WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS | Winter is a good time to get started
Text & Photographs Annabelle Venter
Our dry, blue-skied winters in Namibia are an ideal time to get out into the bush for a bit of wildlife photography. But have you ever wondered why wildlife photographers are popping up everywhere like mushrooms these days?
With a surfeit of high-end digital cameras to choose from, a need to get away from the pressures of city life and easy access to game parks in southern Africa, more and more people enjoy the relaxing past-time of escaping to wide open spaces to take wildlife photographs. Add to this the ease of marketing yourself via social media like Facebook and Instagram, and what’s stopping you from joining the ranks? But what exactly is wildlife photography, and just as importantly, what is it not? Let’s try to define
Wildlife Photography and explore Namibia’s role in this
WHAT IS IT EXACTLY?
Wildlife photography is defined as photographing wild, free-roaming animals, birds, insects etc. (i.e. all wild creatures) in their natural habitat. These subjects are never dependent on humans for their food or shelter. Occasionally, however, wild creatures may make use of man-made structures (e.g. urban wildlife). Nevertheless they are still free to come and go as they please, they are self-sufficient and do not interact with humans.
What wildlife photography is not: images of wild animals in captivity, or of those dependent on humans for their survival.
Nature photography, i.e. landscapes and plants, is often included in the wildlife definition. I define my type of photography as ‘wild photography’ and it encompasses flora, fauna and wild places.
A DREAM DESTINATION
Now that we know what it is, it becomes apparent that Namibia is an ideal country for this type of photography, since we are fortunate enough to have an abundance and a great variety of wildlife in all parts of our beautiful country. Effective conservation practices continue to ensure the survival of many species that would otherwise have disappeared from our landscapes. Your chances of spotting cheetah on the northern farm roads are often better than in Etosha for example, since 95% of our wild cheetah live outside the park. Etosha is thought to have less than 50 cheetahs, but the real number may be far lower.
Even in our capital city of Windhoek we live very close to nature. Yellow mongooses roam the streets, porcupines and small spotted genets enter gardens in the dead of night, and kudu nibble on the city’s peripheral fences. Any nature-loving resident will be only too happy to regale you with an impressive list of birds in his or her garden. Occasionally we have to try and live harmoniously with more unwelcome visitors like snakes, scorpions and the odd baboon. In any event, wildlife photography is a hobby that you can practise virtually anywhere in our country.
WHAT IT TAKES
But if you want to make this your career, a certain degree of commitment is required over and above a love of spotting the flora and fauna. You will need patience (and I can assure you that this can be learnt!), an in-depth knowledge of your subject matter, a sense of adventure and a fair amount of technical know-how for editing and processing the RAW image files on your computer.
And did I mention passion? Without passion even the most skilful photographer cannot become a wildlife photographer, as you are likely to spend many, many hours in uncomfortable positions and in hot vehicles, get up at least an hour before sunrise and generally lead quite an a-social life. No holiday will ever be the same again. Be warned: wildlife photography is a drug like any other and once addicted it is very hard to kick the habit! It will slowly take over your life and your family’s as well and dictate every single journey you undertake, except of course, for those trips which require you to dutifully visit your family…but what a thrilling addiction! It will show you places you never dreamed of visiting and open up the world at your feet, and eventually you will feel sick with longing when you cannot escape the confines of the city. Every day something incredible is happening out there – the never-ending scenes of nature’s play continue whether or not you are there to observe them and the thought will drive you crazy. Such is the life of a wildlife photographer.
WOMEN IN WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY
I noticed recently that there are very few women who pursue this form of photography as a career, especially here in Namibia. One would think that this would be a popular choice in a country with such diverse scenery and wild creatures. Well, we’ve already established that you need to be passionate, a bit of an introvert, keep a-social hours, have patience and some degree of technical know-how, but since all of these are quite achievable there must be more to it than that, and there is. Safety is a major issue in southern Africa and it’s often a risk for women to travel alone and with expensive gear, but what is more important perhaps: if a woman wants to have children she will be housebound as their primary caregiver for many years.
These are just some of my own thoughts. To get a different perspective, I approached two fellow female wildlife photographers for their take on the matter.
South African Olwen Evans, who often travels on her own in southern Africa and Namibia in particular, has this to add: “It seems like a glamorous lifestyle but requires long periods of solitude, away from the creature comforts of home, bearing your home, office and studio with you wherever you go, rather like a tortoise.” A former medical professional, she says “I often feel it’s similar to practicing anaesthetics: 95% tedium and 5% wow! And that small percentage is incredible enough to make it all worthwhile.”
Namibian Anja Denker is currently a part-time photographer and artist but her focus is 100% wildlife, with a special interest in birds. While Anja says her main priority right now is to support her 16-year-old daughter who will finish school next year, she’d like to pursue photography fulltime in the future.
Luckily for her, photography and trips into nature are a shared passion in her family, so most holidays they are off to photographic destinations. The time Anja currently spends at home is devoted to honing her technical and editing skills, marketing her work and arming herself with knowledge about all things photographic.
Anja says there are two things in Namibia that could prove to be a disadvantage for women – the safety issues previously mentioned, and perhaps the climate which can reach extremes, particularly in summer. She feels this could be a negative factor as one gets older. Anja also points out that women are generally social creatures and agrees that it’s a very solitary life as a wildlife photographer.
Anja feels that wildlife photographers everywhere can do much to raise awareness of our natural world. This is something close to her heart and she supports a number of conservation organisations. She says that an image can convey so much more than words and today it’s so easy to share your work via social media.
Her dream is to see every wildlife photographer devote a small portion of their time and money to conservation issues. Her favourite photographic destinations are Etosha National Park, the Zambezi region and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa.
SHARING YOUR IMAGES ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Why do you want to share your images? Do you just want to share your holiday snaps with friends and family? Or do you want to market your wildlife photography business? Whatever your goal, it helps to hone your social media skills and observe a few important points when using the power of the internet.
The two most popular platforms are Google+, which supports high definition images and has 2.2 million users, and Facebook with 1.3 billion users. Let’s look at Facebook and its tremendous reach.
In creating awareness through wildlife photography we foster a spirit of caring and only when we care for something, can we begin to protect it for future generations. Be inspired to reach for your camera and head out to the wild spots of this beautiful country to capture your own images of our wildlife. TNN
ANJA HAS SOME TIPS FOR OTHER WOMEN WISHING TO PURSUE THIS LINE OF WORK:
- Be passionate about what you do and be comfortable with your own company
- Visit areas where you will not be alone, like game parks. At Avis Dam, for example, Anja stays close to the security guards and popular trails.
- Don’t wear jewellery or carry valuables other than your camera and cell phone.
TIPS FROM ANNABELLE:
- Sizing your images is very important. A 72 dpi Jpeg at maximum decreased space 250kb is a good size. Any bigger and it will take too long to open, with the result that you lose your viewer.
Size your cover photo correctly, so that what you want to appear on that long slot at the top of your page will actually be in the right place. 851 pixels wide by 315 is what Fb recommends, but a good wildlife cover image looks slightly better at 960 pixels on the long side. This sizing is also suitable for your timeline images.
- Use a good, clear image of yourself for your profile image. People want to see the person behind the lens!
- Never swamp your page with images. Select your best and post selectively. Ten times a day is not cool. Your audience will skip over yet another image from you and the impact will be lost.
- Choose images in keeping with your recent trips, the current season or a topical conservation issue.
- It’s helpful to the viewer to give technical information where you can, providing an educational aspect.
- NEVER beg for ‘Likes”. EVER.
- If you have set up a photography business, provide all the necessary contact information, easily visible and try to use the same name as your website or business. Used wisely this can be a useful marketing tool.
- Never post a whole unedited file of your latest weekend away straight off your camera. 47 images (some of them blurred, spotty and repetitive) are enough to make anyone hit the escape button and move on.
- Getting ‘Likes’ is not as important as you think. The aim of a page is not to garner as many as possible, but to show your work or make a statement. You’d rather have 100 people really interested in what you are doing than 2997 ‘Likes’, aiming for 3000 with a free giveaway.
- Be generous and share other wildlife photographers’ photos to your page now and then, commenting on what you like about them.
- Take care to respond sensibly to genuine queries and interest on your page. Single adjectives are not sensible responses!
- Tell the story behind your images and draw the viewer into your world.
- Share links to your own webpage/blog now and then to draw viewers to your real web presence. For a business, a Facebook page does not carry enough weight. You need a website with detailed information.
- Carefully edit your images and use a light and tasteful watermarked copyright over the lower part of the image. Image theft is rife on the internet.