Wildlife Photography Volunteer Project: A Volunteer’s Review
Here’s what you can expect if you venture to South Africa for a wildlife photography volunteer project
If you’re keen to sharpen your (wildlife) photography skills, and you have a passion for wildlife conservation, here’s a great opportunity to combine the two; join us as a wildlife photography and conservation volunteer in South Africa! Set in the Greater Kruger area, this 4-week photography volunteer project offers a pretty unique way of becoming the best wildlife photographer you can be, and contributing to the conservation of African wildlife at the same time. Australian volunteer Michelle Coyle, who joined the project in May, shared what it was like to be part of this program. Thanks for sharing, Michelle!
There are no age restrictions!
Lets get the age thing out of the way first off! Here’s a group pic shot of photographers, researchers and staff taken during “Sundowners” so you can see what a varied aged group we had. (That’s me front row with the hat.) Our group was one of the biggest photography groups they have had recently so there were a lot of us. You will get to eat with staff and researchers as well so everyone chats away together and is excited to share what they have experienced throughout their day.
We had a very varied aged group. I would say the majority were 30-40’s, a couple of 18-20’s and then there were the oldies (me….50+); four of us. But the great thing about photographers is that we are just wanting to take pics (and lots of them), so age is no barrier.
The daily schedule
Each Sunday night an agenda for the week is placed on the notice board. There are many 5am starts; the best time to see wildlife. These are followed by trips throughout the day for volunteering; conservation, community reading, Farmers of the Future, and erosion control. You will be expected to take you camera along and produce pics to compile a reportage of the day. Along with this, your contributing to all of the causes mentioned. I loved this opportunity and wished we had more time to fit these in.
There were lots of evening drives to Buffalo Land, a private reserve that offers many varied animal sightings ( we saw a leopardon day one). The guides who work at Dumela are unbelievably knowledgeable. During drives, they will often stop turn the motor off and give you an insight into the creature you are photographing or just taking time out to enjoy. They work tirelessly and are brilliant at what they do.
Along with these full days, during this photography volunteer project, you will also have a good amount of time allocated for photo editing. I made good use of this time in the project room, to keep up to date with the amount of pics I was taking. To give you an idea; I too 13,978 pics throughout my four weeks.
If you are planning to stay 4 weeks, you will probably get to camp at Klaserie for three camping trips. I’m not going to say more about this, except WOW you will love it.
Honing Photography Skills
As you can imagine, everyone on the stay was varied in their abilities, but at no time was this an issue. Everyone was happy to share what they could. Some people were amazing at Photoshop and Lightroom, some were brilliant birds photographers, and some had picked up a camera for the first time.
If you are going to do this photography volunteer project to learn new skills….you will! Even if it’s just because you wont leave your room without your camera, for four weeks it becomes an extension of your arm. Walking around Dumela early morning, when no one was awake, I got to photograph monkeys waking up and busily playing in the trees. Make sure you have Lightroom installed and don’t forget to bring your laptop, or you will be severely disadvantaged.
Weekends, Time Off
So you can see you week is full. But weekends are yours. Dumela has a selected range of popular weekend trips. A couple of girls and I thought we would be smart and book better cheaper trips, however, don’t waste your time. These trips are awesome and good value, the only snag is that you often need 6 people to sign up for it to go ahead. If you can do the Swaziland weekend trip, DO IT, it is fantastic, and you will get an amazing shower at the lodge. Kruger is good too, although I feel you see just as much if not more on your drives with the team at Dumela. I also hired a car and drove around on my last weekend with a couple of girls, which was fun and felt safe.
Every Friday afternoon you can go into town to pick up any supplies you may need. The first stop is the camera shop, which has just about everything you will need, so that’s good to know. Then the ATM and supermarket in case you need nibbles to get you through the week. We bought marshmallows to roast when out camping.
The food at the lodge is yummy, filling and there’s heaps of it. You will make your own breakfast and lunch and dinner is cooked and supplied. It’s good wholesome basic food. Filtered water, tea and coffee are always available.
Helping Conservation Efforts
I feel I left Australia to take lots of wonderful pics, and I did. However, I feel I have brought back a new found love for conservation and animal welfare on top of this, and I hope that my constant messages on social media are highlighting the dangers of extinction for some of these animals. I feel I’m not doing enough, but I guess every little bit helps.