SHOOT! An Off-road Expedition

Words & Photos: Jacques Marais

Shooting vehicles is an art in itself, but when you have to do it in the dust, mud and heat of the African continent, you can bet on a few challenges for both you and your equipment.

Cameras generally do not like heat, dust and humidity, but if you’re in a Land Rover following Kingsley Holgate into what most sane people would rate as a war zone, your equipment has no choice but to bear the full brunt of Mama Africa’s elemental onslaught.

Crossing flooded rivers, negotiating potholes the size of swimming pools, jarring and jolting along jungle tracks, and dealing with 100% humidity and temperatures in excess of 45 degrees Celsius, is all part of the off-road expedition game. It’s no wonder the Holgates have a range of bomb-proof Nikons as their cameras of choice.

Whichever brand you choose, always make sure you take a backup body as you won’t find either a dealer or repair agency in 99% of the African towns you travel through.
Your choice of lenses should cover all eventualities, from wide-angle zooms to capture landscapes through to telephoto zooms to isolate your subject. Minimise the swapping of lenses as much as you can to avoid dust and moisture entering the camera body, and protect your lenses with polarising or UV filters. You’ll need these to cut through the glare of the African sun anyway!

Double bag your bodies, use quality padded camera bags to soften the knocks and, most of all, keep a low profile when you head into the thronged city streets.

Bottom line, Africa brims with beauty and if you keep your eyes open and your shutter finger at the ready, the light and landscape will combine to deliver dramatic imagery. Oh yeah, best of luck!

Image 1: Landscape with Llamas

The Action: Cruising the Altiplano at an altitude in excess of 4 000m, Bolivia.
The Shot: When capturing a vehicle within a natural setting, try to convey the character of the country you are in by including animals, plants or people specific to the region. In this case, the llamas willingly obliged.
The Technique: Straightforward landscape image, with polarising filter used to accentuate the colours in the vehicle and sky.
The Specifications: 1/125th sec @ f8; 5D MkI with a 17-40mm lens; ISO 100; WB Setting - Sunlight.
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Image 2: Into the Painted Desert

The Action: A Defender navigating the savage beauty of Mongolia’s remote desert landscape during the Land Rover G4 Challenge reconnaissance.
The Shot: Isolating the vehicle within the rugged natural setting accentuates the subject within the vastness of its environment.
The Technique: I used my telephoto zoom lens at full extension to ensure sharp focus on the vehicle, and composed the shot using the natural division of thirds provided by the desert.
The Specifications: 1/400th sec @ f4.5; 7D with 100-400mm zoom; no flash; ISO 250; WB Setting - Sunlight.
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Image 3: Mud Games

The Action: Missing the turn-off in Mozambique’s rainy season drops you deep in the ahh … mire!
The Shot: Even Land Rovers get stuck every now and then, especially when journalists are driving. In this case, we were bogged down right to the axles and it took hard and dirty work before we could get back on track.
The Technique: The flooded tyre tracks provide a great line to lead your eyes to the vehicles, positioned on the line of thirds in this image.
The Specifications: 1/60th sec @ 5.6; 5D MkII + 17-40mm lens; fill-in flash from Speedlite unit; ISO 50; WB Setting: Auto; AE Setting: 1 stop under-exposed.
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Image 4: Get Down and Dirty

The Action: Fording a river in luxury. In a Range Rover of course.
The Shot: Kingsley promised me there were no crocodiles in this part of the Transfrontier Park. He had a twinkle in his eye, but I really wanted that photo.
The Technique: Position, position, position! Pick your spot, get down low and shoot wide for kick-ass composition. I banged in some flash to chase away the shadows, and voila!
The Specifications: 1/250th sec @ f9; 5D MkII with 17-40mm zoom set wide; full flash from Speedlite unit; ISO 50; WB Setting: Sunlight; AE Setting:1 stop under-exposed.
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Image 5: Bolivian Bravado

The Action: The competitors line up during the Bolivian leg of the Land Rover G4 Challenge.
The Shot: The Latin American landscape upon the Altiplano proffered an incredible arena for the world’s top adventure athletes to take on the elements and each other. Driving constituted a small part of the overall challenge, with running, mountain biking, climbing, rope work and
navigating making up the rest of the tasks.
The Technique: To maximise the depth of field, I shot at as high an aperture as possible. This, combined with a wide-angle zoom, ensured sharpness throughout the image. I used the conversion facility in Lightroom to change the image into a monochrome photograph.
The Specifications: 1/40th sec @ f22; 5DMkI with 17-40mm zoom; no flash; ISO 125; WB Setting: Auto.
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