Sunday, 28 March 2010

A community of one?

greg du toit, shem compion,, professional wildlife photographer, Chances are you know who took this image. Greg du Toit, through many hours of persistence, patience and perseverance (the nature photographers three P’s) managed to capture some unique images of wildlife from a very seldom seen angle. The result- some of the best wildlife images you will ever see. This isn’t news to me, and if you reading this, not you either, because you probably know of the massive amount of publicity this has received in the last month; which is brilliant for Greg as a wildlife photographer.

I’ve mentioned it before. Photographers are creative’s. We start a day with nothing and at the end of the day we produce a body of work. If it’s good, people share the work, spreading the word. If its excellent, you get the sort of media attention Greg has received: television, radio, web and papers have embraced these images and the story. I say kudos to Greg. Why? Cause as a wildlife photographer, he’s done his job. He has managed to get his work “out there”. For many of us it’s that final step that eludes us.

But the real question is this. Where is the South African media in this? Finally we have a wildlife photographer who makes a great name abroad, but I’ve yet to see one south African agency pick up on this excellent story. Surely this should have more of an impact in our own country?

Where is our sense of community that gives Greg a break in his own back yard? There must be someone in the photo community that knows somebody in the news industry. This story is designed for us South Africans; and taken by one of its own sons. It needs to be shown what our wildlife photographers can really do.

So here’s the challenge. Lets see if our community can get Greg’s story published by a South African news agency in the next 14 days. For the sake of our own industry, we need stories like this to be shown and if we help one person one day, someone else will help us another day. Isn’t that what a community is about?

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The power of our game

Over the last week, this sequence of images has become something of a shining light for me. As a visual person, I accept that I react differently to images than other people. I often absorb them, allowing them to react within. It’s my process of assessing an image. So when I chanced upon these images this last week they stopped me short…
india,  people,  travel photography, shem compion, shemimages

This last week was the toughest one I have had in a while. A month away does you no favours at the office desk. In the middle of one tough day, I knew I needed some respite. I drew the curtains, darkening the room and went to edit my India photos; this process always helps clear the mind.
Then I came across these.

india,  people,  travel photography, shem compion, shemimages

india,  people,  travel photography, shem compion, shemimages

I remember the scene vividly. Foreigners in this part of India (we were in the most rural and least developed part of India) are not common, so we drew some attention going by. This young girl walked up to us and promptly gave us the most attitude I’ve ever seen; A sullen look that could scare a bear. But then our guide chatted to her in Hiindi, and everything changed. She started smiling. And then she started beaming. The transformation was immense!

I’ll never know what our guide said to her. To me it does not matter. We managed to bring a smile to her face that day- it was the broadest smile I have ever seen.
When I was sitting in my office and I saw this series, I opened them up wide, darkened my screen and looked at them in their 24 inch prime.

india,  people,  travel photography, shem compion, shemimages

Why? Because in the middle of a work day with all sorts of pressures bearing down, they afforded me a great big smile. A smile recognising the reality of what I do. It made me reassess my situation and all of a sudden things weren’t so bad at all. It literally helped create a mind shift that gave me exceptional pleasure. The power of photography there and then paid its dues in its fullest to me. For that Ill be eternally grateful.

I’m sure my story is not alone. The power of our game extends to each one of us. Let me know how an image has influenced you in a moment of time.

Monday, 22 March 2010


If there is one place in the world that can take words from your mouth, it is India. A place so full of continual movement, people, colours, smells, sounds and life that it when I tried and put words to paper, they simply failed me. That is just how hard the place hits you.

But if words failed me, I could at least try and describe my visit with my camera. It could not be confined only to wildlife. So here is a quick look of what I saw and photographed…

india, people, travel, wildlife,shem compion
The first tiger I saw...

india, people, travel, wildlife, shem compion

india, people, travel, wildlife, shem compion

india, people, travel, wildlife, shem compion

india, people, travel, wildlife, shem compion

india, people, travel, wildlife, shem compion

india, people, travel, wildlife, shem compion

india, people, travel, wildlife, shem compion

india, people, travel, wildlife, shem compion

Unquestionably, India is a place that will change many of your ideas, your ideals and your perspective.

If you want to change your perspective on life- go to India.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Japan and the land of the vending machine

The Japanese don’t do anything by half measures. If something gets done in Japan, it gets done well. Their wildlife photographers take that creed very seriously, almost obsessively as we came to witness…

Like the Egyptian goose of Africa, every wall in Japan is held up by a vending machine

In the winter, there are only a few species to really photograph. Fortunately all these subjects are quite unique, presenting excellent photo opportunities for us crazy people who go to extreme measures to make sure we get good photos of these species. I thought we were dedicated until I saw some of the local photographers: Guys sleeping in their vehicles in -20 to stake out their spot; Photographers who stake out Blakiston’s fish owl in their (open windowed with no heating) vehicles all night and then go on the dawnie to photograph Steller's sea eagle. Yep, man I saw another breed of photographers here. Guys who put heir mind to something and then just work at it to make sure they get their shots. How many Africa photographers do you know like that?

Pet pampering

However, as we say in Africa; your remoteness is determined by your distance from a Coca Cola sign. In Japan, it’s measured by how far you are from a vending machine. Yep, in all shapes, sizes and colours with almost anything you could wish for dropped out of them, the vending machine is like the national sign of efficiency if Japan. Want a hot, freshly ground cafĂ© latte with milk and one sugar? The vending machine will gladly drop you one straight away- almost with a smile!

Boat cruise fun

It turned out that we weren’t often far from one. Perhaps the boat cruise was the furthest we got. I’m expecting one to be on the foredeck next year though…

All in all a beautiful country with much to offer for the wildlife photographer. The quality of the light is beautiful, (especially backlit through snow!) and the islands live up to their name as a wildlife winter wonderland. Will I be back? You bet I will.
Hope to see some of you here in February 2011.

Hokkaido winter scape and photographer Go Yamagata

For now though, it’s a skip across continents to India and some Tiger stalking. I’m of course really looking forward to it, especially as the temperatures will be more to my liking.

Flash set ups for Blakiston’s fish owl

Till then, shoot straight.
Oh, and what was the last thing we did in Japan? Bought travel insurance. From a vending machine of course…

Will I be back? For this, I sure will!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Steaming Cold

Japan is volcanic, meaning many earthquakes and many mountains. It also means steam and hot water leaking through the fissures in the mountains. This translates into nice hot springs and baths for us to relax in. But its not only humans who frequent these baths, some very ingenious macquaces have also found out he advantages of a decent hot spring in cold weather…

japan, shem compion, snow monkeys, japan photo tour

japan, shem compion, snow monkeys, japan photo tour

They enjoy it so much in fact, that hey can be found lurking in the waters all year round. And in winter, the pools are literally crawling with them trying to keep warm!

japan, shem compion, snow monkeys, japan photo tour

japan, shem compion, snow monkeys, japan photo tour

Now primates aren’t necessarily the most beautiful creatures at the best of times. Put them in water and they become positively alien. But being primates, and so close to us (me), you just cant help photograph these creatures, which exhibit such beautiful expressions.

japan, shem compion, snow monkeys, japan photo tour

japan, shem compion, snow monkeys, japan photo tour

Working with the snow monkey was 18gb of hard work, but it was a pleasure every image of the way. At the end of the day my back was contorted and twisted, I smelt like monkey poo (yes I was lying all over the place- sorry Andre) and my mind was completely saturated: over loaded. It is the first time in a while that I have been so overwhelmed by a subject. They are continually moving and playing, seemingly always when you have the wrong lens on. Patience, once again, proved to be the way to shoot here; waiting for the right image to come to you rather than rushing after it.

japan, shem compion, snow monkeys, japan photo tour

All in all a very productive day. I’m still going through the images, but here are a few so far.

Chat soon. Next stop, India.

japan, shem compion, snow monkeys, japan photo tour

Monday, 1 March 2010

March Essay: “Tancho”, Japanese cranes, Hokkaido Island, Japan

Tancho. The word evokes a sense of wonder even to someone who does not know its meaning. It is the Japanese name for the Red crested crane (Japanese Crane) and knowing the name means understanding the mystique that surrounds this bird. The grace of the bird, the showmanship of the courting and its highly endangered status combine to make it one of the most sought after images of Japanese wildlife. Japans winter wildlife might not be that diverse, but it offers exceptionally unique and exciting viewing of those species that can be viewed..

trancho, japanese cranes, japanese cranes, photographers,

However, the Japanese being what they are means waking up at 04h00 to get into position. For me that comes with the territory, however add -20 Deg C into the equation and it’s a whole new ball game! Nevertheless there we were in the dark on a bridge, tripods set up and concentrating hard not to breathe in too hard through my nose, which if I did, would cause icicles to form inside my nostrils.

Good thing we were in place. Very soon after photographers started arriving until the bridge was a mass of cameras and tripods. The cranes must have been watching with a certain admiration! And the cause for this congregation? The cranes roost in the river, which is warmer than the ice and snow. At temperatures of around -20C the mist from the river attaches to the trees alongside as hoar frost to create a stunningly beautiful scene at sunrise.

We were luck enough to get the right conditions for all the above. All that remained was to take the image. As these three walked slowly down the river, I captured this image of the enigmatic Tancho in one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve had the pleasure to witness. For once, that was the easy part…!

Exposure information:
Nikon D700 - 200-400mm lens, 1.4 converter.
Exposure – f 10 Shutter Speed: 1/320sec
Exp. Comp. – 0.3. EV
ISO - 500
Flash sync– not attached, Exposure mode– Aperture priority, Metering Mode– centre
File type– NEF (RAW)
Focal length: 550mm
Tripod, cable release, hand warmers, foot warmers. 5 layers of clothing.