At the end of April I was lucky enough to secure a spot on EcoTraining’s wildlife photography course held at Makuleke, in the very north of Kruger. I was looking forward to heading back to one of the most magical places I have ever visited but during a much better time of year (my last trip was in January when I joined a trails course at a very hot and wet time of the year!).
I was hoping this time around I would get to spend more time in the fever tree forest as well as check out Lanner Gorge and hopefully see lots of elephants as they started coming back to the area for winter. I managed to do all of this and more during the 6 night course!
The course was taught by Etienne Oosthuizen, whose wildlife photography I was already familiar with via Instagram and so I knew we were all in good hands. The course kicked off with an introduction and a brief sunset drive just to ease us all into it. My tent mate was an awesome 18-year old golfer who was soon moving to the USA on a golf scholarship AND she had a handicap of zero! I was already getting excited to tell my dad, who I think hasn’t managed to get any lower than about 7 or 8. Even with our age difference (because I’m just SO OLD now) I could tell that we were going to get along – cue mental sigh of relief! After sharing a tent with Van all this time I was a bit anxious about having to share with a total stranger… but it turned out to be a welcome break from Van’s snoring!!
The rest of the group was very diverse – a great mix of gender, ages and culture. The ages ranged from 18 to 60+ and we had people from South Africa, UK, USA, Germany and of course AUSTRALIA (me). The knowledge and experience of photography also differed quite a bit – some people were very new to it and a few others were more on an intermediate level. I thought this may prove difficult for Etienne, but he handled the diversity very well and everyone was learning right from the start.
The structure of each day was very similar to standard EcoTraining courses – you had a morning and afternoon/evening activity and in between you also had a lecture that you fit in around breakfast and lunch. Not a lot of spare time but I did manage to fit in a couple of naps during the six days!
It’s hard to know what was better – the activities or the lectures. Obviously the activities (predominantly drives for us but we did go on one walk to capture some nearby baobabs at sunset) were more exciting and in some ways more enjoyable – we were out in the bush after all! That being said, the lectures were where we learnt a bit more (though we were still learning a lot in the field). The first lecture was mostly around the basics of exposure which I am relatively familiar with but I still managed to pick up a few gold nuggets. We also enjoyed lectures on composition, lighting, creativity and editing in lightroom. Our newfound knowledge was put to the test while driving around but also at more ‘structured’ photo shoots including the fever tree forest at morning, sunrise at lanner gorge and star photography by some nearby baobabs. From a wildlife perspective we saw lots of elephants, including one who was a bit cranky and started throwing things at our car, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, baboons, impala, kudu, nyala, monkeys, an ostrich (who was VERY friendly…. Until she literally pecked Etienne on the shoulder when he stopped giving her attention) and plenty of birds.
Makuleke isn’t the best place to go to see or photograph cats, but it more than makes up for it with the spectacular scenery. It also gives you an amazing bush experience in an awesome rustic camp. We even had elephants hanging out in front of our tent one evening when we went to bed, and our first night we were kept up by hyenas calling very close by!
So what were the most handy tips I learnt from the week? I would tell you, but I think it is a much better idea if you book yourself on the course next year so you can learn for yourself!
If you are interested in learning how to take better nature photographs (wildlife and scenery), be sure to enquire with EcoTraining about their next wildlife photography course. It offers great value so long as you are happy to embrace being in the true wilderness of Northern Kruger with no cellphone reception or wifi.
Now make sure you keep an eye out for my national geographic-like photos henceforth 🙂