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8 July 2024 - Expert Interviews

Q&A with Photographer Alan Hewitt – Get to know your Photo Tour Leader

What is your most memorable photographic experience?

This is one of the most difficult questions to answer! We visit so many incredible areas in fantastic reserves with such a diverse range of species, to narrow it down is very difficult. 

We had an evening in the Maasai Mara when we spotted some elephants walking along a ridge line and managed to position ourselves with the elephants between us and the last of the setting sun as it disappeared behind the horizon. Simple silhouette photography with beautiful skies, a cold beer in a fantastic place! In Timbavati we had an incredible morning with a female leopard up a tree. She had a kill, a male impala with her too. Photographing her in the morning light as she looked around, rested and fed was amazing. Sometimes though, a fantastic photographic experience doesn’t need to be mega-fauna. In Botswana last year, we spent a wonderful hour at last light on the Limpopo River photographing a colony of very active white-fronted bee-eaters. It was a great opportunity to photograph some beautiful photogenic birds in action. Lions crossing one of the seasonally dry river beds in Timbavati, that’s another amazing moment. It was the whole pride I think, lionesses, cubs and the two males stopped to rest right in the middle. Priceless! 

How have your experiences influenced your approach to wildlife photography?

Working in very different habitats, from the bushveld of the Timbavati to the vast savanna of the Maasai Mara then the rocky outcrops and dense mopane trees of Tuli in Botswana has given me more of an interest to photograph species in a more contextual way. What I mean by that is to try and tell a natural history society, photograph animals to depict their habitat, relationships with the habitat and with other species. This often means a slightly wider view point rather than very close portrait type of wildlife photography. I still do the latter, but when the opportunity presents itself I try to look for context.

What got you into photography?

Living in the north east of England, we are blessed with so many rural and coastal landscapes. I enjoyed photographing these with an interest in the challenges of long exposures especially around water. But I always had an interest in natural history and longed for a telephoto lens to photograph the birds and seals. Eventually I could afford a long telephoto zoom and wildlife became my genre! 

a cheetah sitting on the trunk of the tree

What or who is your biggest photographic inspiration?

There is no one particular person. I enjoy looking at the wider view wildlife work of South African photographer Morkel Erasmus, his work gave me a lot to think about in terms of context and photographing natural history stories. Perhaps the biggest source of inspiration comes from everybody who I work with on all of our photography tours.  It doesn’t matter that I’m the group’s professional photographer. We all have different ideas, especially creatively with composition and when you’re working as a group, sharing ideas you can always learn and be inspired by others.

Talk us through your first, and current, camera setup and what’s something that’s always in your camera bag?

My first wildlife photography set up, a Nikon D70 and 80-400mm lens. Now, I’m using the Fujifilm X-H2S as my main camera together with either the XF50-140mm, XF100-400mm or 150-600mm lenses. I sometimes use a XF200mm and also some of the cameras and lenses in Fujifilm’s GFX medium format line up. I’m a huge advocate of using a monopod, especially from a safari vehicle when you have a long heavy lens focussed on a subject waiting for a moment of action. You can pretty much guarantee that muscle shake will set in and as soon as you take a rest, that’s when that action will happen!

What makes the trips you lead to Botswana and South Africa so special? 

Between the two locations, Timbavati (SA) and Tuli Block (Botswana), they have very different landscapes and habitat. Both offer incredible opportunities! In Timbavati the number of vehicles is low and the wildlife density and diversity is amazing. We’ve done all of the ‘Big Five’ in just one game drive. In itself, that is quite something but we also see so much more… birds, antelopes, giraffes, hippos, hyena. It’s a big list. Many of the areas in Timbavati are quite dense with foliage and this often makes getting closer to birds a little easier.

In Tuli Block, the landscape and foliage is massively different and the tourist numbers are very low, often just us! I really enjoy the diversity of the habitat, rocky outcrops, moping tree forests, the Limpopo River which provides wonderful crocodile opportunities, bathing elephants and a variety of birdlife too. In contrast, the vast Motloutse River is dry during the winter and Eagle Rock which towers above is usually home to nesting eagles. There are also some unusual aspects of Tuli Block, brown hyena, bat-eared foxes are numerous and the national bird of Botswana… the Kori Bustard.

elephants walking in a safari

What can people expect to learn from you on a tour?

I like to work with people as individuals rather than a large group. Guests often have very different learning needs and different cameras and lenses. I like to build understanding on manual exposure, not really because I believe this is the best wildlife photography solution but because it increases understanding of how modes such as aperture and shutter priority work and how we can quickly react to changes using exposure compensation, for example. I work on building knowledge of how different autofocus modes can be used effectively in different scenarios and offer advice on composition, pretty much anything! Customising camera set ups to suit ergonomics, preferred ways of working and helping people get the best out of their equipment. Also, processing photographs in software. Fieldcraft is important too, not just about how it can improve your photography but it’s also about ethics and safety.

What advice would you give to aspiring wildlife photographers who want to follow in your footsteps?

Learn how to use your camera with your eyes closed! Ok, so closing your eyes is not great for wildlife photography but being able to make adjustments to camera settings without moving your eye from the viewfinder is important. Fieldcraft too, if we can learn about our subjects we can often predict their behaviour. This means we may be able to stay one step ahead and get our cameras and lenses pointing in the right direction to capture action and behaviour. Being knowledgeable about species also helps you engage a much wider audience.

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