When Tim and Sabine Featherby invited me to run a photographic workshop at Baines River Camp, I was delighted. The camp, which takes its name from artist Thomas Baines has just six rooms with the Zambezi River right in front and the stunning escarpment at its back. In this very intimate of lodges I was to find hard-working and loyal staff, a wonderful natural environment and excellent workshop facilities that facilitated better teaching and learning than I can remember.
“This is exactly the sort of group that we had in mind when we built the lodge”, Tim told us on the first evening as we sat along its long conference table and projected images onto a large cinema sized screen. “We wanted Baines to be the sort of place where like-minded people could get together and practice their skills in a friendly environment. “We do not want these workshops to be about who has the biggest lens,” he told our group. “It is about composition, learning and having fun.”
The next morning we were up before dawn for a 20 minute boat ride up the Zambezi. We watched as the sky turned from black, to red and then to orange and eventually put to shore at Sunset Strip as the first rays of sun emerged over the tree line. Here we found our guide Leonard, who had left camp nearly two hours before, waiting in the Land Cruiser to take us into the albida forests and our prearranged appointment with the early light filtering through the trees.
We saw kudu, waterbuck, buffalo and large troupes of baboons moving through the spectacular forest. But it was the impala that darted about — and jumped more than two metres off the ground — that captured our attention and we followed their movements with our lenses making use of our DSLRs incredible abilities to track moving subjects.
“I can’t believe this is sharp”, said Janine, looking at her pictures. “In the past I could only take pictures of animals if they did not move.”
We went on game drives and boating trips — and worked hard on our landscapes, riverscapes, game, birds, sunsets, sunrises and everything in between. What made Lower Zambezi really special for me was the opportunity to explore the river by boat. We saw elephants swimming between the islands, hippos lazing on the banks and some of the largest crocodiles I have ever seen.
“Push up your ISO to 2000 and you will be able to shoot larger animals and birds in flight even while we are speeding past,” I suggested.
None of the group had used Lightroom previously but very quickly they got the hang of how to process RAW images, change white balance, pull and push light, add graduated filters, crop and do all manner of other development techniques to get the very best out of their images.
“Shooting in jpeg is like cooking a fillet in a microwave,” I told them. “If you shoot RAW you can slow roast it to perfection.”
Even Sophie who had shunned the idea of shooting more compressed jpegs turned to RAW and ordered a new, larger hard drive on the next flight in.
Another important aspects of workshops is the selection process. “On a workshop like this we each shoot about 2000 or more images — and in the end you should expect to have about 50 that stand out,” I said. “Do not dilute your work with anything but your best. You would not send off a half finished version of a letter, so do not show anyone work you are not very proud of.”
Such was the drive to learn and get images processed and selected that there was scant time for siestas. If the generator was not turned off at 11 pm, I’m sure that the workshop participants would have been squinting at their screens into the early hours.
I was thrilled to see how everyone got into the swing of things… we were having great fun and the learning curve on this workshop was steeper than I have ever seen.
And let me not forget the dining, The chef produced fresh bream, game carpaccio, zesty soups and decadent deserts that made us all need to open our belts by an f-stop or two. These trips are about having fun and our evenings were spent chuckling over sundowners and enjoying being in the bush.
If you put the words “hippo” and “canoe” into the same sentence you are bound to get some gripping yarns, and Leonard had a few of his own. He is one of Zambias most experienced river guides and in nearly 20 years has had just one close encounter. It happened when he went paddling with his previous boss and his two teenage boys, and a pair of German tourists.
“The boys would not keep quiet even though I asked them to again and again,” said Leonard. “On a blind corner of the river one of the hippos became stressed. I heard a splash and when I looked back I saw the Germans flying through the air. Fortunately they fell back into their canoe and held onto their paddles, so I shouted to them to move. The hippo grabbed the paddle in its ferocious jaws … and it took what seemed like forever before the German let go and the hippo dived back underwater.”
Our group was a game one — and such was their faith in Leonard — that we were all up for a canoeing trip the following morning. We drifted for 14 kilometers in just over two hours past bee-eaters, buffalo, baboons, elephants and quite a few of the “fat boys”. We got so much closer to the game than was possible in the boat or a game drive vehicle and we all agreed that this was real bucket list stuff.
After on our final fantastic bush braai under the stars, Tim dangled a 50% discount off their next trip to the photographer with the winning photograph. So it was with a great deal of excitement that we showed the top 10 images on the big screen. Everyone was in the final shortlist, but it was Jeanine’s flying impalas that took first place followed by Sophie’s beautiful image of impalas in gloomy light.
We did not find any animals with paws and claws on this trip but the photographs and learning opportunities were varied and fantastic. I am so looking forward to leading more trips to Baines Camp and Lower Zambezi in the months and years that follow. I hope to see you there. See the pics