Understanding Our Passion

Dereck Joubert, CEO of Great Plains Conservation, and his wife, Beverly Joubert, are not only co-founders of the company, they are also acclaimed wildlife filmmakers and National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, who have created awarding winning films in the Great Plains reserves, many before the camps were even built.  They have made 25 films for National Geographic, including ‘The Last Lions’ which has reached over 350 million people.  During your stay, you might be lucky enough to encounter some of the characters from their films, including Ma Di Tau from The Last Lions, who has since become an ambassador for lions and their conservation, worldwide.  Beverly Joubert has also specialized in wildlife photography for nearly 30 years, with images in a dozen or more National Geographic Magazines, 10 books and thousands of articles around the world. Great Plains is the perfect location for capturing remarkable animal behaviour and the untamed natural beauty of Africa’s wilderness. Great Plains is the perfect location for capturing remarkable animal behaviour and the untamed natural beauty of Africa’s wilderness.

Dereck & Beverly Joubert have drawn on their 30 years of experience and put together some simple guidelines to capturing great wildlife images during your stay with us. 


Divide the Frame into Thirds.

Both in film and in stills, compose your image according to four imaginary lines of intersection. Divide the frame into thirds from left to right, and in thirds from top to bottom. Where those lines intersect will be the four sweet spots in a frame. I try to position the subject on one of these four sweet spots. So if it’s a close-up of a face, one of the eyes (a natural and unavoidable focal point) is positioned on one of the sweet spots, in the case of a face, probably the top left or top right position.  A landscape with lots of sky? Maybe that solitary acacia tree is bottom left or right on the sweet spots.  The Kiss of Death? Any subject that is slap bang in the center of the frame (boring).

Lead the Action.

So if there is a cheetah running across the plains, leave more room ahead of the cat than behind it.  The Kiss of Death? A cut off head.

Understand that Fast Freezes and Slow Blurs.

A fast shutter speed (anything over 125th of a second) will snap fast and catch the action. A leopard in full leap from branch to branch at 250th of a second will be frozen in full stretch. This sometimes means that you have to forfeit the depth of field because the two values are tied together. One goes up when the other goes down to create an exposed image. Less depth of field just means that the one plain in the image that is in focus will look sharp, and that which is further back and in the front of the shot, will be soft.


Slow blurs: a slow shutter speed (less that 30th of a second) starts to make it more difficult to get a frozen image of action. HOWEVER, try to experiment with this. I love to shoot in low light with an extremely slow shutter speed to get those blurred images of movement.

Control the Sky.

I use a polarizing filter as much as possible to get the blues really dark in the sky and the clouds really white and puffy. Sometimes it changes an image from good to just great!


Control the Light.

We have spent a lot of time in art museums looking at some of the old grand masters paintings that were done with a single light source (usually and open window), with the subject inside and shafts of light at a ¾ angle, or half-light. I love it. So most of what we shoot is specifically chosen for this cross light look. I love deep shadows on one side in the early morning and late afternoon.


Keep it Steady.

Lean on a bean bag, tripod, or just steady it by forming a ‘human’ tripod by cradling the lens in the palm of your hand, then pulling that elbow into your hip and standing at about 45 degrees to the direction you are shooting.  Don’t stand square to the subject, all of the weight of the camera is then on your arms and they will wobble. 45 degrees, elbow into hip, forms the best makeshift tripod. Shoot at higher shutter speeds if you want to freeze action. An image with everything in focus from the grass in front of the leopard to the mountains in the back is quite dull. The eye doesn’t see like that at all, we focus on one thing and the rest is out of focus for us. So give up the ‘depth of field’ in favor of a faster shutter speed if you want to create sharp images. There is also a case to be made for purposely doing exactly the opposite by the way, but it needs to be by design, not by mistake.


Watch the Background.

Many good portraits are ruined by a nasty looking tree in the background that appears to be growing out of the lion’s ear! Watch the background. A bright backlit sky will blow out the entire picture.  Sometimes by moving a few paces you can completely change your composition.

The Eyes Have It.

I like to look at eye lines and see where the animal is looking, and then adjust the frame so that wherever it is staring at has more space in the frame. A mongoose looking for eagles up to the left usually looks better with the mongoose placed low and to the right because it creates a sense of inclusion in the story, and we all look for that eagle. If it has its nose against the frame looking out, we as the observers know we cannot be a part of this private moment because it’s obviously out of frame. But I also like to understand how we ‘feel’ about animals via our images. We like to get down low with cats so that we have at least the same level eye line. If you are looking down at someone, or something, you tend to diminish them.  If you look up, you make them look bolder, stronger. If you look directly at them, at their level, you place them on an equal footing and this is how we like to see wildlife.

Always Look Around.

We’ve been happily filming the red ball of sun as it goes down with a herd of animals in silhouette and very satisfied with the light, then looked around and see a breathtaking golden front lit image behind us.

Filming: All of this applies to filming as well: keep it steady, composed and exposed. However, there are a few other pointers

    • If you have to pan or move the camera, keep it steady and slow and always in the direction of the animal movement. Sometimes you want to pan over to where the buffalo are facing down the lions. That is fine but if you are panning across the lions walking.  Rather start at the back and pan with them.
    • Shots can be short, unless there is a reason to shoot a long action sequence. I seldom do a shot that is longer than 10 seconds. Even in action moments I change the focal length, (closer, wider etc) around every 10 seconds or when there is a break in action.
    • Zoom with caution if at all. Zooms are awful, I use a zoom lens as a series of fixed focus lenses (just all in one) I pick a framing, shoot my shot. Stop. Change angles or distance, shoot again. Stop. Many wild zooms in and out just drive us all dizzy.

That’s it. The golden rules of filming. It’s easy.