South Africa Wilderness Photography Tour
Have you ever wanted to take a photography-themed wilderness adventure?
What about camping under the Milky Way?
This is one of the most popular topics in my adult education classes.
My students want to know: Where to go, what gear to take, and how to prepare for an epic photo safari or wilderness tour?
I’m very pleased to introduce you to Santisouk Phommachakr, a former SAIT Continuing Ed photo student of mine who did just that – in South Africa – earlier this year. Her photos will make you want to jump on a flight to South Africa soon!
I feel very honoured to be publishing Santisouk’s photos. I personally think they should be in a high-end travel photography magazine. And I have a feeling that some day they will be! She has a lot of talent for someone so new to photography.
I started photography about 4 years ago when I took the SAIT Basic Photography class. Since then, I’ve taken eight classes and completed the Photography Certificate of Achievement.
I’m still taking the darkroom photography class every spring and fall (3rd time now).
I love landscape, wildlife, bird, street and sports photography. But mostly, I like trying to tell a story, and expressing my emotions through my pictures.
I still shoot film too. Mostly medium format black and white. I built a darkroom in my basement 😉
Here is a selection of Santisouk’s photos from her recent South African photo tour.
Sanitsouk has generously shared her camera settings for each photo. Click the photos to view. More details about her camera gear and travel arrangements, are in the interview below.
Interview with Santisouk
Marlene: What made you decide to go on this photo adventure? What or who was your inspiration?
Santisouk: I needed something new and refreshing. I started photography about four years ago and felt like I needed ideas to find my own style and how to express and share my mind’s eye through making pictures. I have a book by Freeman Patterson and love his approach of seeing and how different and unique his pictures look.
Also, I’ve been travelling a lot the last 15 years, but Africa was a continent that I’d never been to. I guess Freeman Patterson could be one of my inspirations.
I want to be able to make pictures that tell a story and show emotions.
Marlene: Tell us about the tour.
Santisouk: This tour was with Freeman Patterson and Rosie Burton. I believe it was the 38th year for this tour and it’s still going. You can book dates for 2018 and beyond.
The tour is not a workshop, however Freeman was always available to answer questions. I spent some time, especially that one morning that I will always remember, shooting with Freeman and chatting and learning from him. It was an unforgettable experience.
Also Maryna and Helmut, the owners of the Kamieskroon Hotel where we spent a few nights when not in the wilderness camping, were also leading the tour. They were the nicest people, preparing our tents, delicious meals, and guiding us. They were very knowledgeable about the history of South Africa, flowers, birds, animals, you name it. Maryna’s mom, Colla, who we met on our way up to Kamieskroon from Cape Town, in a small town called Picketberg, is a lovely lady and one of the founder of this tour with Freeman. It was an honor to meet her for tea. She is such an interesting and fun lady with lots of interesting stories.
Marlene: What was a typical shooting schedule like for each day?
Santisouk: This was an ideal two week schedule – just focusing on shooting during the best light. We would wake up at about 5:45am, have coffee/tea and fruits, and start shooting at around 7:30am till 11:30am. We would then have a yummy brunch.
After brunch, we would rest and relax. Most of us had a nap until about 2:30pm. Then we had afternoon tea/coffee and snacks. We would go for another session of shooting from about 3:30pm till 7:30pm or sunset. Then we had an amazing dinner (lots of food) and wine (lots of it) at about 8pm. We also spent some nights shooting the stars and the Milky Way.
The schedule was very flexible and you could spend time hiking with others or alone if you preferred.
Marlene: What regions of South Africa did you go to?
Santisouk: We travelled to Cape Town, Western Cape, and Northern Cape. My companion and I spent four days in Cape Town to chill and enjoy the beaches. The tour itself started from Kamieskroon (about 500km drive north of Cape Town). We first met the group in the Kamieskroon Hotel where we spent one night. Then for the first week, Monday to Friday, we headed to the beaches on the Western Cape in the Namaqualand National Park where we camped by the ocean under the Milky Way. We visited different secluded beaches and breath-taking sand dunes.
We then returned to Kamiskroom where we spent two nights, visiting the town and the local area. After a slide show of everyone’s 10 favourite pictures and doing some laundry, we repacked and left early Sunday morning for the Northern Cape to Ritchersveld National Park, the Orange River, and the border to Namibia in the desert. We camped at Kokerboomkloof in a remote area of Ritchersveld National Park (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
Then we headed back to Kamieskroon on Friday where we spent the weekend together, and again another slide show presentation of our 10 favourite pictures from the second week.
Marlene: What were the accommodations like?
Santisouk: The accommodations were wonderful – both the Kamieskroon hotel and the camp sites. Our hosts and tour guides set up everything for us. Even two showers each week of the camping, with hot water! We slept on raised cots which were very comfortable.
Marlene: How many people were in your tour group?
Santisouk: There were fourteen of us, plus Freeman, Maryna, Helmut and their daughter, Rosie. People were from Canada, New Zealand, USA, Australia and South Africa. The group was amazing and such wonderful and interesting people. I made new friends. There were lots of laughs and great moments, and we didn’t want the tour to be over!
Marlene: What gear did you take? And what gear did you wish you left at home – if any?
Santisouk: I had two digital bodies, Canon 5D Mark III with 16-25mm lens and Canon 7D Mark II with 100-400mm (I love wildlife and bird photography) and also, my 24-70mm lens. I also took an old Agfa Isolette III film camera (120, 6×6) and my cool plastic film camera, the classic Holga (also 120).
I also had a 4-section carbon fibre Manfrotto tripod which is light and folds short. Other than my tripod, which I put in my suitcase, all the gear fit in my Tilopia Backcountry backpack from F-Stop (best bag I’ve owned especially for backpacking or hiking). I used all the gear so I guess there was nothing I would have left home.
Marlene: What was the level of experience of the photographers on this trip?
Santisouk: Mostly experienced/professional photographers. Only a few were beginners.
Marlene: What kind of photography instruction was provided to participants?
Santisouk: Even though it wasn’t a workshop, Freeman was always available to answer questions. He also gave us a lot of instructions on where to go, and camera settings. Also, since there were lots of experienced and professional photographers, there was lots of exchange of knowledge and ideas.
My best memory was spending one whole morning shooting with Freeman individually. It was an unforgettable experience to observe how he shoots, and learn from him. Also, another unforgettable experience was when three of us got to go on the sand dunes with Freeman. That was one of my favorite days of the trip.
Marlene: What time of year did you go? Is that the best time for this, or are other times of the year good too?
Santisouk: We were there in March, which is their fall season. The weather was about 30-40 C, dry with a breeze. Super nice. And the nights were about 20 C. The spring is another good time to go as the flower blooming season is amazing in the Namaqualand. This would be in about August-September.
Marlene: What was the approximate cost of the trip, and what was included?
Santisouk: The tour was about $2,200 CAD per person for 2 weeks (Sunday to Sunday) which included all the food and accommodations, except for alcohol, but the wine is very yummy and cheaper than home. We had to pay for park fees which was a about $200 I believe. We flew on British Airways via London Heathrow for $1,250. We booked about 6 months ahead. From Calgary we only had one connection, which was great. It was a 10 hour flight to London, then a 12 hour flight to Cape Town. We shared a 4×4 with two other people which came to about $700 each.
Marlene: Would you recommend this photo adventure tour to others?
Santisouk: YES, YES, YES absolutely! I am considering going again!
This was by far, one of the best trip of my life (tied with Israel). It was an experience that changed me, a journey and adventure that I will cherish and remember forever, and I hope it shows in my pictures.
Marlene: Yes, I think it definitely does show in your photos! Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and your experience with my readers.
I hope that it will attract the attention of a print magazine, and that you will get more exposure for your work.
If you have any questions for Santisouk, leave them in the comments below.
And please give Santisouk some love by sharing this article. 🙂