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Sunday, June 19, 2011


This book made me want to grab my camera, jump in my car and head for the bush. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Environmentalist and professional nature/wildlife photographer Shem Compion‘s work is published worldwide. He is known for his original representation of everyday subjects and is the winner of the 2007 BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. He has a passion for natural areas and he uses his creative photography to generate an appreciation of the environment.

It has been a complete pleasure to review Insider’s Guide from its striking photography to his comprehensive and easy to read up-to-date information on parks and wildlife areas of South Africa. Also a successful photographic tour leader, Shem Compion tells you where to go, how to get there, what you’ll find and how to make your pictures truly professional. The book’s design is excellent and easy to follow, with details of rainfall and wind patterns as well as accommodation costs and accessibility adding to its value.

The book came about when Shem Compion was leading a group of photographers at Okaukeujo in Namibia. He explained to his group what they could expect during the morning’s session: locating a pygmy falcon at a weaver’s nest at dawn, then on to a waterhole where they would see sandgrouse and how to position themselves with their backs to the prevailing east wind so as to catch the birds flying overhead. Then to hang around a bit to wait for the elephants which usually arrived mid-morning.

As Shem says: “Somehow, everything worked like clockwork. I was as stunned as my clients at my good timing.” In the group was acclaimed photographer Martin Withers who told him that this kind of information needed to be documented and so the idea of Insider’s Guide took hold.

In his foreword wildlife photographer and owner of HPH Publishing, Heinrich van den Berg, describes Shem Compion as a good teacher as well as being an exceptional photographer. Van den Berg hails South Africa as a wildlife photographer’s dream while puzzling over the fact that many South African wildlife photographers don’t seem to appreciate what is on their very own doorstep. Tending to travel the world, they take off from the same airport that welcomes thousands of foreign photographers arriving to capture what the locals seem to overlook.

The publicity material promotes the book as inspiring and it’s a good description. Having been born and brought up in Kenya, I became knowledgeable about East African wildlife and to respect its conservation from an early age. As a family, with my dad shooting extensive footage on his 8mm cine camera, we spent many happy hours in the Nairobi Game Park and in the Tsavo National Park on our regular holiday trips to and from Mombasa.

Insider’s Guide made me want to grab my modern digital camera, jump in my car and head for the bush!

Each chapter describes the selected environment in detail, tells you what it is best known for, and explains the conditions and best times of day for photography. Often, particularly with birdlife, the subject has to be captured quickly and effectively. Sharing tips and tricks, he offers advice on the type of equipment needed to get the best possible image in the limited time available.

The first of a series that will later include Namibia and Botswana, Insider’s Guide is a beautiful gift to give anyone interested in wild life, whether or not they are photography enthusiasts. Published in paperback by Jacana Media, it retails at R190. – Caroline Smart