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  Field Notes From
Gabon's Coastline

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Gabon On AssignmentArrows

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From Photographer

Michael Nichols

Gabon On Assignment

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From Author

J. Michael Fay

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Mark Thiessen (top) and Michael Nichols


Gabon On Assignment Photographer Gabon On Assignment Photographer
Gabon's Coastline

Field Notes From Photographer
Michael "Nick" Nichols

Best Worst Quirkiest
    For the first time in 25 years I took my family on assignment with me, which made it a really memorable experience. We were in Gabon from June until January, camping in different places. It was a bit like the "Beverly Hillbillies" going to live on the beach in Africa.
    It was an intense growing experience for my teenage son, Eli, to be surrounded by characters like Mike Fay and the other scientists, who self-start and accomplish something each day. He also learned a lot from the South African fishermen, such as the catch-and-release method that will help support the park's ecotourism.
    My 22-year-old son, Ian, took a year off from his studies at the University of Virginia to work as a photographer for the Wildlife Conservation Society's whale research project. He also did some other photography, and we saw an aspect of his personality he has always rejected: A marked artistic talent supported by incredible instincts.
    My wife is an artist, and she spent a lot of time collecting trash on the beach and making paintings from the stuff she found. 
    Unlike most of my assignments, it's not something about the photography that I  remember; it's the family experience.

    I always take a lot of chances with my photography; that's what I'm known for. But some images I thought would be fantastic didn't turn out to be interesting at all. I photographed rosy bee-eaters—little birds that live in giant colonies, fly very fast, and catch insects in the air. I wanted to capture their spirit and show the reader what they are all about. But I wasn't able to communicate that in one or two pictures.
    The same thing happened when I photographed crabs and mudskippers fighting in the mangrove, but this time it was a technical issue. I was shooting through video goggles, and the camera was in the mud so that I could get very close to these creatures. To my great disappointment, I didn't convey their quick movements while they jumped around and fought. Instead the pictures just turned out confusing. I realized after the fact that I should have tested with a digital camera first. So the worst moments for me were during the editing process.

    The hippos feed all night and then come back surfing up the coast to sleep in the lagoon all day. So I had to be there very early, ready to take pictures as they arrived. That meant setting up camp at least 45 minutes away so as not to disturb them. I couldn't even use a flashlight because they might have seen it.
The first morning I got there thinking I still had some time. But just as I was setting up my cameras, a whole family of hippos came out of the surf up the beach. I had to start shooting right away, using one-second exposures with a telephoto lens. I was certain the whole roll of film would turn out terrible. But all the pictures ended up fine, in spite of all my anxiety.


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