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The NFL Star Photography Assistant

18 Jun 2012, Posted by Jeff Mauritzen in National Geographic Photography, On Assignment, Photo Blog

In my last On-Assignment post, I left off with us leaving the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, with a promise to explain the purpose of my assignment, as well as reveal who my assistant was on the Africa part of my journey.  When I got confirmation that I’d be going on an assignment for National Geographic, I received a lot of offers of assistance from friends, family and colleagues.   Unfortunately, the budget for this assignment didn’t include pay or travel for an assistant, so if someone wanted to come along and help out, they’d be doing so solely for the experience or knowledge they might gain from assisting.  That fact, along with the realization that most people don’t have the ability to leave their job or family for such an extended period of time, meant that I wasn’t going to have an assistant on this assignment.  At least that’s what I thought, until I received a call from my sister 2 weeks before I left for Africa, telling me that a friend of her’s, former NFL cornerback Shawn Springs, had offered to carry my bags and help out while I was in Africa.  To which I replied, “Yeah, right….if he’s serious, have him call me.” As I got of the phone and headed into the doctor’s to get my yellow fever and typhoid vaccines, I wondered why in the world a former NFL player would want to carry my bags, and if he was actually serious.  20 minutes later I received a call from Shawn wanting to know more about the trip. There was way too much to talk about over the phone and the decision to bring someone along on such an important assignment wasn’t going to be one I took lightly.  I decided to meet up with Shawn over dinner so I could get a better gauge on his personality and how serious he was.

Welcome committee at the Kenya/Tanzania border.

(Welcoming committee at the Kenya/Tanzania border crossing.)

It was definitely a strange trip home in the car, wondering how my life had gotten so bizarre, first, having landed my dream assignment from National Geographic and second, having a former NFL player asking to carry my bags.  When we met up the next day, I explained to him that there was no pay and unfortunately no luxury accommodation.  I wanted to make sure he understood that this wasn’t going to be a vacation and that most days we’d be getting up before sunrise and driving around in a dusty vehicle until after sunset.  Shawn was completely fine with that.  He’d been to Africa once before during college, and had always wanted to go back to see the wildlife in Kenya & Tanzania.  Despite the fact the Shawn didn’t have a lot of photography experience, I could tell from meeting him that he was very easy-going, and I knew from his former NFL experience that he’d be hard working and a great team player.  Having an assistant on this part of the trip was going to be a big help to me.  Professional photography gear is expensive and heavy, so I was thrilled to have a former NFL player standing guard over and helping carry my bags.  I won’t go into too much more detail about Shawn, other than to say that he was a great help, a really nice guy and probably even saved me from getting eaten by lions at least once.  We shared a few laughs and I really appreciated having him along on the journey.

Shawn Springs overlooking Hippo Pool

(Shawn overlooking Retima hippo pool in the Serengeti.)

On my next post, I’ll be sharing more photos from the Serengeti/Masai Mara part of this assignment.  If you’d like to see more images from Kenya, Tanzania and the Galapagos, as well as read more about my assignment with National Geographic Children’s Books, please click here:  National Geographic Wildlife Photography

To buy a limited edition, signed print from this assignment, please click here:  Wildlife Fine Art Photography