If someone else had taken this immersive photograph and asked me which country it had been captured in, Rwanda would be my immediate response. There are mountain gorillas in Uganda and DRC and head on encounters can happen anywhere, but it would take a great deal of persuasion and empirical evidence for me not to regard Rwanda as the odds on favourite location. The number of accessible silverbacks is just so much higher and in my experience the vegetation offers more opportunities for encounters in clearer areas. Cigar shots like this are improbable but not impossible. That is why we keep returning. Most treks are failures for us as we set the bar high, but once in a while it all comes together.
Gorilla photography is tough – encounters are intense and normally occur in dense jungle with dappled light and little sense of place. The cameraman must constantly adapt to two key variables that are never constant; the position of the gorilla and the light. Furthermore, because camera bags are not allowed, there is a limit to the equipment the photographer has at his disposal.
This photograph was taken during Covid 19 and I had to wear a mask. At 10,000 feet up a volcano, where the air is thinner in any case, this is not ideal as heavy breathing escapes from above the nose and hits the viewfinder, creating its very own “gorillas in the mist” experience.
I had a standard lens on for this image – which shows how close I was. As the huge silverback came around the corner on the rocky path, I was unable to get out of the way, so I decided the best thing to do was to keep shooting and simply hope for the best.