Wildlife Photography 101 Workshop Review

  • Workshop:  Wildlife Photography 101
  • Dates:  19 & 20 March 2011
  • Venue:  Elizabeth Manor Guest House & Pilanesberg Game Reserve
  • Presenters:  Gerry van der Walt & Andrew Beck


With today’s technology, digital photography is more accessible than ever and when combined with South Africa’s amazing natural heritage it is not strange that more and more people are taking up wildlife photography as a hobby.

This is also evident from the large amount of information available on websites and online forums where you can find anything from complete camera manuals to tips on composition and the various technical aspects of wildllife photography.  All of this online information has not only made it possible for many people to learn a lot more about their own photography but has also given them the opportunity to share their images with, literarily, the world.

This being said, one of the very best ways you can improve your own photography is by actually attending workshops and heading out into the field with a like-minded group of people led by knowledgable and enthusiastic presenters.  From a learning point of view, nothing beats being out in the field with a group of photographers where you will not only be inspired by different people’s approach to wildlife photography but also have the invaluable benefit of having immediate feedback on your images.

It is with this goal in mind that Photo-Africa and Moya Wa Tenga present Wildlife Photography 101, a digital photography workshop aimed at helping you create better wildlife images.



On the first day of the workshop, which took place at the Elizebeth Manor Guest House in Sandhurst, we focused on the ethical, technical and artistic aspects of wildlife photography.  This gave all the participants a chance to not only get to know each other but also to have all their initial questions answered.  Having an actual discussion about the technical and, especially, artistic elements of wildlife photography will always be more beneficial than just reading it on an online forum.

During the morning we discussed topics such as composition, crop factor, shooting with super telephoto lenses and how the various technical aspects of wildlife photograph influence the final look and feel of your image.  Our approach was, as always, to focus on the universal settings and approaches to wildlife photography and then apply it to each person’s camera.  On this particular workshop the breakdown of equipment included a Canon 7D, Nikon D7000, Nikon D80, Nikon D5000 and a wide selection of lenses ranging from wide angles to telephoto zoom lenses.



The next morning we were up very early as we hit the road to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.  The original idea was to get to the Mankwe hide, which overlooks a massive dam, to set up and photograph the golden morning light.  This was not to be as it was completely overcast and raining from the moment we left Johannesburg.

We did not let this get us down and proceeded through the Manyane Gate towards our first photography stop of the morning.

We arrived at the hide and enjoyed a very welcome cup of coffee and fantastic continental breakfast, supplied by Moya Wa Tenga, and then proceeded to set up for the practical part of the WP101 workshop.

Now most people never get the chance of shooting with lenses such as the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR II or Canon 600mm IS f/4 so what makes this particular workshop unique is that all the participants have the opportunity to use both Canon and Nikon pro level equipment which is all supplied by Photo-Africa Rentals.

So, by combining the theory from the day before with the super telephoto lenses we started our practical day.  The weather was not ideal but this did not put us off as all the participants started looking for subjects and scenes to photograph.

In a way, the bad weather was almost a good thing as it forced people to start thinking and shooting outside of their comfort zone.  There were almost no wildlife subjects around so we turned out attention to the numerous bird species around the water.


Photographing birds can be quite a specialized type of photography, and something that not a lot of people really try, but the combination of super telephoto lenses and enthusiasm made for a great morning of photography.

The lack of larger animals, caused by the cold and overcast weather, was regrettable but it did not stop us from looking for images as we spent the next 5 hours photographing subjects such as birds, flowers and landscapes.  During all of this time we discussed various techniques, approaches and possible compositions based on whatever subject we looked at through the viewfinder.

At around midday we packed up all our gear and headed off to the Bakgatla Resort for lunch as we discussed the mornings shoot and the images we were able to get.  After lunch we took a slow and easy drive through the reserve with a stop at another hide to look for potential subjects.

After a long day, and loads of images, we started making our way out of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and hit the road back to Johannesburg.  Tired, but with some great images and the amazing experience of having spent a day out in nature with our cameras – learning, photographing, sharing.

As a part of all Photo-Africa workshops, participants have the option of sending in a few of their images from the day so that they can get some constructive feedback from the presenters.  Below are a number of images sent in by the participants on the WP101 workshop with a few thoughts from Andrew Beck and myself.

Taking into account that the weather was pretty dark and miserable and that we did not have a huge amount of subjects to work with I am very impressed with the images the guys cam up with.

Wildlife Photography 101, 19 & 20 March 2011 – Image Crits

  • Andrew: Good image but possibly a little too much dead space in the foreground. The White of the egret made for a tricky exposure but Victor has done a good job in waiting for the egret to approach the crocodile and provide an element of interaction between the species.
  • Gerry:  The suspense, once you actually spot the croc, makes this image come alive.  Will the crocodile do anything?  This exposure on the Egret will be a problem in any type of light but overall it was very well dealt with.

  • Andrew:  Good detail in the whites and a sharp eye which immediately catches ones attention. Also a good use of space to the right of the image which allows the viewer to wonder what it is that the subject is looking at. Perhaps a little too tight as the legs have been cropped.
  • Gerry:  Nice portrait which draws you to the bird’s face immediately.  The line created by the beak, combined with the direction of the bird’s stare works perfectly by leading your gaze to the open space on the right.  If this image has been cropped it might be worth looking at leaving a little more space on the left hand side and also, if possible, show a bit more of the bird’s legs.

  • Andrew:  Great use of a black and white conversion. The shallow depth of field provides excellent differentiation between the subject and the background, isolating the subject and removing any distracting features.
  • Gerry:  The Pied Kingfisher is the perfect black and white subject allowing for an image with nice strong contrast.  The V-shaped branch adds a lot of interest in the image and keeps on leading your gaze to and from the bird.  The only issue I have is the tail that is almost chopped off on the left.  Other than that, awesome shot.

  • Andrew:  Excellent shot! Good use of a slightly deeper depth of field to preserve the detail in both bees as well as the lilly. This image is made even better by the fact that the first bee is isolated from its background, it would not have been as interesting had the bee been infront of the yellow portion of the flower. A great capture Arend!
  • Gerry:  Any way you look at it this is a great shot.  What makes it even more impressive is that it was shot with a 600mm lens.  Great color.  Great composition.  Awesome moment frozen.  A winner.

  • Andrew:  This little guy spent quite a bit of time perched on this branch but Arend has managed to make the image interesting by waiting for the bird to move and provide some open space for it to move into.
  • Gerry:  This image shows why patience is important in wildlife photography.  The bird on a branch would have made for just another bird on a branch image but by waiting and clicking the shutter the image has come alive.

  • Andrew:  An interesting shot. Its a pity about all the plant debris which clutters the image a bit but great use of a fast shutter speed in order to freeze the motion as the bird enters the water. A very tricky moment to catch.
  • Gerry:  I like this image as it makes you look twice.  What is that?  A faster shutter speed might have made for a slightly more crisp image but the image still works.  Would like to see this in color as well as the blues from the water and the bits of green plant material could make for quite a strong color combination.

  • Andrew:  A nice image taken at the perfect moment. There the slight blurring helps to convey a sense of motion as the bird is about to land.
  • Gerry:  An image like this takes anticipation, patience and skill.  You need to be aware of your environment in order to see the bird flying towards it’s landing space and then you have to track with it and then click the shutter with a fast enough shutter speed to get, at least, the face sharp.  The little bit of branch in the bottom corner anchors the image nicely by completing the story.

  • Andrew:  This image makes on wonder what it is that the Kingfisher is so excited about – far more interesting than the usual portrait image of a the bird perching.
  • Gerry:  Interesting image that makes the viewer ask questions.  What is the bird doing?  Is he upset with something?   With regards to the monochrome conversion I would have liked to see a bit more contrast, to get the blacks black and the whites white but this does not take away from a decent image.

  • Andrew:  The framing of the subjects is perfect here and helps to convey a sense of contrast in size between the lilly and the bee.
  • Gerry:  Compositionally this is a good image.  You get to see the bee in it’s natural environment and also it’s relative size to the flower.  Even though this was shot in cloudy conditions I would like to see a slightly cooler tone to the image.   This would not only have made the blues of the water come out a bit but also made the yellows stand out more.  The soft lines on the right hand side of the frame is slightly distracting but, considering the equipment used and the light not much that can be done about it.

* * *

After a great two days of wildlife photography with some amazing people, here are a couple of thoughts I took away from another succesful WP101 workshop.

  • Person to person discussions still beat online forums.
  • After a bit of revision, most people understand the affect of aperture on the final look and feel of your images.
  • Metering and exposing for your subject is still one of the most misunderstood areas in wildlife photography.
  • Large telephoto lenses are a great tool, and source of inspiration, in wildlife photography.
  • Large telephoto lenses is not the only thing required to create striking wildlife images.
  • Shooting in a group, with someone guiding the process, is still one of the best ways to learn and be inspired.
  • Regardless of experience level, we can all learn from each other.
  • Ego has no place in wildlife photography!


A big thanks goes out to Andrew Beck, from Moya Wa Tenga, for all his help on this workshop.  Also, a huge thanks to all of the participants for choosing Photo-Africa and sharing the joys of wildlife photography with us.  We look forward to seeing you on future workshops!

Our next, new and improved, Wildlife Photography 101 workshop will take place on 21 & 22 May 2011 so make sure to keep your eyes on the site for more info.  Alternatively, simply complete the form below and we’ll send you all the necessary info.

We look forward to welcoming you on a Photo-Africa workshop!

Gerry van der Walt




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