- What’s their brand of choice?
Brand loyalty is one of the most divisive aspects of wildlife photography, probably even more than the Land Rover/ Toyota debate! Everyone has a definite preference as to what they shoot with; 9 times out of ten being Nikon or Canon, but more recently we have seen an upsurge in followers of the mirrorless brands like Fuji.
It’s good! Life would be very dull if we all just conformed and used the same gear. Photo guides too will have a preference but it’s very important that they also have a better than average understanding of the mechanics, terminology and advantages of the brands not of their own choosing.
We have heard horrible tales of clients who shoot with one brand joining a safari with a photo guide who shoots with another and being made to feel like a second class citizen. Even if it was always done in a jovial way, that’s not acceptable. It’s fun in the pub with your mates, but not when you are in the field with someone who you are paying to take care of you and your photographic needs.
The best thing to do is give the host a call when you are considering going with them. Tell them about your brand of choice and judge the reaction –if you get a litany of “one liners” aimed at your gear….walk away (or hang up).
- Do they have a guiding background?
So you are getting pretty good at wildlife photography. You have won an award or two and a magazine just featured one of your images. It’s only natural that you sit back and dream of doing this for a living….but how?
Making a living from stock photography is not a realistic option any more (only the very fortunate few can still do this).
So you think that perhaps you can become a photographic guide – I mean, how difficult can it be? The answer is: very.
It’s not all glamorous destinations and photo opportunities. It’s very hard work and that’s where people without a guiding (or indeed hospitality) background come unstuck very quickly. We have met and worked with loads of wildlife photography hosts and in our opinion the best ones are the ones who have put in the years working with clients and who have an innate ability to make sure that their clients needs come before their own.
A successful photo host will be able to coordinate the whole trip, get you some great shots, keep your spirits up when the subject matter is thin on the ground and leave you a better photographer than you were when you met….and the best ones will also make it look effortless!
- Beware of the award addicts
Awards are a great way for a photographer to get noticed and there is no greater feeling than being recognised by you peers. But you have to ask yourself: what were the clients doing when the photo host was getting that shot? Being ignored probably.
Amazing moments that can potentially get you an award winning (and original) shot don’t come along every day, and when they do a true photo guide is able to fight the urge to pick up his or her camera and make sure that the client gets the shot.
Of course the photographer may well have been on his, or her, own at the time during some well deserved “me” time…..but they soon come unstuck when one of their clients posts an almost identical shot on Facebook and it’s all too obvious that the urge was too strong and the guide was totally focussed on getting their own shot.
That said, according to Guts and Grant (Atkinson), not taking their own shots on a game drive can sometimes cause the clients to question whether or not the shot is even worth taking. Both of them in this instance tend to shoot on silent modes and have trained themselves to vocalise their thought processes while shooting and they will ALWAYS stop shooting to help a client who is having difficulties. Again this is hardwired into photo hosts with a guiding and hospitality background.
- Cyber stalk your host a little bit
Social media is a wonderful tool for getting to know your potential photo host. Everyone uses it with varying level of success and it’s a great way to get an insight as to how he or she might be on safari.
Accessing the various social media platforms from the bush is tricky, so hosts can often go weeks without being able to post an image or respond to a comment, but we find that the people who make the effort to explain how they got the shot are generally the best people to travel with. This is especially true if you see that the photo host has taken the time to comprehensively respond to questions about their images with full disclosure on post production adjustments.
Most photographers have a public page or profile all about their photography which should give you an insight as to where they have been and the type of images they like to get. If there are one too many “selfies” on those pages…and you are not a fan of vanity… then maybe this host is not the one for you!
One top tip we can give you is keep an eye out for lots of different types of images. Of course we all love and appreciate a good leopard in a tree shot, but also look for images of the lesser photographed subjects especially when they have been taken in a creative way. When on safari there are often times when the glamour subjects are not to be seen for a while and a great photo host will always be able to find you something to shoot even if at first it seems mundane – backlit impala anyone?
- Are you a good match ethically?
Ethics in wildlife photography is a hot topic these days. Debates rage as to what is acceptable and what is not and the boundaries vary from photographer to photographer. What you don’t want to happen is for you to choose a photo host who likes and promises to push the limits of what is acceptable behaviour, if you yourself are a bit more cautious and willing to miss a shot rather than interfere with an animal’s natural behaviour.
This willingness to push the limits stems from over-promising a client and not managing their expectations. Getting a shot of a fish eagle swooping in and catching a fish is incredibly difficult unless you placed the fish there yourself. In all honesty if the fish has only been pumped with air to make it float (rather than stuffed with a buoyant material) then the fish eagle will probably come to no real harm…but where do you draw the line?
Is it OK to lure a hyena out of a hole with biltong? Is it OK to play the distress calls of an impala on your cellphone to get the attention of a lion? None of these practices will realistically cause harm to an animal but ethically what are you willing to do to get a shot?
In our opinion any type of interference is unacceptable. We should just be there to witness and not influence our subjects. That’s our stand and if you feel that this resonates with you then come on a safari with us. If not there are plenty of people out there who have a different opinion and good luck to them.