In every issue of the Medium Format Magazine you will find the monthly section, HOW IT WAS SHOT. This is where we feature one image and the story behind it. In the January 2020 edition, Peter Delaney shares with our readers not one but two images and stories behind them. One of them is a truly stunning photograph from our January cover titled “The Matriarch.” The second image is “Virginia Tree” (below).

Today we would like to share with you the third image from this truly spectacular series. Enjoy!

Serendipity

In my photography, serendipitous moments are few. Sometimes, we see all the elements that will make a great composition but they are out of alignment. It is then that two crucial aspects come into play—patience and Lady Luck.

It was day four of our Masai Mara adventure; my guests were three gentlemen from the Philippines who were passionate wildlife photographers.

We had spent an hour photographing a lion pride. The pride was on the move from the swampy grassland to higher rocky ground where it was drier underfoot. I decided to pre-empt the lions and get to the rocky area before they did, allowing us time to position ourselves and get the right angle to photograph them as they approached.

As our 4×4 began the ascent of the small hill, we climbed slowly over sharp rocks. Luckily the grass was short, and we could navigate without damaging our vehicle. The last thing I wanted was to break down with a pride of twenty lions heading our direction. We climbed higher, rolling back and forth, hanging on to our equipment for dear life. I glanced towards the top of the hill where a lone tree stood proudly against a backdrop of beautiful white cloud. My first thought was to stop our driver Benson to capture this incredible scene. 

But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small herd of five elephants happily grazing and moving slowly along the hilltop. My mind went into overdrive. What if? 

I voiced my thoughts to my guests. I painted a picture of the elephants standing close to the tree, adding that extra element needed to make a great composition. 

My driver and guests all stated the apparent flaw in my vision—the elephants were some distance from the tree. 

I pointed out that they were, albeit slowly, moving in that direction. 

We kept to our original plan of photographing the lions who had now reached the rocks. A male and female were sitting close to each other and that would be our photographic subject while we waited on the slow progress of the elephants heading towards the lone tree. 

Clouds began to roll in from the east; the wind picked up; time was not our side. If the storm reached us, the chance of a flash flood on one of the Masai Mara bridges we had crossed over was high.

Two elephants stopped grazing, lifted their heads, and strolled towards our tree; it was as if they could read my mind and had decided that they would play their vital role to complete my vision. I decided to move our vehicle away from the lions and gamble on the elephants and tree. I advised my guests to change lenses to medium focal length which would help to compress the view and allow enough space for the tree, elephants, cloud and some breathing room if we needed to crop in post edit. 

I pointed out to Benson the best position to park the 4×4—a low angle further down the hill to accentuate our angle of view and have the tree in the middle of our composition; the two elephants were walking side by side towards the tree. We needed some space between the elephants, or the photograph would not work. For the second time I felt the elephants were reading my thoughts. One elephant walked to the left of the tree, the other to the right—an almost a perfect mirror image. I shouted, “Now!” We all pressed our shutters. 

Within a 500th of a second, the synchronicity of the photograph had disappeared. The elephants ambled on. Patience and a little bit of Lady Luck had completed my vision. I glanced at the EVF of my GFX100, holding my breath as I waited for the image to appear. I had managed to get three photographs, but the middle picture was the one that made me smile, as both elephants were equidistant from the tree. Everyone on board was happy with their day’s safari. We headed back to camp looking forward to sharing much-needed refreshments.

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