Here’s a sampling of first-rate photo safari contractors who subscribe to that credo and can be counted on to bring their clients back with superb photographic results.
Seals, Owls and People, Too
Green Planet Expeditions
This little firm based in Lyons, Colo., definitely falls in the green zone. Director and chief guide Steven Morello began his 20-year career in wildlife tourism leading whale watches off the New England coast. Today he is a respected outdoor shooter, author of a comprehensive book, The Traveling Nature Photographer, and a contributing photographer for numerous magazines and conservation organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund. He and his clients trek around the globe to commune with seals, owls, elephants, zebra and, in places like Peru, native peoples. But first and foremost, Morello is a vocal advocate for sustainable ecotourism. “The key to shooting powerful nature photography,” he insists, “is to first be a good naturalist.”
To this end, Green Planet photo safaris emphasize that the teams Morello takes into the field will deliberately prepare by learning about the area they will be visiting, the terrain and biota they will want to photograph, and a little about the local native culture. Above all, he comes down hard against irresponsible behavior in pursuit of pretty pictures. “You don’t impinge on a habitat,” he says. “You don’t induce an animal to move. You don’t chase them or make noises to get their attention. You honor their right to not interact with you.”
Morello’s clients seem to respect this level of sensitivity. Mary Beth Cohen, a Green Planet regular who recently traveled to Namibia, marvels that Morello is “almost painfully careful around the animals. In Africa, he’d divert the Land Rover to avoid disturbing a mother cat nursing her cubs.”
A veteran of expeditions to the Arctic, Antarctica, the jungles of South America and the African grasslands, Morello prefers to keep his tour groups small—between six and 10 participants—enough so that he can maintain personal contact with them before and during their experience. He front-loads every expedition, introducing himself by phone and briefing each team member individually. Morello smiles when he claims that in four years of Green Planet’s relatively young operation, he’s never disappointed a client.
Surveying the Savanna
Focus on Africa
Ray Christenson is a photo-happy Lutheran minister from Henderson, Nev., who used to take a day off from his congregation every week to work in a camera store. After his retirement, Christenson joined a photo safari to Kenya, South Africa and Botswana. He recalls the hypnotic appeal of communing with wildlife through his viewfinder: “One leopard took its kill into a tree. I photographed it obsessively for maybe three hours, as it ate, then retired down the branch to sleep, then returned to its meal. I probably shot 200 pictures of this process, fascinated the whole time to be watching truly primal behavior at its natural pace.”
Africa, with its postcard vistas and astonishing biota, is a kind of holy grail for ecotraveling photo enthusiasts. Christenson made the excursion under the auspices of Focus on Africa (FOA), an operator that began as an outreach campaign for conservation and community development. Founder David Anderson, an associate of famed anthropologist Richard Leakey, is a passionate activist for protecting Africa’s biodiversity legacy and one day empowering the peoples of this beleaguered continent to—in the words of Anderson’s mission statement—“create sustainable economies in harmony with nature.”
Knowing the power of visual imagery to energize such a campaign, Anderson offers photo safaris over the entire continent, at specially discounted rates for serious photographers willing to release their safari pictures for media use without compensation. One selection of these bartered photographs, by 130 FOA clients, is already compiled in a lavish large-format book, On Safari (www.onsafari.info). Current and returning clients are presented with the same offer for participating in the book’s upcoming second edition.