On my recent trip to Africa my mission was two-fold: I needed to escape my A.D.D., a necessary evil if you want a career in Manhattan (Africa, I found, is one of the few places on earth I can truly relax and be present), and to improve my wildlife photography skills. I have a seemingly infinite list of things to learn and I don’t get enough practice at home—squirrels in Central Park just don’t cut it.
Enter Marlon du Toit (pronounced du-toy), the leader of the Wild Eye photographic safari I joined in June to explore the Timbavati region of South Africa which comprised the first part of my trip. I’ve followed Marlon’s work on Facebook for some time and I’ve always loved his eye. His images are filled with emotion and a romantic appreciation for his subjects that always captures my attention. (See below)
It’s not an easy job leading a group of amateur photographers, and for the first few days of our trip I have no doubt Marlon earned his keep with me. I arrived and soon became frustrated because I couldn’t handhold my 8 lb long lens steady (Canon’s 200-400mm f/4 supertelephoto with 1.4 converter) for any length of time, and the cramped quarters of our jeep made it very challenging to use a monopod.
Marlon, bless his heart, couldn’t have been more sympathetic and accommodating, and I knew he truly wanted me to succeed. I, unfortunately, tend to get cranky and internalize in such circumstances but he always remained positive. It couldn’t have been easy.
(Side Note: Marlon’s favorite lens is his trusty 400mm f/2.8 which weighs a lot more than the 200-400mm I used. He hand held that sucker as if it were as light as cardboard. Oh, did I also mention he has biceps the size of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? Note to self: start a weight lifting program before my next trip.)
In addition to his people skills, Marlon was great at keeping us on track during a sighting. As we clicked away mesmerized by this animal or that, he would remind us about camera settings, suggest focal lengths, and call out compositions he thought we might want to consider. If we were watching a herd of elephants or a cackle of hyena, he would act as a spotter, calling out various aspects of the scene that were unfolding so we didn’t miss anything.
Though Marlon was shooting as well, our questions and photos came first in lieu of getting his own shot. That may sound like a given for this job but I’ve spoken to many friends whose leaders were only interested in their own work, not their guests’.
By the end of our eight days, I left with some tips that were already improving my photography, plus some post-processing pointers to boot. (Best tip: To ensure sharp eyes, focus on the upper edge—where the eyebrow would be if an animal were human—of the eye closest to you.)
A Young Du Toit
A South African native, Marlon was a bush baby. His father owned a small safari company when he was a child and he spent a great deal of his youth loving, viewing and later photographing wildlife.
In his early twenties he trained to be a guide but took time out to tour with a Christian Contemporary Rock band named Daisy Chain. As their drummer, the group toured for five years including a year playing up and down America’s East Coast.
Eventually the bush called him home and Marlon landed himself a job at Singita in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa. Singita is one of the most renowned luxury lodges on the continent. (If you are extremely wealthy or a celebrity, I highly recommend that you stay there if you haven’t already.) Today, he hosts tours for Wild Eye, as well as trips for private clients.
At 30, Marlon’s looking forward to his impending marriage, and unequivocally, he wants to make the bush and photographing wildlife a life-long career while publishing more of his work both at home and abroad. It’s a competitive field with shrinking demand and steep competition, but if anyone can do it, he can.
Du Toit Fun Facts
Favorite places to photograph wildlife: two locations we discussed at length and at the top of a long list of destinations, were Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, where safaris mostly take place on foot, and Chobe National Park in Botswana, where photographers approach animals by boat. Two locations I hope to visit myself someday.
Nikon Vs. Canon: Marlon is a Canon man, to the chagrin of the Nikon lovers on our trip.
Camera bag: Clik Pro Elite
Favorite bush snack: Biltong—a store in Hudspruit was a “must-stop” on our drive from Johannesburg to the reserve.
Small screen appearances: Marlon has been a guest on Martha Stewart...twice, and The Today Show.
Here’s just a few of the images I love from Marlon’s Website.
To view more of Marlon’s work and to follow his adventures, visit his Facebook page.
To see more images and tales from my trip to Timbavati, click here.