It takes more than an hotel ...

... to keep an elephant from its mangoes.

Mfuwe Lodge, in Zambia's magnificent Luangwa Valley National Park, is a popular tourist attraction. It was built next to a grove of wild mangoes that one family of elephants have always visited when the fruit ripens. The regular visits of the elephants during November's mango season thrilled the guests.

But the lodge management didn't realise just how set in their ways the elephant family were. One year, when the management decided to extend their accommodation facilities, they unwittingly built the new lodge right across the herd's path to their beloved trees.

So, when the elephants, led by their matriarch nicknamed 'Wonky Tusk', returned for their annual feast they found a building in their way. What did they do? No problem. They walked straight through it:

And, over the years, the hotel staff, visitors and elephants have grown used to each other. The family group stays some four to six weeks and they gorge on the mangoes up to four times a day.

Andy Hogg, the lodge director, has lived in South Luangwa National Park since 1982. But in all his years  there he has never seen such intimate interaction between humans and wild animals. "This is the only place in the world where elephants freely get so close to humans," he says.

According to Andy the elephants are not aggressive if they're just left to stroll through the lobby. "It's their choice to be here," he says. "There are other wild mango trees around, but they prefer ours. The lodge was unwittingly built in their path. It wasn't a design error, we just didn't know. They get reasonably close to the staff, as you can see in the pictures," Andy explains. "But we do not allow the guests to get that close. Guests can stand in the lounge but only as long as there is a barrier between them and the elephants. These are still wild and dangerous animals, so there must be enough time for people to get away."

A rare and magnificent sight, and an authentic one too, too. This is not faked. I visited and worked in the Luangwa Valley over a period of 20 years from 1970 to 1990. On a number of occasions, when sleeping in a thatched hut, I have woken in the middle of the night to the sound of a rustling-ripping coming from above. Peering out of the window revealed a pair of gigantic kneecaps, mere centimetres from my nose. An elephant was calmly eating the thatch.

Technical note:
If you ever meet an elephant, walking through your hotel lobby, it can be a tricky photographic subject. The difference between the bright outside light and the dim interior is huge. If you're not careful your camera will meter from the bright light and the elephant will come out as black mass. Not what you want. So use fill-in flash to give detail in the beast, as the photographer of these images has done. Most wild animals are not too bothered by camera flash. It is brief, soundless and scentless and I guess that they just take it as a flash of sunlight through the trees.

Oh ... and this advice also applies to situations that don't involve elephants. Use fill in flash whenever photographing situations where there is a huge difference between the light and dark parts of the scene, your subject is in the dark part and you want to bring out some detail.

Always check your gear ... and ...

A well-known international magazine that specialises in amazing images of natural features wanted to show some of the heroic work of the fire fighters as they battled the wildfires in the western US last year.

A photographer was assigned to cover the story and, as well as having him work on the ground, the magazine also wanted him to take a selection of shots from the air to show the extent of the blaze. So a light aircraft was chartered to fly the guy over the area. He was told to report to a nearby airfield where the plane would be ready and waiting for him.

The photographer, running late, arrived at the airfield and saw a plane warming up. He jumped in with his bag and shouted, "Let's go!"

The pilot swung the little plane into the wind, and within minutes they were in the air. The photographer told the pilot, "Fly over the flames and make two or three low passes so I can take some pictures."

"Why?" asked the pilot.

"Because I am a photographer," the guy snapped. "And photographers take photographs."

The pilot was silent for a moment. Finally he stammered, " mean you're not the flight instructor?"

Another Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams, one of the world's great photographers, is famed for his breathtaking photographs of American landscapes - Yosemite in particular. He was a man who loved the wilderness and nature, and that love shines through in his images.

But there was another side to him. What is less well known is that, during the Second World War, he took a stand against what he believed to be the unjust treatment of the Nisei, American citizens of Japanese descent who, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, were suddenly uprooted from their homes, farms, factories and businesses and placed in an internment camp at Manzanar.

Ansel Adams decided to use his skills to draw attention to their plight. He went to live in the camp which was, as he described it in his autobiography:

"... a dry plain on which appeared a flat rectangular layout of shacks, ringed with towering mountains. These shacks were not relieved by the entrance gate and its military guards."

View of Manzanar from a watchtower

He went on to describe how these camps came into being:

"With the military's advice President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. I am sure he had no realization of its tragic implications; thousands of loyal Japanese-American citizens were denied their basic civil rights. Unfortunately this decision had the support of a great number of Caucasian citizens throughout the West, who racially disliked the Japanese-Americans as social and economic competitors."

Adams recorded his experiences in Manzanar in the way he could best do it - through photographs ...

Roy Takeno (Editor) and group reading Manzanar paper

Nurse and patients in front of hospital.

Children in the orphanage

Despite what was happening to them, the Nisei remained patriotic

Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. Tsurutani and baby Bruce

Ansel Adams was profoundly moved by Manzanar. He wrote:

"As my work progressed I began to grasp the problem of relocation and the remarkable adjustment these people had made ... With admirable strength of spirit, the Nisei rose above despondency and made a life for themselves, a unique micro-civilisation under difficult conditions."

And, as he captured that life in his photographs you can see how his skill shines through - the choice of composition, the way in which he has used lines and diagonals, the way in which the human figures feature.

He went on to write:

"It was very disturbing to witness the arrival of the young army-uniformed Nisei when on leave for a visit to their families. It must have been most difficult for them to be confronted by their parents, incarcerated American citizens - a severe contradiction of the principles for which they were fighting the war."

After his stay at the camp, Adams wrote a book about the plight of these people. Entitled Born Free and Equal, it:

"... met with some distressing resistance and was rejected by many as disloyal. I could tolerate the narrow opinions expressed verbally or in the press, but it was painful to receive a few letters from families who had lost men in the conflict; they were bitter and incapable of making objective distinctions between the Nisei and Japanese nationals."

This was the image Ansel Adams used for the title page of his book:

We know, from notes written on the negative sleeve, that the young man's name is Tom Kobayashi. But we don't know any more about him.

Judging by his age and the cut of his shirt he may well have been one of young army-uniformed Nisei, on leave for a visit to his family.

Ansel Adams donated his images from Manzanar to the US Nation.
They are now in the public domain and the full collection can be seen here

I have just discovered that Ansel Adams's book about Manzanar - Born Free and Equal - can be read, in a full digitised version, by following the link on this page.

Are you a real photographer?

Ask yourself these 10 questions

  1. Do you roll your eyes in exasperation when you see a blizzard of tiny photo-flashes twinkling amongst the crowd at some humongous great sports stadium?
  2. Do you know what ‘bokeh’ is?
  3. Do you genuinely wince in pain when an elderly relative asks you if you’ve taken any good ‘snaps’ lately?
  4. Do you always carry a spare battery? Charged?
  5. Do your friends hand you their cameras when they want a good photo taken?
  6. Do you own a tripod? Not one of those diddy little things that slip in your pocket. A real tripod. That weighs a ton.
  7. And do you carry it about with you? And hang your backpack from it? And know why you’re hanging your backpack from it?
  8. Has your spouse/partner given up groaning in exasperation when you climb out of bed at 4am on a frosty morning?
  9. Did you start asking what shutter speed and aperture was used for a photograph ... and now given up asking?
  10. Do people look at you as if you’re crazy when you point your camera at a chunk of rock or similar, apparently featureless object?
If you can answer yes to all these questions – congratulations.

You’re a real photographer.

Madeleine McCann

Madeleine McCann, aged 4, disappeared without trace 2½ years ago whilst on holiday with her parents in Portugal.

Here's a message about her from the UK police.

She will be 6 now and their video gives information on what she may look like:

There is further information here.

Please spread the word as widely as you can ... e-mail friends, post this video on your blog, Tweet it, Digg it, Facebook ... use the 'viral' nature of the Internet to get this information to as many people as possible.

Someone, somewhere, may be able to help her.