Bill is a tourist I met at the Vumbura camp who could easily have ended up on the Bad Tourist Hall of Shame. He and his wife Angie are from Texas.
Bill is loud, he works in the oil industry, he is very honest when he doesn’t like something, and he wears a bandana of the American flag.
And yet, as I often find with Very American Americans, I thought he was great.
You see, Canon has loaned me a very impressive and expensive camera to shoot my 30 Before 30 voyage and I was supposed to get lessons before I left from my friend David Yarrow, who is literally the most incredible wildlife photographer in the world.
But that didn’t happen because of scheduling issues, so here I am with this whopping great camera and I don’t really know how to use it.
People regularly come up to me and say, “woah, what model is that Canon?” – because there are countless photography enthusiasts out here on safari.
Every time this happens, I thrust the camera aloft, say “a model that looks like this!” – and spin it in the air from all angles, at which point they usually retort, “ah, the EOS 60d with the 70-200 zoom”, and I nod, then run away as fast as possible.
Bill and I did this little dance, but because he is so friendly in that delightfully American way (the more Southern the better I find), I didn’t run away. I told him the truth. That I wouldn’t know what aperture was if it bit me on the arse, but really, earnestly, do want to know what aperture is.
Bill is clearly a very, very, very good photographer. We were sat inches apart on the safari vehicle, so our gallery of photos (leopard, lions, wild dogs etc.) are all shot from the same angle, except his are infinity-times better.
It’s a bit of luck, he says, a bit about having a decent camera, and mostly about skill. I have the first two, but not the last.
I have most definitely been getting a lot better though.
What Bill did was to broadly explain to me the notions of aperture, shutter speed and exposure.
From what I can tell, it has a lot to do with maths, or at the very least numbers, which are the things that scare me even more than planes, spiders and death by lion.
Bill then changed the settings on my camera so that all the numbers added up to the right final number and informed me that to learn, I must abandon all auto modes and shoot manual.
Lots more things can go wrong when you are shooting manual, but as I’ve found, when you get it right, the photos look much better.
This blog title was a bit misleading. There is no secret to how I took that photo, which even Bill admits, is sublime.
That was luck. “Even a blind squirrel sometimes gets a nut”, was his conclusion. Secretly I think he just said that because he was jealous of how sublime the photo was.
So it was 5.15am the other morning and we were chasing the wild dogs in a mad hurry. My camera was set to manual.
I was playing around with the aperture and I turned round as we yanked a hard turn and the blood orange sunrise was poking through the trees in this magical way and there was lots of dust rising from the ground because we were going so fast and I just thought, yessss.
So I pointed my Canon EOS 60d with the 70-200 zoom towards the action and hit ‘clunk’.
The vehicle was moving, and I hardly had time to worry about composition so I assumed it would come out in a shit blur.
Somehow, as I think you’ll agree if you’ve seen any of my other photos, it turned out to be the best one I’ve ever taken in my life.
And now I’m obsessed with my camera, and not that afraid of it at all. I think if you love your subject enough (wildlife) then it never gets boring. I would get bored very quickly, for example, if I was shooting urban landscapes or people.
So there you have it. How I went from being a blind squirrel to being an alright photographer. This one’s for you, Bill from Texas.