Interview with Wildlife Photographer Rodney Xolile Nombekana

Interview with Wildlife Photographer Rodney Xolile Nombekana

WLR: Can you describe your background and how you got involved in photography?

Rodney: My background is actually animal behaviour. I worked with Kevin Richardson (aka the lion Whisperer) for many years before starting my own Safari Company. As a guide I visit many places and one day while on tour in 2015 in Pilanesberg National Park we had a great sighting of lions – I thought it would have been nice to take pictures with a camera rather than a cellphone. So I decided to get myself an entry level DSLR Canon 700D with kit lens. As soon as I took the first photo I was so hooked that I decided to learn more.

Interview with Wildlife Photographer Rodney Xolile Nombekana

I joined some Facebook groups and searched on Youtube for tutorials. Within a couple of months I decided to buy my 100-400mm canon lens Mk1 which I am still using. I have since upgraded to now the 7D2 and the journey has been amazing. Mostly self taught, but I was inspired by Heinrich Neumeyer and Grant Atkinson. They still inspire me to this day.

[Read: Interview With Wildlife Photographer Jason Kandume]

I am lucky because animal behaviour is my strong point, and I am able to anticipate and get some good images out of otherwise difficult situations. I am learning everyday and as a registered Safari guide I am privileged to be able to visit national parks regularly. I only shoot animals in the wild.

Interview with Wildlife Photographer Rodney Xolile Nombekana

WLR: How did you get started as a Safari guide & what advice would you give young people wanting to pursue this as a career?

Rodney: I was always fascinated with animals and particularly wildlife and when I was working at the South African lion park many years ago I was an Endangered Wildlife Trust mentored student. They helped me obtain my field guide qualification. Only in 2012 when I became self-employed I started practising as a safari guide – which is the best decision I ever made.

Interview with Wildlife Photographer Rodney Xolile Nombekana

Advice to upcoming safari guides is they must only follow this if they are passionate. It is not the highest paying job in the world but the best in the world. Like any field you have to be obsessed with your passion, and safari guiding is no different. Passion gives you drive and when you are driven nothing can stop you.

And to be a good safari guide not only do you have to love nature but you have to have passion for people as well, because you will be dealing with a lot of people and without people skills you will not enjoy it.

WLR: What is the one photo you feel most proud of, and why?

Interview with Wildlife Photographer Rodney Xolile Nombekana

Rodney: It’s really a difficult choice, but if I had to single out one image it has to be an image of a leopard on a tree eating an impala. The reason it’s so special it’s because of what I went through to be able to get that image. I waited 8 hours in my car in one spot waiting for the leopard to come back to its kill. For me this is symbolises the difficulties we go through to get these images and the patience we have to have as photographers. Only passion can drive one to wait for 8 hours in a car without moving, getting out of the car or stretching your legs on a hot day without air conditioning.

WLR: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?

Rodney: Tough one, I guess if I had know that it would be a very expensive hobby, but on a serious note that it would bring me closer to appreciating the finer details in nature. Looking for subjects to shoot makes one aware of what we would normally just take for granted or ignore as well as knowing that one can really inspire people to appreciate nature more and want to visit my beautiful country.


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Izak Van Heerden
Izak is a writer, photographer and wildlife enthusiast. When he moves on from this world, he does not want to leave his grandchildren a planet without lions, rhinos and elephants.

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