INTERVIEW: Nat Geo photographer Beverly Joubert on taking the perfect wildlife portrait

Etosha NP, Namibia
Etosha NP, Namibia

Ever wondered how a pro shoots winner after winner… while you fire off 40 shots just to get one keeper? Snap! Here, iconic photographer, Nat Geo Explorer, Emmy-award winning doco maker and TED talker Beverly Joubert reveals her recipe for the perfect wildlife photo.


Fauno: What’s the difference between a good wildlife photo and an incredible one?

Beverly: A photograph should tell a story and start a conversation, but it should also leave a question of what happened next, adding suspense and mystery. A great image keeps you captive.

What are the key ingredients of an outstanding portrait?

Beverly: Firstly, for me it is important to capture the animal’s eyes so they can tell their story; I love it when a hint of light reflects in their eyes bringing them to life. The viewer needs to feel the animal’s soul, and when you achieve this, you also create an image that can be an effective conservation tool; it becomes their voice.

One photograph I absolutely love is a close-up of the eyes of a leopard, a magnificent creature. I call the image “Eyes Like Honey” as it fills me with compassion towards leopards; her gentle stare seems to fill everyone with compassion, this would not have happened if she had felt threatened by us. Secondly an animal portrait needs exceptional lighting, I love capturing the Big Cats in early morning or late afternoon light, adding a golden glow, illuminating their magnificent coats.


Fauno: Who are your favourite wildlife subjects, and where do you like to shoot them?

Beverly: Dereck and I have filmed in Botswana for more than 30 years. We fell in love with the country and now call it our home. One of the unique areas we love is in the Okavango Delta, a place called Duba Plains where we worked for many years on capturing lions. This is the area where lions hunt buffalo in water and our feature film, The Last Lions, was filmed in this area. The Selinda Reserve in northern Botswana is another great area that captivated us in the late 1980s, and in the early 1990s we made it our home and filmed everything from leopards to lions and cheetahs.

Eight years ago we built Zarafa Camp as we wanted to protect the area and share it with the world. An hour away from Zarafa is Selinda Camp, and in both these areas we filmed elephants for our film called Soul of the Elephant, which came out last year.

And 20 years ago we started exploring Kenya. Our favourite area for photographing the top predators is at Mara Plains Camp in the conservancy north of the Maasai Mara and another special area for photographing the largest tusker bulls is ol Donyo Lodge in the Chyulu hills.

Fauno: Instagram has become an important medium for wildlife photographers. What are your thoughts on it?

Beverly: Dereck and I used to use photography and our films to open up a conservation discussion by telling a story, blending art and science to stimulate people’s intellect and emotions, as we know that if we can get people to truly care for these animals, they will take action to protect them. The conservation of wild open places, both land and ocean, is hard. Most governments ignore the problems, most people turn a blind eye away from the issues, but it is crucial to get humanity to pay attention now and take part, we need everyone to become conservationists, even if that’s only in a small way. Social media is a new way to reach millions of people from all cultures around the globe, and it is another tool for us to speak out on the plight of animals and the protection of vast tracts of wilderness. Instagram is a superb way to open up a discussion through an image that everyone can share and help change the world.

Head to Beverly’s website here to see her incredible work. You’ll definitely be inspired (and possibly a bit jealous).

* Thanks to The Classic Safari Company for organising my East Africa adventure, where I had the pleasure of meeting Beverly at Mara Plains Camp.



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