Exhibitions, Photo Competitions and a Black Lion

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

One of my images has been chosen as a part of an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC!

That is something I never thought I would say – ever!

Up until this point in time my photography has always been a very personal thing.  Sure, I absolutely love sharing my images and helping people wherever I can but I have never really gone after exhibitions or even things like competition or publications.

Would I like to?

Absolutely, more than anything, but life has strange way of playing the equalizer.

I have never been in the position to just take off, go and chase the many images I have in my mind and enter, submit and push them as hard as I can.

My life so far has been a helluva ride and it’s taken me around the world doing gymnastics, working on the Queen Mary 2 and living and working in some amazing lodges and other exotic destinations.

The point is that photography has always been a big part of the adventure but not the main focus.    Passionate as I have been about nature photography I have no  regrets.  Sure, I would anything to be able to go back in time with my current photographic experience but no regrets.

Hearing the news was a very pleasant surprise and it got me thinking about a lot of things but especially my approach to my own photography.

When I clicked the shutter to capture the image of a pich black, muddy lion I never thought it would amount to anything more than a blog post about a funky looking dirty lion.  The reason was that the image was not technically prefect.  The light was pretty much gone, I had maxed out the ISO on my camera and everything happened so quickly that I really just picked up the camera, aimed and fired.

The result?  A wildlife image with amazing content but that is not technically perfect and that is something that has been bugging me for quite some time.  From an industry point of view there are more and more people creating technically perfect images but that lacks content.  Images that lack passion. 

From a personal point of view I kinda felt that it’s unfair for an image like this to be so well received because it was not technically perfect and that is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.  Yes, we all strive to create technically perfect images but it should never be the only focus.  You need to pay attention to the content in your images and even if it is not a muddy lion you need to have an appreciation and respect for your subjects as this will show in your images. 

I would much rather have a slightly soft image of an amazing sighting than a technically perfect image of just another lion portrait.  Technical versus content – a never ending series of decisions and a blog post for another time. Anyway, before I post the muddy lion image one last time I thought I would share a few of the before and after images of that magical afternoon in Madikwe. 

Gerry van der Walt - Muddy Lion

This is how we found the three lions.  They were fighting about the leftovers of a kill that they had made in the middle of a very muddy waterhole.

Even though we were up on the dam wall they were quite a distance from us so at this point I was snapping away more from a ‘evidence’ point of view rather than actually trying to create great wildlife images.

Gerry van der Walt - Muddy Lion

I remember, while taking this shot, thinking that it is such a pity that they are so far away as these muddy lions would make for some pretty cool images!

A while later we decided to go and have drinks so we left the three young cats in the mud fighting about their kill.

Fast forward about an hour or so.

After our drinks we head back to the dam where I was able to photograph the now pitch black lion sitting on a red termite hill.  We followed the three youngsters as they moved towards the thickets and this was the very last image I took that day.

Gerry van der Walt - Muddy Lion

The majority of the images from that day made it straight to the boo-boo bin but there was one that kinda stood out.

This is the image that was highly commended in the 2011 Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice International Awards, will be exhibited in Washington and has ‘haunted’ me ever since.

Gerry van der Walt - Muddy Lion

There is no doubt that the content in this image is very unique and I know that I will never see anything like it again.

It has however lead to a lot of thoughts on my own photography. 

Make no mistake, I am very proud of this image and am truly grateful for all the positive feedback and accolades it has received but in the back of my mind I keep on thinking that this image has set a strange kind of benchmark to which my other work will be compared.  It is such a way out image but the reality is that anybody could have shot this.  It is not so much the result of photographic skill but more being in the right place at the right time.

As mentioned earlier I have never been in the position to just take off, go and chase the many images I have in my mind even thought the thought is amazingly attractive.  An image like this muddy lion is not something I would ever have imagined so I guess the lesson there would be to always be ready to get the shot.

So, to bring this post full circle and back to my approach to my photography.  Since receiving the notice about the exhibition in Washington I have given a lot of thought to taking my own photography more seriously – if that makes sense – and to go after events such as exhibitions, enter competitions and look more seriously at publishing.  Perhaps it was that one little push I needed to focus more on ‘me’?

In my mind I know I will be in the position to do this in the future – focus 100% on my own photography – but for now the focus is to create a platform from which to do that. 

Making a life as a wildlife photographer, attractive as it may sound, is not easy and it would be unrealistic for me to think I can just head out into the field, photograph wildlife and build a solid future doing that.

For now I will use my opportunities where I can (photographic and otherwise), keep focusing on Wild Eye and building it up to what I know it can be and when the time is right shift the focus purely to my own wildlife photography!

In the meantime who knows, there might be another muddy lion or two out there with my name on it! 

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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