The wild life of Marlon du Toit

2013-08-26 08:59

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Imagine having a job that allowed you to spend every day immersing yourself in the incredible diversity of the African bush while getting to perfect your chosen outlet for creativity.

This exactly what Singita Sabi Sands field guide and wildlife photographer Marlon du Toit does with his days.  

Having grown up alongside the Kruger National Park, Marlon's passion for Africa, its beauty and capturing it on camera started at a young age.

He spends most of his day on safari and gets to witness incredible events on a regular basis.

He currently divides his time between guiding for the fabulous collection of lodges belonging to Singita Game Reserves and photographing the animals inhabiting them. His worked has been featured on the covers and within magazines such as Africa Geographic and Getaway. He has made appearances on the NBC Today Show and twice on The Martha Stewart Show, both with huge following in the U.S.A.

We chat to him to find out more about his life as a ranger and get a few wildlife photography tips while we're at it.

1. When did you first know you wanted to be a field guide? What brought about this decision?

I grew up in the small town of Phalaborwa bordering the Kruger National Park. I spent countless hours alongside my dad, with his old Canon film-camera in hand and it just grew from there. I have always known that I wanted to be involved with wildlife, and life as a guide seemed like the way to go. It has given me a first hand glance into the lives of many of Africa's most amazing animals!

2. What would a typical day in the life of a Singita field guide look like? Is it an early to bed, early to rise kind of job? Or more 24-hour-a-day on duty?

It sometimes feels like a 24-hour day! Most guides work for six weeks, with a two week break in between. Believe me when I say that working at Singita keeps you well busy. During the current winter months guests meet for coffee at about 06:20 in the mornings. Winter allows us a little extra time because in summer we have to meet as early as 05:00!

Once I am out on safari and have finally woken up you realise that it's all worth it, there's nothing that beats the Sabi Sand in the early morning. We tend to get back mid-morning and ready ourselves for activities with guests from walking, cycling to archery or fishing. There's something for all ages at Singita. Afternoon safaris are typically from 15:00 to 18:30. If I don't join my guests for the most amazing dinner with fabulous wine, then that's usually the end of my day where I get t spend time with friends or the lady :) 

Oh, did I mention that we still have lots of admin to run in between such a vehicle and fuel budgets, social media, blog posts and more. Yes, it is a busy life!

3. What's your favourite thing about being a field guide?

We get to spend countless hours with the most beautiful animals in Africa. Singita has access to almost 200 labels of South African wine, and believe me I do enjoy consuming them with some of the most interesting and influential guests. I get daily opportunities to photograph, a huge bonus. I get to drive a Land Rover over some pretty rugged terrain, and I also get to wield a big rifle. Its a guy thing, I know. Oh, and I get to date a spa therapist, ha ha!

4. Tell us about a particularly memorable moment as a field guide?

A lioness and her two cubs were contemplating on how to get two impalas firmly stuck in thick mud, out of it. She eventually powered her way through the mud and managed to get both out in dramatic fashion. She killed another three impalas that morning, all because they got stuck in the mud. I also got to share the sighting with legendary film-maker John Varty and a National Geographic Wild crew. 

5. Which animal(s) can you simply not get enough of seeing and photographing?

Leopards and male lions (when they are actually active).

6. Ever had a super scary close encounter with a wild animal? How did you get out of it? Do you have any tips for handling dangerous situations with different animals?

This was not a scary encounter, but rather one that changed the way I see photography today. 

I travelled to Mana Pools last year with one of my best mates, Morkel Erasmus. After four days there we spotted a pack of Wild dog resting in a dry river bed. Thanks to the unique rules of Mana Pools, visitors are allowed to leave the confines of the vehicle at any point and for any animals. Over many years animals have habituated to the presence of humans allowing for unique game viewing. We crawled for over 60 meters across rough river sand leaving our elbows bloodied. We knew that it would be worth it if we could get low-angle shots of the dogs in the river bed. As we got closer we could feel our hearts racing, we were so excited.

The alpha male stood up and with a soft growl started walking straight towards us. He stopped at about eight meters. All we could do was to hold our ground and to keep on hitting that shutter. It was perfect, the most ultimate moment with one of Africa's super predators. The results were incredible, and the moment priceless. 

7. You're a photographer as well - did this come as a natural outflow of your job as a guide? Do you have to divide your time between these two passions or are they complimentary?

Many guides keep cameras close to them. You would be silly if you did not as you get to play witness to some pretty awesome stuff out here. I just took it to the next level as my passion for photographing wildlife pushed me more and more.

They are complimentary whilst on safari as long as it does not detract from the experience your guests are having. They are my first priority. I get to travel in my leave to some pretty beautiful places, both on my own and recently leading photographic safaris for Wild Eye SA and Africa Geographic magazine. These trips allow me more time to capture some special moments. 

8. Can you share five tips for taking a perfect wildlife shot?

- Get out and visit some of our stunning national parks. Kruger is amazing, and the Kgalagadi has got to be the most photogenic. Some of Addo's waterholes also provide quality photos.

- Get up early, as early as you can. The light just before sunrise is extra special and makes for stunning results. 

- Don't always have the sun at your back. For amazing results try shooting into the sun when it has just risen or just before it sets, it fills your images with rich warm colours and rims your subject with a golden lining 

- Get to know your camera and lenses well. When the action is happening you need to know what to do without always removing the camera from your face. It will save you valuable time!

- Remember to not stress too much about missed opportunities. It happens to the best of us. Enjoy every moment you spend out there.

9. What is your absolute favourite spot in the world and why?

Wow. I think if I had to choose one it would be Mana Pools National Park. I just love that place. The fact that you can photograph outside of your vehicle makes for great low-angle images. The clean background due to lack of shrubs and grass during the dry season is phenomenal and getting to crack open an ice-cold beer whilst sitting on the banks of the Zambezi is second to none. 

10. What is your big dream for the future?

I live for Africa and its wildlife. Through my work I hope to spread the plight of these animals to the rest of the world. I would love to do a book or two in the near future, and I hope to stay involved in photograhic safaris. Beyond that who knows, the possibilities are endless, the sky is the limit. 

Check out Marlon's Facebook page and website for more magnificent moments captured on camera.

Read more on:    travel south africa  |  bush

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