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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Steel

Photo Story - Getting the close up

On the 3rd of April my series of images captured with action cameras was picked up by two national newspapers in the UK, The Daily Star, and the Daily Express. It is always a pleasure to see my work in print, even more so when it is a culmination of a three year long project.

As so many people wanted to know how I got these images I thought I would share the interviewed I had with Caters News agency. I hope you enjoy!


Interview with Charlotte - Caters News 30th March 2020


Tell me about yourself, name, age, location, profession?

My name is William Steel, I am a 28 year old wildlife photographer from Botswana. I have lived and then worked in Botswana for over 20 years. Now living in South Africa I specialise in Photographic hosting and wildlife photography throughout Southern Africa. I am an internationally awarded photographer and my work has been used by National Geographic, the BBC, Forbes, and the wall street journal to name a few.

Where and when were the photos taken? 

These photographs were taken throughout Botswana, over the space of the last three years.

How did you take such close up shots of the animals? 

All these images are photographed using Action Cameras such as GoPros. The cameras are set on a timelapse mode, taking images every 5 seconds, I then leave the cameras in places I think wildlife will walk past. The rest is a game of chance. 

In the beginning, I hid cameras in hollow logs, but for some reason the success rate was low. After lots of trial and error, I discovered that hollowing out elephant dung and placing the camera inside, worked brilliantly. Not only did this give the camera some extra protection, but it actually attracted the attention of wildlife. 

Where did you learn this trick about putting the camera in elephant dung? 

It was just a case of using what was available in the bush. Rather than going to the expense of building a camera housing, it was easier to just use what was around me. The size and shape of elephant dung seemed like a logical solution.

How long have you been doing this for?

I first started trying to photograph close up shots while working for a filming company in the Okavango Delta (Botswana), But it took a few years to work out how to increase my success rate. It has only been the last year and a half that I have captured images that I am proud of.

Has equipment been damaged during this process?

I have actually only had one problem in the last three years. I placed a GoPro on the edge of a river where elephants frequently crossed the water. I left the camera for the afternoon and when I came back the protective case of the camera had been crushed and the unprotected camera was lying in a puddle of water, the memory card survived but the camera didn't! It was after this that I designed a metal housing for my cameras. 

What other things do you do to take unique shots of the animals? 

As I push to get a better close up shot, I have designed a 4mm thick metal housing for both my GoPro’s and my DSLR’s. The new set up involves motion triggers and remote controls. Unfortunately, the one thing I can't control is the wildlife, so it is still just a numbers game. The GoPro’s in Elephant dung is still just as successful.

What do people say about your photos of the animals so close up?

The normal comment I get is “taken just before the photographer was eaten”. The response has been amazing online. People love the POV style of these photographs, it immerses you into the scene and is something a little different from the usual portrait photographs. Very few photographers are doing this, as it is a huge investment of time for an uncertain amount of success.

What did you think whilst seeing the photos for the first time? 

As I nearly always leave my cameras for hours or days at a time it is so exciting to see what they have captured. I usually spend days scouting out the best place to leave them, so a lot of time is invested in getting the shot. When I finally collect the cameras and go through the images, it is usually a disappointment, but every now and then something amazing is captured, and the hours of groundwork pays off. 

What are your favourite photos?

My favourite images are the lion photographs. There was something so satisfying about getting those shots. Days, weeks and months of disappointment lead to getting them. The Lions would walk straight past the camera without stopping for a second to investigate it. When I finally worked out how to pique their interest, I couldn't help but smile at the results.

Any special techniques?

Failure after failure trying to get Lions interested in my camera meant I had to rethink the technique. Through trial and error, and a little bit of luck I found the solution. I rubbed the camera housing in Buffalo urine! Apparently it is catnip for Lion. I have had little success in repeating this experiment though as sourcing African Buffalo urine is proving difficult.

Anything more you would like to add? 

It is important to add that by photographing this way I am able to capture intimate views of wildlife without putting me, and most importantly the wildlife, at risk. The safety and lack of impact on wildlife is the most important aspect. If this style of photography was harmful, in any way, to the behaviour or safety of the wildlife, I would stop.


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