Up close and personal (South Luangwa, Zambia) by Graham Love
Interview 15 March

Story behind the photo: Up close and personal, Zambia

Graham Love, a finalist in the Wanderlust Travel Photo of the Year 2013 Wildlife category, tells the story of his highly commended image

The calm waters of Zambia's Luangwa River looked like milk under the early morning glare of the sun. Hippos were already bathing as my guide and I left River Camp for a full-day safari.

I told the guides my middle name was 'Closer' as I usually find myself whispering: "Closer, closer," at any good photographic opportunity. That wasn't a problem at my first camp, Kaingo, where an elephant ambled onto the deck area outside my room and munched on the leaves from an over-hanging tree.

By mid-morning we were tracking a pack of wild dogs, trying to get near them as they raced through the bush.

After losing sight of them in heavy shrub, we parked our Land Rover to explore on foot. An hour later we came across a series of large ponds covered in water cabbage and I started photographing a yellow-billed stork catching fish.

Suddenly there was a ripple in the water, some bubbles and an almighty splash as a large hippo emerged from the pool. With water dripping from his mouth, his jaw stained cabbage green and his scarred face pink with sunburn, he was not a pretty sight - and looked none too friendly after being disturbed.

As my guide unslung his rifle, I used a long lens to get up close and personal. Then we both backed off, rather quickly!

Technical details: Nikon D3S, AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 ED zoom lens plus 2x Nikon converter. 1/500sec @ f/5.6, ISO 640.

A word of advice: I visited Zambia in early June last year. Most camps had re-opened just two weeks before, after the Luangwa's annual flood waters had receded.  Animals and especially birds, unused to seeing humans for months, were skittish and tended to disappear rapidly so it may be better to go later in the year.

Judges comments:

The Wanderlust panel judged Graham's portrait 'highly commended' in the Wildlife Category 2013.

"If in doubt fill the frame! This face and the mood suits a tight composition perfectly” Photographer Paul Harris FRGS.

“If you are going to take close ups, do them well. Menacing and not short on humour, this is a top portrait”.  Wildlife photography expert Paul Goldstein.