Jemma Wild

In this exclusive interview, we delve into the fascinating journey of Jemma Wild, a seasoned professional who transitioned from the world of fashion and beauty to becoming a sought-after safari-travel content producer and photographer. From her early days experimenting with photography in her father's darkroom to her current role in capturing the essence of luxury safari lodges, Jemma shares insights into her creative process, the significance of visual storytelling in conservation efforts, and her passion for showcasing Africa's wild beauty.

PLEASE SHARE A BIT OF YOUR STORY WITH US. WHAT INSPIRED YOUR TRANSITION FROM A FASHION AND BEAUTY EDITOR TO A SAFARI-TRAVEL CONTENT PRODUCER AND PHOTOGRAPHER, AND HOW DID YOU NAVIGATE THIS JOURNEY TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?

I guess my love of photography started when I was in my early teens. My dad had a dark room and collected Hasselblad cameras as a hobby. As a kid, I was encouraged to be creative and learned a lot by developing my photos. This then stemmed into photography clubs and collecting millions of Kodak moments. Not really thinking of Photography as a career, I knew I had an eye for style and putting scenes together so went to study fashion and landed my first job as a Fashion and Beauty Editor for Saltwater Girl Magazine. This catapulted my love for this medium as I spent years in studios and on shoots styling fashion looks and learning from photographers. Sadly, when publications started to close their glossy pages and move online I took the jump and moved to agency life where I became a content strategist. My love for understanding words, matched with brilliant imagery and how people connected to products became my jam - the psychology around emotional buying really stuck with me and made me want to take what I did and use it in an industry that matched my ethos. It wasn’t until 2019, that I really needed a change. I saw a gap in the market in the safari industry that lodges weren’t showing HOW their beautiful places felt, and that their imagery wasn’t showing those magical moments that stick with you the most when you're in the bush… so I reached for my camera, emailed the client, and offered myself as a trade exchange to show what I could do. It worked, and four years later I am still capturing one of the most romantic industries in the world.

LUXURY SAFARI

HOW DO YOU APPROACH CREATING EMOTIVE CONTENT THAT TRULY REFLECTS THE ESSENCE OF A LUXURY SAFARI EXPERIENCE?

I am lucky enough that I have reached a point where I get to choose my clients. Space, landscape, and hospitality really are the foundations to what I do. My clients work hard to create their own magic in their lodges, to show off their unique story - as a photographer I seek out clients that have that unique story to tell. Having started out as a photographer for all safari lodges - as a portfolio build - I realised that my niche is between ultra-luxury and eco-luxury; owner run, detailed driven, environmentally aware, and driven by passion. These types of clients allow me to step in and let my camera move as there are so many stories in the spaces, the light, and the people that drive an emotional connection. One thing I think is important to say is that I shoot the natural experience. Often clients want to do elaborate set-ups for a photography experience. My rule of thumb is “If you don't do it for your guests, don't do it for me.” These clients have worked hard to tell this story to their guests, and my job is to capture that, so it translates to future guests.

LUXURY SAFARI LODGES

IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT SETS LUXURY SAFARI LODGES APART IN TERMS OF VISUAL STORYTELLING POTENTIAL?

A unique story and attention to detail. The best lodges I’ve photographed are ones that know how to show off their spaces in a personal way. You can immediately get a sense of a lodge by what they choose to show off, especially in their marketing material. Lodges that aren't afraid to show you inside, rather than just the wildlife outside. A lodge group that does this so well is Singita & Tswalu (they’re on my bucket list to photograph for!) They have a way of drawing you in emotionally; their interior architects design with consciousness - merging guests' luxury experiences with the surrounding spaces - their aim is to connect you to all the elements - water, air, earth & fire. I’ve shot a lot of lodges that have been designed this way, and honestly, it’s pure magic as you immediately feel how your inner energy connects visually. (A bit woo-woo I know, but that’s the core of emotion, right?)

LUXURY SAFARI LODGE

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS WHEN TASKED WITH VISUALLY REPRESENTING A LUXURY SAFARI LODGE?

Firstly, the client and I will chat about their focus. What areas they want to concentrate on, what activities, and I ask them to share their story and inspiration being the lodge. I then go online and look at what they do have in terms of marketing collateral and choose spaces that I connect with and create a mood board. I pick four core complimentary colours that represent their spaces and then set about designing my wardrobe to complement areas that I may be adding a “human element” to. The idea with adding human elements is never to distract, but to complement. Show off “living beings” in the spaces. So, I choose hats, and accessories that can be built into “the set” to add dimensions to the imagery. The other idea for choosing colours is to get a sense of what time of day the lodges shoot better in. A lodge with richer, earth tones requires early morning light - a lodge that’s lighter and more airy can be mid-morning to late afternoon. I also always find the cardinal direction of the lodge and rooms so I can manage my light expectation and plan where to start during the day. Saying that, I always request an east facing room so I can maximise the golden hour light. There is obviously a whole lot more that goes into it, camera wise, but I can’t give everything away :)

LUXURY SAFARI

WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK VISUAL STORYTELLING PLAYS IN SHAPING PERCEPTIONS OF CONSERVATION EFFORTS WITHIN LUXURY SAFARI DESTINATIONS?

A huge one! Every lodge is built with the aim to have a positive impact on the conservation of the area it’s built - this visual storytelling is imperative to educate guests on this. For example, there is a lodge in the Zambezi National Park called Mpala Jena (an absolute favourite of mine). This lodge (like others in the area) makes sure to educate guests (on the ground, and in their marketing material) on what it’s done to assist the Zambezi National Park and bring wildlife back to the park that has historically been pillaged by poachers and neglect. Personally, I always make sure that in my storytelling there is a message that links to conservation - even though it may seem a boring topic to photograph, travellers are seeking more meaningful experiences, so this type of educational storytelling is becoming bigger and bigger with luxury safari destinations.

YOU HAVE CAPTURED SOME AMAZING FOOTAGE AND IMAGES AS A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER AND VIDEOGRAPHER. IS THERE A SPECIFIC PHOTO THAT HOLDS A SPECIAL PLACE IN YOUR HEART? AND CAN YOU SHARE THE STORY BEHIND IT?

Oh wow, that’s like asking me to choose a favourite hat (and if you saw my hat collection, you would understand!). My favourite images often come with big feelings, the location I am in, the entire experience we had and then the light just playing ball. I can’t give you one, but I can give you three. They’re all at my favourite places. On the banks of the Zambezi River and on the Makgadikgadi Pans.

Malachite Tented Suites

Water shares so much life into the places it co-exists with, at Malachite Tented Suites in Victoria Falls I just had one of those co-existing moments. This is image one. It was a crazy last minute job for a trade show, with a super tight deadline and everything just aligned. I often like to shoot in a way of “stealing moments” - in this case I saw my husband (who is a big part of what I do) in this space and I had to shoot it. It shows off everything that this lodge is about, relaxation, modern interiors, and proximity to water. This image just told a whole story of feeling.

Island camp

The second image is also on the Zambezi, at Tsowa Safari Island, an island camp in the middle of the river. It had rained the whole night and when we woke, we were an audience to the most insane birdsong. Watching the sun rise, coffee in hand, river below. Magic. Setting up the tripod I caught myself framed in this moment to translate this feeling.

Makgadikgadi Pans, San Camp

The third image is of the Makgadikgadi Pans, San Camp - surrounded by salt pans and absolute nothingness, your afternoon tea, barefoot on the floor staring at a very unique landscape with the afternoon light shining in - I look at this image and remember how much this lodge impacted me. It’s dubbed “The most romantic lodge in Africa” for a reason.

Luxury Safari

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING PHOTOGRAPHERS AND VIDEOGRAPHERS LOOKING TO SPECIALIZE IN LUXURY SAFARI LODGE CONTENT?

Find your niche. Practise. Start an Instagram page and get out into the field (self-drives is how I started), and work hard. Specifically, in this industry, it’s already so saturated with photographers that standing out requires persistence. I get this question every day. Honestly, it does come down to what you offer and how you market yourself. And don’t rely on properties to pay you (because it will take years before they do, honestly). Use the digital landscape to push your passion. Sell your prints online, create e-books, and push yourself into online content, as that’s where you’ll be able to make a career out of your hobby.

Luxury Safari

CAN YOU SHARE ANY UPCOMING PROJECTS OR DESTINATIONS YOU’RE PARTICULARLY EXCITED TO CAPTURE?

We have such a full schedule over the next 3-months and I can’t share too much but one destination I can share is Mana Pools, Zimbabwe. We have been trying to get there for years and we’re finally going. I have no idea what to expect, and that for me is the most exciting - we're working with an incredible lodge group who I love shooting for and their lodges really make my lenses happy. As for projects, I have a massive project that’s been in the pipeline for the last year that I hope is going to add a whole new dimension to how people experience safari travel… watch this space!

Luxury Safari

ARE THERE ANY LUXURY SAFARI DESTINATIONS STILL ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?

So many! I have been so lucky to have had so many clients in the Southern African region, but hopefully, in the next year or so I can start working more with East & West African clients. Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Zambia, and Malawi are all on the list. There are honestly so many safari destinations, in and outside of Africa that will take a lifetime to explore - I cannot wait!

Lastly, what do you hope viewers and clients take away from your photographs and storytelling about luxury safari lodges in Africa?

For viewers, I hope that it tugs at inspiration to come to Africa and get bitten by its wild and wonderful charm. And for clients, to have an opportunity to see their property in a different light, to show them how much feeling they’ve created. Luxury means different things to different people, and I find that in the safari industry the word “luxury” and “Africa” can only be translated by the raw emotion you feel when you first meet her - and my job is to find that luxury in every safari moment.

Jemma Wild
www.jemmawild.com

IG: https://www.instagram.com/jemmawildsafaristyled/

Luxury Safari

As we conclude this insightful interview, it's clear that Jemma's dedication to her craft transcends mere photography. Her ability to encapsulate the spirit of luxury safari experiences not only mesmerizes viewers but also serves as a powerful tool for conservation awareness. Through her lens, viewers are transported to the heart of Africa, where every image tells a story of adventure, beauty, and the raw essence of luxury in the wild. We eagerly await Jemma's future projects, knowing that each capture will continue to inspire and ignite a deep appreciation for Africa's remarkable landscapes and wildlife.

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