There are three kinds of wildlife photographers in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Which one are you? Pictures and text by Heinrich van den Berg
A sharp image of a flock of sandgrouse, to photographer Heinrich van den Berg, captures less emotion and nostalgia than a blurred image of the same flock.
Wildlife photographer Heinrich van den Berg breaks down the three types of sharp shooters in the Kgalagadi. Find out which profile fits your style:
The hunters are photographers with wide eyes who chase new sightings and don’t stop for more than 10 minutes at a sighting. Their biggest fear is missing whatever is waiting around the next bend. They are the guys who wake the camp in the mornings by starting their cars to be first in the queue at the gate, and who arrive back at camp in a dust cloud, one minute before the gate closes at night. Around the campfire, they go quiet and turn red when others mention the good sighting they’ve had that day. Hunters don’t like missing out.
The ambushers are photographers who park at waterholes, slouched in their seats, drinking tea, dozing off, waking up to photograph 1 000 images of every bird they see.
The Uncle Tom
My Uncle Tom likes things really slow. I went to the Kgalagadi with Uncle Tom while I was still at school. At that stage, I would have classified myself as a Type One photographer – an obsessive hunter. I hated missing out. I had no patience and suffered from next-corner syndrome.
But on that trip with Uncle Tom I had to learn to slow down. Uncle Tom’s pace was slower than most people’s. The way he did a game drive was to drive from tree to tree; in the shade of every tree, he would switch off the car and listen to an opera aria. Each aria lasted for up to 20 minutes, so we spent most of our days parked under a tree. He also enjoyed waterholes, so we spent many operas waiting.
I learnt three things on that holiday. Firstly, because our pace was slower, I had ample time to read books. Under every tree, I would read a chapter while listening to opera. The books I read on that trip have stayed with me to this day, The Catcher in the Rye was one of them. Books meant more in the dusty shade of a thorn tree with Madama Butterfly bellowing out of the open windows than they would have had I read them in Johannesburg.
Secondly, I learnt to stick with what I had on a game drive. Staying in one place, one’s chances of seeing something doing something are much greater than if one chases after the dream around the next corner. Rather sit and listen to opera and wait. Uncle Tom was good at this.
And thirdly, I learnt to photograph the same subject in as many different ways as possible.
So, on that holiday, I slowed down. I slowed not only in my thoughts and my movements, but in my shutter speed. The result revealed a new world. My slowing down let my camera see more, and let things mean more than they would have in the dusty wake of 10 frames per second.
A sharp image of a flock of sandgrouse, to me, captures less emotion and nostalgia than a blurred image of the same flock. The one is reality; the other is a dream in the Kgalagadi. The one is the sound of a 10-frames-per-second machine gun; the other, an opera aria. The one is a cloud of dust; the other is Uncle Tom.
The slow game-drive pace of Uncle Tom has rubbed off on me. Now, a lifetime later, I classify myself as a Type Three wildlife photographer. While photographing in the Kgalagadi for my latest book, Reflection, I parked under every tree and listened to opera. I found myself waiting for days at waterholes, blurring birds while thinking of The Catcher in the Rye. At last, I was able to look at the world through Holden’s eyes, to see – clearly – through my slow, slow camera shutter.
About the Author
Heinrich van den Berg is a professional wildlife photographer who has published more than 20 books. He spent the last four years taking photographs for, including writing and planning, a book that is in a different class and on a different scale from anything he has done before.
The book is titled Reflection and no fewer than eight different colour inks were used to print this huge book – 380mm x 310mm x 28mm. More than a wildlife book, it comprises thoughts, reflection and candid philosophy.
Heinrich had severe malaria in 1995, and for that reason he is donating a percentage of the profits of the book to Goodbye Malaria. Read more on here.