11 December 2010 by Julienne du Toit


Forty years ago in South Africa, anyone shooting a picture of a wild animal was thought to be rather odd. Eccentric, in fact.

The trend was overwhelmingly in favour of killing the beast, stuffing it, and then admiring its glassy expression on a wall. Growing old and tatty with it, so to speak.

Nowadays, wildlife photography has become such an important pursuit that it is a powerful industry in its own right - and one that requires far more skill.

Or at least, that’s what one of South Africa’s top wildlife lensmen thinks. But Daryl Balfour speaks with some authority, since he has done both.

“I tell many hunters that they don’t have to worry about the quality of the light. With a telescopic scope and high powered rifle, they can shoot an animal 400 metres away at any time of the day.

“I can’t. I have a limited window of two hours in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon. I have to be on the right side of that light. And I need to be able to anticipate what that animal is going to do.

“The top photographers of today know far more about wildlife than hunters do, because they have to predict behaviour. They watch the animals for hours on end. The hunters know how to get downwind and how to shoot it, but often very little else. They shoot from hundreds of metres away.”

On reflection, he may have a point. The world has changed. There are still plenty of hunters, but no one talks of them like they once did of Theodore Roosevelt or Ernest Hemingway.

Wildlife photographers have usurped their mantles and prestige.

Category: Wildlife

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