PHOTOGRAPHY IN AFRICA
BY BEVERLY & DERECK JOUBERT
20 March 2015
Beverly and Dereck Joubert are National Geographic Society Explorers-in-Residence and renowned filmmakers, photographers, authors and conservationists. One of their passions is their need and desire to create meaningful films, photographs and books that can influence the way all respond to the natural world. Their films have won for them prestigious honors including Emmys, Peabody and Jackson Hole awards. Some of their award winning films including ‘Ultimate Enemies’, ‘Relentless Enemies’ and ‘Eye of the Leopard’. National Geographic Magazine readers have seen Beverly’s extraordinarily skilled photographic talent. She is one of the few female photographers to have ever been published on the cover of that world famous magazine. Their mission in life is conservation. Their films are a means of revealing the stunning beauty and spiritually satisfying value of nature, especially wildernesses in Africa.
When is the best time to go on a Photo Safari?
Each season has its merits. We like the super hot and dry time in Botswana, usually avoiding late August simply because the dust in Botswana turns the skies white, and we like definition of blue skies, preferably with some clouds.
What are the benefits in dry season and what are the ones in rainy season?
The dry season is better for interactions between animals, often predators, the bush is thinner, and animals concentrate around water. Mostly you can work the flat light with a polarizer, but it’s worth it for the action.
The wet season: One word sums it up; babies.
Is there a season that is easier to handle for amateur photographers for example because of light or just because it is easier to detect animals?
If one is looking for an easier working space, Kenya in December and January is perfect. Wildlife is spectacular, set against a green background. Most other travelers have scurried home. The skies are blue with puffy white clouds that pop with a polarizer. It is also a great time to experiment with low shutter speeds and low lights because the sunsets are complex and late.
What are the key aspects to consider when planning a Photographic Safari?
Light conditions and exposure to wildlife. It is little use lugging a 800mm lens into the forests of West Africa to photograph gorillas because you get pretty close before you see them, and are seldom far enough away, plus the 800mm weighs a ton. Similarly, a visit to Selinda Reserve and Duba in Botswana is a long lens opportunity, but if you do a helicopter transfer between them you really want a wide angle as well. So plan it well, and understand the opportunities.
How long should a Photographic Safari be?
One can get a great imagine in 1/250 of a second, so length of stay is not critical. However photography is a journey of the soul, just like any safari, and you need some time to soak it up to be able to then reveal it in photographic form. It is worth encouraging photographers to take a break and look around, listen to the painted reed frogs or a distant lion roar. Unless you are on assignment for National Geographic, then this safari is about you and your journey, so don’t be too hard on yourself. To be able to do that, we would suggest about 10 days.
How important is it to know a lot about the animals, in order to make good pictures?
I always say that it is easier to teach photography to someone who knows wildlife than to teach wildlife behavior to someone who knows photography. The basics of photography can be learned in 12 points. We are still learning new things about wildlife after 32 years. It’s a lot about anticipating what will happen next to get ready. Very often we can ‘read’ the situation better than the next person and that gives us the edge. But again, don’t be too hard on yourself. There are expert guides that will share their extensive knowledge with you.
Is every kind of safari trip – walking safari, canoe safari as well as typical game drives – suitable for a photo safari?
Every experience or situation in life is a Photographic one. We always have cameras with us, even in London, Beijing or Johannesburg. Photography is a creative art form that involves painting with light onto a canvas that happens to be digital, today. The light is never exactly the same, the canoe never in the same place, the water droplets always different. One images could be one that goes viral and changes the way humanity views these animals. One image could be a strong voice for the silent victims of Africa: the wildlife. A camera is the defense of nature because a well-chosen moment, made into a photograph can be as powerful as government legislation, or set a movement of protest into motion.
What role do the Safari Camps and guides play on Photographic Safaris?
Each of our hand picked guides at Great Plains Conservation has annual training in photography and are being taught based on a set of fundamentals laid out by us personally, a course that ranges from how to photograph but also where to position, and how to move around a subject for the best effect. It teaches exposures as well as philosophies. But our guides, while most have their own cameras, are on duty to serve the guests photographic needs and position for them, not themselves. A good guide will always be watching the animals, the light, and the photographer and constantly making a calculation about if it’s working or not. If they see opportunities they will ask if the guest/photographer wants to move to get it, or if what they are currently shooting on is working for them or not. Photography is in our culture at all Great Plains Conservation’s Camps.
What technical equipment is required?
A good camera body. Multiple memory cards, bring more than you need, we don’t go out without three cards of at least 32 GB each. Multiple batteries; one in the camera and two fully charged on standby, one does not want to miss a brilliant shot because power has dropped. Lenses that range from wide to telephoto. The very basic kit includes a 24-105mm and a 400mm or a 200-400mm. Another combo is something in the 16-75mm range and a 100-400mm.
Beverly loves her 600mm fixed lens. Her small basic ‘survival’ outfit includes the following:
Two bodies Canon EOS 1D X.
Two bodies Canon EOS 1DS Mrk iV.
Six lenses: 15mm, 16-75mm, 24-105mm, 70-200mm, 200-400mm, 600mm
12 memory cards 32 -128 GB.
Lightening detector/trigger device.
Lowepro Camera bag.
How many photos does one need to take as amateur photographer to have one perfect shot?
There is no formula. The first image can be a winner, then again it can take 10 000 pictures to get a really good one. It is important to choose properties with big volumes of wildlife and photographic exposure. The more you practice the better you get.
What is the contribution of technical equipment to a good photo and what is the contribution of sensitivity?
The equipment is a very minor part of creativity. I can use a phone or an Imax camera. On the film side, we are just finishing a film on elephants and I shot it on 11 different cameras, from Phantom (a $320,000 camera) to Go Pro’s ($400) and used them together. Many will tell you the proportion of importance is 50/50 but I don’t think it even counts. However, I find that if I have a decent camera on a shoot I take myself more seriously. The images are much the same but in my mind if I am using a high-end camera with good lenses, I take just a little extra time and care with each shot. There will be some technical things a cheap camera cannot do as well. I have started enjoying doing time-lapse images. For that I need specific equipment for example.
What are the most typical mistakes of amateur photographers?
Instability. It is so important to hold the camera properly, wobbling around and shooting hand holding a 400mm lens. The one thing I always do is to get steady, cup the camera into my left hand, lock my left elbow into my hip, stand at 45 degrees to the subject and my body, if it has to be hand held. But a tripod is fundamental or something solid, a bean-bag, the vehicle, the ground, anything to stabilize the camera and lens. Secondly, many don’t think about backgrounds. You do not want a great shot of a yawning lion have a tree in the background sticking out of its mouth. Basically 12 pointers iron out that kind of stuff easily. Another issue is when people think that wildlife exists purely for our entertainment and will try to force animals to do something, or get frustrated when they don’t. We need to remember that this is their world, and we photographers get the privilege to see and be creative in their presence.
How long should one usually keep a position and remain in a situation to make a good photo?
Patience is key. There is no need to rush around chasing situations. We recently sat for four hours waiting for a leopard in a tree to do something. I overheard people asking what was going to happen and when it was going to happen. There are no real meaningful or useful answers to those questions. Four hours later, she jumped down on to an impala.
Are there animals that are especially easy to take a photo?
Those that are more abundant are often the hardest. Take the wildebeest migration for example, with 1.2 million wildebeests. It’s not often you see a great wildebeest image.
Big cats are in many ways harder to mess up because of their latent beauty and our fascination with them.
Are there animals you find difficult to capture?
I worked on getting a great African Skimmer moment for 8 years, and finally filmed one for The Last Lions. Obviously the more endangered the harder it is to get the ‘lens time’ with an animal. Nocturnal animals are harder. We have not really captured great Pangolin or Aardvark at night.
Does photography disturb animals, and if so how can this be prevented?
At Great Plains Conservation we have very strict protocols and priorities: First is safety of our guests, Second safety and disturbance of wildlife, these two priorities come above everything else. Our guides are trained in the art of photography but they are also trained in the art of not disturbing wildlife. They will push you to get into position and challenge yourself to get the shot, but they won’t push wildlife.
A Photographic Safari is magical, a time to delve deeper with technical tools, as cameras and lenses, and train the eye to find the beauty in the landscape, and to isolate details of that beauty. It is about telling stories through the lens, and most of all it is about appreciation and celebration of nature in its purest form.
Photography can also be that visual voice for the environment, and it can give enormous joy to both the photographer and the viewer.
Read more about Beverly and Dereck’s work at: www.wildlifefilms.co