Experimenting with a Canon

I’ve learned a bit more about my little pocket Canon camera. updating the firmware and software and checking all the settings seems to have helped better, quicker focusing.

I’ve taken my first lightbox picture – the nest of a potter wasp who obligingly built it in the neglected lightbox, thank you.

And learned to set the zoom so it’ll focus more easily. It was glitchy. Here’s the bedroom doorknob, zoomed out and zoomed in!

– butterfly African Monarch –

Great Excitement!

I got a wifi-enabled camera! My cellphone can now operate the camera remotely! I am going to set it up on a tripod and sit somewhere comfortable and take pictures of unwitting birds. No, man! Feathered ones.

I’ve long wanted this. Having it would have been handy to see what the hyenas and bushpigs were doing outside our hut late at night in Mfolosi game reserve last month.

Being a cheapskate I waited for the Canon Powershot SX620HS. It’s a tiny little compact camera so I can carry it easily in my top pocket; Advantages over the phone camera: 25X optical zoom and a bigger sensor give surprisingly good pics. Now, a bloke with a small willy could never be seen with a camera like this, but obviously I’m fine with it.

So now I’ve got the camera on the tripod aiming at the birdbath waiting for the first exciting shot.

– remote camera on tripod – poised –

Hmm, problem one: Getting the camera and phone to talk to each other on wifi has taken way longer than I thought. While I was sukkeling, two spectacled weavers, a golden-rumped tinker, an olive sunbird, two brown-hooded kingfishers, a fork-tailed drongo and a speckled mousebird hopped on and grinned at me. Now that I’m rigged up, nothing so far!

Ons sal sien what comes of this! Maybe word got out in the bird world that the binocular pervert who always stares at them while they’re bathing now has a camera?

Thutty long minutes later I spot another small problem: My attention span! Problem two. This is not really a sport for someone who hops from twig to twig and makes frequent forays to the fridge, the whine box and/or the kettle. One olive sunbird has been photographed, small and blurry; moving fast and olive-greenish against an olive-brownish backdrop. Meantime various ostriches and vultures might have taken gulps of water while my attention was elsewhere. Even moas and dodos; I wouldn’t know.

– look! a bird! – steep learning curve ahead! –

I can see I need auto-shoot with a movement detector so I can leave it and go to sleep and then see what happened in my absence. And so the drive for ever-more expensive equipment starts!

Another little challenge: Battery life! Problem three. After waiting a few hours the whole setup suddenly switches off: “Re-charge Battery” it commands. That’s when the Angola Pitta lands in full view and smiles . . .

Later I got a new phone and set it up again. While watching the pic on my camera I moseyed over to the birdbath. Suddenly someone’s knees were in the picture! Oh. Mine. I had to kneel down to get my face in picture. So that’s about 35m distance on 25X zoom.

So whenever you see a great bird picture, take your hat off to the patience and perseverance and expense required to get those shots! Also: the weirdness of the nerdy perpetrator. I luvvem.

I now remember the stories Neville Brickell used to tell me about how he got his bird pics. He would find a spot where his target bird was likely to be. He would give a big bag of the right seed or feed to someone living nearby and ask them to put a handful out every day for a few weeks. He would then go back and set up a hide. A week later he’d go back and sneak into the hide under cover of darkness; wait; wait; wait; and – if lucky – get his picture! His resident feeder would be rewarded for that ultimate success so he had a reason to keep up the feeding. A lot of planning, work and patience!


Sukkeling – battling

Ons sal sien – we’ll see; time will tell

**Neville Brickell is a prominent S.A. avicultural photographer and researcher who used to get his handsome spectacles from me at Musgrave Centre. He wrote books and articles and signed his duck book for me.

Ducks, Geese and Swans of Africa and its outlying islands – book, 1988

Introduction to Southern African cage and aviary birds – book

The Cuckoo Finch Anomalospiza imberbis – Avicultural Magazine Vol.116 No.4 2010


The Photo Archives

I hardly ever carried a camera back when I was beautiful and had just the one chin. “I’m video’ing it in my head” I would say.

Of course now I’m really grateful other people carried cameras and I could get pics from them. Even in the days when you loaded a roll of film in the dark and wound it on by hand frame-by-frame some people carried cameras. I salute them!

And I admit I would grumble when they said “Stand closer together” “Smile” “Hang on! Just one more!”. Of course some people would think they had put in the roll of film when they hadn’t and all our posing (“poeseer!” remember SanMarie the game ranger’s joke?) was in vain. Yes, I’m thinking of you Taylor. He posed us in various ways on a buffalo carcase and when we eagerly asked for the photies weeks later (they’d had to go off “for development” of course) he had to sheepishly admit he hadn’t had a roll of film in his steam-driven camera. Luckily Trish had been there and took this:


Anyway, my memory of that moment was much better than his pic would have been: I remember a bloody carcase with glistening red meat still on the bone and lion prints around the sandy scene. We were posing looking over our shoulder, worried the lions might chase us off their prey at any minute. When later we did get a pic from someone better organised than Taylor – Trish – the truth was far more mundane. The photo spoilt a good story! Here we were, not one of us looking over a shoulder:

Wilderness Walk.jpg
Intrepid non-photographer on the left with impressive camera bag, no fillum

So although I do have some slight regrets I still think I was generally more “in the moment” than many camera-occupied companions over the years – and I saw more birds. Anyway, my memories of what happened are usually far better than boring reality. Usually I play the starring role in them.

Once I met Aitch things changed of course and we had a fulltime photographer in the house. The years from 1986 are well documented. Then the kids arrived and the number of pics went through the roof. Thank goodness for digital! Even now when we drive through a game reserve Jess will say “Mom would have said ‘Stop! Go back!’ and you would have to reverse and she’d take a picture of a flower, remember?”

With cameras as ubiquitous as they now are all this smacks of days gone by. I was prompted to write this post when I read this yesterday: ‘If a millennial goes to a beautiful place but doesn’t get a photo, did they ever really go?’…

To end, some advice for Taylor:

Life like Camera.jpg

Here’s a graph showing camera sales in 1000’s since 1933:

Camera sales.jpg

Dads Know – not much

I encouraged Jess to shoot some videos with her 2011 xmas-prezzie Canon camcorder. Set it up on the tripod, showed her how and said “Go for it, girl. Get footage of Black Sambucca the lazy labrador, or birds in the birdbath. Experiment!”

Over lunch I press her: “Let’s see what you‘ve done”. Much giggling and No Dad!, but I insist on looking.

Loud sounds of International Love by girlfriend-beater Chris Brown and Pitbull, with Jess dancing joyously to the beat dressed in her hiphop best.

Dogs and birds indeed!!