Through the Lens: Elephant Crossings at Dawn

29th March 2018

The more time I spend on safari, the more I seek different and unusual lighting opportunities. While I still love the soft, golden light of late afternoon, I sometimes find that it's too sweet, too saccharin, especially if you leave the warm sun behind the camera.

With modern cameras, the opportunities for shooting in unusual light are improving all the time. It's now possible to shoot in very low light (thanks to amazing high-ISO performance) and against the light (with incredible auto-focus systems) and even in harsh light (using cameras' wide dynamic-range capabilities). With these advantages, I seek ever more crazy ways of showing off Zambia's wonderful wildlife.

I have always left camp early with my guests, preferring to leave early and come back early (if necessary) rather than missing that pre-dawn time that is so valuable. However, I used to view this early time as a chance to find sightings for when the light improved. But I now get my camera out and with a high ISO, I start shooting way before sunrise.

One morning I remember leaving camp early with Patrick Cooper, a well-travelled New Zealander, and finding a couple of bull elephants approaching the river's edge. It was way before sunrise, but the sun's rays were reflecting off low cloud in the dry-season sky. Everything was bathed in a soft pink colour. I don't usually think of soft pink when photographing bull elephants (!) but in this case it worked. We drove down to the water's edge and enjoyed 10 minutes as the bulls played in the water and chased nearby hippos!

Bull elephants playing in the Luangwa River in Zambia, long before dawn.
This young bull was the smaller of the two, so took out his frustration on nearby hippos which had returned early to the river.

Bull elephants playing in the Luangwa River in Zambia, long before dawn.
The contrast of the soft pink glow with the green-blue pre-dawn light in the shadow areas of the bank makes the image for me.

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