A Work Week With Ross Couper - Wildlife photographer and ex-Ranger at Singita
We follow ex-ranger turned wildlife photographer and Ross Couper and his wife, Lindsay, as they take us on a week in their work life at Singita Sabi Sand. At Singita, they are committed to conserving and preserving Africa's wildlife and wilderness, offering their guests unique safari experiences at each of their 15 luxury, award-winning lodges. Here, during one of the most difficult times in the world, Ross and Lindsay take us to Africa when we can't get there ourselves.
Monday – Filming live Game Drives for Singita’s social media channels
It’s all about going live and starting early. The live streaming of game drives is an opportunity to bring the authentic experience to life through various social media channels. We know we need to change the way we engage with our followers and guests whilst everyone is at home during lockdown and bring the healing power of nature to them. (Some guests actually missed their safari!) Tracking wildlife in remote wilderness and filming live is a risk. It was a little experimental at first, but we soon realized how important the connection was with people from around the world. Bringing the real-time game viewing to people all over the world was an easy decision, the challenge was tracking elusive predators daily and keeping our followers informed and entertained.
Live safaris are conducted daily, sometimes twice a day, as we follow the movement of wildlife and kept up to date with a resident female leopard and her two cubs. There was no time to hit the snooze button on these episodes as followers soon become spellbound by the moments enfolding via our live stream. Mornings usually start at 4:30am and my wife, Lindsay, and I would be in our open land rover by 5:00am with coffee and a rusk in one hand (a South African version of a biscotti) and equipment in the other. Generally, we have a packed breakfast - or it was missed – and by lunch we’d feel like hyenas circling the fridge! When we’re out in the bush, it takes a long time to travel to a location, to track wildlife or patiently wait for something to transpire, and the day quickly dissolves. Before we know it, we’re filming sunset scenes or heading back home after dark.
Tuesday – Recording Sounds from the bush for the Singita Soundcloud account
As we move from autumn to winter, the mornings grow darker and colder every day. Fewer bird species remain behind for the winter, as many migrate north, so morning bird choruses are far quieter when it’s cold. As the winter sun warms the day, the bird calls increase and fill the air and we can place our microphones for the best results.
It becomes clear that sound is the easiest way to transport our followers to the bush from the confines of their city apartments during lockdown. When they needed an escape, they could close their eyes and drift away to serene landscapes and dream about an African adventure at anytime of the day. It’s our job to record sounds for the Singita Marketing team to upload onto the recently launched Soundcloud account, and it allowed us to really listen to our surroundings more intuitively.
This is a daily activity much like many of the others. However, it means waking up long before dawn. It’s a serene time of the day, and we capture time-lapse images of clouds dancing across the horizon and literally watch time drifting past us. Today we tie the sound recording equipment to a tree out of reach of hyenas and continue gathering other content and collect the large microphone a few hours later, hoping that we won’t find it in the mouth of a hyena! The day is filled with capturing sound, imagery and short videos, literally full of life. Since we already started recording sounds, we integrated it into our live game drives by going live during an African thunderstorm, where the sound alone, appeals to many followers. It was apparent that the simple things in life, nature especially, were appreciated more than ever, and the comments we receive on Instagram during the live game drive are humbling.
Wednesday – Filming a Hidden Safari with a Go Pro
We need some mid-week creativity on how to change it up and look for different angles. Whenever tracking wildlife, I always wonder how many species we miss. So, we decide to take a bold risk and leave a camera out on a frequently used game path. It turns out to be a hit-and-miss scenario and we end up with hours of footage to edit.
Over time, we’ve realized that camera placement is key and sometimes being too good at it makes our hearts race when we watch the Go Pro exposed as a herd of elephant saunters by, missing it by a few centimeters! Hiding it in elephant dropping seemed to work for a while, but the inevitable does happen unfortunately! We’ve captured some great moments that nobody had seen before, but I’ve also lost two Go Pro cameras during lockdown, as they were detected and destroyed by elephants! I believe they stood on it on purpose, but I leave that for another story...
Thursday – A Live Game Drive
As we stumble out of bed at 04h30 looking for the switch for the coffee machine, ideas for the day surface just before we load our equipment into the Land Rover. With limited mobile reception in some parts of the reserve, live safaris have their challenges. However, today we are pre-recording a game drive, in order to bring the experience to everyone at home.
It’s also a chance to record game drives with some of the other field guides that are based at the lodge during lockdown. We’ve also filmed a few virtual safari experiences with a focus on conservation or sustainability to help raise funds for our partner conservation NGOs. It will take us 4-5 hours to film the virtual drive and Lindsay does lots of editing to condense it to a 15-20 minute video clip. This is the toughest part of the recorded safari, there is so much to pack in, but we know it’s just a taste to whet your appetite.
Friday – Filming a walking safari
By the end of the week, getting up at 4:30am is far easier to do and we wake to early morning sounds – a lion’s roar, hyenas whooping nearby or monkeys alarming due to a predator moving through the area – which make a pretty good alarm clock. We’ve opted to try film a walking safari today, and it proves to be very successful. As we film the guides, I’m not sure who enjoys it more, as the outtakes had us in stitches at times. Johan tells us that his surname means ‘’elephant” when translated from Shangaan. Everytime we film Johan, strangely enough, we always encounter elephants and it seems like there is always one in the herd that shows an interest in our vehicle. I am pretty sure it was coincidence! It was sheer enjoyment being able to share our love for the natural world, and the Marketing team is pretty happy with the final cut.
Most of the days are spent searching for wildlife and finding creative ways to capture what’s happening in the wild to share it with the world. With no guests in the lodges, driving through the reserve alone allows us to have full access to the area. This afforded us a unique opportunity to view the reserve from above, by flying a remote aircraft across the grass plains and many inaccessible areas along the river. It comes with huge responsibility too, as we assist the anti-poaching team with surveillance of the area while we move about and need to report anything suspicious. Illegal hunting and poaching are on the increase now, as many families have lost their incomes during lockdown.
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