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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Safaris In The Digital Age


Taking a dream trip to Africa to photograph the incredible array of wildlife there is more doable than you think




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The age of digital has altered the social aspects of the photo safari, too. Both Lepp and Allen mentioned that they miss “sitting around the campfire with your sundowners and telling tall tales,” a traditional interaction that disappeared with the age of digital. Now, the photographic day ends well past sundown, and every night, each photographer is intent on reviewing, editing and processing the day’s catch. Some of this camaraderie is reclaimed when a group shares a digital lab setup in one of the lodges, however, turning editing sessions into educational and social opportunities. And for Lepp, there’s a loss of the postshoot excitement he used to feel in the film days, when a week after a trip, he would open up 150 yellow boxes fresh from the processor and spend a couple of days reviewing everything he had captured in a place halfway across the world. Would he give up the power of digital to go back to yellow boxes, though? “No way.”

There’s considerable disagreement among environmentalists as to whether ecotourism, in general, and specifically, in Africa, is achieving its conservation goals. The respected Dr. Richard Leakey has broadly condemned the ecotourism industry in Africa as a mostly short-term, high-profit economic enterprise, and he suggests that the behavior of some animals is being permanently changed in reaction to hordes of human visitors with cameras. Others argue that without ecotourism, African wildlife would have been decimated by poaching, hunting and land development. To the extent that you sign on for a safari and contribute your funds and your vision to Africa, you need to be aware of these issues and sensitive to the positive and negative effects of ecotourism on local communities. As Lepp says, “Think outside the viewfinder. Look over the top of your camera and beyond the images you’re capturing.” Reflect on the miracle of what you witness on the African landscape, and the magic and privilege that made it possible for you to be there. And take away, in your images and your stories and your very being, the full meaning of the safari experience.


Longtime Outdoor Photographer columnist and contributor George Lepp and his wife Kathryn Vincent Lepp are the authors of the recently published book, Wildlife Photography: Stories from the Field (Lark Books), which features many images and stories from Africa. Check their website, www.georgelepp.com, for details about their May/June 2011 photo safari to Botswana and Zambia.

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