About Me

I am an engineer, now mainly retired after a lifetime working in the aerospace and energy industries. I have always loved designing and creating things, so after a childhood helping my father fix old cars this was the obvious career.

I continue to have an abiding passion for machinery and factories. My first camera, a Kodak Retinette, was given to me when I was 14.  It was a good compact camera, and I still have the colour slides I took of traction engines, racing cars and aircraft.  I moved up to a Fujica ST605 film SLR in 1976, giving much greater scope for experimentation.  However, the M42 mount and limited good lenses ultimately led me to move to Nikon (an F65).  I chose Nikon over Canon simply because the Nikon layout is easier for left handed photographers.  It was then logical to move to a D90 when these became available and I have stayed with Nikon ever since.

Now I am a keen photographer, somewhere at the serious amateur end of the spectrum. Over the years I have taken various diploma and short courses to develop my competence. I own two Nikon DSLRs and plenty of lenses but have stopped short of buying the multi-thousand pound super telephoto primes. I understand the technical aspects of photography, as I am after all an engineer. Although my artistic eye is developing, it is not as good as it might be.

I was prompted to start writing this blog by frustration with a lot of advice that is currently available. A recent Nikon Owners Cub advice page declared that if you didn’t take the latest 180-400mm zoom lens on safari, you were wasting your time. This advice is both unhelpful, as these lenses cost over £10,000, and wrong, as many images taken on safari trips are with focal lengths of 200mm or less.

There is also plenty of advice available on the internet from professional travel writers, who have usually been on promotional trips paid for by safari operators. Because of this, they have had a red carpet experience, and so don’t understand all the challenges faced by a normal traveller.

Most of the rest of the advice out there is from professional wildlife photographers who also have a different experience, with more freedoms than normal travellers. I recall hearing Steve Bloom explain how he had had a hide prepared at a water hole, then sat inside for several hours to capture just one image of lion drinking at the waters edge. It was a fabulous image, but the typical safari guest like myself must cope with being in a vehicle with other visitors chatting away and with limited time. The guide works hard to keep all his guests happy, and won’t move the vehicle and sit and wait for several minutes just so that one guest can get the perfect picture. There is more time for better images on a dedicated (and expensive) photographic safari, but there still won’t be the time or freedom to explore different angles and compositions.

My first visit to Africa was in 1983 when my Zimbabwean friend Tony, another engineering student, invited me and my girl friend to spend Christmas with his parents. Looking back seems like another world, with Crocodile military armoured vehicles in the streets, Beyer Garrett steam locomotives bellowing black smoke, Vickers Viscount turboprop aircraft and rhinos wandering across the plains.

One hot day after being drenched by the ‘smoke that thunders’ at Victoria Falls, we walked across the famous parabolic arch bridge into Zambia for a beer.

Zimbabwe had gained independence in 1980 but serious problems remained with the on-going civil war between Mugabe and the Shona in the north, and Nkomo and the Ndebele in the south. The bus we travelled on from Harare to Bulawayo had bullet holes in the windscreen and we were subject to frequent armed road-blocks. Despite the challenges we were awestruck by the emptiness of the landscape, the abundant wildlife and the friendly, talented and well-educated people. None of that has changed and Zimbabwe is still a wonderful country to visit, despite the damage caused by decades of economic and political mismanagement.

I didn’t return to Africa until 2002 when Tony and I with a couple of friends climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Walking up through the forests with the summit looming in the distance was awe inspiring.

In 2005, my wife and our youngest daughter went horse riding in the Okavango Delta in Botswana where they fell in love with the vast open floodland teeming with wildlife. I went with them to South Africa the following year, and we have returned to the region many times since then. We are captivated, particularly by Botswana, a magical country where the light, the landscape, the wildlife and the gentle Tswana people all combine to create a place you don’t want to leave. Our daughter now lives in Maun in Botswana with her husband and toddler. She works in the travel business and he runs African Horseback Safaris ( https://www.africanhorseback.com ) who operate Macatoo camp in the Delta.

It was on our first visit to the Waterburg in South Africa in 2006 that we met Pete and Helen Wenham, both nature conservationists, who were managing Ant’s Nest. We are now not only firm friends but business partners, in a 5,000 hectare nature and wildlife conservancy in the Karoo region of South Africa ( https://karooridgeconservancy.com  ). As well as our regular visits to Botswana and South Africa, we have also spent time in Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Rwanda and in Ghana, where my wife worked for several years.

Over the years I have taken many thousand African photographs, and have learnt to use light and composition to give context and to create a sense of place. It is easy to create a pictorial record of what you see on safari, but harder to capture the magic of seeing a wild creature in its natural habitat.  I hope some of my thoughts and ideas will help.