Editor’s note: “On Safari with Draper” is a story we’ve used before, but which we thought would be fun to revisit. This article is available as a case study. To download a PDF, click here.
Night time in the African bush. All around you are the sounds of unknown animals stalking their evening meals. A fire blazes nearby—the only light other than that provided by the moon, and a deep sky full of stars. After a day of tracking and shooting wildlife, the moment has come. You open and reach into the long, slender case at your side, and lift the contents. A few feet away someone switches on a projector, and images of wildlife flash onto the portable video projection screen you’ve just opened.
The Republic of Botswana’s Okavango Delta is one of the last places one might expect to find a video projector and Draper portable screen, but these are important tools for wildlife photographer David Cardinal. Every year, Cardinal leads clients on digital photo safaris in this southern African nation.
“Having a projector and screen is invaluable for instruction and for sharing images,” according to Cardinal. “Each day features at least one instructional session for those interested in learning new techniques, and then at the end of the day we share some of the images we captured that day and discuss them. Having a projector and screen also allows all of us to share slideshows from other trips as time permits.”
Cardinal adds that instant feedback and accelerated learning are both strong points of digital photography, and having a projector, screen and laptops makes those two things possible on safari.
Because his mode of transport varies on these trips, Cardinal makes use of two different models of portable screen—Draper’s Traveller and Piper. The Traveller is self-contained in an extruded aluminum case. At approximately 14 lbs., it is easy to carry but durable. A built-in carrying handle and shoulder carrying strap are also included. The Piper is also self-contained in a powder coated aluminum case with a built-in handle, but is smaller and lighter in weight, coming in at about 10 lbs.
“For trips where I have to travel extensively with the screen on commercial airlines the Piper is awesome. Its lightweight and somewhat compact size make it the most convenient screen for travel. But for our Botswana wildlife safaris we’re often coping with a fair amount of wind so we use the slightly beefier Traveler model.”
Cardinal adds that airplane travel and wind are his two main obstacles to using a projection screen, so extruded aluminum cases and sturdy matt white viewing surfaces of the Traveller and Piper are just the ticket. “We had a less well built screen from another company on our first African safari and it literally fell apart. The Draper screens are built with a simple yet sturdy design that allows them to hold up even in our outdoor locations—although we do need to tie off the tops of the screens so they don’t blow over.”
Cardinal says commercial airlines are a problem because the screens are over-sized luggage and perhaps subject to rougher handling than normal.
“Once on safari we’re able to personally load the screen into the charter planes in its padded case, so that works pretty well.”
Cardinal’s most nervous moment, though, came as he was returning to a warehouse in Maun, Botswana, where he had stored his Draper Traveller.
“[I] saw how dusty the room was where it was stored I thought it’d be a mess. But the case protected it completely and the screen was as good as the day we packed it”.
While bringing a screen and projector along can be a hassle, at the end of the day Cardinal says it is well worth the trouble.
“Practically every day the participants benefit greatly from seeing their images—and those of others—up on the screen and getting comments. One of the most heart-warming is when we have new photographers who are very insecure about their images. Then when they are shown and they hear how excited the others are about them they realize that they’re really learning and getting some great images.”
To get the most out of the critiques, Cardinal also builds a custom color profile of the projector and screen using ColorVision hardware and software. Having a correct color profile allows for viewing color-accurate images, imperative for making corrections.
Cardinal leads 8-10 such trips annually, not only to Southern Africa but also Southeast Asia, Alaska and South Texas.