Thursday, October 23, 2014


It was the most curious sight. There, at the edge of the vast dried Amboseli lake bed, lay a lone, abandoned ostrich egg. 

For me, the sight was quite compelling. I’ve seen the very occasional abandoned ostrich egg, but never in a place like this. I waited for the sun to lower in the sky,  and then took this shot.

As the final image of A Shadow Falls,  the second book in the trilogy, is this an image of hope or of despair? An image of the end, or the hope of a new beginning.....

The photo is also published in “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls” (available on Amazon at :
and on at :

SIGNED copies of the 4th edition printing of this book are also available at

Sunday, August 31, 2014


From the least inspiring of origins : A lesson in keeping your - or more to the point, my - mind open.  

It was a cloudless sunny afternoon, the kind I always regard as un-photographable, when I always feel that there is no point even pulling my camera out of the case. I have convinced myself that I can only shoot with cloudy sky backdrops, that cloudless blue skies are ugly and devoid of atmosphere.  However, in this instance I was (gladly) wrong.

This big bull elephant came ambling by, very relaxed. In spite of that, I couldn’t see any point in photographing him in such terrible midday overhead sunlight, and against such a boring backdrop of clear sky. 

But Ninian, my guide, insisted that since we were doing nothing, I should stop being such a pessimistic git and try taking a photograph of the elephant. So we followed him across the bare pans. And as he walked, he dusted himself. 

For that split second moment, the effect was quite beautiful. The dust effectively became the clouds in the sky that I always crave. In fact, you could view the photograph from the perspective that the elephant actually looks like a giant walking through the clouds. 

This photograph is an anomaly within my work in one other respect. It is a photograph of an animal in action. Typically, I have no interest in taking photographs such as this. I prefer to photograph animals in a state of Being, taking their portraits in an attempt to capture a sense of their personalities, their spirit. 

So in two regards, I broke my ‘rules’ here. And I am glad that I did. 
So the photographic moral of the story: don’t be a pessimistic git. (One that I continue to have not learned, it has to be admitted).

Technical : As usual, the photo was shot on medium format black and white film, without zoom or telephoto.

The photo is published in “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls” (available on Amazon at this new link : 

The reprint is available on at :

SIGNED copies of this 4th edition printing of the book are also available now at

Monday, August 4, 2014


The Importance of Clouds. Discuss. 
I love photographing in East Africa. But I like my clouds specially imported from Northern Europe - somber, gloomy, melancholic. Now, truth be told, the clouds in this photo are pretty obviously African - a classic stormy East African build up of cloudy drama.

But imagine this photo with clear blue skies. Boring. It would not have made it off my contact sheet into the scanner. But with all this dramatic cloud dominating the negative space, this photo became a keeper. 

Of course, the (tiresome) cynics amongst you will say, well, you could have just added in the clouds afterwards. Yep, you’re right, I could have. But really, how disappointing. And I always find - and you will hear me say this repeatedly - if you are patient enough, what nature eventually gives you is way better and more surprising than what you might have manufactured in Photoshop. So I stick with Nature.

Talking of that, the Frustration of Waiting: Discuss.

Trying to get good photos here in this particular part of the world - an area of the Serengeti -  is pretty much as hard as it gets. The kopjes, the rocky outcrops here - are spectacular, but waiting for all the elements to align - the animal in the right place at the right time in the right light - is incredibly frustrating. Days, weeks go by without getting a good shot. Or any shot. The cats are sleeping, or the sky is too blue, or the animals have just eaten, or they’re too high on the rocks, etc etc etc. It feels like one (I) will never get a good photo again. 

It’s a case of swinging hoops, all swinging out of sync, and you wait for that one statistically unlikely, very brief moment when, for a split second, the hoops all swing in unison. And when they finally do, it almost seems...easy. Until it feels impossible again.

The cheetahs - well, this was one of the last times I saw many cheetahs here in this area that used to be well-known for them. I have not successfully photographed a cheetah since 2008. There are now just an estimated 9,000-12,000 left on the entire African continent. There are fewer and fewer places that they can survive as man encroaches ever more rapidly on wildlife habitat, their ability to hunt compromised.
I hope that these three cubs survived and are currently out there somewhere, moving  through the Serengeti grass, living their lives to the full.

Technical : as always, shot on medium format black and white film with a Pentax 67II, no telephoto or zoom.
By the way, viewing the photo at this size on the computer screen sucks. (But I could say that about all the photos). You need to see them as the large prints that they were intended to be. But in the absence of that, the books are a good interim compromise (how’s that for a sales pitch). So, if you wish to treat yourself to aforementioned good interim compromise....

The photo is published in “A Shadow Falls” (available on, and in “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls” (available for $112 on Amazon at this new link : 

SIGNED copies of this 4th edition printing of the book are also available now at 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Death by Tourist.  (Read on and you will understand what I mean by that.)

I have always found the river crossings of wildebeest and zebra, in their search for fresh grass on the other side of the river, incredibly moving and courageous. 

For this photo, we waited for a couple of days as the wildebeest gathered on the opposite bank, looking like, at any minute, they were finally going to (literally) make the leap. But as is so often the way, something would unnerve or distract them, and they would retreat. 

Sometimes on these waits, it’s the zebras that finally decide to make the first jump, as if they grow impatient with the wildebeests’ group indecision, and decide, “oh, fer chrissakes, well, we’re going”, at which point the wildebeest group-think, “oh, yeah, okay, we’ll come too”).

Frequently at these crossings, you find yourself tensely watching as the crocodiles close in on a chosen wildebeest swimming across the river. Will it make it in time? Closer the crocodiles swim....closer....closer...and as the wildebeest makes it to the other shore with crocodile just a few feet away, we simultaneously sigh with relief, cheer and applaud.

But..sometimes, tourist vehicles with ignorant guides and tourists will position themselves on the river bank right at the wildebeest exit points - in order to get a better / more dramatic view. In so doing, they block the wildebeests' exit, forcing them to panic, tumble back down the bank and try to cross back to the other side. In so doing, some drown, exhausted. It is especially heartbreaking when mother and calf are separated. The calf is doomed at this point.

Tourism is a vital component in the survival of these creatures and these ecosystems, but it has to be responsible tourism. But this is not it. So if you are on safari with some idiot ‘guide’ trying this stunt, please tell them to back off and educate them that they are likely causing the death(s) of wildebeests.

(By the way, that did not happen during the crossing depicted in this photo. And everyone who did the swim across in this particular shot made it, as I recall.)

The photo is published in “A Shadow Falls” (available again after a long time out of print, available on Amazon), and in “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls” (available again on $112 on Amazon at this new link here. SIGNED copies available at

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


If only all my subjects were as accommodating as this silverback gorilla in Rwanda.

In March 2008, I trekked up to the gorilla groups in Rwanda for six days in a row, to try and take their portraits. You’re only allowed one hour a day with them, so the pressure is on. The rangers take you in groups of eight, but I bought all eight permits so that I could be alone with the gorillas for that precious hour, free to move around them to get the right angle with no-one in the way or in shot.  An expensive way of doing things, to put it mildly. 

But for the first five days, the gorillas just rubbed my nose in it, spending every minute of each of those short hours sitting waist deep in wild celery, contentedly munching on the stuff, bathed in ugly bright sunlight. 

More than ever, I needed cloud cover. Hard sunlight, which I am no fan of in my photos, looks especially terrible on gorillas, transforming their liquid eyes into impenetrable dark sockets. 

As mentioned before, I am always looking to take a portrait of an animal in exactly the way I would shoot the portrait of a human being. It wouldn’t be a good portrait of a human to see them waist deep in wild celery (and eating it).  Same rules apply for portraits of gorillas.

But then, on the last day, with just 20 minutes of the trip to go, this beautiful giant silverback male walked down into a small river bed, and stood on a rock, appearing to pose.

I clambered down into the river bed to join him. He just stayed there, allowing me to photograph him from head to toe. I frantically reloaded my camera (ten shots per roll with medium format 6x7 film), expecting him to move at any second, but nope, he stayed right where he was, posing away. 

Afterwards, the park rangers said that they had never seen a gorilla do anything like that. They were generally always deep in the forest’s vegetation. 

So I considered myself very fortunate to have gotten this photo. Once home, this frame was the one that most moved me, but blowing it up large - the print is 42x55 inches (107x140 cm) - I discovered that shooting in such a dark setting, aperture wide open, with such shallow depth of field, that one of his eyes was a little out of focus. I realized that because of my poor focusing, the gorilla’s two front legs dominating the frame were pin sharp. With their luxuriant glossy fur, this made the photo work better than if I had gotten the focusing conventionally correct.

The photo is published in “A Shadow Falls” (available again after a long time out of print, available on Amazon), and in “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls” (available again at the end of July, pre-order for $112 on Amazon at this new link here)

SIGNED copies of the new printing are also available now at

Sunday, June 15, 2014


To take a portrait of an animal alive again in death, in the place where it lived and died. The portrait of an animal that I would never have been able to get close enough to otherwise. This was part of what obsessed me when I first unexpectedly found petrified birds and bats washed up along the shoreline of Lake Natron in Tanzania.

I visited the lake whilst traveling through one the more stark areas of East Africa taking photos for the last book, Across The Ravaged Land,  in my trilogy. It was dry season, so the waterline had receded revealing these petrified creatures along the shoreline. I thought they were extraordinary - every last tiny detail perfectly preserved down to the tip of a bat's tongue, the minute hairs on his face. 

Each day, me, my guide, and a few local Maasai would walk up and down the lake's shoreline, scouring for birds and bats. It was like a morbid treasure hunt, with the entire fish eagle being the most surprising and revelatory find. His outspread wings, as if opening them to dry them in the sun, were fixed in exactly that position when he died.

No-one knows for certain exactly how the animals die, but it appears that the extreme reflective nature of the lake’s surface confuses them, just like a plate glass window, causing them to crash into the lake. The water has an extremely high soda content, so high that it would strip the ink off my Kodak film boxes within a few seconds. The soda and salt causes the creatures to petrify, perfectly preserved, as they dry. (I have referred to the creatures as calcified in previous titles/descriptions, but “petrified” is the correct description).

We have found entire flocks of 100 dead small finches washed up on shore in a 50 yard stretch of shoreline. So clearly, they all died at once. Which suggests that the notion that they accidentally all flew into the glassy reflective surface of the water is a very plausible theory. All in all, not a great-sounding way to die.

All the creatures are rock hard when found, but are not stone, as reported in many articles. You cannot turn their heads, manipulate their wings, etc.

I took these creatures as I found them on the shoreline, and then placed them in ‘living’ positions, bringing them back to ‘life’, as it were. Reanimated, alive again in death.

In the instance of the fish eagle, we placed him on a strong branch pushed into the shallow water of Lake Natron - photographing his portrait far closer than I ever could if he were living.

Shot as always on medium format black and white film, the photograph is published in “Across The Ravaged Land”, available on (SIGNED copies available from

Monday, June 2, 2014


I try to photograph wild animals in the same way that I would photograph a human being. The difference is that I have to wait for the animals to present themselves, to ‘pose’, for their portrait. In this way, I am attempting to show the animals as sentient creatures not so different to us (although frequently they are better than us...but I digress).

Just as a portrait photographer might be captivated by a striking, characterful face on the street, so I'm drawn to a particular animal that I want to photograph.

So it was with this lion. I spent seventeen straight days with him. Waiting. But all he did was sleep - hour after hour, day after day -under a boring cloudless blue sky.

Finally, on the evening of the eighteenth day, a monumental storm rolled in. Just ahead of the storm came an incredibly powerful wind. The moment that the wind hit the lion, like a freight train, he sat up, facing into the wind, smelling the game on the air. After all these days spent in each other’s company, he was oblivious to me taking photos so close to him.

Shot as always on medium format black and white film without telephoto or zoom, the photo has shifting planes of focus that occur in camera at time of shooting, using a very crude poor-man’s version of a tilt shift lens. Some think they can achieve this in Photoshop, but that’s a physical impossibility - this ‘effect’ can only be achieved in camera.

Meanwhile, it is necessary to mention that the lion population of Africa is plummeting. There are now just an estimated 20,000 lions left across the entire continent, a drop of 75% in just 20 years.

In the Amboseli ecosystem, where Big Life Foundation operates, the organization I co-founded to help protect the wild animals of that part of the world, so far we are succeeding in maintaining the current lion population, through a compensation fund for the local communities when they lose livestock to predators. Go to to learn more.

The photo is published in “A Shadow Falls” (available again after a long time out of print, available on Amazon), and in “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls”  (available again in July. SIGNED copies of the new printing are available now at


I find it hard to imagine the living elephant that possessed these tusks. I’ve never seen elephants with tusks anything like this size, and now, I never will. They are all gone, dead, mostly killed by man.
Even with one part of each tusk embedded in his skull, this elephant would still surely have had to lift his monumental head to prevent them from dragging like excavators through the earth.
Those two gargantuan tusks, that bounty, would likely fetch in excess of half a million dollars in China today.
The elephant was killed by poachers in Tsavo in southern Kenya in 2004. His tusks were stored in Kenya Wildlife Service’s ivory strongroom. In July 2011, they permitted me to borrow these and many other tusks of elephants killed at the hands of man for the ranger series. These photos feature rangers belonging to Big Life Foundation, the organization that I co-founded to help protect and preserve the wild animals of East Africa. Please go to learn more.
Photographed as always on medium format black and white film, I waited several days for the normal clear blue skies to disappear, waiting for the right somber cloud cover to take the photos.
The photograph is featured in “Across The Ravaged Land”, available on (SIGNED copies available from

Sunday, June 1, 2014


His name was Igor (as named at birth by Cynthia Moss of Amboseli Elephant Research). For forty-nine years, he wandered the plains of the Amboseli ecosystem in East Africa. A gentle soul like most elephants, he was so relaxed that in 2007, he allowed me to come within a few feet of him to take his portrait.

Two years later, it was perhaps this level of trust that allowed poachers to get close enough to kill him and hack out the tusks from his face.

And so it was that in late 2010, Igor became the unfortunate poster child of Big Life Foundation, the organization that I co-founded to help protect and preserve the widl animals of East Africa, and Igor's home, the Amboseli ecosystem, Big Life's pilot initiative project. (To learn more about Big Life, please go to

In terms of the technical side of the photo, as many of you know I only shoot medium format black and white film on a Pentax 67II without zoom or telephoto lenses. I have overheard people looking at this print, saying they are convinced that I shot the photo in a studio. It's actually this quality that I like about the photo. When I first viewed the contact sheet, I thought that the background looked like a scenic backdrop on a sound stage, with Igor lit by a soft spotlight off to one side.

(This photograph is published in "On This Earth, A Shadow Falls:. It will be back in print in July 2014, but until then, SIGNED copies are available at