Letaka Photographic Workshop – with James Gifford & Steve Stockhall
There was an air of anticipation swirling in the surprisingly sultry atmosphere as the airvan containing our photographic workshop guests landed at Xakanaxa airstrip. The clients were armed and dangerous – well not so much dangerous but definitely armed with some fantastic gear including a Canon 1DX, two 5Ds and a couple of mammoth 500mm f/4 lenses. With our vehicle resembling a gunship whose paparazzi crew were ready for adventure, we ventured into Moremi to find some suitable subjects.
We didn’t have long to wait before our first leopard sighting that afternoon had shutters snapping and muscles aching as we watched the feline feeding on an impala from the elevated safety of her arboreal perch. The tricky lighting called for some quick thinking to obtain the correct exposure but the group lapped up the technical details with ease, displaying an impressive thirst for knowledge.
Having bagged another leopard before lunch the following day – this time a shy female with an inquisitive cub who posed perfectly by a termite mound – we turned our attention elsewhere. The cat’s namesake, a leopard tortoise, provided an ideal alternative source of inspiration, its patterned shell offering up the opportunity for some close-up abstract shots.
The beauty about a ten-day workshop is that you have plenty of time to cover a whole range of photographic styles together with an amazing array of species. One day, having spent several hours at a pan perfecting our birds-in-flight technique on incoming storks and hovering pied kingfishers, a herd of giraffe in gorgeous afternoon light created a picture-postcard landscape scene. Moments later, we were rewarded with a fantastic serval sighting which nonchantly wandered within a few metres of our vehicle.
Our next destination, Khwai, proved equally productive for leopards: by day six, we were still on track for one sighting per day including the adolescent Mochaba cub and her doting mother which made an appearance on another kill. In fact predators abounded: a wild dog den site provided the unforgettable sight of adult dogs regurgitating to their pups, their jaws still crimson from their morning hunt.
On our last night in Khwai, we tracked a pride of lion, finally catching up with them and driving alongside as the nine cats hunted in the inky darkness. The lack of light made photography nigh-on impossible but being able to travel as one of the pride was an incredible experience, made all the more special because for once the cameras weren’t glued to our faces.
Having proved illusive up to that point, lions suddenly started popping up around every corner. The following morning we caught up with the pride again, bellies full but with no carcass visible. The discrepancy was soon explained: two rogue males had chased the pride off their prize and were gorging themselves on an unfortunate zebra a couple of kilometres away.
A few more sleepy felines welcomed us into Savuti late that afternoon and a day or so later, we watched entranced as a lioness stealthily stalked a wary kudu, her belly just inches from the ground.
By now, everyone had mastered their cameras and succeeded in capturing some remarkable images, ranging from impressionistic panning shots to pin-sharp action sequences, from macro shots of tiny reed frogs to frame-filling wide-angles of elephant herds.
With the end of the trip in sight, thoughts of a return to reality slowly spread throughout the group, but there was still time to capture that final masterpiece. Through a maze of branches, we spotted a tiny Giant Eagle Owl chick hiding in the shadowed safety of its watchful parent, high up in the tree canopy. It was a tough shot with difficult exposure, made even harder by the branches confusing the automatic focus but the accomplished photographers were up to the challenge – a testament to how much they had learnt in just ten days while witnessing yet another stunning illustration of Botswana’s breathtaking wildlife.
To view more images from this safari visit www.jamesgifford.co.uk
James Gifford – January 2013