Written and photographed by: Anja Riise
The 2016 Photo Festival at Jaci’s Lodges was a huge success and fully booked, with 24 guests participating in the first ever four day annual event. The festival saw four photographers rotated amongst the four designated vehicles, offering the guests a chance to learn tips and tricks from each professional. It soon became evident that the photographers all have different styles and favourite methods, which made for a great learning experience.
A couple of sessions at the Terrapin hide in the middle of the lodge’s waterhole were also included for all groups. After brunch different aspects of photography and editing were covered each day, in one hour seminars and workshops.
It is quite exciting to go on drives where all the participants share an interest in photography. You take it a bit slower than on an ordinary game drive and also make the most of each subject that you come across. Often birds will be of greater interest on these drives and as they constitute a challenge and are one of my favourite creatures to watch and take pictures of, I thoroughly enjoy this aspect.
Taking portrait pictures of animals is another challenge I really like, as it is interesting to try to capture a moment that is just slightly different from most poses, be it a tongue sticking out, a weird face or something else that makes it appealing to you.
Most photographers’ aim to get the shots they want in the light they want them. The golden hour is a favourite and you can only hope that there’s no cloud cover during this short period right after sunrise and just before sunset. The challenge in nature is to find something to take pictures of before that perfect light hits your subject and then hopefully being able to stay with it, get the best angle and compose your shot. Animals are not always very cooperative of course, so patience is definitely a must.
Of course rule number one of photography is to have the camera with you, fully charged and with an empty memory card. As one of our hosts, Gerhard ‘Guts’ Swanepoel usually says, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” If you’re not always alert and ready to shoot, the moment may be missed, something we easily could have experienced with this shy young leopard in the early morning light. Fortunately we didn’t miss out, and we only really had one chance…
Packing your camera away and having to unpack it while on drive will definitely prove to be a mistake. A falcon was perching in a dead tree where we stopped for morning coffee, without anyone noticing it at first, and it only gave us a few seconds to capture it in flight. Without being at the ready, you miss out.
Drink stops are also an opportunity to try some macro photography and if you look around carefully there’s always something to capture your interest. Although the mornings were already quite cold, a few insect were still to be found for this purpose, as the sun had risen a bit.
Some days it was overcast and nothing looks overly attractive, however the diffused light is actually rather great for taking photos. Also, sometimes overexposing a subject against the rather dull looking light grey sky makes for some awesome shots that can turn out even better when transformed into black and white. Not everyone loves this style, but it does have sort of a punch to it.
Equally exciting is to underexpose when an animal is lit up from the side to get a rim of light around it. Playing around with this is especially rewarding when it comes to furry and fluffy looking species, like the cats, where the hair easily catches the light.
If the light isn’t great you can always get something out of the moment anyway, which was demonstrated to us all one evening at the hide where a green backed heron and two pied kingfishers kept on catching one fish after another. Trying to photograph a kingfisher in flight in low light isn’t easy though, but against a reasonably bright sky, it is doable.
Wildlife photography is also about anticipating the animals’ behaviour and being prepared for it. A perching bird will usually take off into the wind and if it’s just done “number two”, it will most likely do so shortly.
It is also about being at the right place at the right time. We had heard about a male lion being at a giraffe carcass the previous day and went to the area the morning after, mainly hoping for hyenas. And as luck would have it, a young spotted hyena was making the most of a discarded giraffe leg. Spending time with this animal with no other vehicles around is a great privilege.
Something that Andrew kept saying is that photography should also be fun and not too serious, all the time. So some funtography is also needed to keep it interesting and creative. As long as you know the rules you’re also allowed to break them and the best pictures are the ones that speak to you. It is not the technically perfect ones that you love the most or the award winning shots, but the ones that triggers memories, makes you laugh or just have beautiful colours… so, there’s hope for us all!