What is a photographic safari?

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

I recently had a chat to a social media marketing expert.

Interesting to say the least, but one of the things that he said got me thinking about the photographic safari industry and specifically how it is presented.

The reality is, and this was the one thing that got me thinking, that every single person that goes on safari is in fact on a photographic safari.

Sounds strange I know but think about it.  In today’s world of iPhones and mobile technology virtually every single person on a game drive vehicle has a camera of sorts with them and will take a few shots of a lion, the sunset or someone with them.

It is almost inevitable.

What is a photo safari?

So keeping the above in mind I would like to believe – and I really do believe this – that the photographic needs of people on a normal safari and people on a photographic safari differ by a degree of some kind.

Why then is it, and this is something Jono mentioned in his blog post yesterday, that so many people still find photographic safaris intimidating?  That they feel they do not belong or they are not good enough to join a dedicated photo safari?

Looking at the industry there might be a few hints as to why some people are still not interested in, or scared, to join a photographic safari.

Stories of photographic guides always taking the best spot on the vehicle and literally jumping in front of their guests to get the their own shots float around all over the place and does not help in creating the correct image of what a photo safari really should be about.  Photographic guides shouting at birds, throwing things at them, or sending trackers to chase an animal from it’s hiding spot so they can get the shot is not only disgusting behaviour but makes a complete mockery of the conservation foundation I believe each photographic safari should be based on.

There are also too many stories about how some photographic guides are only doing what they do to get to cool destinations, get their own shots and have a few too many drinks each night.

This is not what a photographic safari is about and most definitely not how a photographic guide should present himself or the industry.  It’s also not about the size of your lens, what camera you are using or the guide having to prove that they can get the best shot.

Ok, so what is a photographic safari?

What should it be about?

I asked this exact question to the Wild Eye team so as a starting point let’s check out wat they had to say:

  • Andrew Aveley: A photographic safari is more than an experience of like minded people with a passion for light, for me is a time to share a passion and to forge new friendships that make the search for true peace and light an amazing journey.
  • Andrew Beck: An adventure dedicated to being able to explore and master various photographic skills and techniques under the guidance and inspiration of a photographic guide.
  • Jono Buffey: I would say that a photographic safari is not just about the images but also about the experiences and enjoyment factor.  The quality of the facilitators is key and not only their ability to impart their knowledge but also to engage with guests in conversation.
  • Mark Dumbleton:  A Photo Safari – to experience and photograph the beauty of a destination, assisted by qualified guides with knowledge of photography and the destination, getting you the perfect photograph.
  • Marlon du Toit: A photo safari enables you to spend superior time in the company of Africa’s most beautiful wild animals, in the most iconic and picturesque destinations in the companionship of an experienced and seasoned professional wildlife photographer at service to help you capture exceptional moments.
  • Morkel Erasmus: Travelling to a wild and iconic location, in the company of like-minded creative individuals, often assisted by an approachable and passionate expert, with the ultimate goal of creating vivid memories, experiencing nature and capturing evocative photos for your portfolio.
  • Penny Robartes: A dedicated exploration of nature and the wild with photography being the form of this exploration.
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See the common themes coming through in all those answers?

Words like guidance, inspiration, like-minded, enjoyment, creative, approachable and professional – now that is what a photographic guide should bring to the table and what you should expect from a photographic safari.

A little while ago I also asked the same question on my Facebook page and it was great to see that many people feel the same, and see the industry the same as what we do.

Here are a few of the comments I received.

What is a photo safari?

Andy, a good friend and true professional, has been working in the photographic safari industry for a long time.  In his comment he gets back to basics and reminds us of the minimum requirement for a great photographic experience.

What is a photo safari?

Bridgena hits it on the nail in her post when she says that she wants to remain the client.

As mentioned earlier, I have been told too many stories about photographic guides who are unashamedly after their own shots and in the process disregard their clients – the reason they are doing what they are doing.

Do I believe a photographic guide should take pictures on a photo safari they are leading?

Absolutely!  There is most definitely a strong case to be made for the inspiration and teaching that can take place when a photographic guide also takes images, but again – it should never compromise a client’s photographic opportunity or experience.

What is a photo safari?

Yes.  Timothy sums it up very nicely.

One of the things I reckon is very important is that a photographic guide can interact with photographers of all levels – novice through to professionals.  Whether the question is around how to change aperture or understanding animal behaviour, a photographic guide should be comfortable enough with their own knowledge and experience to inspire, guide and challenge photographers of all levels to assit them in getting the shot they want.

Is it easy?

No, not always.

I have been in many unbelievable sightings, mind blowing photo opportunities, where I did not fire off a single frame because I was either busy assisting a client with a certain technique or, in some cases, handing my lens over to a client so they could get the shot.

Is it worth it?

I remember one specific incident where we were shooting one of the most amazing evening skies I have ever seen in Africa.  I had handed over my tripod to one of the clients who did not bring one along so that they could play around with some of the new techniques we had discussed earlier in the day.

Yes, a little voice deep inside was saying ‘dammit… I could be getting some incredible shots!‘ but then, and this is what it’s all about, my client looked up at me from her camera, smiled and said ‘look at the image I just made‘!

So again… is it worth it?

Every. Single. Time.

I urge you to read this blog in which I share more thoughts on this topic.  In it I said “As a photographic guide your goal is not to shoot for yourself.  Time allowing yes, you do get few shots in between but never at the expense of the people that made it possible for you to go on the trip in the first place.”

Yes, there are photographic guides out there who make it all about themselves and their own images but that is not… what… it’s… about!

I know I am good at what I do and that a Wild Eye trip will make you see what a unique experience a photographic safari truly can be – regardless of your photographic knowledge or experience.  I also know that if you were to join any of the Wild Eye Ambassadors on a photographic safari you will not only have an amazing experience and walk away with great images as well as loads of new knowledge and inspiration, but you will leave the safari with new friends and a new appreciation for the wonders that Africa has to offer.

What is a photo safari?

If you are passionate about the wild places of Africa and you love photography – we look forward to changing the way you see photographic safaris.

A photographic safari?

Yes, it’s worth it!

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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  2. Bomber Kent

    I went on a photographic safari for the 1st time last year (not with Wild Eye, but am sure that will happen!) and must admit I did feel a bit nervous. All I can say is that it was awesome and I am hooked. Great guides, brilliant advice and after all I learnt, I can’t wait for the next one !

  3. Tom Coetzee

    could not agree more, but stopped reading once I got to “Photographic guides shouting at birds, throwing things at them, or sending trackers to chase an animal from it’s hiding spot so they can get the shot is not only disgusting behaviour but makes a complete mockery of the conservation foundation I believe each photographic safari should be based on.”
    I literally had a conversation with one of my guide’s with 1st hand experience of a well known company that present photographic safaris & this behavior happens often…shocked me to say the least. I will NOT reveal the name, but believe one day it will turn around to bite them…but ironic that soon after I would happen to stumble upon this blog post Gerry.
    The problem is that the hosts or guide is put under pressure to “produce” a opportunity. As nature lovers they should understand & respect what nature is about. We all make mistakes & I recall in 2004 that a particular guest, annoyed me so much with his continuous comments on the lack of “action” that i told my tracker to get of the seat & look at the track about two meters back…only so that the damn heron would fly & this guy could some BIF opportunity! So hey…reading your blog reminded me & took me back nearly 10 years!

    Thanks for a good read 😉

  4. Chad Cocking

    Interesting post, and agree with Tom about making mistakes!!! Live and learn i guess 😉

    For me, a photographic safari should not be about the photographs as much as it should be about being able to be in the bush enjoying a hobby. if you are able to come away from a few days in the bush with some good images, that is a real bonus 🙂

    I sometimes find that photographers are so focussed on just taking images that they forget to stop and just enjoy the moment of witnessing a great sighting, even if it doesnt present the photographic opportunities one was after – a camera can never really capture the experience of having a herd of elephants walking up and feeding on the grass a couple of metres away from a land rover, but as far as sightings go, i still never get tired of being that close to a wild animal…and i find when i drive photographic groups (as a field guide, not a photographic guide), experiences like these are often lost due to a lack of photographic opportunities?

    While i have been able to take some lovely shots with photographic groups, i often find that my guiding changes for some reason? i guide to take photos rather than to experience the bush…and i would actually say that i get my better shots when i guide for the experience rather than for the photo?

    and also…it should never just be about leopards 😉

  5. Tom

    Very true Chad, often when we forget about the perfect shot & just enjoy the bush things will unexpectingly happen anyway, just make sure the camera settings are set for action prior…but then, “it’s not about the leopard” Ja right judging by your blog it never is! 🙂 😉

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