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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Time For Elephants

A Kenyan resident for nearly 30 years, Karl Ammann has enjoyed a long association with elephants combined with an unparalleled knowledge of the game parks. A wealth of images is the by-product.

Labels: LocationsWildlife

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The individuals within a family group exhibit a great deal of social contact, from tussles to romps. It’s this interaction that makes them particularly appealing subjects for photo illustration. The wet season, with its flush of nutritious vegetables, provides more energy for play. Conversely, thirsty and weary elephants can be rather poor photo subjects. An 800mm lens helps the photographer observe from a substantial distance.
However good your lodge is, if you leave the lodge and encounter 20 mini-buses, there goes your five-star experience. Or you pay $500 to $700 per night to be away from mini-buses where private farmers give you a different experience, but then the ranches are artificial in another fenced-in sense.

On Photography Before Technology
Ammann: I shoot digital and film. In some ways, I find it more rewarding to sit back and wait for the results from film—the old-fashioned pulling the slides out of the boxes and putting them in sleeves and getting excited. All the labs in Kenya are shut down, so I have to develop in Switzerland. This sitting in the lodge in the evening and editing images on a computer takes something out of photography for me. You know the shot in your head, then you wait to take the slide out of the box and see if your expectations have been met; sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised, but most often you’re disappointed. With digital that doesn’t happen. I get worried when I hear about a National Geographic feature where 100,000 photos were taken and 16 are used. Without digital, there’s a cost factor; 100,000 shots on film represent serious money, so film tends to slow down the process in the field.

Beyond that, I feel safe with my slides in sheets on my bookshelf. Living in Africa with computers, things can still go very wrong. Photography to me is being out in the bush, not being behind a computer. The computer is work, the bush is pleasure.

On Appreciating The Subject
Ammann: I don’t think you can cover a subject well without intuitions and feelings that come out of experience. The more time you spend with any of the species, the easier it becomes to predict behavior and the more likely you’re there when the shot happens. Everybody can take portraits, but to go beyond that you have to have patience and you have to anticipate. I still miss a lot.

Overall, I like to spend time with elephants. Photography is just a justification to do it. If I get an unusual shot, it’s rewarding as a photographer and it might turn into a financial justification, but the original motive is to have fun in the bush. I don’t envy photographers who can’t afford to have that attitude, whose results are directly related to their livelihood.

To see more of Karl Ammann’s photography, visit www.karlammann.com.

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