Something to declare: Zen and the art of amateur wildlife photography

 

"Wait, wait, wait … Nearly there …"

Your vehicle lurches over the rough terrain, your driver manoeuvring for an angle while you stage-whisper directions. But now there's a branch in the way. And the light's wrong. Back a bit? Too late: with one disdainful glare the leopard slinks back into the depths of the thicket.

"Where's it gone? I don't believe it! Did you get anything?"

Sounds familiar? Sadly, that was me, last year, in Zambia's Luangwa Valley. I'd love to say that, after years of wildlife watching, it was a one-off – a bad lens day, if you like. But the old snap-it fever still descends when a suitably picturesque subject steps into view.

What invariably follows, whether or not you get the shot, is a frantic scrolling through the LCD display screen to check the evidence. Forget the next sighting – the kudu that breaks off browsing to ponder your muttering, the lilac-breasted roller that dances like a feathered kaleidoscope before your unseeing eyes – you're either flashing your winning shots to your companions or sunk too deep in misery to care. And as soon as you get back to camp you trawl through them all again. Your game drive – what should have been a gob-smacked epiphany at the wonder of nature – is reduced to an inventory of images, its success or failure hanging on a collection of pixels.

For today's safari-goer, a decent camera is indispensable. We've all seen the magazines. Can't be too tricky, surely? Just whack a big lens on your digital SLR and snap away. Your pictures are, after all, your trophies. Not only do they prove to the folks back home that you came and you saw – edging you a few points ahead on the great scorecard of life experience – but also that you conquered; nothing escaped the sharpshooting of your trusty shutter finger.

The trouble is that the true thrill of safari doesn't fit a viewfinder. Not only does staring down a lens blind you to the bigger picture – literally, the world outside – it also effectively seals off your other senses. The dew-laden cobwebs, the yodel of a fish eagle, the heady musk of an elephant: you're dead to them all as you switch to aperture priority and whack up the ISO.

And then there are the practicalities. First, packing it all into your hand luggage – the camera, the lenses, the accessories – and bluffing your way through check-in. Then, lugging it around for the next fortnight, in a state of perpetual anxiety about available power points. And finally, working out how to use the thing – inevitably collapsing into expletive-laden meltdown when your gear fails at the critical moment.

I'm not suggesting leaving the camera at home (although this would undoubtedly have improved some of my trips). Too often a wildlife sighting unsnapped brings more pain than pleasure. What you need, ideally, is a certain Zen-like equanimity: enough to put down the camera, after a snap or two, sit back and soak in the experience. Accept missing a few images and, instead, glory in the moment. After all, when will such a moment arise again?

Yeah, right. Good luck with that.

Mike Unwin is the author of the 'Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife' (Bradt Travel Guides)

Suggested Topics
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links