The Canadian storm chaser and her two months with Africa Media

Here are some snippets of Jade Vajna’s two months at the Africa Media Academy. She attended the Wildlife Documentary Filmmaking program in October, and the Wildlife and Travel Photography program in November. Jade is a storm chaser, which means that following and documenting extreme weather conditions is a hobby of hers. She hails from Vancouver, Canada.

Wildlife Documentary Filmmaking – October 2019

1 Oct

So I’ve arrived and settled in. It’s a small group – only 5 of us. We’re in a really big, really old drafty house with loud pipes and faucets. Apparently, the power goes out every now and then.. which I’ve learned is a common issue in SA. All part of the adventure! Also, there are wild monkeys living outside! It was pretty cool to see them clamouring around the bushes as we drove up the windy, dirt road.

Tomorrow morning we’re waking up at 5 am to go “reconnect with nature” and disconnect from technology by going for a hike and a swim in cold water. It’s so nice to sleep in a bed after that long journey.

2 Oct

We got up at 5 am this morning to watch a gorgeous sunrise on the beach. As I watched, it filled me with this intense feeling of peace and gratitude. I know this sounds kind of cliche but seeing the sun slowly peek up from the horizon really drives home the feeling that each day is a gift. As much as I love sleeping in, that trip to the beach was so worth it.

We didn’t bring our phones so that we can be present and connect with nature. Not being able to document that beautiful scenery was actually really hard. I just kept having the urge to take photos but I had to let the feeling pass and just enjoy it with my eyes.

3 Oct

That moment when you check Google Timeline on your phone to see all the places you went to yesterday but then remember that you didn’t take your phone. I’ve had my phone on airplane mode this whole time anyway and I’m just using wifi when I’m at the house. We’re going on another excursion today but this time we get to bring our phones/cameras.

We went to “Die Poort” yesterday where there was this crazy tidal pool that “we” swam in. I say “we” because I ended up being too uncomfortable (I hesitate to use the word “scared”) to go in. The water was a bit rough but it was also cold and being already nervous, the low temperature would make it worse. Not far away, we could see waves that were at least 20 feet high breaking over the rocks.

Today we went to Pinnacle Point. It was one of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever been to. The sand was so soft and clean and there wasn’t a single soul around – it was just us. The waves were pretty rough looking so we didn’t go in, but there was a little tidal pool that we swam in that was crystal clear and had little fish swimming in it. It was worth the treacherous climb through sharp rocks to get there.

We also explored a massive cave and used paint created from ancient ochre rocks to paint our faces.

George, who will be our instructor for the film making program, demonstrated how to eat bread that he baked over the fire. This is a South African tradition. It’s actually pretty tasty, if you can manage to not burn it.

5 Oct

We went to a farmer’s market this morning where I ate a bunch of cinnamon sugar crepes for breakfast. Then I bought myself some super comfy purple pants and a couple of thin silver rings – one is a spiral and the other is an ocean wave.

I also bought two kinds of biltong that I will enjoy with my South African red wine later. Just going to chill for the rest of the day.

7 Oct

In the course of getting over my 9-hour jetlag, I managed to turn myself into a morning person. I wake up between 6:35 and 6:45 am and fall asleep sometime before 10 pm every night. I was severely sleep-deprived when I was living in Vancouver. I was always going to bed really late and my apartment was on a noisy street so I never quite slept as deeply as I needed to. I can’t remember the last time I consistently went to bed before midnight and got 8 hours of sleep. It’s probably been since childhood.

8 Oct

Just documented my first wildfire! (This was after a fire broke out in the Garden Route). Made a video that I put on my YouTube channel – check it out here.

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9 Oct

Today we went to Birds of Eden and Monkeyland to shoot our first project. Of course, it was pouring rain the whole time. Perhaps it’s karma because I was mocking Canada in my IG story yesterday. Ha! All kidding aside, this is great news for that wildfire from last night. It is definitely out now.

I’m so happy that I invested in all that @mec gear before my trip because I felt warm and dry the whole day!

After shooting, we dropped George off at this beach to go surfing on some pretty insane waves. Then we were treated to a beautiful sunset as the rain clouds parted on our drive back home.

Now I’m enjoying some Nederburg Shiraz as I sift through the day’s footage. Tomorrow, we’ll edit it all and have a viewing in the evening.

14 Oct

We are at the Schotia Game Reserve… will be off the grid 90% of the time with spotty wifi.

15 Oct

Had one of the elephants come really close to the Jeep and push the side with his trunk. It was a tad unnerving but SO damn awesome! Just another day at the office…

16 Oct

This demon dragonfly thing is buzzing around our faces as we try to empty our memory cards…

“Can we take it down to a mild panic; you’re in Africa now” – George


17 Oct

You know you’re hanging out with awesome people when the chick you’re sharing a cabin with has a praying mantis crawl across her face in the dark and after becoming briefly alarmed, she gets out of bed, turns on the light, and spends 20 minutes filming it from different angles. “I really want to see it on a leaf..” *Goes outside*

18 Oct

Doing this film program is really giving me an appreciation of just how hard this type of work is and the amount of patience it requires.. and we’re barely dipping our toes in by only shooting for 8 days!

22 Oct

We’re back “home” tonight in Groot-Brakrivier after spending an epic 8 days filming wildlife at the Schotia Game Reserve. We got up at 4:30 this morning to do a timelapse of the sunrise. Now we work on post-production for the next few days, then we’re doing a weekend trip to Capetown, then more post, and then we’re done! Though, I’ll be staying on for the next month to do the photography program.

23 Oct

We took a “family photo” just before we left Schotia. We bought some gorgeous prints from a local artist, Nic, who is also a guide at the reserve.

From the right: Arron, Guyslaine, Reilly (Nic’s dog in her arms), Ellie, George (holding Jill, one of the resident cats), me (needing a bang trim really badly), and then our awesome, and slightly insane (in a good way) guide, Kurt.

The second pic is how our vehicle actually looked. We had taken off the top so we could film better and mounted a tripod to the top.

24 Oct

Been cooped up all day editing, but got treated to a gorgeous sunset tonight!

30 Oct

We finished our final projects last night and did a screening, followed by a party. I haven’t been posting much on social media because I’ve been so busy and a tad exhausted. I have photos I still need to edit. It was an epic month! Now I’m just going to catch up on some things and get ready for the next chapter – the wildlife photography course!

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Wildlife and Travel Photography – November 2019

2 November

Went down to the Sedgefield farmer’s market again today. I couldn’t help myself and bought rings again from @tribesleathercraft and then we stopped in Wilderness to hang out at the beach. Took a few dips in the ocean and enjoyed the sunshine! We also saw a paraglider land very awkwardly and hurt herself. She was further down the beach and people rushed over to help, as well as fellow paragliders who landed after. I think she was okay, just in a bit of shock.

Tonight, I believe we’ll be initiating the new people by taking them out to a local pub!

4 Nov

We had a Cape Town trip a couple of weeks ago. We went to Boulders Beach to see the penguins, Cape Point, where we encountered some severe weather – I measured about 50km/hr winds and got blasted with rain. I have some video of that on my phone. Then we took a cable car up to Table Mountain and for some stunning views. The weather up there was interesting. We were right up in the clouds.

Honestly, with the ocean, mountainous landscape, and rainy/temperate weather, Cape Town had a very Vancouver-ish vibe to it. Walking around the waterfront, I would forget for a moment that I was actually abroad.

6 Nov

Had our first photography class today. Went out and shot the sunset on the Groot-Brak river.

12 Nov

Played with landscapes, macro, and light painting today! Also shot a pano yesterday.

14 Nov

I’m taking so many photos! We took shots at the Pepsi Pools – a little waterfall that’s brown and foamy. Despite how it looks, it’s not polluted. Apparently the foam is totally natural and the brown color is from tannins, which are caused by decaying matter. Then we shot a sunset near Harold Bay.

The next 8 days or so are going to be quite busy. I decided to sign up for the weekend excursion to go back to the Schotia Game Reserve (where we shot our documentaries). We leave tomorrow morning and get back Sunday. Then Monday we’re off to the Camdeboo Game Reserve for 5 days. We get back Friday evening… then we’re up around 3am to drive to Cape Town for the Canon Roadshow. That evening, we’re going to watch George and Katie’s band play a show. (George was our instructor for the film program). We drive back the next morning.

23 Nov

We went shark cage diving this morning but unfortunately there were no sharks to be seen. Apparently they’ve been hiding lately because there have been orcas in the area.

However… there was a film crew on our boat shooting for Nat Geo!! That was really cool. I was trying not to hover too much and get in their way, which was tricky on a tiny boat. But I kept staring at all their gear and was mentally trying to guess everyone’s role, “I think that guy is DoP, that guy is the camera assistant, that guy is probably the director, etc.” I was being a giant nerd. They were super nice, even the poor sound guy who gave me the stink eye at one point because he could hear my shutter clicking while they were interviewing the shark cage guy, Richard.

We’re going to go cage diving again, so we’re sure to see some sharks!

24 Nov

Hearing a lion roar in real life is one of the most amazing sounds ever. If it’s close enough, you feel it in your stomach and it gives you goosebumps. At Mount Camdeboo, our guide, Soloman, was saying that it’s actually a physical reaction that’s hard wired into us. A lion’s roar sets off our fight or flight response. Of course, we don’t mentally experience fear because we know we’re safe, so instead, we interpret the adrenaline rush as a sense of awe and profundity… as opposed to being scared for our lives like our ancestors probably were. We evolved to react this way to really low frequencies, even lower than we can hear, because they usually signal some sort of danger.

25 Nov

Today we tried to shoot the sunset at this dam in the town of George but we weren’t able to access it. As we drove along, we noticed this giant, orange orb as it shined through a thin veil of clouds. We HAD to stop. So we ended up pulling over near this empty lot between two townships… as it was getting dark. I could hear faint music in the distance and smell BBQ (or braai, as it’s called here) not far away. The ominous clouds loomed above that eery looking sun as it slowly crept towards the horizon. We just couldn’t miss that shot!

1 Dec

I’ve received certificate number 2! I can’t believe this journey has come to an end. Flying home today. I’ve learned so much these past two months. This was an experience of a lifetime. I feel so much stronger as a videographer, photographer, and just as an artist in general. I’m not exactly sure what the future holds for me at this point… but it will definitely involve nature, my cameras, and travel.

Thank you Ashleigh De Villiers for this hard copy photo you took and also for such an epic month!

3 Dec

So I was pleasantly surprised by my parents yesterday when they picked me up from the airport. After some sushi, I passed out at 5:30 pm, which was easy to do since it’s dark by 4:30 pm. Though, I was awake bright and early at 1:30 am! Lol. Nothing like a 3:30 am breakfast. This 10 hours of jetlag will take a little time to get over.

When my mom first saw me, she said that I looked “healthy and relaxed”. If that’s how I look after 32 hours of travel and barely any sleep… how stressed was I in mid-September when I last saw her?

I feel very grateful for these past two months and excited for where this next chapter will take me.

– Jade Vajna

Connect with Jade via her:
Facebook page
YouTube channel

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