Wildlife Photographers: Up Close and Personal

During recent visits to the Etosha National Park I once again had the opportunity to observe one of the most interesting of species that roam the planet. One that is often overlooked and understudied but is everything as interesting as Africa’s big five.

Wildlife photographers.

Black Faced Impala

To fully appreciate the truly unique qualities of the species, one has to study them in the two locations that make up their natural habitat: waterholes and campsites.

Based on interests and behavior several sub-species can be identified. Many years of observation and close study have led me to develop the following taxonomy for the species, Photographus Wildlifii.

Photographus Sociallii or more commonly known as the “Social Club”. This taxon consists mainly of females although more males have been spotted in recent times. Their defining characteristics include the amount of chunky jewelry that is worn, often in combination with very small items of clothing such as the bikini or speedo. Their natural habitat is the vast open grasslands (called lawns) that surround the open waters of the camp’s swimming pool where they are often observed precariously perched on creaky plastic deckchairs in full sun.

It is the persistent, prolonged exposure to full sun that commonly changes the original pale, pasty complexion of the Social Club, first into a bright pink, then into a deep, dark brown or bronze.

This group is known for grumpy and erratic behavior during the pinkification period when the skin is quite sensitive and painful. Among the young and inexperienced the pinkification is commonly accompanied by blistering and peeling of the skin, a period during which they often retreat into cooler, more shady spots such as luxury cabanas. At night, they roam the bar areas.

Photographus Socialliihardly ever leaves their sunny pool areas and thus, is seldom observed outside in the wild. As such their equipment is limited to a basic point-and-shoot or cellphone. As the ultimate pack animals, this group’s photographs almost always include themselves or members of their pack posing again exotics backdrops such as the restaurant, public bathrooms, the local shop and eager-to-please local staff. Their photographic outputs are best observed on Facebook or Google+.

Young Male Lion

Photographus Emotionalii or commonly known as the “Emo Club”. Quite a rare group not commonly observed outside their natural deep-urban habitat. This group is closely connected to emotional turbulence associated with urban decay and despises anything peaceful and beautiful in nature. Hence, their preference for metal piercings, multi-coloured air and ornaments made of rusty chains, sharp spikes and dull razorblades. They also love the deep contrast between pale skin and dark clothing.

The older members of this group might have very little natural skin left due to frequent visits to their local ink shops. It is suspected that this behavior is driven by a deeply rooted desire to constantly feel and endure the painful entity that is life.

Known for their intense, overly emotional behavior when disturbed, members of the Emo Club are quite unapproachable and best left alone with their electronic devises such as cell phones and iPods listening to “emocore”. Fully atomized, members of the Emo Club are forced to become wildlife photographers by desperate parents dragging them out of their beloved urban environment. Their equipment is a Holga camera, known for its substandard lenses that cause natural vignetting, and with it the latest hard-to-find red-scale film.

After a single attempt to photograph two mating ostriches from 100 meter away, they abolish all future attempts.

Giraffe at Sunset

Without the ranger’s permission they retreat into the infrequently used aeroplane hanger to pursue their photographic interests. Their only wildlife shots are of two dung beetles fighting their way through a fresh oil-spill on the hanger floor. It can be viewed in one of the Urban-Exploration sites on Flickr. Their next holiday destination is likely to be Chernobyl.

Photographus Enthusiasticallii, or as they are commonly known, the “Enthusiastic Club”.  This special group of photographers is best known for their energetic behavior with camera at hand. They are most commonly observed at waterholes hanging from bus and car windows or roof racks trying to get closer to their subjects. During quiet periods they can be seen driving between waterholes at high speed whilst discussing the merits of faster lenses, better ISO capabilities or the benefits of Gimbal-type tripod heads over ordinary ball-heads.

Photography rules their world and they often carry the latest edition of Digital Photography with them. They follow Moose Peterson’s blog and often enquire about the latest pro-tips on Twitter.

Only under extreme distressful conditions will members of Photographus Enthusiasticallii be observed within the encamped area after 06h05 AM. They complete the sightings book with great details: “sleeping Cape Crow, Waterhole 1, 03h48 AM” is typical of their dedication to share their experiences.

They are also known to employ assistants to improve their location shoots. These are often required to hold on to the photographer’s legs or belts to ensure their safety whilst swinging from a bus window or bridge to capture what Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment”. In their case it is “decisive moments” because they employ ‘continuous shoot’ mode.

Secretary Bird

Their biggest source of frustration is caused by limited budgets, and as a result, many of their conversations start with “when I …” or “if only…”. Until then, they survive with entry level or third-party cameras and lenses … and lots of frustration.

They have trouble understanding why close friends and family avoid personal contact with them for some months after their latest photographic ventures. Hell, you would have thought they’d be pleased to view all 1,568 photographs neatly assembled in an iPhoto slideshow.

If asked, any member of the Enthusiastic Club will point you to the 332 Flickr groups containing their posts.

Photographus Longlensii or better known as the “Hardcore Club”. An exclusive club with relatively few members, instantly recognizable by the sheer size of the lenses they employ. And the grunting noises they make as they prepare or lift their lenses for a shot.

Members of this group once had substantive financial resources. Now, they walk or sit stooped forward as a result of contracted stomach muscles caused by constant hunger. As a result, they are constantly looking for new ways to conserve energy. “I am only interested in one type of animal” or “I need only a few pictures to update my portfolio” are all ways to conceal the real reason for not being very active. They are most often observed in a battered old Land Rover reading a book at the waterholes, waiting for the right animals to arrive. Their past whereabouts are easily tracked by following the rather large oil patches from their old Land Rovers.

Of all the taxa of Photographus Wildlifii, this group has the most gadgets. Not because they can afford it, or because they want to show off, but because they have to. The sheer weight and size of their equipment rules out hand-held shooting. As a result they have to carry very heavy tri- or monopods, beanbags, metal platforms that are designed for car windows, and large, heavy tri- or monopod heads.

This not only contributes to their poor financial state, but also adds a few degrees to their stoop. It is not unknown for this group to start pilfering dried beans or raw rice from their beanbags toward the end of their excursions. Those with sponsorships might be observed in the local camp store scavenging for pre-cooked pizza’s past their sell-by dates.

Their images are characterized by large digital watermarks and can only be viewed in small, unusable format. Off-course, given their financial predicament you could buy them from SmugMug or ShutterProtect.

Sparring Springbuck

Off-course my taxonomy is not final or complete. There are many more that could be added at a later stage. My recipe this week is an ode to these wonderful people who venture into the wild, camera in hand. It is an olive-bread baked in a cast iron pot over an open fire. Just perfect for a camping trip.

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