A Portrait of Mrs. Smokey Blazer

Okavango Delta, Botswana

While I might have the ability to recall in sharp detail all kinds of fastidious details about a person, my brain is irritatingly incapable of remembering people’s proper names. And that’s okay, because oftentimes when I’m telling a story, I am intentionally not wanting to use that person’s real name. Therefore, my tendency not to remember people’s proper names isn’t too much of an issue.

Except, it is.

I can’t tell you how many times I have made up a pretend name for someone only to have it turn out to be their real name.

“I thought you weren’t going to use Doug’s real name in your story,” someone might say to me.

“Oh. I just made that up, I thought that Doug seemed like a fitting name for that man.”

“Yeah, his parents thought so, too, Ryan. That’s his actual name.”

“Ah. Good to know. I honestly had no idea, but that makes sense why it seemed to fit him so perfectly.”

So if you’re ever wondering whether I’m using someone’s real name, just know that I’m often wondering that same thing, too.


In the case of this lovely lady above, to avoid any chance whatsoever of accidentally calling her by her real name, I’ve decided to combine the name of my first cat with name of the first family car I remember my mom driving.

So God help me, if her real name is actually Smokey Blazer, then just shoot me.


Smokey and I were on a river boat together in Botswana, and I was just drunk enough to admit to her something I usually would be reluctant to talk about— that I hadn’t shot too many portraits of dark-skinned people like her, and that I honestly had trouble finding the right exposure, especially if there were other light-skinned people in the photo.

Smokey saw this as a fun challenge, and subsequently allowed me to practice on her at different exposures, at least until our boat arrived at the elephant family’s stomping grounds.

I remember Mrs. Blazer asking me a very valid question. Through a ribbing smile, she said, “So you know how to expose for elephants but not black ladies?”

And I told her, “Well, if an ALBINO ELEPHANT suddenly showed up and leapt into frame with all the other elephants, I’d probably have the same difficulty. Anytime there's a drastic differential it becomes tricky, and more about splitting the difference, exposure wise, than it is about anything else.”

This seemed to make sense to her, and we had a lovely impromptu photo shoot on the boat, right before I went and curled up in a little ball and passed out on the deck of the boat.

I woke up an hour or so later, surrounded by a family of elephants which, oddly enough, is not the weirdest or most surprising sight I’ve ever woken up to. Not by a long shot.


You can read more about why I passed out on a boat in the middle of the Okavango Delta HERE (in case you haven’t already guessed….)

You can see me correctly (and soberly) expose for black skin HERE and HERE.

And finally, you can see Elephants Marching HERE, and an elephant attempt to bartend/cut off my liquor, HERE!