There is nothing quite like heading to a destination without any idea of what to expect and then to be completely blow away.
To say that this last weekend was a revelation, from both a personal and business point of view, is an understatement. Within the first five minutes of arriving at our camp in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, Andrew and I knew we had found something special. A magical place. Amazing people. Spectacular experience.
You see, when you head out to a destination to do wildlife photography you always have some or other preconceived idea of what to expect. Some thoughts on what type of images you would like to create. The same goes for the actual lodge and hospitality side of things, and what kind of experience you are after, but for more on that side of things check out Andrew’s Talking Travel video tomorrow where he will share some thoughts on that.
Before this weekend I have only been up to the Tuli area once before and to be honest, from what I could remember I was not blown away. By the time we sat down for a beer around the fire on our first evening every single doubt and concern about the area was replaced by an excitement I have not felt in a long time. The uniqueness, diversity and photographic opportunities of the area is only rivaled by the camp and the people who work there and when combined will very soon form a part of a very unique Wild Eye nature photography workshop.
Our goal for the weekend was not only to look at the photographic side of things but how the venue would be able to add to the overall African experience. In this blog post I wrote about how spending time with your subject and how appreciating and respecting them will make a difference to your wildlife photography. I am now going to take it one step further and say that the camp or lodge you decide to stay at will also play a part in completing a unique experience.
Maybe it’s just me but when you go out to photograph nature do you really want to come back to a lodge with manicured lawns? A crisp white bed with so many decorations and ‘pretty’ things in the room that you feel nervous to touch anything? A room where the aircon make so much voice that you cannot hear the sounds of Africa as you fall asleep?
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love being pampered every now and then but to me the thought of being out in the field all day long, photographing the beauty of Africa, and then returning to a room that might as well be in the middle of a city just does not quite gel. Surely you want to feel like you are a part of the environment? Surely you need to be able to hear the African sounds outside while still having all the necessary, not excessive, comforts to give you a pleasant, good night’s rest?
And you know what? Price is not the only the factor to take into account. The reality is that a lot of lodges out there take the piss when pricing their products (read – they charge too much) but there is so much more than all the ‘bling’ that makes for a fantastic, memorable wildlife photography experience.
During our two night stay in Tuli we saw and experienced how all the correct puzzle pieces just fall together to create an almost perfect African nature photography experience and that is why we went there. Keep your eyes open during the next two weeks as I will be releasing details on a new, and very exciting, products where you will also be able to experience Africa the way it should be experienced!
Anyway, as with all trip reports I record daily thoughts on photography in general and in this video I chat about three hurdles most photographers have to overcome to create better images and also touch on all the above and how wildlife photography should be an experience that does not stop when you put your camera down for dinner.
Tuli is well known for it’s elephants and offers some amazing photographic opportunities. The large herds moved through some very diverse vegetation and with the amount of dust they kick up you can be assured of some spectacular, moody images of Africa’s largest mammal.
This image shows a group of six Bat Eared Foxes. Now I have been to the Kgalagadi, where you would expect to see these awesome little creatures, many times and I have never seen so many at once. This just shows that a visit to Tuli is not only about the elephant, lions and landscapes but the smaller things as well. The diversity is spectacular!
One of the things that struck me about the area was the amount of open, barren areas. For wildlife photography this means literally endless options of composing and shooting your subjects. The possibilities are amazing.
We spent one morning walking along the banks of the Limpopo River – a very special morning. This offered us many different photographic opportunities ranging from landscapes and abstracts to macro. It just goes to show that apart from all the big and hairies there is a whole lot more to photographing African nature.
On a personal level I had a great time walking and photographing the banks of the Limpopo. I am not 100% comfortable shooting landscapes and abstract type images – give me wildlife any day of the week – but it was great to slow down and focus on shooting nature from a different point of view. What made the experience even better is being on foot, in the wild, which meant that at any time we could bump into an elephant, herd of impalas or something with large teeth. Talk about an amazing African photographic experience.
If you have never been on foot in a true wilderness area you have not really experienced Africa. And what made this experience even better was that we took our photo gear along and ha the freedom to stop when and where we wanted to photograph landscapes and whatever else caught our attention.
On our last afternoon we walked up to one of the most scenic spots I have ever been to. The combination of the views, a cold beer and having your camera with you is unbeatable!
From the top of this rock face we could see herds of impalas, black eagles (who nest underneath where Andrew is sitting) and a whole lot of Africa. Sitting at the top we could photograph the landscapes, eagles in flight or the colorful lizards rushing around on the rocks.
Imagine two things.
Imagine driving, or walking, through the open plains in the distance with your camera.
Imagine sitting on the top of this viewpoint with you camera.
In both cases – bliss.
From the top of our afternoon ‘spot’ we saw this large male lion cross the dry river bed. It was one of the more unusual lion sightings I have had and it made for some great photo moments. Through our binoculars, and the telephoto lenses that we lugged up the hill, we then watched another two lions mating way down next to the river.
Watching the lions and vast amounts of plains game, including a herd of about 150 eland, in the open fields like that and being able to see the size and splendor of the area that surrounded them was a very special moment which put the whole ecosystem into perspective. The visit to this amazing spot, and sleeping out under the stars (something we will be doing on our next Tuli photo trip and yes, you can join us) is something I look forward to already.
During our two game drives, and one afternoon walk, our subjects included Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Bat Eared Foxes, Black Backed Jackal, Impala, Eland, Zebra, Wildebeest and a vast array of birds and smaller mammals.
All in all the private concession we visited, and will be the playground for our upcoming Nature Photography Workshop is one of the most unique destinations I have visited. Apart from the diversity of vegetation and wildlife this place is as close to a true wilderness areas you will ever have the chance to visit.
One of the other things I played with a bit during this trip is time lapse photography of the African. This is something that quite intrigues me and that will be the focus of one of the evenings during the above mentioned workshop. I have not had time to put the whole thing together properly but here is a quick teaser of what we played with one night. I’m sure you’ll get the idea.
It is truly Africa.
If you are keen to join Andrew and I for a truly unique, African experience make sure to keep an eye on the blog and my Twitter feed.
By combining the freedom of this unique African experience with a nature photography workshop we are confident that we have been able to create a truly special photographic event. And the best of all? It doesn’t break the bank!
Until next time.
Gerry van der Walt