Safari Guiding and Photography

Bongwe Game Drive

Safari Guiding and Photography – Should Guides Take Photos?

Safari guiding on a daily basis you get to know the regulars. You get to know your lions and your leopard, where their territories are, their favourite spots and places. You get to recognise them and name them. With a few seasons in the same camps, you see cubs born, baby giraffes drop. You watch them grow up, you see their first lolloping steps, big feet tripping over themselves. Often, they just disappear, never to be seen again. It’s a tough world out there and dangerous to any baby. It seems that safari guiding and photography should go hand-in-hand.

I always loved the lion cubs, growing so fast and learning the art of survival. From drinking milk and looking cute, to appearing all gangly with a thirst for blood and the pleasure of the kill.  It’s like school, first in the cub academy learning the arts, mice and squirrels and other baby animals. Then onto senior school, with impala and bushbuck, warthog and duiker. Getting stronger and cleverer and learning about teamwork and the importance of each individual’s role in the hunt. Then it’s graduation to the first team, the elite team, the Buffalo hunters at the top of their game – the pride. It’s so much better than a soap opera, because the drama and the violence are real. The tragedy is real too. It is hard to not to want to take photos of the surrounding drama which is why safari guiding and photography are seemingly a match made in heaven.

A guides job is to find the photo opportunities for the clients, not be messing around changing his own lenses.

I always had a simple point and shoot camera once the digital age came. It was a Panasonic Lumix for the most part until I eventually dropped it for the last time. It was a rugged bugger I’ll give it that. It worked hard its entire life, surviving the sun and the dust, and never really loved or cared for. It always gave the
best sunset snaps!

Anyway, I was taught and have always believed, that as the guide it’s my job to get the client the best photo. Safari guiding and photography means getting the client’s photographs, not the guides. It is a conflict of interest for the guide to carry a camera. Your guide should certainly not be worrying about his camera while trying to position the car in the right light, at the right angles whilst at the same time, watching for any hidden stumps or acacia thorns. Not to mention planning the escape route for the car in case of danger.

For example, a leopard in a tree with a kill makes for some great snaps. But the leopard might be feeling protective and angry. He could be aggressive, or he could just jump down and run away. Either way your guide has to be ready for either scenario. A mating lion has only one thing on his mind but if you get between him and it, there could be repercussions. There are just too many jobs for the guide to be fiddling around with a zoom lens whilst changing aperture and shutter speed.

But what about a simple point and shoot?

Safari guiding and photography is fine, just make sure your camera points, shoots and requires no fiddly lens changes.

I like my point and shoot. I can hold it in one hand, and I can still drive the Cruiser and operate the gears, I can always chuck it in my lap at a moment’s notice and be in complete control of the situation. There is also something very satisfying when I see the perfect photo with my eye and I hear the shutter of my guests camera’s behind me. Unless he had it out of focus then it’s the perfect photo.

The lioness’ head appearing through the dew-dropped grass, moving her new-born cub, curled gently in her jaws. Morning light softly reflects the dawn in her murderous gaze. Yup, I get a lot of satisfaction when I hear my client’s shutter capture that photo.

Once we have settled and everyone, including the subject, is carrying on with their own business then I can take some of my own snapshots. Whilst the clients are reviewing their photos, changing lenses and generally finished taking photos of a particular scene, I can point and shoot. I have thousands of photos. None of them award-winning, but each one a memory and that is all I am after. I leave the art of photography to my clients.

The client’s camera always comes first

The high-end safaris are charging upwards of $1400 a night. The people paying that kind of money are expecting the best wildlife photos that money can buy and It’s my job to get them. In fact, it is my job to get them irrelevant of how much they paid for their safari experience.

The takeaway advice for safari guiding and photography is yes, you can do it. Just make sure it never interferes with your client’s ability to get their best photos. Never delay leaving somewhere because you need to fiddle with your camera. And never sacrifice safety in order to get your camera up to speed with the location.

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