Wildlife and photography go together like peas and carrots. It just works.
This is the reason that a vast majority of guides either have a serious interest in photography or at the very least develop a keen interest the more time they spend in the field.
But have you ever thought about the trackers?
Have you ever thought about those amazing guys that sit on the front of the vehicle, can identify a specific leopard by it’s track while driving past at 30km/h, and knows what an animal is going to do by just looking at it?
Does it not stand to reason that with their obvious passion and incredible ability to predict animal behaviour they have a unique set of skills needed for wildlife photography?
During a recent Wild Eye fact-finding trip to Londolozi we had a great experience that showed how instinct, and a deel understanding of animal behaviour, are vital components of wildlife photography.
Our tracker on this trip, assisting our guide Kate, was Life who has been working and living at Londolozi for a very long time. Unassuming and soft spoken, it was clear from the moment we got onto the game viewer that Life knew what he was doing.
There was however one incident which made us question his tracking skills while, one morning, following the very fresh tracks if a large pride of lions.
Picture it… Life is walking in front of the vehicle following the lion spoor. Suddenly he stops, looks around and starts walking in the opposite direction. ’We need to go that way’ he says and points in the complete opposite direction to where the tracks are going. We look at him and then at each other with raised eyebrows.
Long story short – for the next five minutes we had serious doubts about Life’s tracking ability so you can just imagine our shocked excitement when, after driving ‘in the wrong direction’ we found the pride. Moral of the story – appreciate the skill, enjoy the experience and just watch a master tracker at work.
So with his unquestionable tracking and animal behaviour skills confirmed we carry on and during the next few days have fantastic sightings of the Big 5 and, yes, loads of leopards.
Now let’s get back to the photography side of things.
On our last afternoon game drive at Londolozi we found the Notten’s female draped over the branch of a Marula tree with a cloudy, almost orange sky completing the scene.
Being the only vehicle in the sighting we work the scene and get some great images of the relaxed spotted cat in the tree. Since she was not too active at this stage, Jono handed his camera to Life and told him to have a go at it. Incidentally, earlier that day we spoke about the many great photographic opportunities these trackers must have, so as an extension of that conversation we found ourselves in the vehicle with Life looking at the leopard through a viewfinder.
Not having had any previous experience with a DSLR we set the camera up for him and explained to him how to zoom in and out.
And then, as if on cue the leopard gets up and starts stretching.
As this happens Life, all in one movement, tells us that she is going to jump to the higher branches, zooms out and fires off a few shots.
However you look at it, this is a fantastic wildlife moment and there is no doubt that Life’s skills of seeing and predicting the moment made the shot. I know many wildlife photographers who could benefit greatly from focusing more on their subject’s behaviour in order to anticipate and predict the shot rather than firing off countless frames and then looking for the best shot.
Life’s experience, skill and anticipation of the moment made this shot possible.
Imagine if he had some training and experience with cameras and photography as well?
Some very, very exciting possibilities!!
Anyway, as Life shows us his shots, his excitement and pride kept growing as we explained to him how special the shot is that he had just created and that he was the only one on our vehicle that managed to capture that key moment!
When we got back to Varty camp, where we were staying, we shared the story with some of the staff and we find out that Londolozi has a canvas printer and they can block mount images on site.
The decision was made.
A mounted canvas print of his amazing, and first ever, image.
It was an amazing feeling to see his surprise and appreciation – a true gentleman and amazing tracker.
There is nothing we hope for more than returning to Londolozi one day and seeing Life with his own camera, nurturing an inherent skill and producing more amazing images.
Animal behaviour, instinct and a true appreciation of your subject.
These are the characteristics that Life reminded us of and something that we should always keep in mind when heading out into the field with our cameras.
Until next time.
Gerry van der Walt