Today we are three weeks out from boarding a flight to Hong Kong and on down to Bornean Malaysia. Crunch time. Why now? Over my career a simple mathematical formula for planning has bubbled to the surface, that is, what ever the length of the trip then half that time is my crunch time. This upcoming trip is six-weeks in length, so half that is three-weeks = crunch time.
A friend emailed and asked:
“I thought it would be very interesting to your readers to have a post about how one does prepare for heading out to remote places to do conservation work like you are currently doing. We imagine a life like yours and other nature photographers in a romanticized fashion, and indeed, the adventure and beauty you have experienced is most certainly the exclusive domain of few. But there also must be downsides and frantic moments. (I still recall remember our conversation at the original TG training about the lack of stability in your life.) But I [am] truly curious as to how one preps for a major expedition…”
Wow. Well, I won’t get much done if I spend the next few weeks writing all the preparation. But here are a few tips of the iceberg.
Skye and I are going through slightly different preparation. Skye is recovering from a nasty lung infection and no longer filming for the HBO production being done locally. His focus is recovering and editing our Kickstarter film as well as final clarification of the equipment list.
Physical health is critical, both Skye and I take our physical prep very seriously. Staying healthy in the field is paramount to succeeding. In the case of great apes that also means being responsible and not spreading disease like colds.
Along with general physical conditioning three days a week I do two other workouts – one physical, the other physical/technical.
The first seems silly – I walk. Yip, I put on my trekking shoes and walk briskly three-days a week 4-5 miles (= 1 hour) over uneven trails, rain or shine (or snow.) That regime started a couple weeks ago and now will begin including a weighted backpack. Working in the bush, with people such as trackers, anti-poaching patrols, forest rangers, etc. is walk-demanding and they are conditioning everyday in the course of their work – not sitting for hours at a computer screen which is often the case in my work. Skye and I need to show up ready to work along side these people, to document their work without encumbering their effort, other wise we aren’t accurately telling THEIR story.
Second, is a camera exercise I have been doing for years and find invaluable. I practice speed focusing 30mins each day starting this week until I depart. Years ago I worked out a routine of rolling a tennis ball across the floor, swinging one from the ceiling on a monofilament line, and bouncing it off walls, all the while tracking the ball and trying to maintain sharp focus using medium and long focal length lenses (100mm up to 400mm.) This exercise strengthens my forearms and wrists, and refines my reflexes and anticipation: great images don’t often give you second chances.
The above camera exercise also conditions my hands, eyes and body, and maybe most importantly my brain, to being united with the camera. That may sound a bit odd, but over years of teaching photography I found much of the interruption in translating what the eye-brain see and what the hands-camera create comes from lack of familiarity. The less you think, and the more you react, the cleaner the space between inspiration and creation. As Henri Cartier-Bresson put it, you must go click, “quick, quick, quick, like a cat”. When a cat pounces it’s reacting not thinking.
A week from now I’ll be unidentifiable based on finger-prints – they will have been worn clean on this keyboard. Emails, emails, emails. This week tying up travel and logistics is paramount. Working with people 16 hours in the future and rarely sitting at their computer means answers are never immediate and often require a trio of forth and back emails for clarity. My iPhone has become my new best friend, 24 hours a day, in an attempt to avoid delaying an email response to anyone we are trying to work with.
Testing Time Trickles Out
Time for equipment testing is running out. We are still trying to get an audio recording assembly setup finalized. We know what we are going to use – a Zoom H4n recorder, a BODE mini-shotgun, and where need a Sennheiser wireless lavallière mic set – it is about as compact as we can get, but exactly how to attach it to the camera so that the cameras stay completely unencumbered is continuing to prove challenging. (We are taking plenty of gaffer-tape just in case :”))
Highest unchecked item on the check list is the microcam that will mount to my (Gerry’s) Canon 7D camera body. Frustratingly both Skye and I know that we will still be fiddling with this setup throughout the trip. More on this later, but what any unresolved equipment issue forces is extra stuff which equals extra baggage which equals extra cost. Taking the kitchen sink is a crappy solution, but maybe necessary.
Testing isn’t just cameras. Yesterday I sat on my reading glasses, a style no longer available, so need two more pair fast. And the work shirts I have been wearing for nearly two decades have been changed, ordering a sample of the new shirt before ordering more.
early draft for the new Great Ape Diaries website - portal... coming very soon
Finally, we are very close to launching the Great Ape Diaries website – portal really – where this and the other blogs, along with Photo of the Week, podcasts, videos and everything else we are doing will be accessible to all of you through one easy web portal. To get there means meetings with Jesse our web guy and site map redesigns, navigation decisions, etc.
Speed Reading Hell
I’m not a fast reader. I never took an Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course when younger. So pouring over research materials is a labour – even if I love it. My one saving grace is memory, I do remember most of what I read. Currently I have a stack of 9 books awaiting completion (I decided to reread all past great ape books over the past 20 years) and a cue of 37 web articles lined up behind those little eye glasses (reading list) on my Safari browser.
Planning It Forward
Finally, if planning Borneo and Sumatra were not enough Rwanda, Uganda, DRCongo, and Cameroon await us as soon as we return from Indo-Malaysia in March. All the same needs for Borneo and Sumatra are there for Africa only the email responses are often slower, logistics are harder to coordinate and number of countries traveling in an out (border crossings) of is double. All that on top of the fact that political unrest seems just around the corner most months.
This is were planning becomes most challenging – your brain is constantly in two places at once. That dual-focus weaves through ever activity, after a while you feel like a gypsy wandering between mild schizophrenia and a person with the attention span of a trout.
And on top of it all I’m back to French lessons an hour a day which I hope will pay dividends during travels in West Africa.
Still, I wouldn’t trade this job for anything in the world :”)