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She's charging us! Back up! Now!

Updated: May 2, 2022

I was taking my family for a leisurely drive through the park — Amboseli National Reserve (Kenya) to be exact. Jeff (8 years old at the time) was in the back seat and Lynda was up front with me. She was always my "camera-bearer" when we went on a photo-safari. Of course, when you live in Kenya, every safari is a photo-safari.

We came around a curve and there she was, a cow elephant (and I learned a couple of frightening seconds later) with her baby.

I had read in a book months before that all elephants are protective of their offspring. A normally docile female elephant will often “false-charge” when she feels her calf is threatened. Let me add here that Lynda and Jeff had not read that book.

Then, it all happened so quickly.  The elephant flared and bellowed (so did Lynda).  Then she charged us.

Dang!  That is an EXTREMELY uncomfortable feeling, having a six-ton elephant charging straight at you. Lynda yelled, “Back up! NOW!” Jeff was hollering something unintelligible from the back seat. I raised my camera to grab a quick shot before we left. That was a big mistake! “What are you doing? Get us out of here,” Lynda said in a calm, patient voice.” Yeah, sure she was calm.  Nope, things took a turn for the worse when I did not instantly shift into reverse. Jeff was now screaming at the top of his lungs (if Lynda and Jeff had only read the same book I did, I am sure we could have skipped all that drama). The elephant stopped her charge in a cloud of red Kenya dust, about twenty feet short of our car (just like the book said she would).  This incident did not result in divorce proceedings, not because Lynda didn't consider it. Jeff's little psyche was not scarred for life. I was considered persona-non-grata for a week or so after that, but I got my picture, and a remarkable story to go with it.

Here is some good advice to photographers for capturing those unexpected moments.

First, and this one is easy for most people, you must have a camera with you. Everybody carries their phone, right? But can you get to your camera quickly and be ready to grab a shot? I recommend learning your phone's camera short-cuts or even place a short cut on your home screen.

Next, put your phone on automatic (everything). That might sound odd coming from a pro photographer. Think for a moment though, those times when photo-opportunities appear quickly, with no warning. Are you really going to have time to set all your manual adjustments? Probably not.

Lastly, don't be afraid to step out there and take the picture. I have talked to so many people who confided that they are camera-shy. They feel uncomfortable stepping in front of a crowd of people to take a photo, and they totally missed the shot. As a former wedding and event photographer, I can promise you, if you cannot put yourself in the position to get the picture, you will not get the picture.

Okay, so ending on a lighter note. How do you stop an elephant from charging? You take away their credit card.

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