If you’re into wildlife photography, then you’ll love this Q&A with Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013, Greg du Toit.

We met at quite a bustling Starbucks for a quick interview.

Amboseli Elephant photographed at Twilight

What is your favourite part of being surrounded by nature?

When I see nature, I see a creator. Being surrounded by all this beauty, things get put into perspective regarding life and humanity. You realise just how small you are, I realise that there is a god and it all makes me feel really special. My camera then becomes a tool that allows me to share what I see and feel with a far greater audience.

Amboseli Elephant with a Baby in the Herd

How did you go from being a wilderness guide to a full-time photographer?

My wife and I were running safari camps, so while she was doing all of the organising and planning I made it my mission to create a very strong photographic portfolio of wildlife images. Being safari camp manager, especially up in East Africa, afforded me a great opportunity to do just that. In the mornings, when the guests went out on safari, I would go out taking photographs and in the afternoon, and the camp goes quiet, I could go out and photograph again. I was really diligent, making the most of my time living in the bush. As time went by, I managed to build a strong enough portfolio to get published in Africa Geographic Magazine. Thereafter, I was able to start my full-time career as a wildlife photographer. Without fail, I got up early every morning and stayed out till dark to photograph. Even though I couldn’t see a way forward and didn’t have a professional gear (yet), I worked at it relentlessly. Having said that, I feel very blessed to have worked in Africa. We have so much wildlife that we can go out for a couple of hours and get amazing shots whereas on other continents it’s not that easy for photographers.

Do you have any hidden talents?

No not really; I’m good in the bush and I know a lot of birdcalls, but I think my only real talent is photography.

Hoanib Desert Elephant

Besides wildlife photography, is there anything else that you’re truly moved by?

No, not really. This is a bit of a problem for me as my entire life is wildlife photography. I made my hobby my career so I don’t really have any other hobbies. I’m either thinking about wildlife photography, planning it or editing… I do kind of feel that I need more balance in my life and get another hobby but there’s no time for it. And I can’t complain because I do what I love for a living. In another lifetime, I dream of cooking or maybe doing some gardening or playing golf.

Please give us a step-by-step guide of what goes into making a photographic book?

Well, there’s a lot that goes into creating a book. Start with the photographs and a theme you’d like for the book. That theme could be a geographic location, or a certain animal… I focus on the whole African continent and my coffee table book, Phototips – Getting it Right in Camera, took me 10 years of which the hardest part was getting the photographs. Once you have the theme and the photographs, you must then find a publisher. These days you can self-publish but that costs a lot of money. Then you need to find an editor; someone you can trust and who respects your work but also respects the book and the project. Once you’ve hit that point, you are at the start of about a hundred coffee meetings where you sit down and murder your babies. It’s not just about the photographs; they should flow into one another and the two images that go on a double page spread need to fit together. Then when you’ve done all of that and made a mockup of the book, the real challenge is getting it printed well so it does justice to all of the hours of work put into it.

Amboseli Elephant bulls

What is your advice to all the young and fiery aspiring photographers looking to follow in your footsteps?

I would say that the first step is to take a journey of self-exploration. Ask yourself what it is in life that makes you tick. What are you insanely passionate about? What is it that you want to tell through your photography? And only once you’re mature enough to answer those questions can you then answer the question of what you should be photographing. If you shoot what you care about the most then you will not only be a better photographer, but you will also have the stamina to see it through. Sometimes photographers shoot for many years before seeing any results, so find what your passionate about, photograph it and do it better than anyone else.

Congo Elephant standing in between Palms

What gear do you recommend for those young in photography?

The best advice I can give is that instead of buying a brand new entry-level camera, rather try and buy second-hand professional equipment. That way, you spend a similar amount of money whilst having access to professional equipment that gets you on track.

Award Winning Photograph by Greg du Toit of elephants walking. Eye level. Blue tint

Please list a few important photography tips every wildlife photographer should know?

Never forget that regardless what changes might occur in the photography world, the essence of photography is light. It was like that in the film days and it’s like that now. The number one thing you should always think about and remember is light. That is going to determine the outcome of your photograph. Shutter speed is really important. If your shutter speed is too slow, the photograph will be slightly too soft to print or publish. So, make sure your shutter speed is fast enough especially if you’re doing wildlife.

Lower Zambesi Elephant reaching for food looking adorable!

Most photographers have an image they ache to photograph; please tell us what your dream photograph is?

I’ve got a lot of dream shots! I’d love to capture the action of lions hunting elephants; and two male leopards fighting. I’d also love to photograph hippos walking underwater – I know where to do it, I just need some funding. I’ve never photographed a leopard carrying a cub, so I’ve got a long list of dream shots. I also dreamt of photographing a polar bear so this year August I’m going to Svalbard off Norway to try and capture the elusive bear.

A very powerful image of an elephant charging with dust surrounding him.

If you could have one super power, what would it be and why?

Flying, definitely! I love birds, although I don’t photograph them as much as I’d like to since I’m always in areas with big predators and mammals. Quite often, for safaris, we fly in small planes just above or below vultures, watching them move… I’d love to do that.

A beautiful shot of wildlife photographer Greg du Toit sitting really close to an elephant.

I am so excited to find out how Greg’s trip to Svalbard went. We’ll keep you guys updated!