There are many incredible images on 500px, yet we want to know more about the photographers and stories behind them. Our Portrait interview series feature a talented photographer each week, allowing us to discover more about living life through a lens. This week's interview is with South Africa based photographer Greg du Toit.
Hi Greg, could you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Greg du Toit. My surname is French, but my family came to Africa eight generations ago so I have totally lost the ‘ability’ to speak French. I am 34 and based out of Pretoria in South Africa, near to Johannesburg. I have a beautiful wife and a Jack Russell that we treat as a kid. I have lived and worked in four different African countries as a safari guide, safari camp manager and a wildlife photographer. African mammals and predators are my thing! I have been following the wildebeest migration for nine consecutive years now and each year I photograph Africa from the Equator down. Besides working as a professional wildlife photographer I enjoy running private safaris, sharing both my photographic knowledge and my beautiful continent with other expert or budding photographers.
Tell us about your photographic style, what makes your work different to anyone else’s?
I think (or I like to think) that my work stands out because I do not compromise with my photography. I only photograph what I love and I only photograph in the way that I like to. I never photograph to conform to popular trends, nor do I photograph with the goal of making money in my mind. I only photograph what I am passionate about and I know what I am passionate about! I like to think that this is evident in my work.
Do you plan projects? How many shots do you take and do you shoot for insurance?
I like to plan a few shoots a year, but I also enjoy shooting ‘on the fly’ as the African bush is full of surprises. When going on a day trip I take Nikon D3s and an 200 – 400mm F4 lens. I usually shock people when I say that 6 images per year means that I had a GREAT year. I never shoot for insurance and I go for broke every time.
What would you chose: Street/ Landscape? People/Animals? DSLR/ SLR?
Mammals and predators for me! I refuse to do a wedding and have never done one. DSLR all the way. I was a big slide film shooter, but 35mm film is history.
What equipment do you own and what couldn’t you leave the house without?
I really think that there is too much emphasis on gear. Having said that, I have been shooting with Nikon’s top of the range bodies. I could not leave home without my D3x and my 200–400mm lens. I would just feel naked without them. I also cannot leave home without a sense of humor. Things rarely go right for a wildlife photographer and if you don’t laugh, you will cry.
How important is post-processing to you?
I am a little old school in this regard. I try to get everything or as much as possible done with the camera. I tweak the basic settings such as contrast, saturation and sharpness afterwards but I like my RAW images to capture the mood. I think the degree to which a photographer post processes should be linked to the reason why they photograph. I photograph partly to produce art and partly to document the natural world. I want people to trust that my images are real, in as far as they portray a scene that did or does really exist (even if I have put my spin on it). But hey, that’s just me.
What do you think makes a good photo?
Great question. A good photo is an image that stimulates thought or emotion. I am not big on the technicals and my favorite photographic quote is by Ansel Adams “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs”.
Which photographers or artists inspire you the most?
This used to be an easy question but these days, with the advent of digital, everyone seems to be photographing. As a result, brilliant images are constantly being produced by both amateurs and pros alike. While no one photographer inspires me - brilliant images inspire me. You just need to browse 500px to get inspired.
What’s the best thing about being a photographer? Would you change anything?
The best thing for me is having a tool, in the form of a camera, that allows me to capture and share the things in life that I am most passionate about. The camera is an extension of my soul and being able to share my passion for Africa and its creatures, and to be able to work on doing this full time, is a privilege indeed.
I believe in destiny, so no - any changes I make will just screw up the plans. OK, on second thought, if I could change any one thing I would have liked to have been born 100 years earlier so that I could have lived in a more wild Africa. I would like to have been alive when Zulu Impis were running over the hills and when wildlife was not confined to parks.
How can beginner photographers improve their photography? What would you suggest?
By searching their souls. By finding out what they are passionate about and by going out and shooting those things. This is more important than breaking the bank account on a new camera or lens.
What would you chose, photographing by yourself or shooting with friends?
Mmmm. This is a conundrum. I have spent lots of time living in remote isolation and camping alone, it no longer appeals to me. I enjoy sharing my experiences with people and for the most part I would like to be with friends or fellow photographers. I think photographing in isolation a few times a year is healthy but, for the most part I am gregarious.
Do you have any memorable stories to share from any of your photographic experiences?
Living in Maasai-land in Kenya, I undertook a project to photograph a free-ranging lion. My goal was simply to obtain images of this wild lion, which was carrying out a precarious existence beyond any formal park or reserve boundaries. There are few of these lions left in Africa and they are predicted to go extinct in the next ten years!
I had always felt as if I was born a century too late, and in southern Kenya I found a piece of Africa that allowed me to journey back in time. Back to a time in fact, when man and beast lived together. The project lasted 16 months and the lion was incredibly shy. Eventually, to mask my scent, I sat in a waterhole. After three months of sitting in the water, I finally captured images of a free-ranging wild lion. I also managed to capture a host of other tropical parasites. You can read the full story on my blog.
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