I stood in Varty Camp car park, radio in hand after answering a two-minute ETA for our guests. I was feeling exhausted. My feet were aching from walk-running around camp all morning, fitting the various puzzle pieces of planning I had been wrestling with over the last 2 weeks into place. It was about 38 degrees celsius, a sweltering breeze lashed my forehead and I was sweating. I remember thinking that this whole thing had better be worth it.
It turned out that ‘this whole thing’ was beyond worth it.
The guests in question were two gentlemen who I knew very little about but who had high hopes riding on them over the next four days of training. Stephen Segal and Richard De Gouveia were inbound (some would say coming in hot, just based on the heat wave) to share their photographic knowledge with our team of rangers, trackers and content creators.
Daniel Buys, Londolozi’s Head Ranger, will tell you that I am particularly interested in up-skilling our ranger and tracker team so that they are always on the cutting edge of the wildlife photography trends. The demand for world class photographic guiding is huge, and as someone whose job it is to be consumed by photography, I always want to make sure we’re 10 steps ahead at all times when it comes to giving our guests the very best photographic experience possible. I was over the moon when Dan announced his plan to further everyone’s photography education by bringing in some inspiration in the form of Steve and Rich. Little did I know just how inspired they would leave us as they drove out of the very same car park four days later.
What we learn with pleasure we never forget – Alfred Mercier
It is incredible how, when given the right environment, a group of unassuming people can become completely inspired. The quiet ones who normally shy away from the lime-light come forward and show their talents. This was true for the members of the team who don’t normally feature in every TWIP or photographic journal, but knew they liked photography and, more so, were open to learning whatever they could over the 4 days of training. The most rewarding part of this course was to see those photographers blossom and produce incredible images armed with more knowledge and new-found confidence in their own abilities. This, in my opinion, is attributed to two things: one being the way in which Rich and Steve took on the challenge of guiding us all through their lectures with fun, laughter and an easy way about imparting knowledge. No number of questions was too many, always open to giving of themselves to whoever was willing to learn. The other thing that made me proud was how openly and willingly the team of guides and trackers turned up, day after day. The humility the more experienced of the group showed by going right back to basics, along with the openness the less experienced showed to learning and soaking up knowledge, increased our capacity as a team to take photography at Londolozi to a new level.
To that end, we spent our time challenging ourselves to try new things. We embraced the cloudy, overcast weather and ventured out to learn how to take time-lapse footage of the moody conditions when nothing else stirred out in the bush. We all stood in one long line, both on the airstrip and in a dark clearing, learning the art of shooting the stars and painting with light. Rich acted as the drill sergeant, his voice booming through the inky blackness of the night as we all pressed our shutter buttons, waiting in the hope of capturing something great. Our eyes were opened to the possibilities that lay before us, in that elusive spot just outside our comfort zones. A lightning storm on the horizon became less about getting back to camp, and more about learning ways in which to create a makeshift tripod, and waiting with bated breath to see if your shutter would close just as the lightning struck earth. Steve showed the ultimate commitment as he raced through the bush while we practiced our panning skills. Among the more daunting skills were the basics that were reiterated time and time again, so that we were as comfortable with them as we are with identifying the leopards and lions that roam our property. Composition, vehicle positioning and stability procedures were re-enforced. The concepts of ISO, shutter speed and aperture were drummed into us as we all shouted to one another, asking what settings each of us were using. And then, during the quiet times, there was the opportunity to tap into the emotional side to photography that we all now felt safe to explore. We spoke at length about the beauty of capturing the gesture of an animal, and how to weave a story out of the threads of the scene in front of us. Through this act of sharing knowledge, the energy amongst the team rose and did not sink again throughout the course – testament to the words of Charles Morgen that “as knowledge increases, so too does wonder deepen”.
In reflecting on this opportunity to deepen our wonder of photography, I gathered the top 6 lessons that were learned along the way, which I thought imperative to share:
- Know your camera. Know how to drive it like a car. Know its limits, and it’s capabilities and learn how to work around them. Don Heyneke said “I reckon I learnt the most from getting to know my camera a lot better…using in-camera presets and having more confidence in my camera’s capabilities”.
- Get to grips with the principles of using light and the exposure triangle. Get good at assessing the light around you and get even better at deciding what you want to do with it in order to get the shot that you had planned.
- Get the shot right in camera as far as possible. Playing with contrast, saturation etc in camera alleviates the need to do as much in post processing and can avoid a photo having a photoshopped look to it. That was James Tyrrell’s top tip.
- “You don’t take photographs, you make them”. While this quote originally belonged to Ansel Adams, I will forever hear Rich’s voice reiterating this as I plan a shot. If you can think about things early, and plan your shot as far as possible, the possibility for a phenomenal photograph is greater. Make a wish list of shots that you would love to capture. Be cognisant and aware of your surroundings all the time. That way you’ll be ready to make the photograph whenever the opportunity arises.
- James Souchon made me nod in agreement when he said: “You can read, learn and understand lots about all these photographic tips and tricks but you won’t develop and progress as a photographer until you actually start playing around taking pictures and trying new things yourself on your own camera. Get to know the capabilities and limits of your own camera first!”
- In conversation, Amy Attenborough and I agreed that the possibilities are endless when it comes to photography. You get stuck in your own photography comfort zone and it helps to blow that world right open sometimes. Knowledge does that. And inspiring people who share their knowledge with you do that too.
I also wanted to find out what Rich de Gouveia learned during his four days with us. He said: “No matter whether you are the student or the teacher, we all have the ability to learn something new and see the world a little differently. Spending time with the team at Londolozi was more that just teaching, it was exploring the natural world with amazing people who all have a drive to learn more about photography so that they, in turn, can enhance their guests’ experience as well as their own.”
I found this course incredibly inspiring; not only because of the wonder that deepened within myself for wildlife photography, but because of the wonder that I saw growing around me in others. It embodied Elliott Erwitt’s words when he said, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
I hope you enjoy this collection of images that we all managed to capture while wonder grew among us.
It was incredibly difficult choosing these images out of the thousands that we all took over the 4 days. Keep checking our Londolozi Facebook page for the album of all the images for you to peruse.
Special thanks to Steve Segal and Rich de Gouveia for their time and inspiration, as well as Dan Buys for setting the wheels in motion for this course.
Written by Amanda Ritchie; Photographs by Amanda Ritchie, Don Heyneke, Amy Attenborough, James Tyrrell, Euce Madonsela, Shadrack Mkhabela, Roxy Burrough, Bennet Mathonsi and James Souchon