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Photographer of the Week – Ben McRae

Favourite location

Ben-McRae cropI love all of Namibia. There is so much diversity in landscapes and animals, but if I was to pin point one place it would be Damaraland. There is no other region in Africa that I have experienced that is so harsh yet inviting.

Latest wildlife picture

My latest image was captured on my last drive in Etosha National Park. The day before I had found a young bachelor group of lions nearby the little Namoutoni waterhole. As dusk fell the lions looked content in their position that would be perfect for an ambush, so I knew the next morning this would be the first stop.

The following morning I returned to the same spot and the lions had killed a kudu female. Around 60 hyenas had converged on the area and as a pack they drove the lions from the kill. As the sun was rising the lions fought back and the squabble kicked dust into the air.

The Hyenas all stood back and watched as the lions took the kill again. The back lighting was perfect as these three hyenas surveyed the scene to figure out their next move.

Who are your heroes?

I am actually drawn more toward portrait photographers, so Eric Lafforgue has bee a great influence in my work. If I was looking at wildlife photographers that have caught my eye I would have to say Gerald Hoberman, I love his work and has been an inspiration for sometime. I was given a fridge magnet with an image he took with a leopard on it. It sat on the fridge and still does - every time I see it it compels me to forget about travelling any where else in the world other than the African bush.

Best piece of advice

Get a prime lens. I was always torn with length as I wanted to be closer to the action but after shooting with a fixed lens my world changed. I bought a lens that was 45 years old as new glass was too expensive and the results that I have achieved from it is phenomenal. I still use this lens occasionally as there is noting compared to the bokeh that these lenses can offer.

Favourite subject?

Elephants. I love their interactions and how human they are. Sitting and watching for hours never becomes a chore as there is always something happening. I also think that Elephants offer the greatest diversity as a species as they adapt to their environments. The desert Elephants of Namibia are so different to those in Kenya or places such as Addo National Park so I am always seeking these guys out where ever I travel.

Favourite lens?

300mm f/2.8. This is an oldie but a goodie. I have other fixed lenses now but this battered piece of kit is always the first lens in the bag before I hit the road.

Most memorable moment?

One moment that stands out was on the banks of the Chobe river. I was all alone and had stopped on the banks of the river. It was a hot afternoon and the Elephants had yet to come down for their afternoon drink.

As the afternoon wore on I saw a herd moving my way. I did not move and just sat mesmerised at their interactions. The herd browsed as it moved down the steep embankment to where I was watching. A number of elephants rushed to the riverside but a number of larger female stood back. I saw a very young baby and realised why.

I did not move as two females walked straight in my direction. There was no alarm in their movements so I sat tight. One female came right up to the driver’s side front wheel while the other came right up to the passenger side where I had moved over to. Both elephants were lucky to be three meters from the 4x4.

Both females looked at me directly as they swayed in the afternoon heat. I dared not move as I had an idea what was going on. After a few minutes the mother with the baby came forward. She pushed the baby in my direction. He stumbled as his behind was shoved in my direction before running over to the bonnet of the 4x4 where he disappeared from view.

I saw the tip of his trunk lift back into view as he smelt the bonnet. Once he was done the mother ushered him to the front driver’s wheel arch where he felt out the tyres and the rear vision window. I still sat silently and still.

The mother then ushered him to my side. He scooted around the 4x4 being propelled by his mother’s trunk and pushed between the other female and the 4x4. He delicately felt out the wheel arch but was a little more curious as he and the females knew I sat frozen watching every move. I dared not take a shot!

He was then ushered along the side of the 4x4 by the other females trunk and his mother moved around the back of the female on guard. The mother then motioned that the show and tell was over and the whole herd regathered before moving off down the river bank.

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