On Photo Safari: Travels in Tanzania with Bob Poole
National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Bob Poole discusses photography, safaris and travelling with National Geographic Expeditions.
Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and photographer Bob Poole spent his childhood exploring the Tanzanian wilds in Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti National Park, so a career documenting wildlife was a natural fit. Bob first worked with National Geographic as a teenager, on a film about elephants; since then, he has produced more than 35 films for the National Geographic Channel. We sat down with Bob to chat about his memories of East Africa and his attraction to Tanzania as a photography subject.
What makes Tanzania an inspiring place for photographers?
Tanzania’s national parks are simply astounding for photography because they offer complete immersion in a world where things move in much the same way they did 4.5 million years ago, when human beings first left tracks there. The Serengeti is replete with gorgeous creatures, from lions, leopards, and cheetahs to wild dogs and—one of my favourites–hyenas. And the Ngorongoro Crater is just mind-blowing. The first time you peer into it from the rim, your jaw drops—not just at the indescribable scale of the place, but also at the sheer abundance of wildlife and birds you find there.
Tell us about one of your most memorable National Geographic assignments in this region.
One of my favourite shoots was in the Serengeti for the National Geographic Channel’s Great Migrations series. We followed the wildebeest on their annual journey, from their birthing grounds in the southern Serengeti, across crocodile-filled rivers and plains crawling with predators, through all the drama of one the largest and most spectacular land migrations on Earth.
What motivates you as a photographer and a filmmaker?
I enjoy travelling, exploring, and seeing new places, but photography gives me a mission and engages my critical eye. I like the challenge of creating images that evoke emotion, and it’s extremely satisfying to learn new techniques and see the subsequent results.
Why do you keep returning to this region?
My film work keeps bringing me back here, but I would come anyway just to spend time doing what I love most: watching and photographing wildlife.
What piece of photographic advice you would give to travellers visiting Tanzania?
Photography is fun, but I think your photos will be more meaningful if you put the camera down sometimes and take in as much of the experience as possible. Looking through a camera lens can be a bit like going down a rabbit hole—for that reason, I encourage travellers to carry good pair of binoculars, so they can observe animal behaviour closely and really absorb the experience. It helps you to anticipate your subject’s next move, improving the quality of your shots; it also helps bring you back to the moment when you go through your photos.
Why is it important to travel?
Travel opens your mind to new cultures, experiences, and ideas. Seeing life from a different perspective reminds me of how fortunate I am and helps me understand the world better.
Tell us about one of your favourite travel memories.
That’s a hard one! Perhaps some of my favourite memories are among my very first—for instance, driving with my father from Malawi to Kenya in an old Land Rover when I was five years old, and spotting lions in the dark along the way.
Lastly, what’s one item you would never travel without?
I like to think of myself as pretty tough, but one thing I never leave home without is my feather pillow!