f-stop user Willem Bakhuys Roozeboom is an amateur photographer who likes to ’shoot’ wildlife. In particular, he does really like silhouettes and the challenge of taking those low angle shots of elephants, lions and wild dogs, while being on foot. Not a fan of beetle cams, drones and any other remote controlled cameras, he prefers to go 'in there’ himself. The experience necessary to do this comes from many years of being embedded in the location as a safari camp manager. Read on for Willem's journey into wildlife photography and what taking these images means to him...
Words and photos: Wilem Bakhuys Roozemboom
I ’shoot’ African wildlife. Only. Every now and than I try landscape, a nice sunrise or a corny sunset, but I prefer if there is an elephant somewhere in the back.
It was about 8 years ago that I decided that I wanted to do something else in my life, something more ‘real’. Up till than I had been working as a marketeer for several film companies, promoting and releasing movies in cinemas, for the past 15 years. Nice jobs, a fun product, but at that stage (yes, late thirties!) it all became too corporate and commercial for me. I wanted more honesty, more nature, and more simplicity in my life.
I found a job as a safari camp manager in the Okavango delta of Botswana. I rented out my apartment in Amsterdam, stored my stuff, grabbed my camera’s and all the khaki clothes I could find and left. That was about 8 years ago.
My first elephant encounters in camp were, so to say, interesting, but as time went by I became more and more familiar with their behavior. And with the behavior of the other animals as well, the big ones, small ones, the herbivores and carnivores. My most thrilling pictures I took from underneath my car, as lions, elephants or wild dogs slowly approached.
For years I ran a small, but high-end tented camp (Zarafa camp) in the Okavango delta in Botswana, owned by two - quite famous - wildlife filmers/photographers Dereck & Beverly Joubert.
That’s where my photography kicked off. I’ve you’re living in the middle of the African bush, amongst elephants and lions 24/7, you can’t not pick up a camera. First with a little point-and-shoot camera, which got an upgrade during my first working stint. Three months on/ one month off, that’s my working schedule. And in my leave-month I go travelling, in Africa. It might sound a bit boring, but Africa is huge, diverse and keeps on inspiring me.
Botswana is my favorite place, the delta and the Kalahari. The north of Namibia, Kaokoland is still really remote as well as the Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe. The unique ‘blue haze’ lighting which makes Mana Pools in Zimbabwe so characteristic keeps pulling me in there. The only way to mess up a picture in that ‘mana magic’ light, is by leaving your lens cap on.
After being in Botswana for 5 years, I travelled for about 5 months through Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe until the money ran out. I went Kenya, to run a safari lodge in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Lots of rhino’s, beautiful types giraffes and the rare grevy zebra’s, but also a lot of people, fences and city life near by. I wasn’t the pristine African bush I was used to, so I quit.
Next up is Chad. There is a small tented camp in the middle of Zakouma National Park. Still an undiscovered, but absolute heaven for wildlife photographers. You are the only one there. Lots and lots of lions and a single herd of 400(!) elephants. I will be working most of the time, but every second I get some time off, I will be picking up my f-stop camera bag to walk into the bush.
The ultimate safari experience, as far as I believe, is a walking safari through the bush. Always carrying my f-stop backpack with everything in it. My two cameras, one with a 100-400mm lens and one 18-55mm, and extender, a wide angle lens, a tripod, extra batteries, memory cards, filters, binoculars, a rain jacket, a scarf, sunglasses, a pocket knife, a leatherman, 2l. of water, some snacks, my torch and first aid kit...and I still got extra space!
The cameras, I am on the Canon side: I have a 7D body for my short 18-55 lens and a 7D-MII with 100-400mm lens, ready to use. I am still saving for 5D-MIV or even the 1DX-MII. While I usually don’t change lenses in the field, I do have a 10mm lens and an 1.4 extender as well, which I hardly ever use. Now that the newest iPhone has a portrait mode, which gives you some depth of field I’m experimenting ’shooting’ people as well. But still, my main focus is wildlife.
Normally when you visit a National park in Africa, you are only observers. You look at the wildlife, but you are not part of it. When you step out of that car onto their ground, you become a participant. That makes all the difference… You’re suddenly part of the ecosystem, without a cellphone, without any human evidence anywhere, no roads, nothing – and being in the presence of big game while experiencing the wilderness. And yes, there are some hair-raising and heart-pumping experiences along the way that make you feel alive, but it is in the quiet moments with nature when you realise what is important in life, and how we should push not to just ‘exist’ but to ‘live’.
Willem Bakhuys Roozeboom is an amateur photographer from The Netherlands. He is 46 years old. He had a corporate job for a long time up till the midlife crises kicked in. He still has his apartment in the city center of Amsterdam, but he rented it out since he lives & works most of the year in Africa now, working as a safari camp manager. He even wrote a book about it: You Run You Die. The title might fool you, but it’s written in Dutch. It does have more than 100 of his pictures in it, so if you like books but don’t fancy reading that much, this might be nice for you.
To see more of Willem's work, take a look at his Instagram.