Since starting this whole blogging thing a couple of months ago, a whole new world has opened up to me. I’m not a technophobe, but the whole idea of social networking is horrifying to me. The only reason I ever signed up for Facebook was that you had to in order to get onto WordPress, and my wife was having too much fun with her blog for me not to give it a try. It’s fun. But I’ve been missing out.
I used to think a blog was just a place where you could ramble on and pretend that someone was listening. It turns out that you can also put pictures up and pretend that someone is looking. Photo blogs! I have to give this a whirl.
I’ve been brooding on this for a while, and today, everything came together. My car, which has been out of commission for a while, has finally been fixed. My wife is starting a new business, and needs a bit of time alone to get things organised. Spring is here, and it’s time for my children to get out into the great outdoors. Time to head out into the wild!
Sadly, having spent literally all my money fixing the car, the wild is not within my grasp. It would have to be the park around the corner. Luckily for me, the park around the corner is an amazing place. No rolling lawns, no lovingly tended gardens; just a weird little slice of proper African bushveld sitting right in the suburbs of Johannesburg. It used to be a quarry, and is littered with huge, jagged chunks of rock. It also has a couple of proper African koppies- beautiful little piles of comfortably rounded boulders reaching up to the sky, shrouded in indigenous bush. A photographer’s dream. And today I was going to be that photographer.
There’s even proper wildlife there. There are hundreds of Dassies (rock rabbits), a couple of dozen Blesbok, owls, tortoises, and even the odd visiting Black Eagle. My first photo blog was going to be a cakewalk!
Setting off into the wild with small children is no small thing. I loaded up a camera bag and called the kids to the car. My daughter immediately saw my camera bag and demanded her own. I went back inside, found her an old camera, threw it into a bag, and off we went. Or not. My son saw my daughter’s camera bag, and demanded his own. We were all out of cameras, so I went back inside, grabbed a pair of binoculars and put him in charge of game-spotting, and we were off. Or not. The last time we went to the park, we had taken water bottles. How could we possibly go unhydrated this time? I went back inside and grabbed two bottles of water, and we were off! Almost! I went back inside to fetch the carkeys and we were off!
Things changed for the better almost as soon as we got there. We had walked just far enough to lose sight of the car when we came across a small herd of Blesbok. Threatening the kids with both death and (more tellingly) no television if they did not freeze, I knelt down to retrieve my camera.
I planned to set my F-stop to seven, to bring the background into clear focus without losing any close-up detail. This might cause some problems as far as shutter speed was concerned, but the buck seemed fairly relaxed, and looked unlikely to move at speed, so blurring shouldn’t be a problem. I realised almost immediately that I was taking my pictures on a Samsung Galaxy tablet, and didn’t know what an F-stop was anyhow.
The tablet did have a big image of a button on you that you clearly needed to push to take a picture. I managed to sneak up to less than ten paces away from the buck, and pressed the button. Instant success! The brief for this week’s photo challenge is “near and far”. I was near enough to the Blesbok to spit on it, but when I looked down at my picture, it looked like it was a good 500 metres away. If it’s this easy, I might just win this thing!
I glimpsed a movement off to my left, and with the reflexes of a cat, snapped off a shot of the rest of the herd. They were about 20 metres away, but the tablet put them in another time-zone. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but how could the good people from WordPress even imagine that “far” would be a challenge to me?
I stood and turned to release the children from their frozen position. After finding them, and explaining that they couldn’t wander off like that because there might be lions here, we set off in search of some “near” shots. I took some more “far” shots along the way.
This was when the challenge first begun to seem challenging. Those of you who have experienced the joy of raising a toddler will know what I mean when I say that I soon realised we were going to have one of “those” days. My daughter had a sore tummy. She was hungry. Her camera bag was very, very heavy. Reminding her that the lions in suburban Johannesburg were not to be trifled with, I took the second camera bag and forged ahead, eyes peeled, looking for my close-up. We headed into the rocks.
The world was alive with Dassies. They were sitting in trees, scampering over boulders, hiding under rocks. I hauled out my trusty tablet. My son chose this moment to show me how he could run up a boulder without using his hands. His voice, however, was obviously a vital part of the process. I took some more “far” shots.
We came to a low cliff overhanging a waterhole. My son and I crept slowly up to the edge. I was just lining up a superb shot of a flock of doves drinking and bathing, with a Dassie in the background, when the world was split by an anguished shriek.
My wife and I have learned that the best time to explain to an eight-year old boy that he is going to hurt himself is immediately after he hurts himself. This way, the message tends to stick. My three-year-old daughter obviously feels that this is just lax parenting, and has taken it upon herself to fill in the gap. I learned today that, as part of this curious setup, my son is not allowed anywhere near the edge of a cliff. I, however, am allowed to fall to my death with impunity. I did get some nice “far” shots of the Dassie.
I took a deep breath, and reminded myself that the challenge didn’t require my shots to be of wildlife. I found a nice looking boulder, and asked the kids to pose on it. Win!
I did eventually manage to coax my daughter up onto the boulder, where she lit up the world with her sunny smile.
All this rock-climbing was taking its toll on my son. Could I take the binoculars? We headed off to the bird hide. My son rushed in first, and stuck his head out of the viewing slit. Idea! If I could get the kids to pose like that, and could fit in a small, jumbled pile of boulders in the background, I would have the perfect “near and far” shot. Ever keen to oblige, my daughter rushed in and head-butted the top of the viewing slit. Many tears and recriminations later, I got my shot lined up. It was a disaster. My daughter was smiling so brightly that the sun reflecting off her teeth washed all the colour out of the background. My daughter’s head was now too sore for her to carry her water, so I took it and we headed off for the highest point we could find to take some panorama shots.
At last! I found my shot. In the far distance, the low peaks of the Magaliesberg stood out against the spring sky. Closer by, the suburbs of Johannesburg stretched off in the distance. Closer still, the huge, rounded boulders of a neighbouring koppie stood in wonderful, wild contrast to the neat suburban sprawl. My son came next, standing jauntily next to a boulder at the edge of our viewpoint. In the foreground, my daughter added a bit of gravitas to the shot by channelling Sylvia Plath. Success at last.
I took one last shot in the other direction, in case the light was better. My son, though, has obviously been watching too much M-TV. Shots of little suburban white boys trying to look like gangster rappers on the edge of cliffs may have their place, but I don’t think the Samsung quite managed to capture his swag. We decided to head for the car.
All this posing had left my son feeling a little antsy, so he passed me his water bottle and went off to run up some more boulders. As we set off, I noticed that the ground was covered with little bunches of tomato red insects. Ever the good parent, I seized the opportunity to explain to my kids that in nature, colours like that were a warning, and they were probably very poisonous. You would think I would know better by now. Mini Sylvia Plath refused to set one more foot on the ground.
With two camera bags, a pair of binoculars, two water bottles, a morose child, and an oncoming hernia, I set off back to the car. Don’t feel sorry for me, though. I finally managed to get a close-up of a Dassie. It was dead.
On the way back to the car, I decided to take a few shots that matched the mood of the day. I’m not a very creative photographer, but I did learn today that you achieve your best results when you try and match your shots with the way you feel.
These shots were crisp, clear, and made good use of the available light. They were also full of shit.