You may have seen the picture of zebras on the Macbook Pro and in the windows of the Apple stores recently. Here is the story behind the making of the picture.
The raw smell of the earth and a lingering sense of primeval energy draw me back to the Africa of my birth. There remain some wildernesses on our planet that are especially captivating. A jewel in the desert, Botswana’s Okavango Delta is perhaps the finest of them all.
I was in the small town of Maun in Botswana, gathering photographs for my books Untamed, Spirit of the Wild and Living Africa. Light is delicate and fickle when photographing from the air, so the helicopter was booked for an early morning shoot to maximise the chances of good visibility.
I arrived at the offices of pilot Peter Perlstein for a briefing and a cup of coffee, but I already knew when I walked in that we couldn’t fly that day. Local farmers had been burning grass to prepare the soil for the planting of new crops and smoke had spread into the wilder areas of the Okavango Delta, hampering visibility. There were dark and heavy clouds in the air.
Only three days remained before I was committed to fly back home to England, so I knew we would just have to wait it out. Peter is among the most experienced of helicopter pilots, a specialist in working with photographers and film makers such as the BBC Natural History Unit.
The next two mornings came and went while visibility continued to deteriorate. There was no point in attempting to fly then because, even if I’d had the most spectacular sightings, the photographs would have looked flat and indistinct.
I had almost given up when the day of my long-haul flight home came. I knew it was my last chance to get aerial wildlife images. Miraculously, the light improved slightly and we decided to take a chance and fly. But the air traffic control centre was not due to open for another couple for hours, by which time the light may have become too harsh. So we prepared everything, went to the helicopter and waited for permission to take off.
We removed the door from the helicopter, as it was essential to get sharp pictures. The thick glass on aircraft adds a layer which has the effect of softening the image. Peter was in the front of the helicopter and I took up the entire back seat, but leaned out from the opposite side of him to give the helicopter as much balance as possible.
We took off as soon as Air Traffic Control allowed us to and headed for the Delta. The clouds momentarily parted to let the morning light in and we found the zebras moving in the swamp. The encounter was brief. The diaphanous light faded quickly; the weather closed in behind us. The picture shows how the strong herd instinct protects each individual against predators. After we landed, I managed to catch my flight home in the nick of time.
SEARCH AND LICENSE IMAGES FOR PUBLICATION
EXPLORE FINE ART PRINTS
Like Steve on Facebook to stand a chance of winning a signed copy of Elephant!