The midday sun on the equator is not a kind photographic light – it is harsh and unflattering. Over the years in East Africa, I have tended to rest around midday rather than go out and work but changes to the Amboseli ecosystem have put a stop to that.
There are many more Masai cattle and goats grazing now in the Amboseli amphitheatre – thousands more in fact – and they are herded from the villages to watering holes in the dry season at around 7am and herded back just before dusk. The influx has disrupted elephant behaviour, who like to have a monopoly of the freeways and the more the cattle, the scarcer the elephant. Furthermore, my guide and I sense that – at the margin – elephants tend to prefer to move when it is hotter. Certainly, on cold mornings, they will not be that active.
And so over the last three years at the end of the dry season, the big lake crossings are much more likely to happen during that midday sun – and even then – only once or twice a week – maybe even less. The bigger the group, the better the opportunity – but so many variables need to work in favour of the cameraman.
The first thing I look for is the size of the tusks. Sadly, the days of the really “big tuskers” have largely gone, but there are still some fabulous bulls in Amboseli and when a front line of elephants is on show, with no broken tusks or single tusks, it is one of the greatest sights on this planet.
“Elephant uprising” is one such moment. The midday sun probably adds to the sense of power and strength – this is no time for soft, diffused light – these are the giants of the planet – not the waifs. There is a unity and a fortitude in the group that evokes human military imagery. This in itself is apposite as the elephant is on the rise in Amboseli – there is indeed, a glorious uprising.
The more I look at the image and its intensity, the more I recognise how lucky I was to capture it. As almost always in this arid dustbowl, no one else was around. Just me and an animal army. I think I can look at this vignette for 10 minutes without getting distracted and I hope others can too. The elephants make the photograph not me.