The inaugural photographic workshop in conjunction with Pangolin Photo Safaris quite literally got off to a flying start. Pangolin’s custom-built photographic boat together with the Chobe River’s impressive birdlife gave us the ideal combination to brush up on some basic technical aspects of wildlife photography. African Skimmers, breeding Knob-billed ducks and Spur-winged geese were all particularly keen to illustrate the importance of fast shutter speeds and lightning reactions.
Having bagged a rare combination of four mongoose species on a single drive (Dwarf, Banded, Slender and Yellow) on our way down to Savuti, we awoke the following morning to the sound of a male lion calling and quickly set off in pursuit. We caught up with him soon enough, part of the coalition of six young males who are stamping their authority on the Savuti pride. Walking towards us, he paused frequently to scent-mark and call, his breath condensing in the cold air in a white plume of smoke. Since he was striding with purpose towards the channel, we set ourselves up on the other side, ready to catch that rare image of a swimming feline. Unfortunately the lion got cold feet and after lying a few metres from the waters edge for a couple of hours, he frustratingly wandered off into the shade – an apt reminder of the difficulties and patience involved in wildlife photography.
The following day we had better luck with a spotted hyena feeding on an elephant carcass. The scene gave ample opportunity for creative compositions, playing with different depths of field to emphasise the scale of the elephant bones compared to the not insignificant predator.
For me, the highlight of Khwai, our next stop, was seeing the Mochaba leopard and her cub once again. The last time I had seen her was 10 months previously when the cub (and her sadly deceased sibling) were just a month or so old. It was late morning and the difficult lighting conditions required the group to rapidly acquire different metering techniques, which everyone grasped remarkably quickly. With the sighting to ourselves, we spent a couple of hours enjoying an enviable array of active behaviour, culminating in the mother climbing a tree to chew on an impala skin, whilst posing in surprisingly good light. The whole experience served as a definitive rebuttal to the misguided fallacy that you can’t take decent wildlife photographs in the middle of the day.
By the time of our second day in Moremi, our Honey badger count had gone well past double figures and we had heard the haunting bugle call of hunting Wild dogs, although the suspected recent relocation of the den by Third Bridge had frustrated our best efforts to catch any on camera. Meanwhile, the group’s photographic skills were going from strength to strength with everyone having captured a variety of mouth-watering images which were begging to be blown up to adorn a wall or four.
Our idyllic Moremi campsite was located in front of a pan which played host to a range of avian visitors from Great White Pelicans and Sacred Ibis to the ubiquitous White-faced ducks. Even a pair of Wattled cranes made a brief appearance. This provided an excellent environment for us to practice different methods of capturing birds in flight before venturing out on our final afternoon to successfully put the newly-acquired skills to the test. Later, a herd of elephant plodding towards our last sunset created some memorable backlit silhouetted images, while the dying light also offered the chance to use some creative slower shutter speeds for that artistic panning effect.
Heading back towards Maun the following day, we were inevitably distracted by a cluster of vultures which led us to an impala carcass. Judging by the freshness of the kill and some scattered limbs, we deduced that Wild dogs were the most likely perpetrators but sadly time was running out and there were flights to catch – Now if only there was one more day…….but at least it gave our now highly proficient group of photographers an excuse to return.
This trip was the first of a number of trips scheduled to run under the banner Letaka Safaris and Pangolin Photo’s Better Wildlife Photography Course and if this first trip is anything to go by it will be a great hit with photographers both aspirant and accomplished.
– James Gifford (July 2012)
You can see more of James’ photography at www.jamesgifford.co.uk