As I prepare for back to back to back workshops and photo safaris which will keep me out in the field for almost 5 weeks straight I find myself with some peculiar thoughts.
Maybe not what you, or I, would expect but yesterday two things triggered me to pay more attention to a feeling, a thought that has been brewing deep inside for quite some time.
The first was this, a simple little image I saw on my Instagram feed.
Yeah, I know. Seems like any other self help quote on social media but to me it was more than that.
It made me think about the way some wildlife photographers approach their craft and trips into the field to go and do what they love. Those last four words might actually be the crux of the matter that begs us to look at the reason we do what we do and the expectations we have when heading out to photograph nature.
On top of all of this, yesterday at lunch Andrew, Marlon and myself got talking about all the destinations we will be working in and hosting trips during the next few months and how some of these destinations have this incredible, almost romantic African appeal while others seem, wonderful as they might be, flat by comparison. A lot of this is probably due to the images from these places all looking the same but that’s a discussion I’m going to hold back on for another post.
To me the allure of heading out into the wild with a group of photographic guests is not knowing what we are going to get. Yes, not knowing what we are going to get. The entire experience of wildlife photography should not be based on certainties and the unpredictability thereof is what makes getting the shot so sweet or, if things don’t work out, so bittersweet.
The reason I feel like this, and this is where my little Instagram quote above comes in, is that we should be heading out into the field firstly for the actual experience of being out there. You should be excited to head to a destination even if it’s without your camera because then your focus will be in the right place. I have always believed that the more you understand, appreciate and respect your subject the more intimate and genuine your images will be and if you are willing to experience a place without a camera your images, when you have your camera with you, will be so much deeper, better and real.
The thought of heading out into the field and not knowing what amazing sightings and images I might get probably makes up half the excitement I feel before a trip. No, more than that.
How exciting can it be to go to a destination where you can predict with a great deal of certainty what type of sightings and shots you are going to get?
Now before you start hitting me up with comments about how each photographer does things for himself and how we shouldn’t worry about what other people think of our work, I agree with all of that. I agree 100%. I do however think that too many photographers are compromising their own experiences by putting too much emphasis on the images they walk away with.
Imitation, it has been said, is the most sincere form of flattery and yes we all need to find inspiration and new ideas to try by looking at other people’s work but if you get stuck in perpetuity where the goal is always someone else’s version of their experience you are missing out.
Heading into a nice and busy period where I will be able to share, teach and inspire a lot of people out in the field. In places such as Madikwe, the Masai Mara and, for the first time, Zimanga – which has received a lot of hype the last while and which I am keen to see in order to make up my own mind – I am going to keep my quote above in mind and remind my guests about it as well.
I’m definitely not saying you should just head out into the field with no ideas of what you want achieve photographically but don’t stack the chips so heavily in the corner of images at the expense of experiencing nature.
Great experiences will almost always result in images that speak to people. Images that have more to them than just being another wildlife image on social media. Images that hold incredible memories.
I love wildlife photography but I like the experience of wildlife photography even more.
Until next time.
Gerry van der Walt
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