“We fly, but we have not ‘conquered’ the air. Nature presides in all her dignity.” Beryl Markham West With the Night
Imagine yourself in a copter 2,000 feet above birds below. The door on the copter has been removed, and you feel G-forces as the pilot banks and circles back over a phenomenal scene. In fact, you can make the scene unbelievable. Kenya’s Lake Magadi appears to be a swirling galaxy, and flamingoes become pink arrows in the black infinity of space.
Would you, given the G-moment, remember to adjust your camera exposure to cut the glare of saline waters and sand below? Jeffrey Wu did.
Born in Shanghai, Wu began to learn photography at age seven in his mother’s portrait studio, where he found magic in the darkroom. “Seeing a blank paper soaked in chemicals to gradually show an image of people and things, I was hooked.”
After college he worked for an aviation firm, saving for his first camera. Eight months later he began to focus on birds. Traveling to 15 different habitats around the world, he photographed over 80 species.
“A good bird portrait should reveal mood and behaviour;” Wu said. “The best bird images show action or conflict.” In Kenya’s Maasai Mara, he was shooting Cape buffalo beneath an acacia when a tiny flash of blue landed on top of the tree. He switched from a wide-angle lens to a telephoto to see “probably the most beautiful bird in the world because of its complex but vibrant colour range,” the Lilac- breasted roller. Wu got the shot because he had added a tele-converter, and held his finger on the shutter to activate a motor drive which recorded action at 8 frames per second. Opportunity favours the prepared. A second roller flew into frame.
Now based in Toronto, Jeffrey Wu made his first journey to Kenya in 2013, a journey that persuaded him to sell his Canadian business, including three restaurants. “I knew I must follow my heart.”
Wu spends 10 months a year shooting wildlife and leads a photography course every year in the Mara. But he doesn’t like the mass tourism that dominates during the migration, and encourages travellers to instead visit from January to March. He shows me images of lion and cheetah cubs that would have been “impossible during the migration because there are too many vehicles.”
His clients “don’t want crowds,” he says of wealthy Chinese who can afford exclusive Mara conservancies and copter rides at $1,000 per hour.
In 2014, he went to China to lecture on photography. “I found the number of wildlife photography enthusiasts was huge, but their techniques were out-dated. “
So he wrote Beauty of the Wild in 6 months. Choosing images was the easy part, because he had a vast inventory. “The hard part was to write in a way that a beginner could understand, a practical wildlife photography field guide.” The book was the first instruction book for the digital era written in Chinese. Now he plans children’s books on East African wildlife.
For wildlife photographers to succeed, Wu emphasizes storytelling, and “to evoke emotions by interpreting an animal’s behaviour or habitat.” Art is the second essential element, but he has a third gift. Seeing a scene in a new way.
A colour image from Lake Magadi featured on the cover of Chinese National Geography, “read by China’s president,” Wu says proudly. While not associated with National Geographic, the magazine is poised to cultivate more interest in East African Wildlife. “Three years ago, conservation focus was on the panda.” Wu said; “But millions of upper-class Chinese now want to see Africa.” In 2018 Wu brought the National Geography editor to Kenya to show him why African wildlife matters to every one on this planet.
“One third of my income goes back to the Mara,” Wu says, describing a vehicle patrol to protect cheetah.
For readers who want to finesse wildlife photography, Wu cites three essentials:
- Do your homework; study the habitats and species before you go. The more you understand wildlife behaviour, the better you can predict action.
- Instead of “Hit and Run” shots, stay in a habitat longer from morning to evening, work it through, in-depth.
- Know your gear, especially the limits of your camera. Modern digital cameras can capture complicated and extreme light conditions. Understanding how your camera works will help you in difficult conditions.
Jeffrey Wu’s upcoming tours include “Maximize Story-telling Value of Your Image”- Professional Wildlife Photographer Training Workshop. March 02-March15, Maasai Mara/ Lake Magadi/ Samburu
“Green Mara”- Rain Season Professional Wildlife Photographer Training Workshop.
May 15-25, Maasai Mara/Lake Magadi .
“Finding Your Own Perspective & Style”- Post Migration Season Professional Wildlife Photographer Training Workshop Sept 18-30, Maasai Mara/Lake Magadi/Amboseli.
More at jeffreywuphotography.com