I was checking in at the Ole Sereni hotel in Nairobi when I heard the familiar sound of a South African accent behind me. I turned to find Andrew Beck grinning from ear to ear, his hand outstretched to shake mine.
It was the first time I’d met Andrew in person though I’d known him virtually for nearly a year. He’d invited me to see the great wildebeest migration with his company Wild Eye in September of 2013. Even though he was my main contact for the trip, it was his partners Gerry van der Walt and Jono Buffey that I stayed within the Mara.
Nearly nine months later however, he was to be our group’s photographic guru and lead us on our journey that would begin the following day. As part of another Wild Eye photographic safari, we were going to explore Amboseli National Park, a region known for its elephants. (Amboseli was the second destination of my trip, the first being the Timbavati region of South Africa the week before with another photographer, Marlon du Toit.)
As I shook Andrew’s hand I was immediately struck by how young he looked. I remember thinking that if he were in television he would be one of those actors from a show like The Vampire Diaries or Gossip Girl who’s nearly 30 but cast as a teenager. A fact I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate now but he’ll come to embrace when he’s 60 and looks fifteen years younger than all of his withered friends.
Andrew is a low-key guy but his reverence for the bush is anything but. Speak to him for five minutes or look at a few photos and you know his love for the wild is profound.
He gravitates towards shooting wide, showcasing his subjects in the majesty of their surroundings. When asked about it, Andrew said he likes to create images that depict authentic animal behavior and illustrate what makes each species distinctive—whether it’s the way an animal moves, the habitat it calls home, or some nuanced interaction with another species. Ideally, he wants to do more than make a beautiful photo, he wants to educate the viewer as well.
During our stay in Amboseli, Andrew was incredibly thoughtful. Not in the heard-you-were-sick-so-I–got-you-a-card kind of way, (though I’m sure he’s probably that too), thoughtful in his desire to communicate with depth and clarity—especially when it came to photography, wildlife, and a topic near and dear to his heart, conservation.
There are people who wax poetic about conservation with passion but no substance, and there are others that speak with conviction and an understanding that you know in your gut is genuine. Andrew would be the latter. It’s evident that he is well-educated in the complexities of animal and cultural conservation, and he doesn’t pretend that answers are easy to come by. In fact, it was clear that he is deeply saddened by how difficult the uphill battle has become.
As a teacher, Andrew was great at explaining some of the more complex or nuanced aspects of photography, especially on the technology front. After some coaching on depth of field and shooting at slow shutter speeds, I felt much more in control of my final results than I have in the past. I realized that what I thought I understood was only half the story.
As an exercise, he challenged us to edit our photos from hundreds—if not thousands of shots—down to a single picture that would best represent our journey in five categories:
- Animals in their environment
- Animal portrait
- Animal interaction
- Humans in nature
(I added “Landscape” to the mix, because I think it’s important to have something that pays homage to the beauty of the environment all on its own.)
To be honest, I haven’t quite committed to just 6 images from that trip but having a construct to work within is so much better than my previous strategy— a combination of whatever looks good to me at the moment, and willy-nilly.
He also taught me, by example, how to anticipate a moving animals trajectory so that we could better the vehicle for the best sight lines. Not that I am a pro by and means, but something clicked while I was with Andrew and I nailed a few of my favorite photos from the trip because of it.
A Little History
Born in South Africa, Andrew’s love of the outdoors was fueled by weekends camping with his family. As a boy he longed to be a game ranger. When he was old enough to follow his dreams, he became a guide in the Madikwe Game Reserve, then moved to Johannesburg to earn degrees in Environment, Ecology and Conservation in addition to Game Ranch Management.
His love and commitment to photography, like many of the wildlife photographers in Africa, grew out his years in the bush as a guide and the desire to share the beauty and wonder of a place he holds near and dear to his heart. He hopes to capitalize on his photographic skills to raise awareness of the threats and pressures facing our natural resources.
Later, Andrew co-founded Wild Eye. His commitment and that of his partners to conservation efforts has inspired the team to offer a few trips in which conservation and education is a fundamental part of the experience.
One trip to Kenya’s South Rift Valley is led by none other than Greg du Toit, the 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year. (If you’re in to wildlife photography he’s the real deal.) Per Wild Eye’s website, “This safari offers up lakes, forests, wetlands, plains, birds, frontiers, mammals, predators, nocturnal wildlife, culture, research, education, photography, conservation, mountains, rivers, wilderness, adventure and freedom.”
Andrew and the other travelers I met in Amboseli had been on the Southern Rift Trip at the same time that I was in Timbavati and they said it was extraordinary. They enjoyed both wildlife and quality time with the Maasai. It sounded amazing. Plus, 40% of the trip’s fee is donated to conservation efforts in the area. (Can you say Bucket List?)
Beck Fun Facts:
Favorite animals: Andrew loves black rhinos and hyenas. He says, “They both have an air of excitement about them. You never know when a black rhino might suddenly charge for example! Hyena always seem to be up to mischief and I love that about them.”
Nikon vs Canon: Andrew is a Canon man (Yay!…sorry about that Nikoners)
Favorite Camera Bag: Clik Elite Pro (After seeing this bag in person, I can tell you it’ll probably be my next purchase when my Gura Gear wears out or is too small for my needs, which is fast approaching)