This image was close to the preconception of what I envisioned when I arrived on the Zambezi (just a little better than I dared hope). My goal was a full on “face off” portrait of a hippopotamus, which emphatically conveyed both the enormity of a bull and also the primeval bone structure of his face. This animal, more than any other remaining on our planet, would have walked onto Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park set, had they ceased to exist. They are half contemporary African wildlife, half dinosaur, and 100% lethal when compromised.
I had one card in my hand - the help and support of the best guide on the lower Zambezi - Ryan from Port Elizabeth in South Africa. To him, each hippo on his stretch has a personality and - in a few cases - even a name. Over the years, he has become familiar with many individual male hippos that to the rest of us look identical. There was one hippo who showboated and was not intimidated by boats or humans which was ideal.
I trusted Ryan and I am still here - so it was the right judgment call. The hippo was an enormous male called Dexter and he owns the entrance of a creek on the Zambian side of the Zambezi and can often be found sunbathing on the banks. Ryan recommended I lie on the other bank 30 yards across the creek and wait until I grabbed Dexter’s attention. Luckily my presence had no impact but the angle required me to crawl even closer through mud and water. As Dexter moved towards me, it was not easy to think about single point focus on the camera, composition or exposure from the sun. It was a highly intense five seconds but we got the shot.
What a massive beast he is and the photograph does convey it. That was the goal.