Friday, 8 July 2016

Okavango Delta Photo Safari

I am somewhat reluctant to use the word ‘rules’ when speaking (or writing) about photography as it is after all an art form and the mention of the word ‘rules’ seems to be a rather rude juxtaposition. It might be my rebellion having rules in art or it might be my creative eye, but whatever the reason, I seek to break as many rules as possible, and as often as possible, when photographing...

While leading photographic safaris I often have to remind myself, and my fellow photographers, that if we all shoot according to the ‘rules’ that we read about on various social media platforms and photographic websites, then we will land up shooting shots like everyone else. Social media has given a soapbox to any and every photographer and one would not be mistaken for thinking that this should have expedited creativity and individuality. But, strangely the opposite seems true. It’s as if all the opinions given by experts and people trying to be experts and people believing that they are experts, bully photographers who are not as experienced or are perhaps just not as opinionated - into a sort of submission. There seems to exist an unwritten code of conduct for all photographers which reaches far and wide and which covers all elements of photography, including what equipment is the best and what settings to use and how to shoot. This photographic peer pressure extends all the way to how postproduction should be done and with what software even.

As photographs, we unknowingly get put inside a box and we are too scared to even peep over the top of the box, let alone jump out of it and shoot with our own style and approach. But, if you want your work to stand out from the crowd then you need to jump out, no wait, you need to LEAP out. You need to read less and photograph more. You need to care less about what other people think and you need to care more about what you think.

There are of course rules that have been around a lot longer than social media forums. These rules were adopted from famous painters and have been around for centuries. Rules of composition like the ‘rule of thirds’, which states that you should not place your subject slap bang in the middle of the frame. If you play it safe and adhere to these tried and tested rules you will most likely create good photographs but good can often be the enemy of great.

So before I run the risk of doing exactly what I have written about and before I impose my views on you, let me do what there is simply not enough of in the world of photography, let me show you a picture. We are after all photographers and we should paint with light more than we should talk about it. Here is a shot I recently took on an Okavango Delta Photo Safari and one which breaks the rules. Its unconventional, it turns a few rules on their heads, don’t you think?

The end.
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Thursday, 19 May 2016

4 Photos 4 Questions

I was recently interviewed by well respected and fellow South African wildlife photographer, Fanus Weldhagen. He asked me only four questions and he invited me to share just 4 photographs. But, what he actually did, was to send me on a nostalgic journey of reflection...

1.    Your first shot that made you feel that you could do this for a living?
This is the first photograph that made me feel like I could do this for a living. Up to the time that I took this image, I had spent hours and hours pouring over coffee table books and magazines, studying the work of the best wildlife photographers in South Africa. Their work was always bathed in golden sunlight and their pictures where clear, clean, sharp - and they had atmosphere, a certain magic to them! I was four years into my photographic journey and I was shooting on professional slide film. I was in Kenya where I had built my own photographic hide and one late afternoon a herd of zebra approached. They were skittish and their constant jostling kicked up a large cloud of dust. One brave zebra stuck its head through the dust to sip the water. I was 26 years old and I had taken a loan to buy my first professional camera, a Nikon F100. I had also bought an 80-400mm lens with the same loan and it was the first lens to offer VR technology. With Fuji Provia 100F film loaded, I had the same film that the pros were shooting with. As I framed my subject I saw through my viewfinder something that looked strangely familiar. I saw an image of an incredible animal in incredible light. It was sharp, clear and full of mood. It had that magic quality and I remember how my heart started pounding in my chest. When I saw the slide on a lightbox, I realised that I was fortunate enough to have what it takes to compete with the very best wildlife photographers in South Africa. I knew how to get close to wild animals and I knew about light. I had the same quality film as the professionals and I set my heart on becoming one of the best wildlife photographers in Africa. My only wish is that the film era had lasted longer as I had cracked the code, but a few years later it would all change. It would all go digital and I would have to reinvent myself. Back in film days it was all about light, it was all about field craft and it was all about getting it right in camera. These are still my strengths but the game has changed and if you don’t adapt then you cannot be a professional - you will go out of business.

2.    A photo you regard represents one of your first big breaks?
This image is one I feel represents my first big break. This photo of a little sunbird drinking was part of a small, six image portfolio, that was published inAfrica Geographic Magazine many moons ago.Africa Geographicwas the magazine of choice to get your photographs published in. They used great quality paper and they published the best in the business. I was utterly shocked when I sent the editor of the magazine a selection of slides and she wrote back to say that I had landed my first ever portfolio. What she did not tell me was that my images had been selected as the cover story and when the magazine came out, one of my photos would appear on a magazine cover for the very first time. We were still living in Kenya and we could only receive emails via HF Radio. When my wife got the message from our family, that I had landed the cover, she came running into our little house where I was taking a shower, washing the mud off of myself because I was still sitting in my waterhole trying to get shots of lions. It is a moment we will cherish forever and I still see it as my first big break.

3.    A photo that represents the moment you feel "you have arrived!”
This image represents the moment that I felt I had arrived. After winning the2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award I found myself standing in front of a gaggle of journalists with the lights fixed on me and my big blue elephant image, answering questions in the exhibit in London. This award is the most prestigious and most coveted title in world wildlife photography and to win it was beyond my wildest dreams. The biggest professional photographers in the world enter it, including all the National Geographic photographers and there I was, the nobody from Africa who had managed to clinch the title. I did it the only way I knew how; I got down low, close to a big animal and I shot at a slow shutter speed and with some second curtain sync (flash). I wanted a feeling of mood and mystery so I attached a polariser and I shot in manual white balance. The big trick though was that I did all this in-camera and before my subject appeared. This baby elephant raced past me so fast that I only got three shots but I was prepared and I had a vision in my mind of the shot I was after. My technical settings matched my vision and the result won me the highest of accolades. My absolute photographic icon is Michael “Nick” Nichols who is thePicture Editor At large forNational Geographic Magazine. He won this award in 2014, the year after me, and it reminded me of what I had achieved.

4.    The photo that you would like to be remembered by?

This is the photo that I would like to be remembered by. For me, my wildlife photography is more than a profession. It is something that has grown out of a serious love and passion for the wild places, and especially for the wild animals, of Africa. In this modern era we tend to treat photography like we do everything else in life, instant and gratifying. We shoot thousands of photographs, in a single day sometimes, and we have them slapped onto instagram, facebook and twitter while we are sometimes even still in the field! We get loads of likes and smiley faces by the time we go to bed. I play this game too sometimes, I have to if I want to stay current and in business. But when you talk to me about a shot I would like to be remembered for, then social media goes out the window, and I go back to a time in my life when I spent more than one year at a single waterhole, without sharing anything with anyone else, besides my wife. In fact, in that entire year I never got the shot I was after and only after resorting to sitting inside the actual water did I manage to get the shot I was after. This photo means far more to me than just a photo of a lioness drinking. This photo represents the wild Africa of my dreams. You see, the lioness in this photograph is what we refer to as a free-ranging lion, meaning that this is a wild lion still living beyond formal park or reserve boundaries. This image represents the true meaning of wilderness. These lion are shy and strictly nocturnal and to get shots of them in the daytime I had to sit inside a waterhole for 270 hours. In so doing I immersed myself in my environment and Africa put on a show for me that I will never ever forget. I saw the most incredible things ranging from insects in the water to Lanner Falcons catching doves in front of me. I pushed the boundaries of wildlife photography and I captured an image that I am hoping I will be remembered for, but more importantly will remind people of a truly wild Africa.

The end.
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Friday, 13 May 2016

Shades of Orange

In this article are two photographs which appear at face value to look completely different from one another. The first image was shot in the Namib Desert of Namibia and if you were to describe this photo to someone who had lost their sight you would have to describe it using words like dead, trees, sand and crow. The photo at the bottom, the one shot on a tropical lake in Kenya, you would need to use words like water, red and birds to describe it. So why have I selected two images so utterly different to be placed in the same article? Keep reading to the end for your answer...
Let me start with 'drum roll please' and a quote from 87 year old documentary photographer Elliot Erwitt: 'Photography is an art of observation, it’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place, it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them’. When I first arrived at Deadvlei Pan, a white desolate clay pan in Namibia's Namib-Naukluft Park, I was very aware that I had arrived in what is considered to be an absolute mecca for landscape photographers. Here, an ancient river once wound its way through the desert before spilling its watery contents into the Atlantic ocean, but is now at a dead end in a place called Deadvlei Pan. The desert, many moons ago having decided to push back, now blocks the river from reaching the ocean. As a result, the river ends in a single pan in the middle of the tallest sand dunes in the world. Ancient Camel Thorn trees still stand in the pan, dotted about like lost souls whose woody roots once new the pleasure of a flowing stream. This extinct river ends in an amphitheater surrounded by red dunes and it has been the scene of many award winning landscape photographs. As I stood in the middle of Deadvlei Pan the severe, crippling and debilitating reality that I was a professional wildlife photographer standing in the middle of not just a landscape but a landscape famous for its landscape photographs, hit home! All about me photographers were standing next to three-legged contraptions and they attached lenses to their cameras which looked ridiculously short. They seemed utterly preoccupied with the task at hand, very focused, each lost in his or her own individual frame of choice. Bent over and peering through viewfinders they stood still, like living versions of the same ghostly trees that they were photographing.

It was as if I was having a dream, no wait, it was as if I was having a nightmare! One of the photographers started up a drone whose propellers sounded like a swarm of angry bees and shattering the silence, it took to the high skies above the pan. Looking up at the drone way above I wondered what the drone was seeing? Me standing in the middle of the bone dry pan, surrounded by cracked mud and dead trees and other photographers bent over tripods. Me standing with my hands at my side and my camera bag still closed and lying on the floor. Me, a wildlife photographer, utterly out of my depth and drowning in a desert. Is that even possible? Not even having a tripod, I was unable to pretend like I was even photographing. Stuck without a tripod in Sossusvlei I was proverbially naked in the photographic sense and slowly unpacking my camera, I attached my 400mm lens, taking it out of my bag as discretely as one can take a 400mm lens out of a bag at a landscape shoot. I began walking towards a clump of trees as nonchalantly as possible hoping that no one was watching. Trying to stay calm in both the literal desert I found myself in, and in the more figurative desert of my mind, I feared that people were watching, people who knew me and people who knew that I was not a landscape photographer. 'Damn, why did I not bring a tripod and a wide angle' I thought, as I ambled towards the middle of the pan. It was the perfect time for me to wake up from my nightmare and to realize that I was not in the middle of the Namib desert trying to shoot a landscape scene in the most famous destination for landscape photographers anywhere in Africa and with a 400mm lens and no tripod. It was the prefect time to wake up and realise that I was not surrounded by landscape photographers, some of who were top professionals in their genre. It was the perfect time to wake up and find myself in the bush on a wildlife photographic safari. But, as my feet crunched over the cracked mud of the pan, I never woke from any slumber. The reality was that I was alive, very much awake and living the nightmare of a wildlife photographer stuck with a 400mm lens and no tripod in a desert landscape. 'If only this pan would crack some more and swallow me whole!' I thought.
Scanning the pan in a series of 360 degree circles, my nightmare intensified. The dunes towered above me, the drone recorded my hopelessness from above and expert landscape photographers spread open carbon fibre tripods and assumed the bent over position like stick figures with 5 legs, two of their own and three belonging to the tripod. Off in the distance, in one of the dead trees I spotted a glimmer of hope, a ray of proverbial sunshine in my landscape nightmare. I spotted a nest of dead twigs in one of the dead trees and in the middle of Deadvlei Pan, the last remnant of a dying river in the middle of a dead looking desert. It was a crow's nest and crows, although resembling death, at least were vaguely familiar, a living thing you know and a moving thing, which was more than could be said for all the bent over figures standing beside their tripods.

Latching onto the tree with the nest in it, I lifted my 400mm lens. As a peered through my lens I noticed a couple other trees in the background and walking a few paces to the right I positioned to have these two trees in the background. Suddenly it occurred to me that if I zoom out by a hundred millimetres or so, I could include another tree in the background on the right. Moving back across my frame I now had the tree with the nest slap-bang in the middle of my viewfinder. Standing with my legs apart, I tucked my arms into my rib cage. There I was, like a human version of a tripod, and although I had walked just a few steps back and forth, I had actually taken a giant leap forward - for a wildlife photographer that is. I had composed a frame and one full of trees! Hek, I had even zoomed out! I stood like that for an hour or so, like a dead Camel Thorn tree, one with the desert. Not sure what I was doing, a wildlife photographer and a human tripod in a desert, I was more than a little bit relieved when I saw a black-winged figure flying towards my framed scene. My heart quickened and my shutter finger twitched. It was a crow and it was flying towards its nest. Unlike my usual practice of tracking a moving subject in a single fluid panning motion, I held my ground. I resisted the urge to zoom in. I thrust my elbows deeper into my ribs and I kept my feet wide apart. I was trying my best to be the very thing I had left at home - a tripod. I was trying to blend in and I kept my aperture at F11 which was highly unusual for me but seemed appropriate considering the company I was keeping in Sossusvlei's Deadpan. The crow flew into my frame and I tripped my shutter. My nightmare was over. I had found life in the midst of death and embarrassment.

I am not going to wax lyrical about the next photograph as this article is already way longer than I had intended but suffice to say that the photograph below was not shot in a desert! I was not feeling like a fish out of water (or like a wildlife photographer at Sossusvlei) when I took it. There are no trees in this photograph, there was no drone hovering above, like God looking down when I took it. There was no tripod involved or '5-legged' landscape photographers dotted about. No, I was in my comfort zone when I took this image, lying prostrate on the ground with a bean bag and photographing moving subjects with heartbeats. The photo below does however have a few similarities to the one above. The first being what is alluded to in the title of this article, both photos have saturated shades of orange and red. Perhaps I could have (or should have) titled this piece 'Shades of Red'? Both shots were taken in the spectacular light of dawn and there is actually only a 4 minute time difference between the time of day that both images were taken. Ok, so they both reddish orange or orange reddish, so what else? Well both of these images were selected by the judges of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 (WPY) to be reviewed in the final round of judging which is what got me looking at both frames in the same day, which in turn is what got me thinking about these frames and what they have in common. They both have a third commonality and being a wildlife photographer who only photographs free and wild subjects (so no captive bred or staged scenes), is a rather unusual one. Both of these photographs involved the framing of a scene which I wanted to photograph and both entailed having to wait for my respective subject to move into a pre-composed frame. For the desert photo I stood like a chicken with my arms tucked into my sides for over an hour waiting for the crow and for the image below, I framed the two feeding flamingoes, before waiting for a pelican and a stork to swim/walk into my frame. This is unusual because wild animals are unpredictable and waiting for one to appear in a single frame is very different to simply photographing an animal as it moves through its own self created frames. As a result of this preselected framing, both of these images are layered, with multiple points of interest and I think that this what has attracted the eye of the WPY judges.

You might be reading this and thinking 'gee whiskers, good grief man, this whole article was just to say that you bloody set up a frame and waited, whoopi-de-twang!' Or you might, like me, be someone who ponders the profound mystery and ability of a still photo to transport a person glancing at it, into another world and into the realm of the supremely finite moment. This moment, commonly called a photograph is singular in nature and yet it has the ability to ignite the human imagination, transporting the viewer on a fixating journey that is far greater than the sum of the elements in the photo itself.  If a photograph has the power to do this, and it does, then as a photographer how does one capture or create photographs that arrest, that communicate or that even better - catapult the human mind along on an instantly wonderful journey. The power of a still photograph is unique, it is different to both words or cinematography or documentaries. To end off let me quote my mentor Jim Brandenburg: 'Photographs only need to speak for themselves. They are their own language.' The question I leave you with is how will you make your photographs talk?
The end.

To join me photographing on the lake shore or in Namibia where these photos were taken, drop me a line here...
You can purchase these images as fine art prints here...

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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Why Wildlife Photography is addictive

My favourite question to ask fellow photographers is whether their photography is an addiction or an obsession? I usually get a sheepish smile back, affirming that the answer is closer to the later than to the former. The question though is 'Why?'. Why is nature photography so darn addictive? If I look at my own life, I spend every waking minute thinking about photography or pursuing that single rare fleeting frame of fabulousness. Ok, its not literally every single minute of the day, so I am not a hopeless addict, just an addict, OK! I do stop to drink coffee and spend time with my wife and dog. In the earlier part of my career I spent all my salary on photography without batting an eyelid. Hek, I once sold a car just to buy film and filters! If photography were a white powdery substance, my family would have had to stage an intervention.

So what is it about nature photographer that attracts people from all walks of life, people with different personalities, people with different interests and passions. People who swear by Canon or Nikon, people who use Lightroom or Photoshop (or worse, they use both). People who live in Poffadder and Los Angeles. People who drive Toyota Land Cruisers and Land Rovers. People who like blue cheese but hate mushy peas. Its safe to say that people of all ages and from all walks of life are drawn to nature photography like moths to a flame. Undoubtedly it is the beauty, intricacy, complexity, mystery and power of nature that fascinates the human creature, boggling our minds and filling our memory cards. But what makes a camera, specifically, such an addictive way to relish nature?

The origins, I believe, go as far back as the invention of the word 'serendipity' back in 1974, when Horace Walpole coined it for the first time. Serendipity means to make a discovery by chance in a happy or beneficial sort of way. This word I believe lies at the heart of why wildlife photography is so addictive. Take the above image for example, we were on a safari drive on one of my predator workshops in Botswana and we had seen nothing for what seemed like hours (although in Africa the word 'nothing' can never be used as we are blessed with an incredible diversity of life). Ok, so let's just say 'nothing' big and hairy had been seen for quite some time. I was growing impatient when we rounded a corner and suddenly there before us was a Martial Eagle killing a bird called a guineafowl (or was it perhaps a guineafool?) The three photographers I was with (I always only have three photographers on these workshops) plus myself, all began frantically fumbling for long lenses and converters. The eagle flew to a nearby perch and then alighted again. Swinging my Nikon 600mm lens in the general direction of the bird I let my shutter quite literally flutter and gazing down at my LCD I could not believe my eyes. Almost as surprised as the guineafowl was of the unsuspecting eagle, I was surprised to have a neat little frame depicting the action.

Driving back to camp I felt the familiar excitement and adrenaline of having captured a moment so brief in time that it only lasted 1/8000th of a second. Driving out of camp earlier that day I could never have imagined capturing a photograph like this. I could never have even dreamt up a moment so splendiferous. In nature, truth is stranger, more bizarre and wonderful even, than fiction! As photographers we just never know where (or when) our next big shot will come from, so we stay out there as much as we can and we buy cameras and lenses that we cannot even afford; we obsess about post production software and we debate all sorts of things as we wait patiently for nature to toss us the proverbial bone. And this my dear friends is what makes wildlife photography so utterly addictive; a great wildlife photographic opportunity is fleeting, its totally out of our hands. We are trying to predict the unpredictable. We are trying to use a combination of ISO, shutter speed and apertures to control the uncontrollable. These moments are rare, intoxicatingly so, and they are fleeting, yet to arrest such a moment, to suspend it in mid-air, to record it for all to see, is... well, let's just say, its utterly addictive.

The end.
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Monday, 25 May 2015

A Beautiful Beast

As an African based wildlife photographer, I have taken it upon myself to share with the rest of the world the bounty of wildlife that inhabits my splendid continent. I have, since a young age, sought out the wildest parts of Africa and it has therefore been a natural progression that I photograph mainly large mammals and predators. You see, you find these creatures in abundance in places where man is absent and its in these places, that I like to spend my time. My job as a wildlife photographer is multifaceted but I am most often trying to portray my beautiful subjects in beautiful ways. If I do this effectively I awake within my audience an appreciation for not just the individual creature, but for its entire species. If large mammals and carnivores are protected then basically entire ecosystems are too! As wildlife photographers these seeds of appreciation that we plant are in a very real way seeds of conservation and preservation. But, what do you do when you fall in love with a wild animal, that well, how does one say, um, is just NOT very pretty...

The leopard you see above goes by the name of the Airstrip Male. Sure, that is not a glamorous name but he is a wild leopard carrying out a free and wild existence in one of Africa's largest ecosystems. So, instead of calling him Borris or Dexter, he has been named after the area in which he set up his home and that was close to a safari airstrip. At first he looks like just any other leopard but when you look more closely you will notice that he has lost sight in his left eye. Over the years I have gotten to know this leopard well, having spent many hours with him and the joke has always been in trying to wait until 'you get his good side'. He lost his eye in a brawl a few years ago with another leopard, and although he is not the biggest male leopard around, he is a fighter. In his quest for survival he has fought males bigger than himself and he has won. He has also mated with seven different female leopard and for a guy who is not that pretty, it says a lot about his prowess. His territory has grown much much larger than the area of the airstrip and his big heart has won me over too. He is my favourite tomcat in the world! As such I have been waiting for an opportunity to take a portrait of him that does him justice and I am happy to report that I recently succeeded. But, before I share with you the portrait I took of this beautiful beast let me share a very interesting story about him, one so bizarre that it has never before been recorded in the natural world (or at least we don't think it has):

He was born into a litter of two cubs and his sibling was also a male. But one day they were feeding at an impala carcass when hyenas burst onto the scene and the two little cubs were separated from their mother. His mother only managed to locate his brother and the poor little Airstrip Male was left to fend for himself. But, in a bazaar twist of fate, his grandmother happened to be in the area and she had lost a cub of her own so she was calling gently for her cub. The Airstrip Male heard her and responded, and was subsequently adopted and raised by his grandmother. You see, he has been a fighter from the very beginning!

I call this one 'Steam and Dust' and it is a portrait of the Airstrip Male.

The end.

To meet the Airstrip Male join me on a predator workshop here...
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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Caught in the Act

Leopards are very different to Africa's other big cats: Besides being arguably the most beautiful, they are also the ultimate recluses. They are introverts of note, note needing company of any kind, not even from their own kind! Living solitary lives they are also unique in that they stalk to within a yard of their prey before pouncing on it. Lions and cheetahs will chase prey but for a leopard it is all about stealth and agility. Leopards, for me, are just like overgrown pussycats and always reveling in the proverbial game of cat and mouse. Unlike lions and cheetah, hunting for a leopard is pure fun, it is not a chore. It is an obsession! As a result they spend their lives involved in a never ending game of chess with almost every creature, whether big or small. Leopards will eat anything from a dung beetle to a baby giraffe...

Recently on safari, it was our very last morning that our guide thankfully spotted a leopard in an African Ebony tree. We were busy positioning the safari truck when we noticed a herd of impala walking in the direction of the tree. Knowing that the impala would possibly walk below the tree to feed on the fallen fruit, the game was potentially on. The leopard was very high in the tree though but knowing how crazy these cats can be, my heart beat started to quicken. As often happens when a potentially big moment is about to occur, I started speaking to myself, having a conversation in my head to reason as to where we should position the vehicle. Adding to the pressure, the light was good!
Deciding to give a wide berth around the impala, so as not to spook them, we parked so that we would have side light, a clean background and enough distance to make sure we would be able to capture the mad action, if it happened. The next hour was quite plainly - agonizing! Watching the impala mingle beneath the tree with the leopard watching them mingling from above, was for a wildlife photographer, like an alcoholic sitting at a bar in happy hour but knowing you were just biding the time before your AA meeting. Watching her every move through my Nikon 600mm lens I knew that once she hit the deck, I would have too much glass. It was all about her leaping out the tree! Tweaking my camera settings constantly to try and avoid the sky being horribly over exposed, should she leap through it, and continually assessing her body language for the faint nuances that would signal a leap, I was feeling the pressure. Yes, wildlife photographers do have stress, insane stress, sometimes!

I noticed her shuffle her back feet ever so slightly, like a sprinter in the blocks. This was it, the moment a wildlife photographer lives for. Its all about the moment! A photograph is just that, a singular moment, arrested and suspended. A leopard suspended perhaps?  Pressing my shutter button as deep as possible without actually taking a photo, I poised over my camera. The leopard poised over the impala. The next couple of seconds were going to be a blur in my mind. At a shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second I was hoping the blur would only be in my mind though.

The leopardess flew out the tree in a literal heartbeat. Only now, looking at the photograph I captured can I see her steely, fixed gaze. Her calmness. Her superb athletic ability. The soft side light, highlighting the graceful arch of her leap. Her tail balancing the pull of gravity. Her perfection. Her poetry in motion. Her outstretched front paws. Her long whiskers. Her steep vertical descent. And gazing at her perfection I am not nearly as impressed by my photograph as I am with her.

She lands amidst a cloud of dust. She lands amidst a herd of impala. The antelope react with lighting speed reflexes and although I had too much glass the 11 frames per second from my Nikon D4s were now very much needed. The leopard's outstretched tail adds an appropriate degree of tension!

I have been fortunate enough to watch leopards hunt impala before and on both occasions the leopardesses seemed to single out an individual amongst the herd. Here you see her, with her gaze fixed squarely on the impala she has selected, which is to your left and out of the frame. The impala in this frame is not the one being hunted.

At this point the leopard continues running down the termite mound in pursuit of her quarry.

She catches up with the impala and the antelope turns the wrong way. Or so it seems? She actually, although turning towards the leopard, makes the correct choice because to the leopard's left there is a log. There is an obstacle in her way.

The impala gets away. All the impala get away. The leopard lies down in the dirt and debris. She is not in the least bit angered or frustrated. She is just doing what cats do!

The end.

Join me on a Botswana and South Africa predator workshop here...

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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

There be Dragons here


Its a small stream in my favourite part of the Masai Mara. I especially like driving along its banks in the afternoons as you never see another vehicle. There is a beautiful Sausage tree along its banks and I have many times dreamt about building a bush house there, fantasizing about living on that little narrow stream in the middle of the great grass plains...

This particular afternoon was no different and we were winding our way along the stream blissfully adrift on the open veld. There is a point where the road crosses the stream and I have forged this crossing at least one hundred times in the last 10 years. I had never before seen a crocodile there though, it really is a narrow and small piece of water. A zebra herd was drinking peacefully and we stopped to take some photographs. Just then I thought I saw something, a flash of scales maybe? Could it be that one of the large crocodiles had swum up from the Mara River? The wildebeest migration had long since left and the crocs were hungry. What's more is that I myself have learnt, first hand, that old wise crocodiles know how to walk miles and miles to unsuspecting waters, where they can ambush prey. This I learnt while bobbing down a remote sand river on a tractor tube in Ruaha, but that's another story for another time.

Jumping out of the car I inched my way to the water's edge and lying down facing the water head on, it is a familiar position for me, and one that always makes me feel vulnerable as if a croc grabbed me it would be head first - game over. This thought bounced through my mind while I trained my lens on the still, calm water. The water remained flat for some time before erupting - mere inches in front of the zebra's nose.

The behemoth surfaced with a flying flash of furry right in front of the zebra. The dragon of the deep breathed not fire but rather thousands of small water droplets, ejected from its dragon-like nostrils in two foul spurts. He has translucent membranes that allows him to see under water and although he is a literal living dinosaur, he has special hemoglobin in his blood that allows him to remain submerged for over an hour. This master of the murky had waited for the zebra to drink peacefully, to walk deep into the tranquil pool to quench its long thirst, before launching his attack.

The zebra jerked its head back and for a split second the scene froze. The water slid off the crocodile. The water droplets were suspended in midair. The zebra's head high and still in utter disbelief.

As reality dawned on the zebra, its heart beat quickened. So did mine. The zebra turned. The crocodile turned. Their eyes met. 'You at 5.6, just track that crocodile's eye' was all I heard playing over and over in my mind. I have learnt to photograph the moment and to philosophize about it later. Only in hindsight have I noticed that the the croc's head was longer than the zebra's, this was indeed an 18ft monster.

The zebra turned to flee and within the blink of an eye the crocodile had spun around in what looked like nothing more than a churning frothing wall of white water. When the water subsided the crocodile had the hind leg of the zebra in its vice-like grip and had snapped it in two! Crocodiles have the strongest bit ever measured in the animal kingdom, slamming their jaws shut with 5000 pounds per square inch, that's five times more than a hyena. The croc's teeth were covered in algae, he really was an ancient relic of the deep.

The waters fell silent again. I could here the birds calling again. The tranquil scene belied the horror beneath the water. Life seemed to be flowing out of the zebra with every passing minute; its eyes sank deeper into its skull. I looked away from my viewfinder. The water an ineffective veneer. I had seen too much.

Driving back to camp, we passed the the same zebra herd that had been drinking. The sun set and I chose to blur my subject in remembrance of the zebra whose death I had just documented. A visual metaphor if you like and a reminder that all life vanishes.

The end.

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