My first Photoblog! A walk in the park.

Since starting this whole blogging thing a couple of months ago, a whole new world has opened up to me. I’m not a technophobe, but the whole idea of social networking is horrifying to me. The only reason I ever signed up for Facebook was that you had to in order to get onto WordPress, and my wife was having too much fun with her blog for me not to give it a try. It’s fun. But I’ve been missing out.

I used to think a blog was just a place where you could ramble on and pretend that someone was listening. It turns out that you can also put pictures up and pretend that someone is looking. Photo blogs! I have to give this a whirl.

I’ve been brooding on this for a while, and today, everything came together. My car, which has been out of commission for a while, has finally been fixed. My wife is starting a new business, and needs a bit of time alone to get things organised. Spring is here, and it’s time for my children to get out into the great outdoors. Time to head out into the wild!

Sadly, having spent literally all my money fixing the car, the wild is not within my grasp. It would have to be the park around the corner. Luckily for me, the park around the corner is an amazing place. No rolling lawns, no lovingly tended gardens; just a weird little slice of proper African bushveld sitting right in the suburbs of Johannesburg. It used to be a quarry, and is littered with huge, jagged chunks of rock. It also has a couple of proper African koppies- beautiful little piles of comfortably rounded boulders reaching up to the sky, shrouded in indigenous bush. A photographer’s dream. And today I was going to be that photographer.

There’s even proper wildlife there. There are hundreds of Dassies (rock rabbits), a couple of dozen Blesbok, owls, tortoises, and even the odd visiting Black Eagle. My first photo blog was going to be a cakewalk!

Setting off into the wild with small children is no small thing. I loaded up a camera bag and called the kids to the car. My daughter immediately saw my camera bag and demanded her own. I went back inside, found her an old camera, threw it into a bag, and off we went. Or not. My son saw my daughter’s camera bag, and demanded his own. We were all out of cameras, so I went back inside, grabbed a pair of binoculars and put him in charge of game-spotting, and we were off. Or not. The last time we went to the park, we had taken water bottles. How could we possibly go unhydrated this time? I went back inside and grabbed two bottles of water, and we were off! Almost! I went back inside to fetch the carkeys and we were off!

Things changed for the better almost as soon as we got there. We had walked just far enough to lose sight of the car when we came across a small herd of Blesbok. Threatening the kids with both death and (more tellingly) no television if they did not freeze, I knelt down to retrieve my camera.

I planned to set my F-stop to seven, to bring the background into clear focus without losing any close-up detail. This might cause some problems as far as shutter speed was concerned, but the buck seemed fairly relaxed, and looked unlikely to move at speed, so blurring shouldn’t be a problem. I realised almost immediately that I was taking my pictures on a Samsung Galaxy tablet, and didn’t know what an F-stop was anyhow.

The tablet did have a big image of a button on you that you clearly needed to push to take a picture. I managed to sneak up to less than ten paces away from the buck, and pressed the button. Instant success! The brief for this week’s photo challenge is “near and far”. I was near enough to the Blesbok to spit on it, but when I looked down at my picture, it looked like it was a good 500 metres away. If it’s this easy, I might just win this thing!

Who knew that the Galaxy Tab would have a special, built-in “Distance-lengthening” feature. It is precisely this sort of added bonus which made me choose the Galaxy Tab over the iPad.

I glimpsed a movement off to my left, and with the reflexes of a cat, snapped off a shot of the rest of the herd. They were about 20 metres away, but the tablet put them in another time-zone. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but how could the good people from WordPress even imagine that “far” would be a challenge to me?

“Bles” is the Afrikaans word for bald. As you can clearly see here, they are called Blesbok because of the splash of bright white on their foreheads.

I stood and turned to release the children from their frozen position. After finding them, and explaining that they couldn’t wander off like that because there might be lions here, we set off in search of some “near” shots. I took some more “far” shots along the way.

A Hadeda Ibis. Notice how the sun brings an iridescent sheen to the wings of this usually drab bird.

I don’t even need to point out the sheen on this beauty. It’s not called a glossy starling for nothing!

This was when the challenge first begun to seem challenging. Those of you who have experienced the joy of raising a toddler will know what I mean when I say that I soon realised we were going to have one of “those” days. My daughter had a sore tummy. She was hungry. Her camera bag was very, very heavy. Reminding her that the lions in suburban Johannesburg were not to be trifled with, I took the second camera bag and forged ahead, eyes peeled, looking for my close-up. We headed into the rocks.

The world was alive with Dassies. They were sitting in trees, scampering over boulders, hiding under rocks. I hauled out my trusty tablet. My son chose this moment to show me how he could run up a boulder without using his hands. His voice, however, was obviously a vital part of the process. I took some more “far” shots.

The Dassie’s curious (but genuine) relationship to the Elephant is visible in this shot. Notice the tusklike front teeth and the short, powerful legs. The Dassie is sitting in the shade of the rock. If you scrunch up your eyes, you just might see it.

Here you can see how the Dassies broad, rubbery paws give it purchase on the slippery rock surface. Notice also the “tears” leaking from the pre-orbital glands, just like an elephant in musth.

We came to a low cliff overhanging a waterhole. My son and I crept slowly up to the edge. I was just lining up a superb shot of a flock of doves drinking and bathing, with a Dassie in the background, when the world was split by an anguished shriek.

My wife and I have learned that the best time to explain to an eight-year old boy that he is going to hurt himself is immediately after he hurts himself. This way, the message tends to stick. My three-year-old daughter obviously feels that this is just lax parenting, and has taken it upon herself to fill in the gap. I learned today that, as part of this curious setup, my son is not allowed anywhere near the edge of a cliff. I, however, am allowed to fall to my death with impunity. I did get some nice “far” shots of the Dassie.

A large male Dassie dashes off for the safety of its shelter among the rocks. It’s there. I promise!

I took a deep breath, and reminded myself that the challenge didn’t require my shots to be of wildlife. I found a nice looking boulder, and asked the kids to pose on it. Win!

No-one understands what it’s like to be me. I can’t wait to learn how to write, so I can keep a journal about my feelings.

I did eventually manage to coax my daughter up onto the boulder, where she lit up the world with her sunny smile.

And poetry. Maybe when I can write poetry, they’ll finally understand.

All this rock-climbing was taking its toll on my son. Could I take the binoculars? We headed off to the bird hide. My son rushed in first, and stuck his head out of the viewing slit. Idea! If I could get the kids to pose like that, and could fit in a small, jumbled pile of boulders in the background, I would have the perfect “near and far” shot. Ever keen to oblige, my daughter rushed in and head-butted the top of the viewing slit. Many tears and recriminations later, I got my shot lined up. It was a disaster. My daughter was smiling so brightly that the sun reflecting off her teeth washed all the colour out of the background. My daughter’s head was now too sore for her to carry her water, so I took it and we headed off for the highest point we could find to take some panorama shots.

Now, now, darling. Only Mommy’s allowed to call Daddy a stupid bastard.

At last! I found my shot. In the far distance, the low peaks of the Magaliesberg stood out against the spring sky. Closer by, the suburbs of Johannesburg stretched off in the distance. Closer still, the huge, rounded boulders of a neighbouring koppie stood in wonderful, wild contrast to the neat suburban sprawl. My son came next, standing jauntily next to a boulder at the edge of our viewpoint. In the foreground, my daughter added a bit of gravitas to the shot by channelling Sylvia Plath. Success at last.

My heart is only just big enough to hold the sadness I feel. Also, my tummy hurts.

I took one last shot in the other direction, in case the light was better. My son, though, has obviously been watching too much M-TV. Shots of little suburban white boys trying to look like gangster rappers on the edge of cliffs may have their place, but I don’t think the Samsung quite managed to capture his swag. We decided to head for the car.

Step off, homes, ‘fore I pop a cap into your already overflowing bag.

All this posing had left my son feeling a little antsy, so he passed me his water bottle and went off to run up some more boulders. As we set off, I noticed that the ground was covered with little bunches of tomato red insects. Ever the good parent, I seized the opportunity to explain to my kids that in nature, colours like that were a warning, and they were probably very poisonous. You would think I would know better by now. Mini Sylvia Plath refused to set one more foot on the ground.

You said they wanted to hurt me, Daddy. I will never set foot on the earth again!

With two camera bags, a pair of binoculars, two water bottles, a morose child, and an oncoming hernia, I set off back to the car. Don’t feel sorry for me, though. I finally managed to get a close-up of a Dassie. It was dead.

So near. And yet so very far away.

On the way back to the car, I decided to take a few shots that matched the mood of the day. I’m not a very creative photographer, but I did learn today that you achieve your best results when you try and match your shots with the way you feel.

These shots were crisp, clear, and made good use of the available light. They were also full of shit.

62 thoughts on “My first Photoblog! A walk in the park.

  1. Your tablet is made by Samsung. Samsung is a Korean company. Korea is in the Northern Hemisphere. You’re in the Southern Hemisphere, so your seasons are reversed compared to the ones in Korea. That must be why the near pictures that you took with a Samsung tablet came out far.

    • 23thorns says:

      Interesting theory. But you forget. Samsung copied their tablet from Apple, which is an American company. America is in the West. Korea is in the East. The day/night conflict between design and production negates the North/South seasonal reversal effect.
      An international focus group of the top scientists in the fields of both optics and electronics recently discovered that the real cause of the near/far phenomenon was in fact the Samsung’s crap lens.

  2. Thanks for the morning laugh (and for checking out my blog as well; much appreciated). When can I show up on your doorstep with my sleeping bag tucked under my arm? (I’ll babysit…)

  3. lazygoddess says:

    You just made my day sir! I was chuckling all a long, but I lost it on the “Got a close up…it was dead.” Great pics, great post! Thanks!

  4. Marcia says:

    May I suggest a trip to St. Petersburg, FL? Plenty of dead things there. Or close enough to it to allow you to hone your skills. Last time I was there, I didn’t see a single creature under 106 years of age. And do you know how slow they must be if even I, a granny rapidly approaching 70 myself, can catch them?? Yeah. A stint in St. Petersburg is just the ticket for you. I’m sure of it.

  5. melmannphoto says:

    Objects in your viewfinder may appear closer than they actually are….

    Frustrating, isn’t it, to see better than your camera!

    You can probably stop pretending people are looking at your site now…

    • 23thorns says:

      Expensive cameras, lame three-year-olds, and frenetic eight-year-olds don’t make for a very happy mix. The Dassie shot did turn out quite well. Maybe if I wait for all of my subjects to either poop or die, my photography career will get back on track.

  6. Nylabluesmum says:

    You know what you remind me of??? A train….a runaway train…at first getting started,,,,slowly…then gathering speed…steadily…..& then reaching maxium felocity & then the brakes fail & you go into warp drive……LOVE LOVE LOVE this blog!!! Pix were great (love the captions) & the end of your blog had me snroting coffee thru my nose!!!! A definite winner!!!!
    P.S.: Your daughter is hilarious!!!!!

  7. Gobetween says:

    This is not the first time that I get the feeling (while reading one of your posts) that you definitely need another arm. Were you relieved and exhausted when you got home? 😀

  8. Russell says:

    You know, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a photo of dead things and shit, but maybe I’ll start. You may be onto something here.

  9. Mark says:

    Cool story and photo’s, I wish I had a park like that around the corner.

  10. Cannot remember the last time I had such a good laugh! Love the Poo pictures, the yucky looking insects and the poor dead creature! The children are also adorable. What a day, thanks for sharing.

  11. Leo says:

    I also seem to take a lot of photo`s of the general surroundings. But I find it more difficult to write a lot of text. you seem to have done both, great blog.

  12. Greetings from Nova Scotia. Thank you for visiting my blog. I sometimes visit those who like my posts and I’m very glad I came here. You. Are. Funny. 🙂 I love how you write and provide a running commentary with such interesting photography. 😉
    I, too, believe you have a book in the making.

  13. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    Reading this and partaking of its pictures was much, much more enjoyable than doing my physical therapy exercises, not that I’d say the same to my doctor. Ahem.

  14. lahgitana says:

    Thank you for the opportunity to fully cleanse my nostrils with the little-known but oft-used technique of coffee snorting.

    The first time I laughed, I had to move my coffee cup away from the computer a bit. The second time–only Mommy gets to call Daddy a stupid bastard–I had to put the cup down, away from flailing elbows.

    Best captions ever. Ever.

    Poor Sylvia. Hope she forgot all about her angst once she was away from the earth! >:-D

    That photo of the dead Dassie: oh lordy those canines! That ain’t no stinkin’ vegetarian cute bunny!

    And that Dassie sittin’ in the shade: I was creeped out at the one off to the right, measuring the leaping distance from him to you. yikes!

    Thank you thank you thank you for finding my blog–I don’t know how you did, but thank you thank you!

    PS. hahahahahahahahahahha

  15. Marcia says:

    Whilst I am also not an afficionado of dead things and shit, or even of SAYING dead things and shit, I do so like to be supportive, and was just hoping to make poor Lunar Euphoria feel better about her own photos of same. You go, Lunar! Dead things rule! More dead things! More shit! More dead things IN shit! There. I’ve done it again. I simply can’t help being encouraging.

  16. You should offer your services for weddings. Plenty of drunk people look like dead dassies by the end of the night.

  17. True Story: I had a blog in the works a couple weeks ago featuring pictures I took of dead things and shit. I decided against posting them though. I didn’t think anyone would see the entertainment value but me. Obviously, I was wrong. Of course now you’ve beat me to it so my dead things and shit pictures would just be redundant.

  18. Marcia says:

    I was just joking about the coffee table book being an actual coffee table…it was an idea of Kramer’s on an old Seinfeld episode. But if you are serious about publishing a real coffee table (or any other) book, I think you should definitely go for it. Your writing is excellent overall, in addition to being funny, and your photography gives you an endless source of subject matter.

    I read a lot. A. LOT. And I’m familiar with many more authors than the Urban Fantasy writers I’m currently glutting myself on. I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that you could turn your photos and commentary into a very good book. I know it’s the kind of book I’D buy. Do it! You have a ready audience of readers already following your blog. We’d all love it!

  19. pussonalamp says:

    The pretence that somebody is listening and looking may be working. I pretended to read and laugh and project coffee at the descriptions of the wildlife photography. I really shouldn’t be drinking coffee reading this stuff. And, like Marcia above, but only more so, I actually had to pretend to fall off my chair at the Sylvia Plath bit.

    Have you considered sending your photos to an Academic Biology Textbook publisher? They’re always desperate for that sort of detailed anatomical photography.

  20. I love the pictures of your Little Miss Sunshine. Just wait and see when she becomes a teenager; I hear that’s when the REAL sulks begin!

    (Mind you, when she’s a teenager you won’t have to take her to the park to see dassies and shit – literally – as she will most likely be perfectly happy spending all day in her room, mourning the fact that her parents don’t understand her, that guy across the street never looks at her and her life is destroyed beyond any possible repair. Isn’t that wat teenagers do? Or have fashions changed since I was one myself?)

    • 23thorns says:

      Don’t worry, I’ve already thought that one through. Kids these days do most of their sulking online. We’re going to bolt her computer to the dining room table, so we will at least get to eat together as a family.

  21. Pia says:

    Brave man to bring a tablet AND kids rock climbing at the same time. (btw you got suckered, I didn’t need no F-book to sign up for WP!)

  22. metan says:

    I like your shitty photos, any parent would be feeling that way after a day trying to quell a midget rebellion. 🙂

  23. dste says:

    I spent almost a full minute looking for that “glossy starling”. I read the caption, and I was like “What? All I see is a bunch of trees!” But I found it! I feel so proud!

  24. ewehouse says:

    Hahaha! Your post left me in stitches!! This was very educational too. It made me look up ‘dassies’ and ‘blesbok’ (after I gave up squinting at the photos). Your kids photos more than made up for it though. They are so adorable! Thanks for sharing!

  25. Joanna says:

    You are so funny! Have you thought of unleashing your photos on Instagram? I still gave no idea what a dassie is, better go and look it up. And what are those red things… all best from the wilds of urban Britain 🙂

  26. Sciencelens says:

    Stepping out into the wilderness in the middle of Johannesburg – nice memories of Africa…
    Nice post (and blog)!

  27. Seriously adorable kids, not so adorable shots of deadly, deadly insects of doom, dead whatnots, and piles of poo however… What’s the number for child protective services where you are? Strictly for informational purposes I assure you. 😉

  28. Marcia says:

    OMG, I don’t know what was funnier, your overall story of doing daddy duty, or the dead dassie, or the piles of poop (also dassie?). All I know is, I almost fell off my chair at the Sylvia Plath line!

    Your children are beautiful, btw, and the thought of having a wild and natural space like that in the midst of civilization (I’m just supposing Johannesburg is civilized?) is amazing. Of course, living in Florida, I’ve seen quite large alligators in retention ponds next to Wal-Marts, but still. Blesboks and dassies are pretty much non-existent here.

    Great story! Pretty darn good photos, too. Thanks so much for the laugh. Laughing is GOOD. After a long day of mindless chores, I feel all happy inside once more. And I’m passing along a link to your blog from BOTH of mine. My friends need to be reading this stuff.

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