Africa Exclusive Video, Kenya
Three of us sitting on Kenya Airways Flight 105 en route to Nairobi with carefully selected camera equipment and clothing stuffed into various rucksacks now cluttering up the hold of the aircraft. How had it come to this?
In mid April we had received a call from New Edge Media, who had been contacted by Africa Exclusive with a view to producing a video advertising their specialised services online. We researched the cost of stock footage already available and it soon became clear that it would be both cheaper and more relevant to their needs if a camera crew were to film the wildlife experience offered by the company. Then followed weeks of paralysing injections, trips to specialist clothing outlets and a constant stream of phone calls, as we tried to cover every eventuality. The single most expensive item was the Canon 500mm f4.0, which we had to hire because the cost at the time was prohibitive. That was one of the things bumping around in the hold!
On our arrival we were met by a representative of Cheli & Peacock, the company responsible for all our travel arrangements. They did a superb job throughout the duration of the tour, and we always felt entirely safe in their hands. As we were to cover over 1000km through all sorts of terrain and native settlements, accompanied by wild animals of varying temperaments and appetites, we were grateful for the security they provided. In so strange an environment, we felt a sense of dislocation, bordering on the surreal. Everything was so different; the colours were more vivid, the sounds almost totally alien and the smells so different from the petrol fumes of a typical English town.
Our first stop was Elsa’s Kopje situated in Meru National park, a two hour flight from Nairobi. An hours drive along a rutted track led us to our first location. The accommodation was truly sensational, thatched hut meets the Ritz. The outside was of traditional African construction, built using local materials and age-old skills. The interior was a marriage between the natural world and 21st century design: there were baths carved out of rocks, showers sprouting from petrified trees, whose roots framed the outline of the various rooms. The views were equally stunning, the natural world on our door step stretching into infinity.
The camp managers of all six lodges at which we stayed, were manifestly proud of the amenities and service they provided, you became part of their family and the native Africans were particularly welcoming. Nothing was too much trouble and you felt they were genuinely glad to be there with you. We filmed extensively within the sites, but the real gold standard would be the wildlife footage, which would be much harder to capture effectively.
The three of us went out in Jeeps in the company of other guests and experienced native drivers. Without their expertise we would have found very few animals and are indebted to their sharp eyes and local knowledge. We often had long waits, but were nearly always successful in our search for rewarding imagery. Elephants came right up to the Jeeps and lions were equally curious; steady shots would not have been possible without Canon’s Image Stabilizer, and we managed to overcome the problems of dry throats and sweating fingers. During the two weeks we were there we added Leopard, Cheetah, Elephant, Rhino, hippo, miscellaneous monkeys and herds of buffalo to our collection.
Early morning risings and late evening bush walks brought us even closer to the diversity of the African day. We were able to capture the sunrise over the mountains and sunsets which seemed to set fire to the sky. But Africa really came alive for us when we visited a Masai tribal settlement almost untouched by the modern world. Their whole way of life and traditional values remained intact and though their material circumstances seemed lacking in Western eyes, their open response to our intrusion and the genuine warmth of their welcome was a reflection of the collective community spirit that informed their whole way of life. It was an uplifting and humbling experience, making us question our own priorities, so often governed the acquisitive instinct.
When, all too soon is was time for us to leave I said my personal goodbyes to the genet cat which was in the habit of sitting in the rafters to watch me shave and to the rather more substantial figure of the male elephant, who seemed rather too interested in our affairs: it woke us early by trumpeting loudly at first light and had a genius for appearing in shots which had nothing to do with him. In our luggage we had 12,288 Gb of photos and videos which meant many late nights for the foreseeable future. We had temporary sun tans and memories that would never leave us.
Eventually we produced half a dozen videos from the hours of footage we had taken and both Timecode and Africa Exclusive were delighted with the material produced. We learnt a lot from this experience; from a technical point of view, we learnt the strengths and limitations of various lenses and cameras and from a personal point of view we learnt the values of patience and flexibility. The cooperation and good will of the people with whom we were working was an essential component of the shoot., and the finished product is a tribute to them and their tolerance.