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Images of Madikwe: An Interview with Photographer and Guide Etienne Oosthuizen

We speak to renowned wildlife photographer and Molori Safari guide Etienne Oosthuizen about what makes the land of Madikwe so unique and how we can take better wildlife photos ourselves.

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After growing up on a tobacco farm in Northern Zimbabwe, where Etienne’s interest in wildlife developed, he knew he needed to pursue an outdoors career, and since spending his university years in Australia, he was sure that neither hunting or fishing were the way to go. This led Etienne to pursue guiding, which in turn sparked his interest in wildlife photography. Now an award winning photographer, with his images published in leading wildlife magazines, Etienne leads photography safaris at Molori Safari in Madikwe, South Africa.

What do you find compelling about the environment there?

There is definitely something special about Africa. Often my guests say that Africa gives them a coming home feeling, which could be because man evolved here. Most people exclude themselves from the environment and we forget that we’re just as much a part of it as any animal. It’s fun teaching people to find that balance with nature again and that everything is not just out to eat them [laughs].

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What makes the wildlife around Molori unique?

The question of why certain creatures live in certain area’s is what fascinates me about any ecosystem. To the west we have the Kalahari with all its desert adapted creatures, while to the east we have the Lowveld with the animals that most people would expect to see on an African Safari.

With Molori situated in the Madikwe game reserve, on an ecotone – the area of transition between two biomes – between desert and bushveld. This makes it an area with a huge diversity of plants, mammals, birds and insects. There aren’t many places where you can see naturally occurring Springbok and Impala on the same game drive.

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You’ve had a lot of success with your photography. What’s your greatest achievement?

There is a rush when a particular image does well in a competition. My Aardvark image was a finalist in the Smithsonian wildlife photography awards, Natures Best, in 2013. Photography has opened a brand new direction for me in my guiding and I’m very happy that I started guiding with a photographic mind set early on. Most visitors bring cameras and it’s a real treat when you can get them off auto and they understand what they are doing.

Is there any species that you want to photograph but haven’t been able to yet?

I’m not a checklist guide or photographer, so there’re no particular species that I’m after, however there is certain animal behaviour that I’d really like to photograph in specific habitats. How great would a photograph be of the elephant standing on its back legs, with shafts of golden light breaking through the wintery forest as the sun is setting.

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How do you incorporate your wildlife photography with guiding?

I am first and foremost a guide and that’s what important. Even though I’m a photographic guide, the guest experience is what allows me to be out in the veld in the first place. I only start capturing my images once I know my guests have their own pictures or I take them when I am on my own.

What experience can guests expect from your photography safaris?

I am not a factual guide, I like to explain how the parts of an ecosystem work together, rather than the parts themselves. Animal behaviour is what I find fascinating and this is a very important element in wildlife photography. I’m able to help my guests anticipate behaviour before it happens, which allows them to photograph it, but in the same breath I have the skill set to make sure their camera settings are just right to capture that moment perfectly.

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Etienne’s Wildlife Photography Tips

TIME: ‘Spend as much time as you can with a single subject to understand it and photograph it well.’

ORIGINALITY: ‘Don’t always go for the obvious view, because that’s what everybody will do and your images will be like everybody else’s.’

GOLDEN HOUR: ‘Get out early and stay out later to get your subject in that perfect golden light.’

EYE CONTACT: ‘Make eye contact with you subject and always try have your subject’s eyes in focus.’

POSITION: ‘Try to photograph your subject at its eye level and shoot parallel with the surface of the earth. This one is not always possible, but when it is, do it.’

THE EQUIPMENT: ‘You’ll get the best results from a Digital SLR camera with a range of lenses from 17mm through to 300mm. Always try to get the fastest lenses you can, helping a great deal in low light conditions – f4 or f2.8 zooms are great.’

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All wildlife images in this article were taken by Etienne. You can see more of his work here.

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