Text and images by Peter Delaney

Parked under the shade of a camel thorn tree; windows open with a slight breeze washing over me. I pour myself some coffee and reflect on the morning drive – a frustrating start to the day. I had driven close to five hours covering 150km and had seen very little in the way of wildlife. A few metres away, a sprinkling of springbok and zebra make their way to the man-made waterhole. They drink their fill then head towards bushes to enjoy some shade from the scorching sun.

Usually, at this time of year, you will find a plethora of animals congregating around waterholes with plenty vegetation nearby. But this year (2019) the rains were late and inadequate. Vegetation is scarce and wildlife is dispersed across the vast reserve in search of food. I finish my coffee and decide to continue my search for wildlife.

The lack of rains had now turned the reserve into a giant dust bowl, at its heart is a shimmering bare expanse, called Etosha Pan, the biggest salt pan in Africa. Along the edges of the pan, there are natural springs that bubble to the surface creating life-saving streams of water. Overflow of water from these streams form pools of calcrete mud. Elephants and rhinos often use the mud from these pools as a form of sunblock and as a protective layer against parasites. The animals visit these mud pools from midday to late afternoon; this was where I decided to concentrate my efforts for the rest of the day.

Arriving at the edge of Etosha Pan, my heart sank. The mud pools were void of any wildlife. I decided to wait, but to be honest, I was out of ideas and tired from all the driving. The wind was eerily quiet, a sense of loneliness swept over me; I felt vulnerable in this vast empty landscape. My failure to capture any worthwhile photographs added to my dark mood, images and thoughts of my family many thousands of miles away filled my head. My eyes filled with water. I shook my head and wiped at my eyes, admonishing myself for being so foolish.

Peter Delaney Fine Art Wildlife Photography

The bull elephants are moving faster now as they smell the water.

@ Peter Delaney

Just as I have given up hope, a mirage appears on the horizon, a line of grey ghosts shimmer in the heat haze and dust. This spectre-like image fades as they get closer – elephants! They march silently yet purposefully in a straight line, flapping their huge ears to keep cool. I lift my binoculars to take a closer look. I could not believe my eyes, expecting a matriarchal herd heading towards me. Bull elephants! I say out loud. Seven bull elephants! I had never seen so many male elephants marching silently together. They were massive in size.

I drive ahead and anticipate their route to capture head-on photographs as they walk into my camera frame. I wait patiently; I am photographing with Fujifilm’s latest flagship medium format camera, the Fujifilm GFX-100, attached is the GF 100-200mm. I decided not to use my favourite lens, the optically superb GF 250mm.

The bull elephants are moving faster now as they smell the water. I lift the GFX 100 and place it firmly on my bean bag, which straddles my car window. I tremble with anticipation. The elephants are less than fifty metres away. Their sheer size as they march into my frame is overwhelming. I check my settings. Then for a few seconds, my heart and brain synchronise as one. I zone out as I compose and recompose. The lead bull elephant flaps his ears. It was the moment I was waiting for; I press the shutter. In less than a fraction of a second, this one single frame has captured the essence of these magnificent creatures — the magnificent seven.

Peter Delaney Fine Art Wildlife Photography

A single frame captures the essence of seven elephants as they march on the horizon.

@ Peter Delaney