07 April 2011

Sand Storm

The past few weeks I have finally been able to find some time to go through the thousands of images that I shot over the past year. It was an interesting journey, jumping from Libya to Alaska, and from Egypt to Japan, all in a matter of days. I've only scratched the surface, but it was nice to relive all those amazing trips in front of my computer. Here's one from our last trip to Kenya.

The Common Eland (Taurotragus oryx), also known as the Southern Eland or Eland antelope, is a savannah and plains antelope found in East and Southern Africa. It is the largest antelope in the African continent.

The name "Eland" is derived from the Dutch word for moose. When Dutch settlers came to the Cape Province they named the largest wild herbivore they met with the name of the huge northern herbivore. In Dutch the animal is called "Eland antelope" to distinguish it from the Moose, which is found in the northern boreal forests. This is all very confusing for us Dutchies, but we only have ourselves to blame for it.

The eland has a mass of about 650 kilograms, which is the double of the kudu. Elands are said to be one of the slowest antelopes, but they can jump over a height of 2.5 meters or above. When walking, the joints in the eland's foreleg produce a sharp clicking sound, the cause of which has not been widely investigated. The sound carries some distance and is a good indication of an approaching herd. Scientists take it as a form of communication.

The elands are most active in the morning and late afternoon, lying sheltered in the heat of the day. They're commonly found in mixed groups, usually containing 25-70 individuals, though up to 400 have been observed.

They're not as common as most of the other African antelopes, and most of the times I've tried to photograph them, they ran away the moment they saw me. Buttshots galore.

I had spotted this small herd of eland one late afternoon and decided to stick around and see how they would react on my presence. I didn't want to spook them, so I started shooting with my 600. After a few moments I moved a little closer and stopped again to let them get used to me. This proved to be the right strategy for this herd, because eventually I was able to switch to my 200-400.

The whole scene wasn't particularly interesting though - the light was getting pretty, but nothing was happening that could really excite me. That was until the wind started to pick up and I saw a huge sand storm on the horizon, moving in my direction. My guide noticed this as well and wanted to seek shelter, but I decided to risk getting sand blasted and see how this would influence the scene.

A few minutes later the storm hit us hard - the Jeep shook heavily and the sand almost peeled my skin. Most animals don't like sort of weather, because it confuses their senses - it's almost impossible to hear, see or smell your enemies in these extreme circumstances. The eland therefore huddled together, waiting for the storm to die down.

The tons of sand in the air did just what I was hoping for - it reduced the subjects to shapes, created a warm low contrast mood, and eliminated most unwanted detail. This is my favorite shot as it shows the large bull separated from the rest of the herd, as a true leader. I also liked the elegant pose of the hind leg.

I cropped it to a pano format because the empty sky didn't work for me.

[Nikon D3, AF-S VR 200-400/4.0, 1/200 @ f/11, ISO 800]

If you want to join us to this year's Kenya tour, please check out our website for more information.