Photo shoot trip South Africa 2019

The wide land, the fascinating wilderness, the nature and above all, the wildlife of South Africa have enchanted me for many years.

Since 2011 I have travelled to South Africa several times and have visited various wildlife parks. The  Glen Afric park was recommended to me by local contacts with whom I share the same attitude on animal welfare.

Our project planning didn’t start until three months before departure. I booked the flight without even knowing who would join me. Within a few days, the models Carmen and Nadine had booked their flights, too, and a short time later another photographer called Theresa. Two assistants and Carmen’s boyfriend joined us. We booked a whole week in Glen Afric and hired make up artists from Johannesburg and Pretoria, who completed our team.

Vicky, the animal welfare officer of Glen Afric, instructed me in advance, what is possible and what not. On the telephone we also exchanged our intentions and our attitude towards animals. She made it clear that she would never risk anything and that safety would be her top priority. This was the basis for our trustful relationship and cooperation.

1 March 2019, 22:40

Before our departure we met up for dinner. Some of us saw each other for the first time. Flying SWISS is always something special for me as it makes me feel at home and reminds me of my time as a flight attendant. How I had missed this feeling of excitement before a big trip in the last few years!

2 March 2019 10:20 a.m.: Welcome to South Africa

After a long night flight over the huge continent of Africa, we finally landed in Johannesburg. Bright sunshine and humid heat was exactly what we had wished for after this cold winter. The transfer service of Glen Afric took us to the lodge. After making ourselves at home in our rooms and having a bite to eat, we met up with Vicky, who immediately took us on a little safari.

We drove through the park and discussed the potential locations for the first photoshoot sessions and we were also instructed about important safety precautions.

When we finally got to bed that night, dead tired, we could hardly fall asleep out of anticipation. A week full of action and excitement was waiting for us!

3 March 6:00 a.m.: First impressions

It was a very short night. First of all, because of the excitement which had prevented us from sleeping, but also because of a huge spider, as big as a dinner plate, in Nadine’s room. Fortunately, there were two courageous girls in our team, who didn’t seam to suffer from fear of spiders, as I do. They immediately fixed the problem.

We met Cuan Kemp, one of our make up artists, at breakfast. Carmen had already been styled and Vicky was waiting for us. We drove into the park in a jeep and saw the first zebras. Emmanuel, Vicky’s assistant, grabbed a bucket of dry food and started shaking it. It took just a few seconds until the zebras came running. Cautiously, Carmen walked towards the animals. Vicky and Emmanuel were standing right beside her and were trying to position the animals by luring them with food so that we could work with backlight. At this time, the sunshine was already getting very intensive, which made it difficult for us to find a good location. That’s why we decided to make an earlier start the next days: at 5:30 instead of 7:30.

On our first morning we met giraffes, ostriches, gnus and, of course, Jack, the tamest zebra in the world. Ostriches and giraffes belong to the trickiest and most dangerous animals for photoshoots. Vicky told us a lot about the animals and the park, which she had built up together with her then husband. She recognises almost any animal at first sight and told us something about their different characters. Above all Jack, the zebra, which is a real phenomenon. I remember him very well. In June 2011 I met him and was immediately fascinated by how close he came to humans.

In the afternoon we shot with baby cheetahs from a private animal shelter – one of the highlights of our trip.

Already on our first day we had a very good impression about the wellbeing of the animals, about how they are kept and treated. For us, it had been clear from the very beginning that we would never have continued our trip in Glen Afric if we hadn’t assured ourselves of the ethical treatment of the animals.

4 March 6:00 a.m.: A reunion with lady elephant Three

Another shooting day started. Today it was Nadine’s special day. Until sunset (with breaks, of course) we worked with diverse animals that crossed our way. Even wild boars appeared in front of our cameras and reminded us of Disney’s „Lion King“. We even worked with elephants – Three and her daughters Hanna and Marty, who I had already met in June 2011. I was very pleased to see the three lady elephants again – well and happy. However, we had to be extremely careful when shooting with them. One of the assistants was feeding Three while Nadine was posing next to her. We only had ten minutes for the shoot, so everything had to be exactly right.

During dinner we already sorted the first pictures and enjoyed our results.

5 March 8:00 a.m. – Baby lions

We slept late this morning and were received by the zebras who were standing directly in front of our lodge. Today we drove to the lion park where we were going to shoot with baby lions. Sadly, little lions are kept in a lot of South Africa’s lion parks. When they are grown up, they are sold to tourists who shoot and kill them. We were well aware of this and, always having this on our minds, had mixed feelings about our photoshoot, even though we had chosen a park where this is not done. We finished the shoot after 40 minutes in order not to stress the baby lions.

6 March 10:00 a.m.: Safari

Safari is an absolute must in South Africa. That’s why we had booked one in Pilanesberg with my favourite tour guide. After the past days, which had been tough, but also eventful, we were looking forward to some relaxation and enjoyed watching the animals from a distance. Our safari driver told us the sad story of the rhinos, the horns of which are sold for several million dollars on the black market, and how rangers tried night after night to protect the park from intruders, risking their own lives.

7 March 5:00 a.m.: Big cats’ day

During the night I was woken up by the roar of lions and other animals that made unidentifiable noises. Even though we had to get up at an extremely early time, it was fascinating to be woken up by roaring lions.

We set off very early for our sunrise shoot. Nadine had already been in the make-up room since three a.m. We had booked a room for Jeanne-Kay, our make-up artist, so she didn’t have to drive to our place at such an early hour, which can be very dangerous nowadays.

We had a fantastic African sunrise with gnus and zebras in the background and received Carmen at 8 o’clock as planned. Today, it was the big cats’ day.

For the first time I saw a leopard so closely. Salati, the lady leopard, is kept in a big cage. Many years ago she had come together with her two brothers to Glen Afric, where she was fed and taken care of. Her brothers were released back into the wild, when they had recovered, but unfortunately they didn’t survive. Salita, however, enjoys the full attention of the animal keepers, who call her a „diva“.

Our photoshoot took place in the cage, while Theresa and I were staying outside the cage, for safety reasons. Vicky was trying to get Salati on the tree with her assistant trying to lure her with food. Carmen was waiting to go into action outside the cage.

Salati was well-behaved with Carmen, but soon lost interest in her. Vicky was watching every single step of Salati and sent Carmen out after two minutes, the moment our photos were „in the box“.

In the afternoon we drove out of the park together with three lions in order to shoot with them. A big dream came true for me! Lions belong to my favourite animals. They have so much grace and pride. We had discussed the shoot with Carmen and Nadine in advance, dwelling on every little detail. Vicky informed us about the safety precautions and gave the model clear instructions on what they could do and what not. Even the spot where we took the photos, had to be only a few metres away from the playground of the three lions. Theresa and I placed ourselves close to each other, Nadine right beside us. To the left and to the right of us were two assistants. Carmen prepared herself and crossed her arms in front of her chest to protect herself. In doing this, she prevented the lion from being able to snap at her as she might mistake her for food. To the left and to the right of her were two further assistants and Vicky, who was watching the scene. Vicky’s son was 20 metres away, and when we were ready, he opened the cage and released Nairobi. One of the assistants, who was standing next to Carmen, was permanently luring the lioness with food. In this way, her attention was distracted, which gave us the opportunity to take our pictures. But we had to be quick. Both model were marvellous, they posed with so much coolness and ease, as if it were their pet cat that was walking around them. Nevertheless they showed a healthy amount of respect, which is necessary in every photoshoot session with animals. After not even 15 minutes the session was over and we were indescribably happy!

This was my personal highlight of the whole trip, and I am so happy about the pictures with the lions.

8 March 5.00 a.m.: A hippo for breakfast 

We had been given a spontaneous update to one of the luxury cottages and spent the last two nights in front of the lake where a hippo was living. Already at the very beginning we were warned never to walk around on our own at night, as ostriches and, above all, hippos can be the cause of fatal encounters. In the morning we saw the hippo from our terrace, peering out of the water.

The alarm went off very early again. This time, it was Theresa’s (our second photographer) turn to take pictures. Three, the lady elephant, and Jack, the tamest zebra in the world, had to be there, of course, as well as Nasiphi, our South African model who we had been looking forward to meeting the whole week.

In the evening we finally got to bed – exhausted, but happy and knowing that we could have a good night’s sleep.

9 March 10:00 a.m.: Time to say Good-bye

We spent the last hours in the lodge mainly catching up on some sleep, sorting photos and above all, getting a massage. With thousands of photos in our baggage, we started on our way back home. It was a fantastic week full of exciting experiences, but we were not sad that it was over now. We knew that we would come back next year!

Some food for thought

A lot of animals in South Africa, especially lions and rhinos, are currently endangered. Animal shelters and big parks, such as Glen Afric, offer some animals a lot of space in a huge area, which is fenced, but protected. The animal keepers look after each individual animal. Some animals were brought to Glen Afric because they were sick and had the chance to get back on their feet. Others were given shelter at Glen Afric to protect their species as they are a popular prey of hunters in the wild. The animals are accustomed to humans, but they are wild animals after all. To respect limits and, above all, to recognise them, was very important during our trip. Vicky recognised her animals immediately, mainly from their behaviour. When there was the slightest sign of danger, she immediately called us back. We trusted her! That’s why it is essential that these pictures are not simply copied, let alone with a wild animal. However splendid they look, they are the result of a great deal of time and, above all, patience. By offering the possibility for film and photo shoots, a lot of animal shelters finance the housing and maintenance of their animals, and, in this way, keep them alive.

Pictures of wild animals with women are nice to look at, but they are also provoking and trigger off a lot of different opinions. With my photos and the trip to South Africa, I want to raise people’s awareness of certain problems, such as killing lions by tourists, who do this merely for their own pleasure. If we keep looking away, there might not be any lions or rhinos in 30 years. People and animals can live peacefully together, but the animal’s limits have to be respected so that neither the animal, nor the model runs into danger.

In 2020, I’m planning a workshop trip to South Africa, where we are not only going to learn how to take good pictures, but also how to deal with this special kind of people-animal-photography respectfully.

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