Wildlife & Nature Photography – Drawbacks
Many years ago I was offered a position as a photographer for a modeling agency in Cape Town South Africa. I was young, just starting out in photography, and needless to say very tempted at the proposition. I can’t remember the reasons why I didn’t take the job, but one thing is for sure, had I taken the job my life would be very different indeed.
We have all experienced a particular moment in our lives, a turning point, where the decisions we made shaped and influenced our lives.
Had I taken them up on their offer I would probably be up to my neck in TNA. Have a studio apartment in the city, kiss people on cheeks at cocktail parties, wear designer clothes, drink skinny vanilla flavoured latte, and to top it all have a son called Ulysses and a daughter named Apple.
(PS my apologies if I have offended all the people that do those things, I’m sure you’re lovely people)
Instead, I chose this…..and what did I get for it?
I got to see the sunrise over the Serengeti.
Played in the snows of Kilimanjaro.
Witnessed the majesty of the great white shark.
Paddled down the Zambezi in a canoe
The list is endless.
Before you decided that this is the way you want to take your photography, here are some of the challenges facing nature and wildlife photographers.
#1 – Losing Touch with Friends and Family
You lose touch with the day-to-day lives of your friends and family. I call it “Falling out of each other.” It’s nobody’s fault; life simply carries on as it must. Shared experiences are the building blocks that galvanise relationships. Without this “sharing,” finding and maintaining common ground becomes all the more difficult.
My advice: Remember birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions. It may not always be possible to manage your assignments around significant dates. These days however with the internet and skype, it’s a lot easier to keep in touch. Make a point of catching up when you are in town.
#2 – Weather
Adverse weather conditions are often synonymous with nature photography. In all my years being a guide and photographer I can honestly say that there are only a few occasions where I experienced what I like to call “Goldilocks weather”… not too cold, not too hot…
Battling 30 degree Celsius heat with 80% humidity can be challenging, add a 15-20kg backpack with all your photographic gear, and heat exhaustion becomes a very distinct possibility.
My Advice: Do your research properly. Average day and night-time temperatures for that particular time of year will dictate what you take with you, or leave behind.
Limit your gear to what you believe is necessary, leave the rest behind.
#3 – Loneliness/Isolation
Loneliness is a mental state, and it is amazing just how quick being alone becomes a habit when there is no-one around to talk to.
Personally, I talk to Yoda all the time when I’m in the field (We travel together everywhere). It’s not surprising that I have nothing left to say when I get home at night and my wife gives me the raised eyebrow… please give me a break, Yoda, and I haven’t shut-up all day.
Being anti-social (awkward) can become a by-product of spending too much time alone.
Isolation is all about location. Things can go downhill very quickly if something goes wrong and you find yourself miles from any form of help. Being a nature photographer means that most of the time you will most likely be out of cellphone reception. Something as simple as a sprained ankle could be life-threatening.
My Advice: Firstly, if you are going to venture into the great outdoors alone always let someone know where you are going. Also let someone know when you expect to be back, and furthermore which route you will be taking to and from your designated area. Have a personal locator beacon so if the proverbial poo hits the fan, I’m sorted. Consider purchasing a PLB. You could also have someone accompany you.
To combat loneliness and anti-social behaviour…..buy a volley-ball, paint a face on it, and call it “Wilson” ……or write a blog
#4 – Disease
No, I’m not talking about the kind of disease you get by staying in Amsterdam a week longer than you should have!
The threat of contracting a life-threatening or debilitating disease is a distinct possibility, especially when traveling abroad.
Rabies, for example, through most of the civilised world has been eradicated. However, in countries such as India and some African countries, rabies remains a serious concern.
My wife was bitten by a rabid dog; it wasn’t a significant bite, it barely broke the skin. If we hadn’t acted on the assumption that the dog was rabid, the outcome could have been different. Consequently, both my wife and I have had our rabies vaccines.
Malaria, except for tuberculosis, kills more people every year than any other communicable disease.
Personally, I have had the pleasure of contracting malaria eleven times…….fun times!
Also, there is also Ebola, Dengue fever, and Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic fever to name but few.
My Advice: Firstly speak to your doctor before departing on a trip. A doctor will advise you on any precautionary measures that can be taken. In case you do not feel well when returning form a trip, be sure to inform your doctor on your travels.
#5 – Food & Water
Gastroenteritis. Not a word you would usually associate with “photography.” We all know how debilitating a bout of “gastro” can be. There are some diseases that can be contracted through the consumption of food and water, e.g. Salmonella, typhoid fever, and Hepatitis A.
My Advice: Prepare your own food where ever possible. Furthermore, do not eat, nor drink anything that seems dodgy to you. If you buy a food product make sure it is properly sealed and check the expiry dates. Carry a LifeStraw for drinking water…..Check out the internet; it’s an amazing product
#6 – Wildlife
I cannot count the times that I have been charged by elephants, hippo, lion, and an assortment of weird and wonderful creatures. Unpredictability comes with the territory when it comes to photographing wildlife.
This is where knowledge, research, and experience play a pivotal role in reducing the risk of injury, or worse.
My Advice: Firstly, learn as much about your subject as possible. Also, talk to the experts, and don’t listen to urban legends and old wives tales. Treat every living organism with respect.
Most importantly, do what feels natural, and don’t push it!
#7 – Local Inhabitants
The threat of civil war, especially in third world and developing countries, is especially relevant, and ever-present. Political and social instability in any country can be a time-bomb waiting to explode.
Different cultures react differently to similar situations. What is taboo in one country is perfectly normal in another country.
My Advice: Firstly do your research and check whether it is safe to travel. Familiarise yourself with the customs, and beliefs of the country you are about to visit.
I hope that I haven’t discouraged anyone from pursuing their photographic nirvana. In fact, if you take a moment to just glance back to the points mentioned above….I could be describing just about any country on earth.
Do I regret taking my photography down this path?
Truth be told, I wouldn’t change it for the world. If I had the chance of doing it all over knowing what I know now?…..I would have chosen this path a lot sooner than I did!
It is due to these experiences that shape us into the people we are.
If I can quote Aerosmith at this point “life’s a journey, not a destination.”
Now, excuse me while I take Ulysses and Apple to yoga class.