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My origins in film and wildlife photography

Updated: May 29

Bushwise’s Louise Pavid shares her passion for safari and wildlife through photography and videography. In this post, she tells us how this fascination all started – and where it’s taken her.

When I was a young and naïve eight year old I answered the same question most eight year olds answer: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I think anyone reading this will have similar memories along with memories of the outrageous occupations only eight year olds can come up with. “I’m going to be an astronaut!” “I’m going to be a doggy doctor!” “I’m going to be a dinosaur!” What was my answer? you ask. “I’m going to go to the Masai Mara and film the Great Migration for National Geographic!” I was quite specific about my goals, even at age eight.

The author smiles while looking towards the camera.

Of course my parents smiled at me, gave me a hug and told me that I could be or achieve anything I wanted. Obviously they were encouraging me to be ambitious and to think for myself about my future, but I don’t think they ever believed it would actually happen.

The author overlooking the wide expanse of the Oloololo.

Photo by Jamie Paterson

Fast forward 20 years and there I was, standing on the edge of the Oloololo escarpment. The sun rose over the incomprehensible vastness of east Africa’s Great Rift Valley. The red-flushed verdant ocean swelled and ebbed as the wind rippled through the red oat grass. The very grass wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle travel 1,900 kilometres annually to feed on. It was like waking up in Disney’s The Lion King every day. And the best part was, I was there working on a live safari TV show for National Geographic WILD.

Working on wildlife photography can mean a lot of time behind the computer or camera.

But this is not the start of my story, this happened somewhere in the middle of my journey with a wildlife TV production company that pioneered the live safari show format. Instead, my story begins somewhere far removed from Africa’s wilderness. It begins in the basement of a house in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. 

Wildlife photography means riding in game viewers and looking for interesting animals!

I was three months out of university, Film and Media degree clutched in hand, ready to go out there and take the entertainment industry by storm! But I needed to start somewhere right? And one day I saw a very small classified ad on the internet. “Content Manager needed to help improve the quality of a live wildlife show set in a game reserve in South Africa. Send your applications to…etc” or at least it read something like that.  

Author Louise with her crew during one of her many interesting jobs in the field.

I applied, I interviewed and I got the job! My first real job, my first real step into a career. Essentially what I needed to do was arrive at the basement at about 5:30am, watch the live safari show for three hours, make notes and give feedback to the field guide presenters, live broadcast directors and creative camera operators. Three months in and the top brass decided it was time for me and my content managing colleagues (of which there were two) to move to the bush, permanently. Needless to say, I never looked back.

Hot air balloons floating over the African bushveld. A wildlife photographer's dream.

I had somehow accidentally found my calling in wildlife. I’ve always loved the wild, I’ve always loved the animals of Africa, going on safari or family trips to the Kruger. But it wasn’t until I set foot in a reserve as an employee, and not as a guest, that I realised this was going to be my career lifestyle of choice.

The following five years were an adventure of epic proportions. We walked near lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, rhinos, hippos and even wild dogs on foot with nothing but a stick for protection. We watched kills, we watched births, we saw new generations and said sad goodbyes to leopard legends. We worked hard and played harder, we were invincible. I found a family there, in that place that will always be my true home.

Another beautiful leopard while on safari.

It was here where my own love of wildlife photography and film was born. I saw first hand how speaking about the various animal characters we encountered changed people’s perceptions and impressed just how important it is for us to protect our natural landscapes. I was inspired by my guiding colleagues and blown away by their photography artworks, likewise the talented camera operators whose filming skill easily matched up to those responsible for cinematic masterpieces like BBC’s Planet Earth. So I picked up my camera and started playing.

Photographing the great migration is a wildlife photographer's dream.

Snapping shots of elusive leopards, handsome nyalas and prehistoric crocodiles elicited a love of stills. I loved tinkering with my images, seeing what details I could enhance, using editing software and getting the image to a point where I was not only happy, but more importantly the image told the story I was wanting to share. I am by no means the greatest wildlife photographer out there and am quite happy to accept that I will never be the best. I’m okay with this because it gives me something to work towards, a skill to keep honing. 

A young elephant looks defiant in front of the camera.

Coming to Bushwise has pushed this development even further. Prior to starting, I found that I loved wildlife photography but had never given much thought to human photography. I’ve found snapping away at Bushwise and taking our social media followers on an adventurous journey with our students to be just as rewarding and in a way more fulfilling. More fulfilling because I know the work I do here actively creates opportunities for others to think about what they are passionate about, what they want to spend their lives doing as a career and where they can go to get the best start in a career working with wildlife.

The sun sets on the African savannah.

Coming to Bushwise has taught me that there is more reward in training the next generation of wildlife custodians, conservationists, field guides, wildlife photographers and filmmakers. Using my art I am able to inspire and uplift in much the same way as I was inspired and uplifted. The feeling I get when students come to me with their images and videos, asking advice on how to improve them satiates a part of my brain’s reward centre I didn’t even know I had. I feel good every single day knowing that I am helping to make a difference, that I am benefitting both people and the planet, and that I get to share these experiences of the wild in a way that motivates ever more people to seek careers outdoors and in nature. 

Do you love taking photos and videos of wildlife too? You could gain these skills and learn social media tools through the Bushwise Professional Field Guide course. Apply today!


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