rry van der Walt - Wild Eye

Do You Care About History When Photographing Wildlife?

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 10 Comments

Do you care about the history of the areas you visit when you head out to photograph wildlife?

I’m a wildlife photographer at heart but I strongly believe that the more you know the better it gets and that goes for both the wild subjects we photograph as well as the area find yourself in.

Do you care that when you are in the Lowveld you might be retracing the steps of Sir James Percy Fitzpatrick and his beloved dog Jock?  Or that when you are in the Madikwe Game Reserve that many artifacts have been found in the area which dates back to the early Stone Age to the late Stone Age which ranges between 1,000,000 and 500 years ago?

One of the things that really made an impact on me during our recent Svalbard photo expedition was the very detailed history of the area that our local guides shared with us.  We were walking, literally, in the footsteps of Roald Amundsen, the famous Norwegian explorer who in 1926 was the first expedition leader to be recognized without dispute as having reached the North Pole.

We were photographing the incredible landscapes of Svalbard from foot of the mast in Ny-Ålesund where, in 1926, Amundsen and two other explorers, designer Umberto Nobile and American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth, set off on their infamous transpolar flight in the airship Norge.

rry van der Walt - Wild Eye

The statue of Roald Amundsen in Ny-Ålesund looking out to the mast from which their infamous Transpolar Flight was launched in 1926.

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye

The mast in Ny-Ålesund from where Amundsen, Nobile and Ellsworth launched the airship Norge.

I have absolutely no doubt that the knowledge of the area and the history that played out there made for a much deeper experience of the wildlife and landscapes we were photographing.

The catch, and lead in back to the question I asked in the beginning of this post is this.  Knowing more about an area will give you a new and very important appreciation of the things you see through your viewfinder but it will not necessarily improve your images.  This is why, to me, the actual experience of wildlife and nature photography is way more important than the photography itself.

Some people seem to care only about the images and getting the shot and I suppose there is nothing wrong with that but there is so much more to know and see.

I would really like to know how you feel about this.  I would like to know this because I’m very curious to see how many of you out there look deeper into the areas you visit and photograph but I would also like to know if this is something that, when you travel with myself or any of the other Wild Eye guides, you would like us to dial up from an experience point of view because the more you know the better it gets.

So, please take a minute to leave me a comment with your comments and thoughts on the question.

Do you care about the history of the areas you visit when you head out to photograph wildlife?

Until next time,


About the Author

Gerry van der Walt

I am a private and specialist photographic safari guide, public speaker, co founder of Wild Eye and wildlife photographer. Visit my website at www.gerryvanderwalt.com or follow my journey on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter a look forward to changing the way you see the world.  I also host a Wildlife Photography Podcast and I Vlog!

Comments 10

  1. Nancy Anderson

    I find it very interesting to know more about an area I am in, so I would enjoy having the guides tell us more of the history of the area. Martha was full of information about the different coalitions of lions in Sabi Sabi that I found quite interesting. Anything like that adds to the experience.

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  2. Mark T.

    Spot on mate. I feel it is very important to know the history of a place, the where, what, how, why and when, especially if it is directly linked to the subject you’re shooting. Imparting that knowledge into the back story of the piece only goes towards painting the blog and author in a positive and professional light. Good work.

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  3. Sarah Z

    Hi Gerry,
    Great question….. I definitely think that knowing more about the history (both natural and human) of an area significantly enriches the experience. It may or may not help you get better images, probably not but might give you some different ideas about things to capture. In the end I agree that the experience is far more than the images you bring back (although we all love getting great images!). I usually read as many books about a place as I can before I go, not so much guide books but stories, conservationist accounts, local historic accounts and folklore/legends etc and that is also part of the experience and the anticipation and adds to the experience once there too. I also love it when my guides know and share about the history of the place, people and animals k I also love to hear about conservation past and present, challenges and successes.

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  4. Matt

    Yes 100%, to the degree that’s it’s the history of a place that has a draw in some case.. Photography isn’t just about flying in, take the shot and fly out, if you travel within the country then the connection and understanding comes through into the image. I have done just as much wildlife photography as I have general overland travel but as far as I can remember the history has been an interest whether it be the explorers in Africa, the birth of Christianity and the ark of the covenant in Ethiopia, Shackleton in South Georgia, Pol Pott in Cambodia or the silk trade route in Asia, You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate history IMO but when others have tread that path before you, it’s kind of nice to appreciate and understand what that means as it makes for a more complete travel experience..

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  5. Simon beevers

    Feed me all the possible information and then add more! On a recent walking trail in Pafuri, the ranger was full of information on the history of the area and it made everything even more interesting. The day we came back I even bought a book written on the area. now when I read it I can picture the baobab tree next to the store, the dry river bed, the stars at night.

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