Its funny how things work out. I’ve always ascertained that the large cats are over photographed. In that vein, for my personal work, I try to keep away from them and focus on the smaller things.
Fortunately though, I do come across the big cats relatively often and have had the pleasure to witness and photograph some spectacular interactions. These are wonderful to photograph and see, but it is one part of the wildlife world where I know “everything has been covered”. There is no denying that these large cats, and the leopard in particular, are very special creatures, and have a special charisma about them. It is also no wonder that they have dedicated followers, with safari goers and photographers alike stalking them out from behind every bush.
Indeed, if a reserve or lodge has good, relaxed leopard or lion sightings, the “value” of the lodge increases greatly! The demand to see these cats reaches such a fever pitch that there is a term coined when people get leopards into their heads. Its called “spotted cat fever”, and I have a seen a few instances where people actually start hyperventilating whilst stalking a leopard in thick bush. I’ve also seen photographers trying to put their flash on backwards, so much was their excitement that they could not even perform a simple function in the anticipation of this spotted denizen of the forest!
Due to the fact that there are so many people out photographing these big cats, I do tend to give them the slip. That is unless they are actually doing something and are photographable… if not, I would rather be photographing insects backlit. Far more challenging and rewarding!
There are however the exceptions. I was privileged enough to be at one of the best leopard setups and sightings recently. I was leading a photo workshop up at Mashatu, in Botswana. We had come across this young male leopard on the first night and knew he was very relaxed around vehicles. On the second evening, we heard that this same leopard had been discovered by the other photography vehicle, led by Isak Pretorius (our other photo guide). Luckily we were only a couple of minutes away and as we headed around a corner of the dry river bed, the scene opened up in front of us, just as it has before in all my dreams of the perfect set up.
The river ran east-west. The leopard was sleeping on top of a dead log, washed down by the recent floods, in the middle of the river. It was facing west, into the setting sun, the bank behind it was already in shadow, making it stand out and glow in the evening sunlight. There were no branches or other distractions to the scene. It was simple, clean, and by golly, damn beautiful. It is at these times that you take a breath, take a step back and just enjoy the pure beauty of such a scene. All the ideals of not taking pictures of large cats go out the window and the camera started working. This is a studio set up in the bush. Things could not get more beautiful or better set up! We all had spotted cat fever trying to get the best images. I actually realised how hard it was to do the scene justice, as it was so well set up.
It was then that the real action started. A porcupine walked into the scene… (I wont deal with that here- you can read more about on my blog.) But we had just witnessed such a stunning set up and it’s in times like these that you realise why there is never the “perfect shot” of any species of animal.
A leopard sighting like that one was a very refreshing slap in the face. Im all for the different animals and shots, but when a scene comes along like that, it makes you feel like a beginner again, shaky, excited and damn happy to be a part of such beauty!
Nikon D3 - 200-400mm lens
Exposure – f 4 Shutter Speed: 1/20sec
Exp. Comp. -0.3. EV
ISO - 1000
Flash - none
Exposure mode– Aperture priority, Metering Mode– Matrix
File type– NEF (RAW)
Focal length: 400mm
Let me know what you think about these great cats.
See all this and all the other essays on in the archives, or on the shemimages site.