Though it is one of Africa's smallest nations, Swaziland is home to a fascinating and diverse culture. See it for yourself through the lens of Allan Dransfield...
What were you looking forward to most about the trip?
A couple of years ago I mapped out all the nations that I'd been to in my life and realised that the central and southern African continent was a huge uncharted piece of my travel puzzle. When the Wanderlust team told me that my prize for winning the Photo of the Year competition was a photography trip to Swaziland, it felt like destiny.
My travel partner was Ermanno Becchis, an Italian music producer with a love for travel, culture and music. I asked him to book some time off work and all he knew was that we were flying somewhere. I managed to get him through the boarding gate blindfolded, so the look on his face when we stepped off the plane in Swaziland was one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing.
What impressed you most about Swaziland?
Looking at Swaziland on the map it seems like a drop in the ocean of what is the African continent. After spending three weeks there I think one of the most impressive aspects of this kingdom is its diversity of landscapes – from African savanna to lush forests and fresh mountainous highlands, all packed within accessible distances. Its claim of being 'Africa in a nutshell' didn't seem far from the truth, and its size creates a real sense of community across the nation.
What was your favourite spot to photograph?
On our very first day in Swaziland we stayed in Shewula mountain camp, in the Lebombo mountains. It was magical. As a curious fellow I love to get lost, wander off the beaten track and make unexpected discoveries – and this location didn't disappoint.
We walked through a small village, met farmers working in the fields, watched kids playing football in the warm evening sun, and gazed at the stars by night. Looking east over the valley we could see the Mozambique capital, Maputo. The next morning we followed the sound of cowbells: it turned out to be vaccination day for the cattle belonging to 1,000 or so families, mostly farmers, governed by the local chief. There were hundreds of cows and goats being led by their masters into a big dip.
Do you have a favourite shot?
I find wildlife photography pretty similar to capturing people, yet seldom do I have the opportunity of testing where I can push the genre. Encountering two male elephants on our Hlane Reserve ride took my breath away. It was the first time I'd ever seen elephants in their natural habitat and I immediately felt an amazing sense of respect for these wise and mysterious mammals. Their movements, communication between one another, the look in their eyes... I was captivated.
What was your most memorable experience?
We were on our way to the beautiful Phophonyane Lodge when we stopped in Piggs Peak to pick up a couple of treats from the street markets. It was early evening and we ended up having a couple of beers in one of the local bars – the vibe was electric.
Within half an hour Ermanno and I were booty shaking with the locals, our guide Banele was pulling out some moves, and it wasn't long before I got involved in a dance battle. It was hectic and a little bit scary, but remains one of my funniest and most intense memories.
What types of social events and traditions were you able to photograph?
Our trip to Mantenga cultural village was a real highlight. It gave us a beautiful insight into Swazi tradition and we had the opportunity to witness a performance by Sibahle Ngemasiko – a group of 26 musicians and dancers from all over the country who are preserving Swazi heritage. They were incredible.
My trip also coincided with this year's Bushfire music festival, which was another highlight of my time in Swaziland. It was three days full of good vibes, incredible music and new friends – all wrapped up in a stunning picturesque setting. These ingredients provided an incredible source of photo opportunities.
Why were the trip and competition so important to you?
I think that photo competitions are a vital stepping-stone in making the transition to professional photography.
The Wanderlust brief allowed me to be playful and explore my specialism. It also developed my skills in making the selection, which for me is based on trusting my instinct and ultimately aiming to tell a story with a single image. This process has come full circle and now influences me when I'm shooting. I'm trying to say in one image what I once might have said with several.
I treated the trip as a serious photo commission, not a free holiday. In that sense it wasn't all fun and games, I really was trying to sculpt my skill set as a photographer. With Ermanno by my side we made a great team; me on visuals and him on sound. We pushed and made things happen because we wanted it.
We covered the Swazi cup final; saluted the king; interviewed famous musicians, politicians, footballers; we were even in the newspaper and on the radio. We maximised the resources we had: a 4X4 and a well-connected guide called Banele.
It has left me in no doubt that I want to do this job, and that I can do this job.
Allan Dransfield travelled to Swaziland on behalf of Swaziland Tourism Authority (thekingdomofswaziland.com). During his trip he stayed at Shewula Mountain Camp (shewulacamp.org) in the Lebombo region; Mantenga Lodge (mantengalodge.com) in the Ezulwini Valley; Mkhaya Stone Camp (biggameparks.org/mkhaya) in Mkhaya Game Reserve; Hawane Resort in Malolotja Nature Reserve; Maguga Lodge (magugalodge.com) at Maguga Dam. Activities in the trip were provided by Swazi Trails (swazitrails.co.sz).
For more spectacular images, visit Allan's website: lifekollektiv.com
Enter this year's Photo of the Year competition for the chance to win a photo commission to Costa Rica or £3,000 cash.
Submit your entry here: Photo of the Year competition 2017
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