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Sabi Sabi!

Aug 8

In In The Field at 5:55am

Couple days at Sabi Sabi can make you feel like a genuine wildlife shooter.

And, truth be told, if you get a fast piece of long glass, and a good digital camera, some nice light, and a bit of patience and opportunity, here, you can come up with a pretty postcard of an animal that is definitely wall worthy. Something nice to look at. Maybe even gorgeous. But I think on some of the work of my passionate colleagues at Geographic, and I realize that with their work, there is always the fillip of difference, an inflection of editorial significance, a story telling note that imparts to the photo the power of memory. Reference the work of Nick Nichols, or Joel Sartore, or Paul Nicklen with leopard seals, and you’ll see what I mean. My humble attempts at the animal world fell far short of that standard.

That’s okay, really, ’cause it’s not what I do, and just having a single crack at amazing the natural history world does not constitute expertise. I am acutely aware that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, especially when it comes to picture making. Moose Peterson I ain’t. There were lots of moments out there where I was over or under-lensed, or missed the essential timing needed for a shot. And my tried and true people picture practice of minimizing my ISO and thus maximizing my quality led me to use some shutter speeds that were simply inadequate for critters. A lion turning his majestic head may seem like a mild movement to the naked eye, but your file tells a different story. Lots of my pix had the vaporous tinge of lack of sharpness.

It’s refreshing, actually, to know, that even after 35 years of doing this that I can still feel utterly overmatched, like a sophomore in a basic photo class with an assignment to explore depth of field.

As good or bad as some of my pictures were, I would have had very little to show for my efforts were it not for Rich De Gouveia coaching me along on a steady basis. He is an experienced ranger, and also responsible for the Sabi Sabi photo output, and their social media presence. His Sabi Sabi blog is a frequent reminder of the wonders he sees out in the bush on virtually a daily basis. As good as he is with a camera (and the pictures in this blog are here mostly because of his direction)  he is even more knowledgeable about animal biology and behavior, and he did his best to get me into the head of a lioness surveying a herd of Cape buffalo. (Buffet!) Despite his cues, I still found the anticipation of a shift in direction or tactics tough to keep up with at camera.

He was teamed with Tracker Jack, who had eyes beyond. We’d be bumping along a dirt track, and I’d be enjoying the ongoing blur of grass and trees, and Jack would raise his hand, slow the vehicle, and point. And there would be not some bird, or squirrel, or other type of smallish, easy to miss varmint, but a big, honking, breathing, snorting mammal, like an elephant. I mean, some of these creatures could barely fit in a one-car garage, I’d just, you know, miss them. He and Rich are an amazing tandem, and their efforts got my lens pointed in the right direction. 

A couple days at Sabi Sabi was soul cleansing, to be sure. It was my first opportunity to see a truly serene and beautiful stretch of Africa. In many previous visits, such as to Rwanda after the genocide, I witnessed turmoil, nobility , beauty and pain in equal measure.


Truth be told, I was photographically more in my element on the concrete streets of Joburg, where, lo and behold, I found, if only briefly, dancers.

These dancers and drummers are part of a troupe called Drum Cafe, and, under the direction of Warren and Tammy Lieberman, they just launched a unique, and completely stunning road show in Edinburgh, Scotland, called DrumStruck. The percussive energy and cadence of the music is infectious, and the  explosive physical talents of the group, which includes a dance tradition from the mines of So. Africa called gumboot dance, just draws your lens.

Many thanks to Marli and Chantal, of Nikon South Africa for arranging a wonderful visit to not only engage the So. African photo community, but also to finally see this astonishing place on the globe, which I had never visited.

For the technically minded, the wildlife pix were all shot with a combo of a D4, D800E, a 200-400mm lens, or a 70-200. I trundled a 600mm to So. Africa, but didn’t need it. The guides and trackers at Sabi Sabi are so good you just don’t need the extra glass.

What an amazing world this is to carry a camera around in. More tk….






shea says:

on August 8, 2013 at 6:06 am

As always, I am so grateful for how you share. Thank you, Joe.

Alan MacRae says:

on August 8, 2013 at 6:46 am

Truly amazing images, Joe. Thank you for sharing your art and knowledge with us.

Fadi Kelada says:

on August 8, 2013 at 7:13 am

Thank you, Joe, for this story

Richard says:

on August 8, 2013 at 8:28 am

Thank you for sharing, Joe. The portrait photographer in you comes through loud and clear. Despite your self-effacing protestations to the contrary, you still tell beautiful stories of the animals. I love the baby elephant and the lion sizing you up as lunch!

Peter Kelly says:

on August 8, 2013 at 8:37 am

Where you prefer the Concrete jungle wild life I prefer the jungle wild life, in the jungle the animal kill to survive and to eat, in the concrete jungle humans kills just for the hell of it, man learns nothing from the wars previously fought and the men women and children who have died through this wars, like Rwanda they chopped hacked and shot each other and for what ???????

Hilde Jordbruen says:

on August 8, 2013 at 8:44 am

Thank you for sharing this amazing photos and the story. And: That Picture of a rawring lion is stunningly amazing!

LOº°˚˚˚˚°ºO§A̶̲̥̅♏ image says:

on August 8, 2013 at 9:16 am

Wow!that was a great adventure, and Ʊя̩̥̊ story has helps one way or the other. and tanks for Ɣ☺ΰ are always been hepsul to M̶̲̥̅ε̲̣̣̣̥ in my photography carea.

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on August 8, 2013 at 10:13 am

Great images Joe. All I could think of the first image. Kitty see nice lunch? Reminded me of walking up on a bear in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I only have to be faster than the other photographers I was with, and while I am not young or fast, I can be motivated.

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Chantal says:

on August 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Wonderful post Joe :) Thanks so much for sharing your experience !!

Patrik Lindgren says:

on August 8, 2013 at 3:21 pm

A good read, once again. Your stories are always interesting and intriguing.
And i just have to say that your old pictures from, i think it’s Rwanda, is absolutely amazing. The two wide ones.

Keep at it!

Alistair McNaughton says:

on August 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm

That is the best giraffe picture I have seen fullstop.

Jim Donahue says:

on August 8, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Great work Joe, not all of us can be a Moose and not all of us can be a Joe, but we just keep on trying.

Tammy Lieerman says:

on August 9, 2013 at 3:43 am

Your photos are fantastic! Those are definitely some of our favourites of Drum Struck! We’re both in Edinburgh and the show has been receiving 4 and 5 star reviews. Come back to Joburg soon!!
Warren & Tammy

Dallas Dahms says:

on August 9, 2013 at 10:38 am

Yesterday I returned from spending a week with Rich and Jack (as well as Ross & Solly) and 6 guests from the USA on our annual photographic pilgrimage to this amazing place. There are not enough words to describe it all, so we do it in pixels. I’m really glad that you also got the chance to experience this place, Joe. Richard says he has never met a more humble man than you, and I believe him. :)

Dirk says:

on August 11, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Joe, these are great shots. Say, was that all natural light or was there some speedlights or big flash involved?

Gail D'Almaine says:

on August 12, 2013 at 9:20 am

What a pleasure. Thanks for sharing. And once you get African dust in your veins – it never goes away – you should be warned! :)

Jedna Chwila says:

on September 28, 2013 at 5:04 am

Lions are perfect! these shots are so great!!!

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