Why Previous Guiding Experience is So Important for a Photographic Guide

Johan van Zyl All Authors, Johan Leave a Comment

One of the things that I personally enjoy about the Wild Eye Team is that all of us have some form of  previous guiding experience.

Now, without blowing too much smoke up where it doesn’t belong, I truly believe this is one of the reasons why the company has been so successful over a relatively short space of time, and perhaps why some people prefer to travel with us over and over again.

Many of our clients predominantly join us on safari to help understand their cameras and equipment a bit better enabling them to take their photography to the next level.  Other clients are simply joining for a soul cleansing wildlife experience.

Here are 3 reasons why I feel choosing a Photographic Guide with previous Guiding experience is so important:

1.   Creating a Life Changing Experience

Some people out there think it’s a matter of finding the wildlife, photographing it, and going back.  A Safari experience should be so much more than that, it’s like a story that you are slowly unfolding. The tracking of the wildlife. Maybe not finding it, and then tracking some more.  The African Bush can be a very unpredictable place and there is no guarantee that one will always see something that we feel is worth the while.  So when things are quiet, a guide still needs to know of ways to entertain clients, as well as still creating photographic opportunities instead of just relying on good content or subjects.  These could be by means of  isolating and identifying the different sounds around, whether it be a shy ‘Ghostbird’ by day or a spine chilling Spotted Hyena whooping by night.  Perhaps it is the captivating stories around a campfire whilst having sipping on a good glass of red wine or a fine whiskey.

On all of our safaris we try and maximise time out in the field, often taking breakfast and lunch with us to ensure most of our time is spent in the bush.  And the more time in the bush, the better your chances of seeing and photographing something absolutely amazing.

 2.    Understanding your ‘local’ Guide and Staff

When going on Safari anywhere in Africa the photographic or private guide is the crucial link between your local safari guide and your clients.  By understanding what your local guide is thinking or referring to, you can manage the expectations of your clients.  In some parts of Africa (not all) communication can be a bit tricky!  So with your private guide chatting to your local guide, communication can be thorough, an agreement can be reached and therefore the experience is so much more smooth and enjoyable.  This will also help your local guide understand what it is your clients are actually looking for, especially when traveling to multiple destinations to avoid repetition.

3.  Understanding Animal Behaviour For Wildlife Photography

This is probably where previous guiding experience becomes most important.

More often than not, photographic opportunities don’t just arise around every corner.  A lot of the times it requires a great deal of patience and “hard work”.  A Guide with previous guiding experience, will be able to predict animal movement and behaviour, although not with a 100% success rate, but pretty close.  He/She will also be able to determine which sightings are worth waiting at, and which ones are becoming stagnant where not much more is going to happen.

To many, this was seen as a stagnant sighting.  Lions sleeping and generally when it starts warming up this is what they will do for the rest of the day.  But this was different…  There was no cover for the Lions, the only cover was behind where we were positioned, and with a swamp full of water between us and the Lions, there was huge potential.

Slowly one Lioness got up, was she just going for a drink?

She moved closer to the water, this was more than just a drink, if she wanted a drink she would have had one at the water’s edge we were thinking.

The other Lioness and the Male followed.

She did pause for a drink, but surely with it warming up, she was looking for cover?

And then…  What we were waiting for happened right in front of us!  Worth the wait right?

The images above illustrate how “working a sighting” and trusting your gut feel can pay off.  Fact of the matter is these are wild animals and they don’t always do what you would like them to, but by waiting you are giving yourself the maximum opportunity for some magic to happen.


About the Author

Johan van Zyl


The opportunity of visiting some of the wildest, undisturbed areas and sharing my passion for wildlife, conservation and photography with like minded people is a privilege that I am forever grateful.

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