There’s a mongoose. A slender mongoose just climbed down there. Into the bushes, it was sunning itself in the thorn trees. You shouldn’t be listening to me you should be watching for mongoose. My wife just missed a mongoose and that’s her job to look out for mongoose on that side of the car. Complete failure. So this video is gonna be a little bit of a different format to the norm and that’s because it’s going to be a narrative video instead of an onsite video. So, the reason I wasn’t able to vlog at Ndumo was because I was with other people and had to be quiet in the bush. So, it’s going to take a narrative form and I’m going to explain to you what I did there and how I got some of the shots that I got. A week ago I went to a tiny little 10,000 hectare reserve on the Pongola river bordering Mozambique and Swaziland (now called Eswatini). and it’s about 8 hrs drive from Johannesburg and it’s a place I’ve wanted to go for a while and the reason I wanted to go there wasn’t just because it’s got 57% of South Africa’s bird species so around 430+ birds recorded in that area, that tiny little area. It’s also because of this wonderful tree called the Fever Tree I’ve always been a little bit worried of heading down that far. 8hrs out to a place, you know, requires a few days commitment, so we took 4 days. Down in Ndumo and I’ve always been worried that there wouldn’t be enough to hold my attention down there. So I was really banking on one particular shot. It’s this shot that I’ve wanted to capture for a while which is fever trees, these beautiful, luminous trees that only grow in this area reflected in these dark waters of the salt pans that are also only in these areas and I wanted to capture that with my medium format film camera. Now, I was really worried that there wouldn’t be anything else there to take pictures of and, I was worried about committing to that shot. I was right to worry because when I got there I discovered that a bridge over one of the feeder streams to this famous salt pan, the Nyamithi salt pan had collapsed and blocked the water upstream and that meant the water in the pan was really low and I wasn’t getting the reflections of the fever in the water. It was a complete and utter disaster. With really dense bush, really meagre road networks I was really stuck. I had no idea. With all the planning done, I had no idea what I was gonna do for the four days in that part of the world. The main problem for me with these overgrown tracks and Basil as well mainly, is the low hanging branches that hit the tent and hit the water tank on the roof So I’ve gotta take care when going down these, very narrow, overgrown tracks in the northern end of Ndumo next to the Pongola river. So it really wasn’t until the day after we arrived that I figured out how to start getting shots after this major disappointment where I discovered that I wasn’t gonna be able to take pictures of Nyamithi pan with my Mamiya medium format camera. It just wasn’t practical and what we ended up doing was joining some birding groups that were doing bird walks around parts of the reserve and the reason we joined those walks was the bush there is incredibly thick F. C. Selous a famous game hunter from the turn of the century. Probably THE most famous hunter from the turn of the century described this area as having the thickest thornveld in the WHOLE of Africa and that’s saying something given that man’s experience. and I really don’t think he was wrong because it is incredibly thick. Incredibly thick. It’s so thick that you can barely see these tiny little thornveld birds rushing around in between the torn branches of the tree. You cant’ see the Nyala. They’re famously secretive anyway. but they just run and are briefly visible. The Warthogs run and are briefly visible you know. It’s really hard to see any game there. Or the other problem with all this thick bush is the fact that it’s a nature reserve that you can’t walk around in yourself You have to go with a guide who’s got a rifle you know, because of dangerous animals like Buffalo Now there’s no predators. Or no large predators, apart from spotted hyenas which will do a good job on a human. No Probloem (they attack the testicles first by the way!!) There’s no really large predators to worry about but you still have to walk with this game guide and it’s a problem for landscape photography/. It really doesn’t make it easy actually for any kind of photography except for possibly bird photography The first couple of days I felt a great deal of pressure to try and come away with a shot and I felt that pressure got in the way of my photography It blinded me to the opportunities that might have been there that I didn’t see. So I took a step back and just started to photograph anything that I could see and the first thing I came across was a tree in blossom that was right next to our little chalet in the main camp there and it was really interesting because this tree attracted all sorts butterflies and praying mantis and interesting little animals and little insects that crawled all over it and created a little microcosm and I thought I was gonna be stuck photographing this tree for 4 days! but when we went out on the bird walks with Bongani, our guide it really started to open my eyes to some of the possibilities that maybe I’d missed in this, sort of, headlong ambition to get this Hero Shot of the Fever Trees Over the water. Eventually I started to see Ndumo in terms of a theme and that theme was Contrast. Extreme contrast between my subject and its background or the background and the subject and I decided that this theme would just inform most of the photographs that I took while I was there and I’m quite happy with those photographs. I’m quite pleased with some of them and I think that theme was good. It focused my mind It focused the way I photographed. It helped me get something, some juice out of this trip where I’d had such different ideas about what I’d come away with. The first area that started to make sense to me in terms of photography after I abandoned this Hero Shot was the edges of these brackish pans and what I liked about them was the trees cast a shadow over the water and these white birds would fly up and down the length of the pan with the sun on the bird but the background in deep dark shadow. Sometimes with the orangey, yellowy reflections of the trees in the still waters behind them. So in order to do this, I needed still conditions that were typical in the mornings without any breeze on the water because that turns the water silver. So the mornings were best for this. And then if you just stroll up those pans with the bird party while they are looking for other birds you get the opportunity, now and then, to capture these white birds flying past. And I found that emphasising that difference in tonal value between the whiteish bird and the black background made for some quite interesting shots. So in order to do this what I did is I, changed the exposure compensation on my camera to negative 3 stops and what that did is allowed the bird to expose properly and leave the background in dar, deep, shadows… The second area that really spoke to me photographically was along the banks of Shokwe pan Shokwe pan is a little further west than Nyamithi. It’s characterised by enormous fig trees that grow, out of the ground, right along the waters edge. And you walk through this fig tree forest looking for things like tinkerbirds in the canopy. Now, I was there birding as well and, er, I wanted to see these birds and I did see a couple but the landscape really struck me because what was happening was the sun was setting in the west, behind the trees, they were backlit and that light. That wet, red, light, was picking out the edges of the trees and the branches and displaying that against the dark, dark, deep, shadows. Warm shadows of that forest and woodland. And that really spoke to the contrasty theme that was developing in the back of my mind. So, the shots there, the landscape shots there, really intrigued me a lot. So, I ramped the ISO up on my wide angle to 800 because I didn’t want the exposures to delay the rest of the birding party because the exposures at ISO100 would have been around 30sec, 20sec, 15sec, and I didn’t have the time to set up shots like that So I plonked the tripod down exposed for one or two seconds and hopefully get the shot that I was looking for. So, I think you can be the judge about whether you think any of these photographs have any merit but I’m relatively pleased with what I got and I’m intrigued by, by the process, and also intrigued by the place. And I found that having been to Ndumo and having worried so much about getting the right kind of photograph. To have come away with the wrong kind of photograph, different photographs, isn’t that disappointing.