RTW photography tips

As the Eagles sang: ‘In a New York minute, everything can change.’ You have to react faster in city photography than you do in almost any other area. Alert pros know that you habitually walk down the street with your camera exposure set to F8 if you want to be ready for anything. The city is often a very ‘contrasty’ place of light and shade so more important still you have your finger on the dial so that at an instant’s notice you can be ready to shoot at whatever crops up with balanced exposure. Things are less complex with a point-and-shoot but the start-up time is usually far slower so try not to be caught with your camera switched off and a 5 second delay to get past before you can push the button. More than anywhere else security too is a preoccupation in the city so try not to use expensive looking camera bags and pouches that can just advertise what a great victim you would make.  

Most of the world’s jungles are invariably safer than their corresponding cities and your greatest enemy is likely to be the all-pervading, electronics-rotting humidity of the rainforest. A roll-top canoer’s bag can be the best bet to keep your camera in overnight and carry a good supply of silica gel sachet to soak up any moisture (you can dry them in a frying pan!). A good substitute for silica gel is simple rice: wrap it up in a (dry) bandana and stick it in a zip-lock bag and it will draw the moisture out of your equipment.  

Whether you are trekking in jungle or mountains the biggest problem is maintaining the agility to move around quickly and get into position for shots. At the end of a long, hard trek you can often look back and picture – with invariably haunting clarity – all the missed photo opportunities. I spent years stoically carrying my own kit and refusing to hand anything over to a porter: finally I realised that all I was doing was cheating some impoverished local of a good day’s wages and cheating myself of the opportunity to duck and dive and get my shots.

Few people the days will think that you are stealing their soul but shooting a close-up portrait is certainly a very private and personal thing and should never be done without asking the express permission of people involved. In traditional communities you can break down boundaries very quickly by shooting snapshots of children (or your travelling companions) and then showing them...get a few laughs and before you know it everyone will want their photo taken. Thankfully the wonderful invention of the delete button means that you can keep shooting those rigid passport-type poses until you manage to get a smile and your subject’s natural character is revealed. If you promise to send copies of images to local people you should always do so: bear in mind that, especially for old people in remote communities, this might be the only photograph they have ever had taken.

The overwhelming preoccupation of wildlife photographers the world over used to be how to get the biggest, fastest lens available. If you weren’t forking out USD20,000 on a 800mm telephoto you would never be considered one of the ‘big boys.’ If you are keen on shooting birdlife by all means continue with this outlook but for wildlife in most African parks you no longer need such equipment. It’s not the size that counts, but what you do with it, and even with a 200 or 300mm lens you will often find yourself too close. In most African parks that see regular visitors wildlife is so well habituated to human onlookers that it is frequently more of a pre-occupation how to get far enough back to get that shot of lion showing more of its environment...and less of its teeth.



by Mark Eveleigh