Alison Mees ‘Living the African dream’
Alison was born in the UK and from an early age had a passion for wildlife and photography. She had a strong desire to be in Africa from a child. Studying photography for 2 years and having a love of the outdoors, Alison travelled extensively around Africa and other parts of the world.
Over 16 years ago, she arrived in South Luangwa, Zambia, undertaking various jobs including reservations, marketing and hosting and having the opportunity to follow her passion in wildlife photography and working with the local people of Mfuwe with community and conservation projects.
Alison’s dream came true when she became a qualified driving guide in South Luangwa. She spent 4 years working in the Serengeti, Tanzania. She spends time with the Serengeti Cheetah Project learning about individual cheetahs.
In June 2017 she moved to Mara North Conservancy, Kenya, to manage a camp with her husband Tom. Alison has the opportunity to continue her own cheetah observations and studies, working with the Local Masai Community.
Alison told us she was inspired as a girl by ‘Born Free’ and Elsa the lioness. She wanted a lioness as a pet, but her parents would only buy her a tabby kitten! She was entranced by the wild open African plains, and especially the cheetahs – the smallest of the big cats. Since those days she’s travelled to Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya, suffered a bad case of malaria and engaged in safari camps. She returned to the UK when Covid-19 closed the camps in Kenya, and began fund-raising for cheetah research.
She uses a Canon 50D, Canon 6D, and a 7D now replaced by a 5D Mk IV. The lenses she takes with her are Canon 100-400, 500, 16-35 (for landscapes), 100, and a Tamron 28-300.
The first location was the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania, near the Rufigi river, an excellent area with game drives and boat safaris, five lakes, thick bush and palm trees. One lake with dead trees was well populated with birds, for example the malachite kingfisher and African skimmers. Bee-eaters are easier to photograph because they regularly come back to the same perch, so it’s possible to catch them with a bee or a butterfly. We also saw a hammer cock and a mouse bird.
Hippos, crocodiles and elephants, the latter running away from photographers for fear of poachers, although the work of the rangers has reduced poaching.
Studies by Frankfurt Zoo have demonstrated how to recognise individual lions in a pride. Intricate details like white hair and scars can identify a lion as accurately as fingerprints identify a human. Thus the locations, movements and behaviour of each one can be recorded. For example, ‘Scarface’, one of the oldest lions in the Mara, is identified by a wound he sustained in a fight with another lion.
Giraffes, and leopards. Most leopards are shy but one regularly returned to its favourite baobab tree and so was easier to photograph. Colobus monkeys, wild dogs, hyenas, and impalas. After 13 months there, Alison moved to the Serengeti. She was based at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge, which is situated near a rocky slope. Michael Apted filmedGorillas in the Mist there in 1998.
Solar panels were used for electricity. Alison was intrigued by a silver snake with green eyes which had settled on one and set about photographing it. She later found out it was a boomslang, which is extremely poisonous. More friendly are the cute hyraxes, and the brightly coloured male lizards waiting on the rocks for food or a mate.
Buffaloes are the most dangerous animals, their behaviour unpredictable: they tend to hide amongst the impalas.
Lionesses would have their cubs in the rocky outcrops. Alison recalled a lioness heading towards her in the dark. She had a torch, and retreated, calling Security. The lioness lay down on the veranda, and called for others who joined her. After 40 minutes they just walked out of the camp.
There was a hyena den close by, 25 in the group. Alison loves Bounty Bar chocolates. She was surprised to find one morning the fridge door had been forced open and Bounty Bar wrappers were strewn over the floor. The hyenas had left 2 behind, which Alison washed and enjoyed!
Full-day game drives were organised, including Lake Ngadi where the flamingos came to feed. They made fine photos, as did the pink teals and black-winged stilts. In 2015 low rainfall dried the lake, and in 2016 the whole area flooded, both making it unattractive to the flamingos. They returned in 2017.
A curiosity was a huge rock which, when struck with a smaller rock, can be heard at a great distance, and was once used for communication.
There are about 3,000 lionesses in the Serengeti. Some of these have been collared for study, so that the prides can be tracked. Lions like to climb trees, to avoid the tsetse flies, get out of the sun, look for prey or just to relax.
Next came the wildebeest migrations as they move regularly from the southern Serengeti to the Masai Mara and back, a 1,000 mile round trip. When the young are born they can stand within five minutes and are soon joining the herd as they continue their journey. On the way they face attacks from lions, hyenas, jackals, leopards and cheetahs who have to look after their own young and see a plentiful supply of food. Zebras migrate too. The high point is crossing the Mara river – the grass is greener on the other side.
Thanks to Covid-19 and the lack of tourists, the migration was less disrupted last year, although the huge crocodiles still had to be avoided, and the vultures depend on what the crocodiles leave behind. Then the rains come and the herds move south again for the new calving year.
All of this was illustrated by superb photography. Love birds, mongooses searching for birds’ eggs, a lion with a silvery mane, lion cubs, and a martial eagle eating a guinea fowl.
Alison then spoke of Dennis Minja, the Cheetah Project and the studies of cheetah behaviour. After three and a half years’ study she learned how to identify individual cheetahs: their patterns are as reliable for identification as fingerprints for humans. The cheetahs are all given names. One example – ‘Tia Maria’ – was shown teaching her cubs to be independent. She caught a wildebeest but did not kill it; she showed the cubs how to kill it by suffocation. This is a skill they need to be able to look after themselves.
Another set of images showed five elegant giraffes standing still staring at a lion, and a honey badger approaching a vehicle and then returning to its burrow.
There are 7,500 elephants in the Serengeti. We saw young bulls play-fighting, and others taking a dust bath to cool down. ‘To look into an elephant’s eye’ Alison said ‘ is to look into its soul.’
We saw leopards in trees spying for impalas, and baboons eating the flowers of the acacia trees. The bird life was amazing – ox peckers, rollers, red-necked spurfowl, and pygmy falcons. Then hartebeest, zebras, warthogs and more cheetahs and elephants.
The scene then shifted to the Masai Mara North Conservancy. Here the game drives keep to the roads; care is taken that too many vehicles do not group together at any particular point. No more than five vehicles are allowed at any photo opportunity. There are night drives and walking safaris. The Masai keep their cattle within the reserve, moving them on continually to avoid interference and so the grazing is not depleted.
Visitors are given a briefing when they arrive and are billeted in tents (with Wi-Fi). The ‘wildlife experience’ involves early starts, hot-air balloon flights, drives, meals provided, ending with ‘sundowners’ with glorious sunsets, and the wonder of a clear night sky.
There are no fences. One cheetah kept a watch on the camp. A local pride of lions walked through the camp and out of the other side, picking up their cubs, who’d been left under the solar panels, on the way. More images of lions, one of a mother with a cub in her mouth. The males let the cubs crawl over them. However, when a boss lion is killed, his successor will eat the cubs he has fathered, and then set about producing his own.
Alison followed the fortunes of two cheetah brothers, named Mbili and Milese. On one occasion they suffocated a wildebeest and were about to eat it, when a lion stole it from them. They then went after an impala: one held it down while the other suffocated it. Keeping a careful lookout for predators, they ate it in 45 minutes. Hyenas and vultures arrived and consumed what was left.
Mist makes hunting difficult and cubs can get lost. Amani (a female cheetah) had four litters. The cubs are kept hidden for the first four weeks; at six weeks they start moving around; when Amani went to hunt the cubs insisted on following her. A hyena spotted the cubs. On this occasion the rangers intervened, placing their vehicle between the hyena and the cubs. The youngsters indulge in play-fighting and then go stalking, learning from their mother. Once they can manage on their own, she abandons them, and they split to live separate lives.
The local Masai give teach-ins to tourists. They build their houses from sticks, mud and cow-dung: the doors and windows are small to keep the inhabitants warm and to keep the flies out. Water is collected from a distant river. The school is a two-hour walk away, so there’s much home-schooling. The children love football: Alison was pleased to present them with Southend United kit. The wealth of the Masai is measured by the domestic animals they possess. They can make and market items such as shoes and jewellery.
Hospitals are far away; emergency cases are taken on motorbikes. Every once in a while specialists visit the local health centre.
Schools are likely to have 60 pupils to one teacher. Alison raised funds for buildings and furniture, and to fund scholarships for further learning. Kitchens were set up to cook the rice and beans provided by the government. The children are taken on game drives to learn ecology.
Back in the UK, Alison is raising funds for Cheetah Conservation. There are only 7,000 cheetahs, who struggle against the trade in wildlife and the loss of habitat. The small numbers also mean low genetic diversity. Young cheetahs are smuggled away and sold as pets for $10,000; they usually survive for only two years in captivity.
The talk ended with a selection of images. A buffalo on a ridge, a jackal pup, cheetahs on a termite mound, two lions drinking, zebras quarrelling, an elephant mother protecting her child, and dawn with wildebeest; and a quote from Brian Jackson
“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it? How can you explain the fascination of this vast, dusty continent, whose oldest roads are elephant paths? Could it be because Africa is the place of all our beginnings, the cradle of mankind, where our species stood upright on the savannahs of long ago?”
On Thursday November 5th we enjoyed a Zoom talk by Diane Seddon of Cleethorpes Camera Club.
Diane worked in the insurance industry for many years, but left to become a full time photographer about 15 years ago. She worked in commercial, event, wedding, and agency photography – all freelance. Therefore she covered a lot of different subjects from London Fashion Week, to horse racing, to the X-factor and Britain’s Got Talent.
Now retired she is able to focus more on what she wants to do, and has achieved her ARPS in fine art – and now has
ARPS AFIAP CPAGB BPE3*
after her name. These letters mean
Associate of the Royal Photographic Society
Artist International Federation of Photographic Art. The letters are jumbled because the Society is French: FEDERATION INTERNATIONALE DE L’ART PHOTOGRAPHIQUE
Credit Photographic Alliance of Great Britain
British Photographic Exhibitions. The number 3 means she has gained 100 points in exhibitions. There are two more levels to go to BPE5*!
Diane titled her talk ‘Odd Things’ and she demonstrated from her own work a welter of ideas on how to be creative with photography. She encouraged us to look for ideas from any source – exhibitions, magazines, on-line, anywhere, and not to let our cameras get in the way of the image. Her catch-phrases were ‘Dare to be different’ and ‘Be creative’.
The images she showed us covered the whole range from a straightforward single-image shot to images constructed by tens of blended layers.
To be creative it is important not to worry about the reaction of others. We should experiment with different lighting, different angles, and different viewpoints.We shouldn’t be stifled by the ‘rules’ that operate in club competitions.
The aim is to enjoy photography. The more things we try, the more we’re going to learn about our cameras.
Amongst Diane’s images were some which she took during Covid19 restrictions – which meant indoors or in the garden. Her imagination is wide-ranging, from pencils arranged in patterns to tumbling dominoes. Some looked fairly simple to set up, others needed a lot of time to get the right settings, but while our movements are restricted time is something we have in abundance. We can blend together images we took earlier; we can add textures. Her skill with photo editing is amazing, but it’s her sheer imagination which impresses most.
She asked the question whether we take photos for our own enjoyment, or to do well in competitions. If we get a buzz out of our photography, how much does it matter what a judge thinks? You never know whether other people will like what you produce, but there’s some pleasure in watching a judge trying to make sense of a composite image. And you never know, there may be a judge who likes it!
NEMPF Exhibition Acceptances 2020
Congratulations to the following who have been accepted/awarded for their entry into the above.
Digital Nature Class Entries
‘New Birth’ by Alan Dolby CPAGB ES.CPE accepted
‘South African Lion’ by Alan Dolby CPAGB ES.CPE accepted and awarded ‘Highly Commended‘
Digital Colour Class Entries
‘Wing Walkers’ by Geoff Horton accepted
Digital Monochrome Class Entries
‘Looking Out’ by Tony Taylor accepted
Please see the Competition Awards for copies of their entries.
CONGRATULATIONS to Rob Smyth who has obtained a NCFE photography certificate at night school – well done Rob
Revd Charles Thody review written by Ron Abbott
On Thursday September 17th 2020 we had our first Zoom meeting with an outside speaker. Revd Charles Thody
entertained us with ‘Deep Sky Imaging’.
Charles began his working life as an aircraft design technician. He spent 18 years restoring pre-war and wartime
aircraft and lead a team that built a WW1 fighter which now flies out of Wickenby.
He moved to Lincolnshire 29 years ago to study theology at Lincoln. He’s been a parish priest and a hospital
chaplain. He is now the lead Mental Health Chaplain for Lincolnshire.
He also has time for photography, including a fair amount of wedding photography. At three weddings he has been
both the Vicar and the Official Photographer!
He’s had an interest in outer space since childhood, and keenly followed the Apollo missions. When he was a Scout
in the early 70s he met Buzz Aldrin. He took up astronomy seriously about 8 years ago. When he moved house in
2017 he’d found a place where he could finally build an observatory.
Speaking over a PowerPoint presentation, Charles says taking photographs of the night sky is something we can all
do – as long as our cameras are capable of exposures up to 30 seconds. If exposures are longer than 30 seconds star
trails will start to be seen. Focusing is best done with Live View. The old method of setting the focus to infinity is no
longer applicable and focusing is temperature dependant so needs to be checked at regular intervals by focusing on
a star or using a Bahtinov mask, which helps to focus accurately on distant bright objects.
Meteors are hard to photograph, despite the news often reporting showers of them. Because of their random
arrival, both time and direction, it’s necessary to take repeated exposures and hope a few of them capture the
image. The best technique is to take continuous photos and hope. Most meteors are the size of a grain of sand but
still produce a trail as they vaporise in the Earth’s atmosphere. He warned us not to confuse meteors with artificial
satellites, particularly the older iridium ones which are brighter.
Lockdown has been good for images of the Milky Way. With fewer aeroplanes and cars about the air is less polluted
and hence there is less light pollution.
He went on to describe more sophisticated equipment for the enthusiast. A motorised tracking mount for camera or
telescope, for example, which compensates for the rotation of the earth, hence always pointing at the same object,
costs up to £350, though there are cheaper models. This needs to be set up using Polaris after which long exposures,
in the order of minutes, are possible.
Then he moved onto telescopes. There are adapters which effectively turn your telescope into a lens. At the moment, he said, Jupiter and Saturn should be visible; maybe Mars too. Such work is heavy on the battery and he suggested a car jump starter as a cheaper alternative to a battery kit.
It’s important that the camera is at the same temperature as the place where it is set up, so the camera needs to be outside some time before you want to start taking photos.
For stellar photography memory cards should be formatted for each use, rather than the images merely deleted, otherwise unwanted marks will appear in the image. The same thing can happen during the photo-shoot; every so often the lens cap should be put on and a series of ‘dark images’ taken This is to compensate for the electronic thermal noise generated by the electronics; without these dark frames the image may be very noisy. Two types of filter were described, the Baarder for photographing the sun, without which the camera will be permanently damaged. As previously mentioned focusing has to be checked regularly since it changes with temperature.
We moved onto star clusters. It was emphasised that night-time images should always be taken in RAW and saved as TIFF, only becoming jpeg for putting on a website. A series of photos should be taken and stacked, using Nebulosity, which is free software. Good examples to begin with are the Orion nebula and the Pleiades cluster. These look stunning even with ‘only’ binoculars. These clusters are where stars are born, known as stellar nurseries. We can also see stars that went supernova thousands of years ago!
As the photography got more ‘serious’ the number of layers needed for one image grew to 1,500; a good reason to check the focus frequently.
When it comes to telescopes, biggest is not always best. The bigger telescopes have a narrower field of view, similar to using a zoom lens.
Charles then showed us his favourite images. The huge number of galaxies around Leo. Andromeda – which looks very much the same as our galaxy appears from Andromeda – our ‘selfie’ which will eventually collide with ours, in fact it has already started! We also saw a picture of two galaxies colliding, showing us what will eventually happen to our own galaxy.
We were shown how Charles’s observatory was built, initially controlled by wires from a nearby shed, but now by his phone. His observatory camera (which looks like a tube) has a cooling system: it is kept at -16oC, which is ideal for obliterating ‘noise’.
Most software for astronomical images is free. There is a good deal of collaboration between professional and amateur photographers. Devices are available which enable all the photography to be done automatically while the astronomer is tucked up in bed!
Charles encouraged us to seek out our local astronomy society, and look at such websites as the Astronomy Shed Forum and Paul Money’s site. He concluded with stunning images of the Horse Head Nebula, and signed off with his favourite picture, taken by the Cassini probe through the rings of Saturn with the Earth being one small blue dot.
If you’d like to see more of his work he has a website https://www.charlesthodyphotography.com/
He even runs a B&B where you can stay and make use of his observatory! https://annexatchurchviewbarn.com/
Following the talk Charles sent us the following links:
Baader filter film on Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Baader-Planetarium-AstroSolar-filter-observation/dp/B002SYD2EM
How to stack to counter rotation in Photoshop CC – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rydg7JGTAbw
Software for stacking
Starwalk app (excellent)on IOS and Android: https://starwalk.space/en
One of the better forums out there – http://www.astronomyshed.co.uk/
FROM THE ARCHIVES
LPA Individual PDI competition Nettleham Sunday 26th January 2020.
Three members of the PPG entered images.
In the Open section, two members had an image held back.
35 images were held back of the 129 entered.
John Kinchin ‘Watching the Aurora’
John Roberts ‘Anzac Medic’
The judge gradually eliminated images to end up with ten before awarding Commendeds and selecting 1st , 2nd and 3rd.
He got that number down to 4. and agonised.
He took some time looking at ‘Fairy Pools Sgurr an Fheadain’ from NELPS and ‘Anzac Medic’ before making his decision.
‘Anzac Medic’ was the final image to be awarded Commended, which means John’s image came 4th out of 129.
The winners were:
First Sherlock Mike Bennett – Grimsby
Second Buffalo Drinking Party Steve Kilpin – Grantham
Third Fairy Pools Sgurr an Fheadain Dave Turner – NELPS
Our third entrant didn’t come away empty-handed. Ron won a pack of pot-pourri in the raffle. Like the New York woolly hat at the Awards Buffet, it was the last item left on the table!
Congratulations to our Secretary Ron Abbott who gained 2 awards at the LPA AV competition in the Narrative section held at Nettleham
Salamanca was Commended
Leeds Castle was Highly Commended
Results for the Handbook Selection for 2021
1st Splash – Renzo Gherardi
2nd Catching the Night Train – John Roberts
3rd Mia – Mike Gray
4th Swing Bridge Drive – John Rowbottom