The ultimate shot of Kgalagadi Leopard mother
in perfect morning light carrying a cub in her mouth.
If you are going in to the bush for photography, it’s important to know how your camera works to enable for quick snapping. Wildlife photography often requires quick decision making before the subject moves and the moment is lost. You cannot be fiddling around trying to work out your camera when the scene is before you.  Next is knowing the basics of photography to ensure you don’t mess up a sighting as it may not come around again. 

When the magic moment arrives as this scene at Kutse GR in the Kalahari
 in Botswana, you dont want to be trying to work out your camera.

One of the main reasons we keep going in to the bush is the search for the magical photo of something in the wild. Predators are top on the list of priorities but we will take any decent shot of anything that wants to pose in good light or put up a decent show. One of the sins we are guilty of is the relentless search for predators resulting in driving past great photo opportunities of other game. For example the best lighting is the first and last light which is also the time for predators to be active. The search for the predator at these times often results in ignoring everything else which is a questionable method. It's often worth getting that great impala shot in first light rather than chase a cat you may or may not find or frustratingly find a cat behind a bush that cannot be shot.

Its important not to neglect the little guys in
good light, like this Grants Gazelle in the Serengeti.

Wildlife photography means different things to different people, after all people take shots in the zoo and showcase it as wildlife photography. For most people getting a shot of a wild animal is all that matters but for die hard self drivers like us the ‘purity’ of the shot defines a wildlife photo. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a great photo but the story behind the shot adds to the purity of a shot, more so if it’s your own sighting as opposed to stumbling on a sighting that has already been made. Of course no matter how good the story if the photo is not good it’s a bad shot!
We first saw this Serengeti Leopard mother playing with her cub away from the road with a heap of cars. Soon everyone left after having their fill but we decided to hang around and see what happends. Amazingly after about an hour, the Mother came on to the road sat under our car offering this most unusual angle for a leopard shot.  

Wildlife photography becomes a real challenge because none of the key variables are within your control. Light, subject and sighting are all out of your control and getting these three lined up is just about the hardest thing to achieve. Often you will have a great sighting in bad light or great light but nothing to shoot or great light and subject but the sighting is nothing more than a fleeting glimpse. The two shots below are of the same pride of lions shots minutes apart.
When we came upon this pride, the subject and the
sighting were perfect but the light was on the wrong side.

By moving to the opposite side, the light was
perfect and all three elements were lined up.
Patience, patience and more patience (and some luck) is the key to getting the three variables in your favor. On more than a few occasions we have spent hours waiting for the subject to move to a better position and been rewarded with a great shot. On one occasion in Nxai Pan in Botswana, was came across a Cheetah around 9AM heading towards the only source of water for miles. The Cheetah decided to take a rest under a bush and we assumed it would head to drink soon and positioned ourselves for a head on shot. The Cheetah finally made the move around 5.30PM. In between this time we had to get a fellow tourist to ‘guard’ the Cheetah while we checked out a Leopard sighting close by. The point is it was patience that finally paid off and we got a great shot of a Cheetah nearly 8 hours after we first saw it.
8 hours after we first saw this Cheetah, it finally
rewarded us with a great pose in good light.

Our relentless search for predators at first and last light is an attempt to get the odds in our favor of getting these variables of a wildlife photo lined up and we have had enough success to know this is the best way to get quality predator shots. Too often we see people spending the best time for light doing things other than shooting – like having coffee or sundowners. All these are great things to do but the good light only lasts that long. To get good shots you need to put the odds in your favor by getting some basic things right and the most basic of them is to be in a position to shoot when the opportunity comes along.
The Serengeti sunrise only lasts a few precious minutes
and if you are having breakfast, the moment will be lost.

The unpredictable nature of all three elements means you can be presented with an unexpected opportunity for a great photo at any time of the day. For example the sun breaking through a cloud can result in great light in the middle of the day which would usually not be the best time for good light for photography.

This water hole at Nxai pan NP in Botswana was full of activity
during the hottest part of the day when most people are resting.
Of the three variables the sighting becomes the most important element as without a sighting you don’t have the opportunity. If the light is not the best you can make adjustments to your camera to get a decent shot so getting the sighting is most important and you can only do this if you are out there. We seldom spend anytime daylight hours in our campsite as we are in the bush looking for ‘sightings’ to shoot. 

Even last light offers opportunities to snap something interesting
 like this Kalahari Giraffe in Kutse GR in Botswana.

Having said that, don't neglect the campsite if it looks like it has potential to attract birds and the smaller mammals like mongoose or squirrels.  It’s easy to get restricted with wildlife photography by only focusing on the big game. But wildlife photography is lot more than just big game. Always take time to shoot the smaller and less glamorous creatures and the all important scenery. When you look back at your photos, you will be pleased to see everything you experienced and not just the big game.

Mabuasuhabe NP in Botswana is home to all the Kalahari specials
including this pair of common warthogs who are often ignored.
In terms of camera equipment there is no end to what one can carry, depending on how much you want to spend, though a big expensive camera doesn't automatically mean awesome shots - you still have to know how to take a great photo ;)  As amateurs, we carry two cameras with 400mm lenses, along with a third with an 18-55 lens, mainly for scenery. The driver often has a battle at a sighting trying to get a car in a position and grab the camera before the subject changes position or worse, bolts! There is also usually a battle within this battle on how the vehicle should be positioned as to subject on the driver's side or passenger's side?
We only had 300M lens to shoot this rare albino Letshwe in the Moremi GR in Botswana.

You also need to get some base upon with to rest a big lens or the camera shake will render your photo useless. We've found the most effective is to use bean bags, one which rests on a car door while the other rests on an elevated platform on the driver side. This means the driver only needs to grab the camera and is ready to shoot.

This White headed vulture had to be shot free hand.




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