the townships. It has to be one of the ugliest things ever put on four wheels, and from the bullet pocked windows, this one has seen some action.

Now it's like Apartheid itself, just another museum exhibit.

South African Military Museum

I was driving around looking for the Apartheid Museum, and came across the South African Military History Museum. I figured they'd be able to give me directions, I stopped in to ask, and found that some history buffs were holding an Angolan War re-enactment. The South Africans fought a war there in the 70's and 80's against the local rebels, and their Cuban advisors. Several of my cousins and family friends fought in it, and if I'd been still in South Africa when I reached draft age, I would have fought there too, which is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

The older guys in the photos are real veterans, and the younger guys are mostly their kids, there to get a taste of the old days.

The guns are de-activated, but still really scary looking.

Around Jo'burg

My first day in Johannesburg, or Jo'burg to the locals, my friends Philip and Sue took me for a tour of all the cool old haunts.  This is the Radium Beer Hall, which has been a operating as a local pub non-stop since 1926.  It was one of the first bars in the country to intergrate, long before the end of Apartheid.  We came that evening for some kicking live music

Me in front of the giant Nelson Mandela statue in Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton City in the Northern Suburbs.  Every tourist has to do this.  I covered Mandela when he was South African President, and he's personal hero of mine, as well every other South African from one side of the political and racial spectrum, to the other.

My hosts, Sue, Heather, and Philip.  Sue and I became close friends during our time working at the Durban area newspapers.

Jo'burg is far safer than most non-Jo'burg residents would think, but still, don't be a schmuck.  I took the precaution of clipping my camera belt pack to a chair during lunch.

We had the good luck to run in to a good friend of both Sue and I, Michael Schmidt.  Michael and I covered one of the worst atrocities of low intensity civil war that hit South Africa after the 1994 election.  Twenty villagers were slaughtered by their neighbours on Christmas Day 1995, and ours was the definitive coverage of the event.  It hit me so hard that I never really went back to covering conflicts after that.  Michael has been to the West Bank, Darfour, the Congo, and just about every African hot spot since.  Now he runs a foundation that trains journalists in developing countries.

I think Jo'burg is a little like Michael, Sue, and I.  We've grown more mature with the years, and the restless dangerous parts of us have mellowed.  Twelve years ago, Jo'burg was a tense place, where you watched yourself all the time.  Now, as long as you stay out of the scary parts of town (just like visiting any other city), it's pleasant and laid back with a friendly population, a thriving arts and culture scene, and great place to spend a few days.

I've collected my anti-mlarial pills, kissed Sue good bye, and now I'm off to Zimbabwe

Monday, November 16, 2009

Essenwood Flea Market

I spent Saturday at at the Essenwood flea Market in Durban.  Flea markets are a big South African tradition, where you can go to buy some authentic african crafts and beadwork, or hear someone play a township flute, or 'Penny Whistle'.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Around Durban

I've spent the last week getting my bearings in Durban.  I lost my wallet on the way in, and had to order a new VISA card from Montreal, which should be arriving soon.  I've also bought myself a little car, so I'm almost ready to hit the road.

Yesterday, my Dad and I went for a walk along the Durban beachfront.  Half of Zululand seemed to be down there enjoying the surf, and we were the only two white guys who didn't look like they were trying to score some methamphetamine.  Quite the experience.

Umhlanga Rocks is a popular resort area just north of Durban that has a famous lighthouse, a fantastic beach, and great fishing.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Back to South Africa

I finally made it back to South Africa.  Three back to back plane rides, 36 hours of travelling.  The first thing my family did was throw me a traditional South African barbecue, or "Braai".  It's a huge grill up of sausages, boerwors, ribs, and corn.  I haven't eaten this much meat since the last time I was in South Africa.  I have another one to go to on Saturday at my sister's house.

I haven't been back since 1996, and I've since acquired a sister-in-law and two nephews who I've never met.  I've spent the last few days getting to know everyone, looking to find a cheap car, and cancelling my credit cards, as I managed to lose my wallet on the trip here.  Once everything gets set, I'll be hitting the road.

This guy is the local fruit seller that my Dad buys his avocados from.  Durbanites are particular about the local avo's, which are massive (those raisin like things in the lower left corner are supermarket avocados that you would get in Canada), very tasty, and grow naturally throughout the area.  While there are many large, very modern shopping malls thoughout South Africa, little guys like this still do a thriving trade.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pharmacist of the Year

These are part of a series of photos I did for Pharmacy Practices Canada magazine.  Carmen is getting an award for her pharmacy, located in Lillooet BC, about 150 km's northeast of Whistler, over a frightening 4200' mountain pass.  Whistler is the closest major centre, so I get dispatched there for all sorts of photo and video jobs.

The clients asked for a simple shot against a feature-less background, which is the first one.  Carmen was really busy because of the H1N1 outbreak, especially acute in Lillooet, the pharmacy itself was small and crammed with merchandise, and the only blank wall I could find was in the small hallway that led to the storeroom, so we were really rushed for both time and space.  Despite that, it turned out okay, but looking too much like a fancy passport photo for my taste.  Next I asked her to pose in front of the pharmacy display, which made it a more interesting photo, and gave us a lot more room to work in.  Being able to use a longer lens makes for a more flattering photo, and the background makes it a lot more interesting.

They also wanted some shots of Carmen working in her pharmacy for a slideshow that's going to be shown at the awards gala in Toronto.  I thought this was a little more interesting, and it's easier to get interesting photos when the subjects are actually doing something, as opposed to just standing there.

I wanted to finish with an exterior shot, just show how beautiful, and isolated Lillooet is.

Tech Stuff:
The first two shots were lit with with a Nikon SB-900 bounced into an umbrella as the key light, and a Nikon SB-800 with a flag on it as a background/kicker light.  With the SU-800 controller, I can set the levels of both flashes from the camera.

The last three shots were shot with the available light and slight fill fill from the camera mounted SB-900 flash.

Camera:  Nikon D700
Lens:  Nikon AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 (1st), AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 (2nd), AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8 (3rd, 4th, and 5th)