Recently my wife, Lee, and I sent some time in Malaysia for a
joyous family event followed by a short photography outing. The
big event was the start of our trip in Kuala Lumpur, and the
photography was in the state of Sabah, on the island of Borneo.
That required a roughly 3 hour flight, some travel by car and
4-wheel drive Land Cruiser, and lots of walking after reaching
our main destination. It sounds like a grand photographic
adventure, but sometimes things sound grander than they actually
are. There are no guarantees when doing nature photography,
especially when it involves wildlife. It’s also true that when
your time is limited small events can have a big impact on your
photographic productivity in terms of both quantity and quality.
Sometimes the weather or wildlife doesn’t cooperate, but that’s
not all that can happen.
Not including travel time we had only five days in Borneo. I
ended up with a stomach ailment within an hour of arriving at
our “cottage”, and simultaneously Lee was coming down with
something that appeared to be a very bad cough and cold. We
spent all of our first day in Sabah sleeping. Well, Lee did. I
spent a good part of it in the bathroom. The next day I felt
alright but weary and Lee was sick but able to function. We
resumed our planned activities but at a more moderate pace than
we might have otherwise. I was feeling fine two days into our
stay but Lee was not. Sometimes she would stay “home” in the
cottage and I’d go out alone. The wildlife we sought was
present, but perhaps I’d forgotten how difficult it is to take
pictures in this extremely hot, humid, and dense jungle. You can
be a few feet away from something and not be able to see it,
much less photograph it. There are few openings through the
foliage, it’s hard to compose with sweat running into your eyes,
and I’m not as young or as fit as I was the last time I did
something like this. Pulling successful images from this place
felt as difficult as pulling teeth from an orangutan. I got
perhaps four or five good photos from our entire stay in Sabah,
some of which are of things I did not plan to photograph.
Objectively that isn’t terribly bad for such a short outing,
though it all depends on your definition of “good”.
Seeing family and friends was the real purpose of this trip, and
that was a lot more fun and infinitely easier than the
photography. But being a nature photographer at heart makes it
impossible to travel to such a place for any purpose without
also attempting to capture some images of the region’s flora and
fauna. It’s disappointing when things don’t work out as
expected, but it’s more disappointing to not have made the
attempt. As Chester Barnard said, “To try and fail is at least
to learn; to fail to try is to suffer the inestimable loss of
what might have been”.