Timbavati October 2017
Having not visited the Timbavati concession in two years I figured it was time to head back and see what the bush would reveal to me again. Let's start by say I was not disappointed.
Looking at options and my availability, Wild-Eye The African photographic safari specialists, were running a 5 night exclusive photographic safari at Shindzela - A wonderful small and rustic camp on a private concession, that is attached to the Kruger National Park.
Everything looked good from the start. Wild-eye had availability and having seen owner Gerry's passion for photography and personal reviews from friends - I was looking forward to joining host photographer Michael Laubscher for 6 days.
Shindzela is a lodge I have wanted to visit for some time, and know the reputation of the guides are first class. Wild-eye are unique and have established a great reputation for hosting various photo safaris across Africa. Their photographic hosts are ex-guides with many years experience in both guiding and professional photography. Anyone who reads Gerry Van Der Walt's blogs or podcasts will know his passion, and zero bias towards a persons experience or equipment.
So why do a photographic safari you may ask? especially when I do so many solo trips and even host my own trips. Well for a whole number of reasons. Groups are small - in this case only 3 guests. So plenty of space, and no obstructions for the camera. they are normally very well priced. The group will likely be interested in the same things, and photo opportunities, more than willing to wait observe and experiment. There can be nothing worse than wanting to capture a moment, and needing to wait for an animal to move to a position - that blade of grass or spot of light in the wrong place, and a non photographer understandably getting bored and wanting to move on.
The two other main attractions for me - specifically as I often travel solo are;
Getting out of bad habits - Spending time with peers helps drive that enthusiasm to experiment, look for the tough shot, get out of your comfort zone and share experiences and methods. This can do nothing but good to help me further my career and experience as a wildlife photographer.
Group bonding. The time spent in the bush, at dinner, over the camp fire with like minded people, no matter their experience is a wonderful experience. I have made many good friends that to this day stay in touch. It is great to watch friends grow in their experience and in turn you will grow too. In some cases I continue to explore new adventures with them. The group will remain the intact throughout he trip - a regular safari may see guests change throughout the time, and this can be challenging specifically as new guests may want to see things you have already seen and you are wanting to expand that portfolio. A Photo Safari introduces you to like minded people from across the world.
I decided I would go off alone to Pilanesburg for 2 days before this trip, to get back in to bush photography (it was a whole month since I was in Chobe) and top up on some bird photography amongst other things. The images from these two days can be found here... - but back to this review...
Before any trip - I try to set myself some goals. What am I looking for? What do I want to shoot more of? and set some targets. Never count on a leopard or lion but more the types of images I want to improve or practice more. 1) With Shindzela - Spotlight photography given driving before and after sun rise and set. This is always challenging photography and can give great results when done well. 2) some detailed shots - rather than just buffalo or elephant, the trunk or horns, I feel I never have enough of these more artistic shots. 3) new birds - always wanting to increase my portfolio of different birds species.
...Meeting Michael at Shindzela (Wild-eye very kindly flew me up from Johannesburg last minute at no extra cost vs the original planned road transfer), we went through a few introductions, safety and workings of the lodge and some camera talk, before setting off on our first game drive... some nice shots of Kudu in long grass, giraffe, grey heron and impala - may sound routine was good to get to grips with the nuances of the Timbavati - dense Mopane trees, dry grasses and changes in light. Two fantastic moments were some hippos at sunset - getting the hues of the days end, lighting up the water and my favourite the bush babies at night under spotlight on the way back to camp. Nailed the bush babies in difficult lighting conditions.
Each morning would start at 4:45 for a wake up - quick coffee and 5:30 cameras at the ready and out to see what Africa had to offer...and it was a lot. Elephants and buffalo were a big theme with large herds, loners and small groups. The little things like dwarf mongoose, oxpeckers and giant plated lizards gave great photographic moments.
Back to Shindzela for a hearty cooked breakfast and some R&R. Michael was available all through the day to help with some of the more technical aspects, lightroom processing tips and techniques as well as general banter. Being the obsessive birder I am though, couldn't resist going off to find those grey headed bushshrikes and chinspot batis that were flitting around the camp. Giraffe, buffalo, impala and kudu were constantly at the small waterhole near the camp, and often buffalo sleeping near the tents too.
After lunch another great game drive where two bull giraffe entertained use with some necking - a fight of domination, some great elephant sightings amongst many others.
Back to camp for a wonderful 3 course meal, a cold beer and laughing around the camp fire.
The next four nights were a repeat of the routine, 5:30 am head off before sunrise. Mid morning return for breakfast, and head back to the bush about 3:30 pm returning some time before 8pm.
Far from routine though, was the time in the bush.
With each game drive we started out with a total blank canvas. Several times we came across herds of elephant numbering greater that 40 as well as several hundred buffalo. This is where having a Michael Laubscher with you really can help. faced with 40 elephants, where do you focus on. I always struggle with this and his guidance and pointers on composition and ideas were welcoming.
Jaco, our guide and driver did a great job getting us to various sightings on this private concession, where no sighting was ever shared with another vehicle...how precious was that!. Between Michael and Jaco, they worked together to get the best positioning or prediction of movement to maximise our photography opportunities.
Some of my favourite moments were the pearl spotted owlets, baby elephants and large relaxed herds at the waterhole. The giraffe fight was fantastic to watch, along with the saddle-billed stork hunting for frogs.
Lions in the dark, hippo's gaping yawns, hornbills, raptors... I could go on forever just listing birds and mammals but will summarise with; Shindzela and the Timbavati provided something new every day, every drive.
I achieved from this trip not only what I set out as goals, some intimate detail, low light photography but a whole lot more.
Spotlight Photography higher ISO and low light images
Detail shots - some intimate moments
Wild-eye lived up to their reputation providing photographic safaris at competitive pricing whilst offering great value in regards the services they offer. From initial enquiry, to communications through voice, email and facebook dialogues, booking and end to end experience, I found Wild-eye easy to do business with and left me with no questions and a pleasant experience.
From the Safari itself, Micheal was invaluable to the process, insight and sharing - but more important wanting to learn the different systems the client based were using too. His capability to assess the type of guidance needed for each guest was first class, and treated each guest with the professional support needed based on their competence and needs. Often pointing out unique composition opportunities, as well as reminders and guidance for settings. Additionally Michael provided me, post this trip with constructive feedback on my first cut of images from this trip, which was more than welcomed and appreciated.
The accommodation staff and location of Shindzela was perfect providing a rustic and intimate environment that I just wish lasted longer (like forever longer - ahh I do miss the place).
I Definitely enjoyed my time with Wild-eye and the whole experience will be driving me to join them again in the not too distant future.