Greg du Toit
From the Field
Africa Photo Workshop
Crocodiles are possibly not the most loved creatures in the world? If dolphins, horses and elephants are on one end of the spectrum then crocodiles, sharks and mambas are possibly on the other end of the popularity stakes. I have to be honest and say that I am not a lover of reptiles, nor am I one of those crazy bushwhacked safari guides who actively launch themselves into contact with reptiles, risking both life and limb (ala Albie Venter)! So how did I come to obtain this close-up image of a crocodile?
Well, I was guiding a photographic safari in the heart of the Okavango Delta and our intention on this particular afternoon, was to not photograph crocodiles but to rather make our way through the maize of papyrus channels and onto a small lake, where we wanted to shoot the setting sun with a pod of hippo (actually a ‘raft of hippo’ to be more PC). As a wildlife photographer, I am always making plans to capture the ultimate shot but just how much planning can a wildlife photographer really do? We might have no control over the weather or over our subjects, but after spending years living in the bush, I like to think that I understand my subject’s behaviour and environment, which in turn allows me to predict photographic opportunities. I guess that, for my own sanity sake, I need to believe this and I need to keep trying but I also know all too well that what sounds good in theory, often does often not work in practice! If I objectively look at the results of my work, it is plainly obvious that many of my most striking images are unplanned moments of serendipity.
Take this image for example: We were rushing past this crocodile on flat-bottomed aluminum boats and I managed to get the group to stop for just a couple seconds as I leant over the front. I quickly focused on the eye and let a few shots go. Thereafter we raced off to capture our money shots at the hippo pool! So where are my hippo pool shots you ask? Well that is just it you see, the hippopotami never played ball and the shots never materialized. In my eyes, the afternoon had been a resounding flop and it was only much later that I began to like this image of my serendipitous crocodile. I like the way the shallow depth of field draws attention to the beautiful green eye and I also enjoy the red reflection of the dead papyrus in the water.
As a professional wildlife photographer, I have always tried to plan the next shoot or the next shot, down to a ‘T’. I used to apply the old diving adage of ‘Plan your dive and dive your plan’. More recently however, I have realized that regardless of my planning and good intentions, photographic opportunities can literally surface at any point. A good wildlife photographer needs to be able to capitalize on these moments of serendipity! Magic simply cannot be planned and a good wildlife image must have an element of magic!
More about the Photograph: I used a digital SLR camera and a focal length of 550mm for this image. It is important to use a lens with image stabilization or vibration reduction for this type of work, as I had to lean over a moving boat, to capture the shot. An aperture of 7.1 allowed for a shallow depth of field and a shutter speed of 1/100th was only possible at an ISO of 1250.
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