A lot has been written about African photographic safaris.
Pack this. Do this. Don’t do that. Maybe do this. Use this gear. Stay at this lodge. Not this one. Do this. Don’t do that.
Man, I have seen so many e-books, blog posts and videos devoted to how you should prepare for a photo tour to Africa that if I had a dollar for each one I could probably buy myself a new Nikon D4 and a Canon 1Dx – cash!
The thing is this. I sometimes feel that people forget what a photographic expedition should be all about. It’s about wildlife photography.
Let me say it again and even more simple – it’s about photography.
It’s not about who has the biggest lens or the latest beast of a camera from Nikon or Canon. It’s not a pissing contest where the photographer with the most images wins and it is most definitely not about the photographic guide getting the shots and only then worrying about his clients. Definitely not!
It carries on.
It’s not about shooting thousands of images at the expense of experiencing the amazing natural beauty of whatever amazing destination you find yourself in. It’s not about the amount of logos on your shirt or the awards you have won in the past. It’s not about talking aperture, focal length and low noise all the time and it most definitely is not a time to boss lodge and camp staff around because you are a ‘photographer’.
Oh, and one more thing… it’s not about ego!!
The reality is a whole lot simpler than all of that – just get out there with like minded people and photograph the beauty of the natural world.
Yeah, it really is that simple and last week I had the pleasure of experiencing a photographic safari the way it was supposed to be enjoyed. I had the privilege of accompanying three photographers to Madikwe for a private photographic safari.
It was perfect. Four of us on the vehicle with the only goal to spend as much photographic time out in the field as possible. From the outset there where a couple of things Janine, Michelle and Enrico wanted to focus on so we did have some sort of ‘syllabus’ to work with but the overall goal was just to photograph, learn and share and THAT is what it should be about.
We spent three nights at the Motswiri Safari Lodge in the middle of Madikwe which made for a perfect base from which to launch our wildlife photography excursions into Madikwe.
Motswiri is a small, 10 bed lodge which puts the hospitality back into the lodge industry – nothing was to much to ask and we could not have wanted a better place to come and recharge our batteries.
Seeing we were in Madikwe on a photographic trip, and since I have done a video or two on the side, I decide to record my thoughts after every drive. The idea was to share some thoughts on the photographic activities and goals of the day but, as always, a few other thoughts also snuck in. Here is the video of all my thoughts and comments during our three photographic days in Madikwe.
So, with that all said and done let’s talk photography.
Firstly, Madikwe is not an easy photographic destination. The sickle-bush is thick, everywhere and not pretty and this makes scenic images and images of animals in their environment challenging. Not impossible just challenging. That being said, the ability to photograph animals up close is amazing as the sightings are very well controlled and the ability to go off road makes a huge difference in being able to position yourself for photography.
During our time in Madikwe we focused on various different aspects of wildlife photography. These included:
- depth of field and how to use this creatively in your wildlife images
- how to create motion blur and panning images
- low light shooting including night skies and early morning skylines
- rim lighting and using the golden, late afternoon light to create striking images
- clean, strong portraits of wildlife subjects
- macro photography
- capturing fast moving subjects like the smaller birds
- when to shoot in landscape and portrait orientation
- shooting for black and white
- thinking out the box – getting creative
During our three nights I only shot around 350 frames and it was not due to a lack of sightings as we saw all of the Big5, Wild Dogs and a lot of general game . This includes all the motion blur attempts and a number of images of birds flying – of which most can be trashed anyway.
Why so few? Well it’s simple.
I was there to facilitate and assist other people in achieving their photographic goals. To help them get the images!
The last while I have been developing a slightly unhealthy obsession, due to the lack of sleep it involves, with low light and star photography and when the trip to Madikwe was confirmed I was seriously psyched to get out there and shoot some stars. Do you know how many star images I got?? Zero.
Yeah, it absolutely sucks to stand there with the most amazing skies above you and not getting stuck in but check this out. Being out there with someone who has never even attempted to photograph the night skies, teaching them the principles and guiding them to the point where they look at the resulting images on their LCD screen and having the say ‘Look at what I did!’ is the best feeling in the world.
I love sharing and teaching, and I would like to think I am quite good at it, so the final outcome of someone not only getting the shots but also learning how to replicate that particular skill in future is what makes it all worth it!
But now check this out.
Even with my own photography not being the focus of this trip I was still able to get a few images that I am happy with and I do think it is an important thing. The ability of the photographic guide to be able to get a few shots that can act as examples and inspiration for the clients is that last ingredient that just rounds off their entire photographic experience.
Here are a few of my images from three days in Madikwe.
All in all we had a fantastic three nights in Madikwe and our overall goals were achieved – learn, share, photograph!
I would like to also then send a big thanks to Janine, Michelle and Enrico for an amazing weekend and judging by the images I have seen so far you guys crushed it! Also a big shout out to the managers and staff of Motswiri for helping in creating a fantastic experience. Look forward to seeing you all again in May. If you are keen to join us at Motswiri for our Wild Dogs of Madikwe photo trip check this out.
If you are planning a photographic safari make sure you focus on what’s important. Make your sure focus on photography and for the love of photography, don’t get caught up in all those distractions that can spoil the experience! Keep it real!
Oh, I could not finish this blog without an image of one of Madikwe’s most famous ambassadors – the African Wild Dog.
I am off to Madikwe again next weekend to visit Grant Marcus but this time it’s me-time so I might just get that star image that I have in mind.
If you have any thoughts or questions – comments are open!
Until next time.
Gerry van der Walt
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