After many years of photographing animals from the back of a vehicle, working with habituated animals that are used for film shoots is a whole new exciting experience. Being eye to eye with a lion or leopard or any one of a number of species is more personal and gives you an adrenalin rush like no other.
Combine this with a photo workshop, its not only great fun but is a good way to get some quick photography tuition with your camera and great preparation for an up coming holiday or photo safari.
There are several facilities close to Johannesburg that have habituated animals used for film shoots and these offer excellent photo opportunities for a variety of animals.
Animals available vary as they grow up or move to other facilities but there is normally a number of species available. Contact me and I can organize an animal encounter that is both fun and enjoy a day learning about animal photography.
Recently I have been fortunate to do two photo trips to the Lewa and Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancies which are private reserves on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya.
Although they don’t offer the spectacular photographic opportunities of some other reserves in Kenya both are wonderfully scenic with Mt Kenya as a constant backdrop to the idyllic fever trees and wide open plains. Best of all they are “far from the madding crowds” of Amboseli and Maasai Mara, so it is still possible to have something approaching a wilderness experience.
Like all parks with rhino they have also had some poaching problems, but Lewa is certainly one of the best parks in Africa to see both black and white rhino. Both species are very habituated so it is possible to get close views and great for photography.
Many years ago my conservation thinking was influenced by Aldo Leopold’s “A sand Country Almanac”, probably one of the most important books on conservation philosophy ever written.
There is something very profound about the opening sentences and for anyone who has a love of wilderness and for wild animals it resonates strongly with how we feel about wildlife.
“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot …….. Like winds and sunsets wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher standard of living is worth its cost in things natural wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television and the chance to find a pasque flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”
To slightly misquote Aldo Leopold, I suppose there are two kinds of people – those who mourn the loss of a species and those who don’t.
I have had the great privilege of having travelled the world and seen and photographed some of the world’s rarest species. A few days ago I picked up the book again and the opening passage made me think about how little has changed in the past years – in fact how his words seem more prophetic than ever. We are of the generation where these “wild things” are becoming so rare that very few people will ever see them in the wild, and the saddest fact is that by far the greatest majority of people really don’t care.
Recently I traveled to Kenya to see and photograph three very rare “wild things” black rhino, the northern white rhino and the Grevy’s zebra, all endangered.
While there I could not help but reflect on a few statistics regarding the number of “wild things” compared to humans -
But ponder on these numbers below !
Humans 7,102,561,363 ( 7 billion) and growing by 75 million a year.
Northern white rhino – 8 and extinct in the wild. Captive population only.
Black rhino – 3500
Grevy’s zebra about 2000
Cheetah 7000 to 10000
Bonobo chimps 30000 to 50000
Mountain gorilla – less than 700
Ethiopian wolf 360 to 440
Scimitar-horned oryx – extinct in the wild. Some captive populations only.
Gelada baboons – less than 250 000 and declining
Aldabra giant tortoise – less than 200000
Some photographs courtesy of R.C. and Isak Pretorius.
I have over the last few years, been fortunate enough to be invited as the photography guide on a number of helicopter safaris’ in Kenya and Namibia.
Of all my travels over the last few years nothing comes close to this as a photography adventure. What is normally tedious hours of travel by road becomes a short helicopter flight, usually with an opportunity to photograph something unusual or from a totally different perspective.
To see videos of these helicopter safaris click on these links -
It is expensive obviously but if you are working on your bucket list then a helicopter safari just might be something you want to consider. There are incredible aerial photography opportunities, and its also just a great adventure.
Not all countries are suitable for this type of photo adventure. Ideally you need a country which still has some wilderness left so Kenya, Botswana, Namibia are ideal. Ethiopia is an option too although I personally haven’t done a helicopter safari there.
A great advantage of a helicopter photo safari is getting access to remote areas that are rarely seen and are virtually inaccessible by any other means of transport.
If someone asked me what is my favorite place on the planet to photograph it would be hard to single out any one place but Cousine Island in the Seychelles would certainly be high on my list.
Cousine is a small island just off the coast of Praslin and is a combination luxury resort and private nature reserve.
Like most islands its natural fauna and flora had been decimated by the introduction of alien plants and cats. In 1992 the island was purchased and a conservation programme introduced to protect nesting sea turtles and maintain existing populations of endemic land birds including the Seychelles Magpie Robin, the Seychelles Warbler and the Seychelles Fody.
Feral cats had been present on the island but were eradicated in 1985. Luckily, Cousine Island has never had the misfortune of having a rat population present on the island, hence the large numbers of ground nesting sea birds like White-Tailed Tropic birds, and Wedge-Tailed Shearwaters. It also has a population of Aldabra giant tortoises. Hawksbill and green turtles nest on this island.
The island has undergone an extensive vegetation rehabilitation programme which involves planting of indigenous flora and the removal of alien plant species.
It is now restored to its natural state and the best way I could describe it is a miniature Galapagos Island. There are animals everywhere you look and what is more they are relatively tame. A photographers dream.
Lake Bogoria Kenya in 2011 was a good year for flamingos I spent a week there with another photographer friend and each afternoon we would go down to the lake edge, select a good spot amongst the flamingo droppings and mud, then sit and wait for things to happen.
We found that just sitting quietly was a good tactic as the flamingos would get used to our presence and then soon go back to their normal bird business. After our first day there we noticed that late in the afternoon huge flocks would rise up and fly past us on their way to a part of the lake were they were presumably congregating to rest for the evening. So the logical thing to do, as photographers are inclined to do, was take pictures of them flying past.
Shots taken at a high shutter speed seemed a bit ordinary so a bit of experimenting and the wonders of instantaneously seeing the result on a digital camera established that panning on a ¼ second gave the best result.
After an afternoon photographing a million flamingos we would retreat to the nearby hotel. A swim in their hot geyser fed pool, dinner and bed. Proof that the life of a wildlife photographer really is hell.
In the never ending quest to do something different we decided to put up some remote cameras on the lakes edge. This seemed like a guaranteed winner. A million flamingo strolling past – what could possibly go wrong! Well, it turned out that lots can go wrong. Topping the list was that the flamingoes would avoid the camera like the plague. Presumably the large “eye” is just too much like some sort hungry predator and at first the only pictures were tiny birds on the distant horizon. Then we covered the cameras with branches and the birds came a little closer but still not close enough. Tearing out my already thin hair didn’t seem to help. It was very frustrating. On one day a passing storm bunched the bird close up to the camera but in the process the waves splashed onto the camera lens ruining some good shots. Finally and purely by chance a hunting fish eagle distracted the birds to the point where the bunched close to the camera and we got a few nice shots. It would be nice to say that the picture was the result of my great photography skills but in truth it was blind luck.
Read more about the story on Daily Mail.
Black rhino portrait
From my days working in the Hluhluwe – Umfolozi Park I have deep seated love/fear relationship with black rhino. The fear part as they have frequently came charging out the bush towards me with what can only be described as “intent to kill”. A few close calls and many thorn trees scaled has left me more than a little jaded with rhino
So it was with trepidation I drove towards this sleepy rhino on the shores of Lake Nakuru. Even in a car they can be a bit scary. I drove closer and waited, closer then closer, he acknowledged with an ear twitch. He breathed deeply and exhaled with a long sigh of boredom. Any second and all hell will break out, he is luring me in I’m thinking. But no he really is sleepy, just lazing in the sun thinking whatever it is rhino think about.
I stopped and started to take a few pictures and he looked directly towards the camera, then two oxpeckers flew in – couldn’t get any better really.