A Decade of Photographic Innovation

INVENTION OF CUSTOM PHOTOGRAPHIC CHAIR

Every man has the birth right to one moment of genius in his life – so I believe. Unfortunately for me mine arrived fairly late in my life. Photographing in the Chobe National Park with 6 photographers for 10 days 10 years ago, alternating between photographing from land based vehicles and photographing from something that can at best be described as a sink bath, my moment finally arrived. There was total consensus in our group that photographing from the water side view not only resulted in far superior photographs than photographing on land but that general productivity was up by 80% and in the case of bird photography a virtual 100%. Using a boat to photograph from provided us with a mobile photographic hide. We could manage light in a way that was simply impossible to do on land, we suddenly photographed amazing mammal and reptile behaviour against clean backgrounds and at very low worms eye view angles.

Image taken on our first notorious sink bath trip

In the winter months the Chobe River is the main source of water for up to 180000 elephants. So instead of trying to photograph them in the dense bushes of the Chobe National Park they came to us, drinking right in front and next to us, swimming through the river, supporting their babies so that they do not drown mere meters away from us. The fact that we were amongst the prolific number of bird species of the Chobe River allowed for intimate behavioural images that were way beyond our wildest imaginations from before. In short the envelope of my own wildlife photography was pushed beyond recognition in a few days. There was one big problem though. Our sink bath, with the aspiration of being called a boat, was very unstable and when one of my clients that earned himself the nick name Fish Eagle Serfontein rushed from the one side of the boat to the other with his Canon 600mm F4.0 lens. Determined not to lose any Fish Eagle shots he nearly capsized our sink bath every time!  My moment of genius had finally arrived. We needed a stable flat bottom boat to photograph from, with a 360 degree revolving chair equipped with gimbal support and without a roof.

Aggressive male Hippos taken on our first sink-bath Chobe Safari

So the CNP Safaris first photographic boat was developed and the rest is history as they say. Another boat and innovative custom land based photographic vehicles were to follow. The principles of the first photographic chair in the world was later copied by others and ultimately gave rise to a whole industry of South African companies manufacturing innovative photographic safari products. What nobody was able to duplicate though was what followed – the introduction of a photographic chair. The fact that photographers of all ages could to face their subjects from a comfortably chair with nobody ever in front of them resulted in world class images of mammals, reptiles and birds alike – all before breakfast !

Custom Photographic Boat – Chobe River Northern Botswana

INVENTION OF IMAGE RATING SYSTEM

With immediate effect my own nature photographic portfolio exploded. I took action and interaction photographs of a large variety of species that I never dreamt of before and that were frankly absent from wildlife photography in general. The vast number of high quality images taken in a very short space of time urgently required a method to effectively sort through the bad, good, better, great and best.

1 Star Rated Image

A image rating system was created whereby my photographs would be rated from 1-5 stars – colour rating of photographs never seemed to work. Trying to explain to people that I have actually taken 5 purple images on my last Chobe safari just never caught on. There were a few fundamental considerations in the way I constructed my photographic rating system.

The non-negotiable foundation was that what was left after editing needed to be a technical flawless image. No whites blown, sharp when and where it needed to be, not shooting at too slow shutter speeds and then trying to sell unsharp images off as portraying so called motion, portraying motion at slow shutter speeds by using panning and zoom techniques all against clean backgrounds when ever I wanted to, shooting images with depth at speed, all taken with no compromise to the technical quality of the photograph.
Of utmost importance for me though was my determination to allow nature to tell its own stories and not to bait wildlife to manipulate results for my own perceived benefit.  There is hardly any difference between photographs where baiting was involved of Fish Eagles or any other water based birds of prey  taken anywhere in the world. They all look the same which can be boring! By allowing African Fish Eagles and all other species to tell their own stories and by focusing on capturing those stories effectively I was rewarded with some amazing and unique photographs.

5 Star Rated Image

The second pillar that my rating system was based on was the fact that a 1 Star photograph is considered to be a great image and worthy of being part of any professional portfolio. The difference between a 1 Star and a 5 Star image would only be content. The 1 Star will be a stationary portrait well taken and presented and the 5 Star will be a very dramatic image depicting action, interaction and story telling with most likely more than one specie or more than one of the same specie involved. From the beginning I guarded against some pitfalls. Great action and inter action photographs against busy fore and back grounds were never rated. Cute was nothing but cute and good was great. Endangered never improved the rating unless it was on the same technical and story telling level than a photograph of a common species etc.

Not only did I rate individual photographs I started to rate scenes and destinations. When I arrived at a scene I would rate the potential. Helmeted Guineau Fowl drinking amongst some long grass of the Chobe river was way to busy and would not make a 1/5. So I would not spend any time on it. If we had a Martial Eagle sitting high in a tree potentially preying on the same Guineau Fowl the scene had the potential to turn a 0/5 into a 5/5 Star image and I will invest time in the scene. Destination were carefully selected to support the rating system. Sometimes I got it wrong like in the case of photographing the Tigers of India ( please read the Blog on my Website in this regard ) but I mostly got it right.

AN INTIMATE AFRICAN JOURNEY – THE BOOK

My first book was a mayor publication- 450 pages with close to 700 photographs in it. What differentiated the book though was the fact that it was not based on individual photographs of different species randomly put together but rather it set out to tell the story of a specific specie in depth. In that way I could allow my readers to get under the skin of African Jacana, Nile Crocodile. African Fish Eagle, Lion etc. My individual image rating system forced me into allowing nature to tell its own stories and I was rewarded beyond measure. The 450 page beast of a book that is now out of print weighed a good 5 KGs plus that actually cost many times more than the price of the book to deliver any where in the world! A Intimate African Journey prepared me well for my second book.

Tiger Fish Fights Back – Extracted from An Intimate African Journey

Eternal Confrontations – Extracted from An Intimate African Journey

TOWARDS SYNERGY LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLES IN NATURE – THE BOOK

Photographing on the Chobe river with some corporate clients from Price Waterhouse and Coopers and the Da Vinci Institute who joined the safari purely as keen wildlife photographers resulted directly into the publication of Towards Synergy. In short the response of all photographers on this particular safari was that in their own words their experience photographing with me from the custom photography boat was “profound” This puzzled me a bit as they were in fact all experienced wildlife photographers and their explanation of what “profound” meant caught me by surprise. One of them explained ” You taught us to see and what we saw was profound.”  The idea of a collaborative book between myself and Da Vinci was conceptualised .
Our commission to ourselves was simple. Create a series of visual memory pegs with a nature photograph or a number of photographs that will not only tell a nature story but will allow Da Vinci to deduct Leadership and Bussiness Principles from that nature story. Towards Synergy- Leadership Principles Reflected In Nature was very well received by the corporate world as a gift to clients. It took the best of three years though to develope the next stage of the journey that started with a single idea to build a custom photography boat with a 360 degree swivelling chair.

Confrontation is sometimes required to set the record straight – Extracted from Towards Synergy

Don’t let past experiences fool you | Making it work amidst an unfriendly environment – Extracted from Towards Synergy

DA VINCI TOWARDS SYNERGY LEADERSHIP PROGRAM

Professor Ben Anderson and myself with support from many friends in the corporate world  from around the globe laboured for a long time to put together a sustainable leaderhip program that could be offered to ALL corporate clients based on LEADERSHIP AND BUSSINESS lessons learned by observing nature. What was needed though was a person with a passion for photography and wildlife, substantial managerial experience at the highest level with academic credentials to back it all up. So where on earth were we to find one ? Enter my good friend Wenzel Kotze.
Wenzel came into my life as a paying client on the first photographic safari I ever took charge of. He became a passionate hardworking wildlife photographer that constantly produced photographs that were sitting high on my own and the CNP Safaris rating system. Wenzel was ready to become a CNP Safaris Tour Leader. Although he was enrolled for a MBA post graduate degree at another university he never finished his scription due to work pressure operating companies on differant continents.
The Towards Synergy Program finally took off when Da Vinci offered Wenzel a bursary to finish his Masters and PHD degrees based on the book Towards Synergy- Leadership Principles Reflected In Nature. Wenzel is now managing the Towards Synergy Corporate Program on a full time basis. An executive summary for this program will read something like this:
a) The speed at which technology changes requires a radical rethink of leadership and managerial approaches that worked before.  Around 40% of todays 12 year olds will be occupied in jobs that currently do not exist and did the engineer that presented the once mighty Kodak board with a digital sensor not pick up more resistance than what he bargained for?
b) A paradigm shift is needed. One such possible paradigm shift is going back to nature to learn leadership lessons from nature. Why nature? Because leadership in the natural world represents leadership in its rawest form with no strings attached. It has worked for millennia, play out on the brink of life and death and does not carry any of the normal human baggage such as politics, religion, race, socio economic structures etc. All people from different ethnicities, cultures, genders, religions, socio-economic backgrounds etc. can all stand in front of the neutral source of leadership in nature to learn and discuss.
c) Why use professional wildlife photography as the vehicle to go back to nature? It is simply the most effective way to record those visual memory pecks neccesary for discussion.

INTEGRATING TOWARDS SYNERGY INTO AN ACADEMIC CURRICULUM

Work based on lessons and experiences from nature is not that rare at all but to our knowledge the integration of those lessons learned in nature into a formal accredited academic program does not exist anywhere in the world. As Wenzel labours through his Masters and PHD degrees based on Towards Synergy- Leadership Principles Reflected in Nature the work he does will become part of an academic program in ways that will inspire and surprise. I can not wait!
To think then it all started with a rocking sink bath that lead to a custom built photography boat, a wildlife photographic rating system,  An Intimate African Journey book, my collaborative book with the Da Vinci Institute – Towards Synergy, and a corporative leadership and managerial program with the same name, Wenzel working on his Masters and PHD degrees based on Towards Synergy and beyond. Wow!
Maybe just maybe one moment of genius laid the foundation for a few more such moments to follow!
Photographic regards,
Lou

The Journey Continues

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One Comment

  1. Amazing story and genius thoughts! I am proud that I have been onboard discovering a total new way of photograpy and being provided with valuable lessons to further improve my skills!
    Strongly recommend anyone to take advantage of the facilities on the boat as described in your article and to absorb the knowledge of your team!

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