Iconic Africa recently had the privilege of chatting to an old friend who has since become a global phenomenon in the wildlife photography world.
Craig Hayman, South African born wildlife photographer is certainly turning heads and has just published his first book: Wildlife in Pictures. We chatted with Craig to find out more about his incredible journey, how he came to taking these exquisite pictures and the story behind each one.
Craig: “Images of lions often focus on beauty and nobility. The reality of the species is very different. Wild lions are often haggard, battle-scarred and anything but regal. This image shows a male in the twilight of his reign over a territory in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, his mane knotted with congealed blood, his head bowed. Soon after this image was taken, this male and his coalition of brothers were ousted from their territory by younger males in a violent battle that ended in multiple deaths and in cannibalism, a fate not atypical of his species.”
Craig: “It was mid-winter in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and the temperature was near freezing, my bated breath forming tight clouds of vapour. By following tracks we had found a female leopard before dawn in a broad sandy riverbed. As soon as the sun rose, the leopard moved into the only shaft of warm light, as if under instruction by a photographic director. This sighting was particularly significant for me because I had suspected that this particular female leopard was dead, having not seen her for several months, but instead of death, new life. She was looking back over her shoulder at her new cub, calling softly for him to join her.”
Craig: “I was sleeping in a tent on an isolated beach in Gabon’s Loango National Park when I was woken by a raucous troop of red-capped mangabey monkeys. In the predawn light they were highly active and very vocal, however one mangabey remained motionless, his head raised to the sky. He extended his hand, cupped, as if to hold or catch something. At that moment I became aware of heavy irregular raindrops falling. This silent gesture, so human-like, held more power over me than the rest of the troop combined.”
Q&A with Craig (Part 1)
Where did you grow up?
Craig: “I grew up in Durban, South Africa, and attended university in Cape Town.”
Where did your passion for nature come from?
Craig: “I grew up in a family that revered nature. My father is a keen naturalist, my mother was trained as an artist and loves to paint and draw elephants in particular. South Africa is a wonderfully biodiverse country, and I’m very glad that my parents exposed me to so much of its beauty during my youth.”
Did you always know that you wanted to be a wildlife photographer?
Craig: “As a child I expressed a strong desire to be a game ranger (a safari guide) ‘when I grew up’. Photography came later. I never planned to publish a book, but I’ve always enjoyed having a creative outlet, whether through writing, illustration or photography.”
What did you study?
Craig: “I trained as an architect at the University of Cape Town. After completing my season as a photographic safari guide, I completed a masters degree in Sustainable Design at the University of Sydney. My father is an architect. Many architects are keen photographers. From an architectural education I learned to work with and appreciate light, I developed a strong sense of composition, and the ability to balance visual complexity and simplicity.”
What made you want to become a game ranger?
Craig: “My parents introduced me to the bush as soon as I could walk. As a child I loved the smells, the sounds, the anticipation of the unknown. I was fortunate to spend time in nature during a formative period of my youth, and this has continued to shape my values in life. A big part of safari guiding is the human aspect, and I’m fortunate that I love people.”
Where did you work as a game ranger and how long?
Craig: “I trained as a ranger for AndBeyond at Phinda Private Game Reserve in Maputaland, South Africa. I spent 2 years at Phinda, first at Mountain Lodge and Rock Lodge, and later at the African Homestead. I then spent a year at Exeter in the Sabi Sand Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park. After Exeter I took a role training guides for the Smithsonian in Gabon, in equatorial west Africa, before moving to Sydney.”
What did you love most about your work?
Craig: “What I love most about photographing the natural world is that it motivates me to do more, and see more. Memorable wildlife and landscape images are created in striking light and in beautiful surroundings. The desire to create quality images necessitates being in dramatic landscapes at dawn, or under full moon, or as a storm approaches. Whether I am sharing these moments or experiencing them alone, having a camera in my hand has been the catalyst for many treasured moments.”
Which is your favourite area (I.e. Kruger, Phinda, etc)
Craig: “Now that I have been exposed to a diverse range of natural ecosystems, what I value most is true wilderness: large tracts of land with minimal human presence. Loango and Moukalaba-Doudou National Parks in Gabon are particularly special to me. In Gabon I experienced a degree of wildness that I no longer thought existed, seeing animals that had seldom if ever encountered humans, and exploring landscapes that were largely unmapped.”
Craig: “Other special areas for me include Corbett National Park in India, the Namib Desert in Namibia, and the South Island of New Zealand.”
Where did your love for photography come from?
Craig: “My father was a keen amateur photographer. As a guide, I was surrounded by enthusiastic photographers, some of whom produce excellent work. It was a great environment in which to learn. I never had any formal photographic training (except a short course in the USA, after my guiding days were complete). My father taught me the basics, the rest I learned from trial and error, and from looking at the work of photographers I admired, like Mike Nichols, Steve McCurry and Peter Beard.”
Have you ever had any dangerous encounters with your camera?
Craig: “A silverback gorilla once covered me with fetid showers of his dung and urine, in a defiant show of bravado. I submitted to his display of dominance. On one occasion I was forced into the ocean by elephants at full moon, and another time climbed a tree to avoid a grumpy rhinoceros. There was never an occasion where I genuinely feared for my life, but certainly a few experiences that made me feel alive.”
Thank you Craig for taking the time out to chat to us and for sharing your incredible pictures. Stay tuned for Part 2.