Meet Robyn Preston, a born and bred New Zealander with a passion for Africa and photography. Since she was 10 years old, Robyn can remember having a particular interest in African animals and, in 2009, made her first trip to the continent.
Having been involved in photography for roughly 30 years, Robyn’s passion sways towards wildlife photography, although capturing people, countries and cultures also fuels her fire.
Living a creative life, if you don’t find Robyn at the beach or playing African drums in a group jam, you’ll probably find her dabbling in video editing…. that’s if she’s not planning her next trip to Kenya.
Interview with Robyn Preston below
1. When did you first pick up a camera?
I don’t recall when I first picked up a camera as it was such a long time ago ( showing my age…NOT ). But I first started getting serious when my children brought their school class photos home and I thought I would like to give that a go. I had a different style which was embraced and ended up doing it for 13 years. That lead me into family portraits, weddings, social events, corporate branding amongst other things. Back then it was all film photography and now, with the advent of digital, it has become much easier. I still recall doing weddings on a Saturday and having to stress until the week to wait and see the images printed on paper before knowing if they had come out (nope…still not showing my age).
2. What kind of photography do you most enjoy?
At this point my focus is on African wildlife, but with my history of “people photography” , I still find a real pull to capture the characteristic features I see in African faces. I prefer to take natural images but am always mindful of the respect the people deserve when taking photos without their knowledge. If possible, I ask their permission beforehand.
3. What is the simplest thing that has ever inspired you?
Where I live in New Zealand, I often go walking on the beach. Some days there isn’t a soul to be seen. I often walk with my head down noticing all the little things like the patterns in the sand, the way the water moves, the textures, the little insects that scurry when they see me (am I that scary?). These are things that, most likely, a lot of people wouldn’t notice as they look at the bigger picture, which is the overall scenery. These little things inspired me to make a short film and included in that were all the activities that people enjoy here. I entered it into a local competition and won (high 5!).
4. What is the most important thing you’ve learned through photography?
Keep it natural! Along with the digital age came programs to manipulate images. Enhancement is one thing, but to change an image into something other than what was seen is a No-No in my book. Especially dealing with nature. Keep it simple….keep it natural….capture the magic of the moment. That’s what it’s all about. Good philosophy for life too I say.
5. What is your biggest pet-peeve as a photographer?
My biggest pet peeve when photographing is when others around me try to get the attention of whoever it is I’m trying to photograph and make them look away from the camera. AAGGHHhhhhh!!! So frustrating.
6. If there was one location in Africa you could go to take photographs, where would it be?
My first choice would have to be the Masai Mara in Kenya. It has wide, open spaces and such a wonderful feel about it. I don’t know why, but when I am there it feels like home. Was I a Masai in a past life I wonder?
I was there on an overland trip during the wildebeest migration in July/August 2012 and no words can describe the awe of that experience. No photos or videos do it justice. But what I love most, about any of the places I have taken photos, is being privileged to be in each animal’s domain. It’s their space, not ours. It’s capturing nature and it’s environs that hold the magic.
7. What is the most unusual thing you have seen and wanted to photograph?
The most unusual thing I’ve seen (or did I?) was one of the antelope family, but with antlers. I was travelling in an overlanding truck at the time, so only got a fleeting glimpse. Later I tried to explain what I had seen to my guide and asked him what it was. He had no idea and looking through pictures of African animals, I have never seen anything that looked like what I saw. So, to this day, I have no idea what it was. At the time, it caught my eye simply for the reason I had never seen whatever it was I thought I saw ( confused ?? ) Yup…..me too.
8. Have you ever been in an unsafe place or situation to snag a brilliant photo?
I was staying at a lodge in the Maasai Mara and saw vervet monkeys running around the grounds and up the trees. I grabbed my camera and went out to take some photos. Amongst them was a mother with her baby and in hindsight a silly thing to do, I got down at ground level to get a good image. She was eyeing me intensively when suddenly, from out of the bushes behind me, came some more monkeys. One of them rushed at me snarling and spitting and barring its teeth. I had to kick at it to keep it away and to stop it biting my leg (note to self…rabies!). A man walking down the pathway yelled at it and it looked to the side which gave me time to move away. Just a tad scary and I learnt my lesson. On this occasion I DID get the photo of the mother and baby only moments before the attack.
9. Ever missed a brilliant shot?
There have been several occasions when I have been in dangerous situations and haven’t managed to capture the moment. Like when I was shark cage diving in South Africa and missed a massive shark breach. Centimetres away at face level, its mouth wide open and teeth glaring at me. It just happened so fast. In another instance, after relieving itself in the bushes, a bull elephant charged directly at us, but stopped at my door. It happened so quickly I didn’t get a photo. If anyone had seen my face… that would have been a priceless image!
Then, in the same reserve, we found five lions settling in the nearby bushes after feeding on a kudu. As we started to drive away the lion got up and started following. I called out to the driver to go faster and as she did, the lion started to run. Luckily, the lion stopped to turn and see if the rest of the pride were following. They weren’t, so it stopped. Whew!!! I can still recall the vivid memory of that lion looking at me in the near dark. Nope…no photo!
10. Complete this sentence: Because of photography…
… doors have opened for me that, years ago, I would never have imagined possible. What started as a fascination of Africa, is now a reality. At present I am focusing on building up followers on my Facebook wildlife photography page. Adding new photos each day and uploading to other sites to develop my profile. I have been told that I have a different style. I am not quite sure exactly what that style is or how I do it. For me it is just capturing what I see and doing what comes naturally. I am looking forward to getting back to Africa and expanding my photo library and concentrating on the finer points of getting better images. I always have the mindset that I can do better and am my own worst critic.
11. Where do you find are good places for aspiring and pro-photographers to place their work online?
There are many sites to place photographic work online but, because I am relatively new to wildlife photography, I am concentrating on my Facebook profile and building that for now. I think it is better to do one thing well than lots of things half pie. Facebook pages have the ability to reach many thousands of people across the world and, indeed, I am already finding that out.
My advice to up and coming photographers would be that you don’t need to go out and spend heaps of money on buying expensive gear. It’s more about composition, timing and capture. The photo I had chosen for publication was not taken on an expensive camera. Remember: Practice, practice, practice. Learn by mistakes. Create your own style and don’t try to copy someone else. Be inspired.
I am enthusiastic about this passion of mine and look forward to lots more adventures and experiences along the way.
Africa is calling…
Featured Photographer Robyn Preston
Robyn’s next visit to Africa is scheduled for April, an adventure which will include a lion research project, Uganda gorilla trekking and following the Great Migration in the Masai Mara… again.