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I Wish We Knew This Earlier

We have been traipsing around this planet (mainly in southern Africa and the rest of Africa) for a while now. Always keen on travel, always keen on photography we’ve explored and photographed some of the most astounding, interesting and beautiful places and things. And what a rollicking journey it has been - damn hard work at times, and more than once we’ve emerged from a project frazzled and burnt out. Would we change any of it? Noooooo, not for an instant!

But here’s the thing: en route we’ve learnt a thing or two, not only about photography but also about travel and surviving out there.

Don’t fuss with what people think of your photography. It’s great to receive flattering comments about your work - enjoy them. The flip side, i.e. criticisms, can be a very useful for learning but be sure to take it from whence it comes. If it’s someone you trust, listen. If it’s unsolicited, check the source before taking it to heart. <br />
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Water-weeds in Alaska. Shot on the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and Leica 100 - 400mm lens at 250mm (500mm equivalent on a full frame camera). 1/80 sec at f5,4. ISO 400

Don’t fuss with what people think of your photography. It’s great to receive flattering comments about your work - enjoy them. The flip side, i.e. criticisms, can be a very useful for learning but be sure to take it from whence it comes. If it’s someone you trust, listen. If it’s unsolicited, check the source before taking it to heart.

Water-weeds in Alaska. Shot on the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and Leica 100 - 400mm lens at 250mm (500mm equivalent on a full frame camera). 1/80 sec at f5,4. ISO 400

So, here are 10 things that we wish we’d known when we started Roger and Pat de la Harpe Photography and Africa Imagery Stock Photography:

1. For the most part (see also point 2) the camera gear that you are using has surprisingly little influence on your photography. Sure, you need certain kit to achieve certain results, which will open the door to getting wonderful photographs. But what’s in your head, your own creativity and inspiration contribute way more to wonderful images than the camera gear does.

2. The lenses are far more important than the camera body - buy the best lens you need for the work you will be doing and then get the best camera you can with what’s left in the budget, not the other way around. The lens creates the image - the sharpness, colour, contrast and clarity are all lens dependant - the body just records the image.

3. Travel through this world with lightness and freedom of movement. You’ll find that you can get by with much less gear than you think. Many’s the time we’ve packed loads of gear just in case we needed it, only to find that quite a bit is still tucked away unused in the camera bag at the end of the shoot.You certainly need the right kit to do the job, but let sanity prevail…

Remember the picnic basket/sundowners cool box. You never know when an emergency may pop up (like a beautiful sunset) and think just how miserable you be without some snacks and your favourite tipple…<br />
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Breede River sunset. A stitch of 6 photographs shot on the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and 12 - 35mm lens at 35mm (70mm equivalent on a full frame camera). 1/800 sec at f8. ISO 10

Remember the picnic basket/sundowners cool box. You never know when an emergency may pop up (like a beautiful sunset) and think just how miserable you be without some snacks and your favourite tipple…

Breede River sunset. A stitch of 6 photographs shot on the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and 12 - 35mm lens at 35mm (70mm equivalent on a full frame camera). 1/800 sec at f8. ISO 10

4. Learn, be inspired, have passion and exploit your creativity. Never copy - you’ll never be as good as the one you copied. They are your pictures and it’s your journey. Bring home your own stories - visual or otherwise.

5. Never pick a fight with a customs or immigration official - you more than likely won’t win the argument. Some years ago we landed in Kathmandu in Nepal, heading for the Pokhara and the Annapurna Sanctuary. Visa fees in US dollars were required on arrival (and it was not a huge amount) and some guy on the same flight as us wanted to pay in local currency and he was not going to waiver. We stood in the long queues for ages and looked on as he tried to make his point and when we left the argument was still raging. We did wonder if he actually ever made it into the country! The lesson - don’t sweat the small stuff.

6. Pace yourself. It’s easy to burn out and become stale - we’ve been there! Take it easy, enjoy that sunset, aardvark sighting or dinner in that out of the way, off the tourist route, Parisian bistro. I’m not saying don’t work hard or don’t give it your all but do try to maintain some semblance of perspective on the whole thing.

Sometimes you do have to put the hours in so that you get things the way they are in your head. Hours can go by while a lot of people put a lot of effort into getting things right. And then, click, it’s done!<br />
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Jock Safari Lodge shot on the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and 12 - 35mm lens at 12mm (24mm equivalent on a full frame camera). ⅓ sec at f9. ISO 400.

Sometimes you do have to put the hours in so that you get things the way they are in your head. Hours can go by while a lot of people put a lot of effort into getting things right. And then, click, it’s done!

Jock Safari Lodge shot on the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and 12 - 35mm lens at 12mm (24mm equivalent on a full frame camera). ⅓ sec at f9. ISO 400.

7. Do not give your work away for free. This is important, even if you do not make a living from your photography, because if you do give it away, your “clients” will a) expect the same from all photographers and b) will always expect free photographs or shoots from you and you won’t be able to charge them a fee in the future.

8. Do the shoot properly - if you are going to go to the trouble of getting out the camera and shooting some pics - do it right. Late one afternoon, some years ago, we were on top of the Kleinrivier Mountains (just to the north of Hermanus in the Western Cape) shooting pics for some project or other. The last golden rays of the sun were lighting up the fynbos, and in the background, the mountains of the glorious Hemel en Aarde Valley, It was a magnificent sight so I grabbed my camera and a wide lens and headed off looking for something strong to put in the foreground. Here’s where it all went pear-shaped: When I finally found the composition that I was looking for, the light had faded to the point where I needed to shoot at a very low shutter speed to be able to select f 11 or 16 that would give me sufficient depth of field. The tripod was in the car a few hundred metres away but no worries I thought, f4 or 5,6 should do it… Well it didn’t. And we were never able to use those pics. A complete waste of time. I should have realised up front that a tripod would be necessary and taken it with me, or gone back to get it.

9. Plan for your shoot. When we head out on a trip, whether it be a commissioned shoot or just a road trip shooting stock travel and wild images, we do a fair bit of research about the route. (And many times the original route changes because of the research). Know before hand what you are going to need in terms of camera gear, knowledge (how to shoot what you are hoping to see) and where the best places to see it are.

10. I do a lot of pre-visualisation and this can be hugely beneficial when you finally get down to shooting. Part of the research we do includes having a look at what pics are available and how other people have photographed the subject. (If many have shot something in a particular way, I don’t want to be doing it the same way. I would rather try something new, fresh and inspiring.) This has 2 benefits: Firstly, we can learn from other people’s ideas and then meld these with our own to get something that works for us (as I’ve said above, don’t copy) and this is where the pre-visualisation comes in - wait for the ideas to pop up and then make a note of them, you’ll never remember that idea that happened at 03:00 in the morning!


When you get into a situation that works and that you’ll probably never experience again, shoot it for all its worth. Remember to shoot vertical, wide, tight, horizontal, movies and anything else you can think of. And then, take a moment to remember where you are, what you’re doing and how privileged you are to be doing what you do.<br />
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Shot on the Panasonic Lumix GH4 and 100 - 400mm Canon lens with Metabones adaptor at 302mm (604mm equivalent on a full frame camera). 1/25 sec at f5,4. ISO 400.

When you get into a situation that works and that you’ll probably never experience again, shoot it for all its worth. Remember to shoot vertical, wide, tight, horizontal, movies and anything else you can think of. And then, take a moment to remember where you are, what you’re doing and how privileged you are to be doing what you do.

Shot on the Panasonic Lumix GH4 and 100 - 400mm Canon lens with Metabones adaptor at 302mm (604mm equivalent on a full frame camera). 1/25 sec at f5,4. ISO 400.

You may very well enjoy this quick tutorial about how to use light while photographing wildlife.

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