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Wildlife Photography

Wildlife photography has been a life long passion of mine since a young age, I remember going to Kruger National Park with my grandparents as a 6 year old, on every trip myself and my brother would get a small disposable film camera, you had 24 photos and 5 days in Kruger National Park, self control for a 6 year old is an understatement.

After I left school I started working as a nature guide, armed with a Canon 350D a basic 75 -300mm Canon EF lens I was ready for action. I do not consider myself a professional photographer, I much later did an online photography diploma with a well known institute and for the rest picked up tips from other photographers, guests and the old faith full Canon user manual I read religiously before going to bed instead of The Bible.

In this post I will share some of my most memorable photos.

Male cheetah in the Kalahari
Late afternoon at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, in the distance my tracker spots the familiar outline of a cheetah on top of a dune, this particular male "Spike" was a bit of a film star, well habituated (not tame) after being used in a number of wildlife documentaries, one could follow him on foot, of course this presented you with some amazing photo opportunities of an magnificent wild animal.

This particular photo has always been a favorite because of the colour composition, blue sky, white clouds and the striking red dune with a bit of green to add that something extra.

Canon EOS 350D
Canon EF 75-300mm F/4 - 5.6 II Lens
F/4.5
1/2500
ISO - 100

"Webbed Impala" from 2009.
Take two in 2014.
In 2009 I took a photo that did the rounds on the Internet of an Impala with a spider web caught between its horns. From the photo you can see the Impala walked through the web and it got stuck in a position looking like it was spun there intentionally.

In 2014 I was lucky enough to take another photo of an Impala with a spider web between its horns. What I have learnt from these photo's is that one should never drive past any animal without having a good look, even past Impala that are around every single bush in most parks in Southern Africa. Take your time when in the bush there is  no point in racing from point A-B to see as many of the big five as possible, you end up missing some of the best photo opportunities.


The African Wild dog is without a doubt one of my favorite animals to watch and photograph, besides the stunning contrast one gets photographing them they have an incredible social behaviour that always fascinates me. While on a early morning drive in Kruger National Park we came across a pack of 17 Wild dogs lying in the middle of the road, within 2min of sleeping they where up and running after some Impala that crossed the road about 80m in front of us.

Wild dogs have incredible personalities and spending time with them if you manage to keep up you are guaranteed some amazing photos. With this particular photo I increased the exposure time and F-Stop to capture the movement in the photo.

Canon EOS 7D, Canon EF 70 - 200mm F/2.8 L IS USM Lens, F/9.5, 1/90, ISO-400.

Take a new look at things, I took this photo of an elephant bull standing next to the road having a rest, when elephants feed or rest they are tough subjects to take a unique photo of, take a different approach and photograph and eye or the texture of their skin or tusks.

Play around with the photo in your choice of editor to create an abstract photo that tells a story, like the tusks on this elephant tells about the hard years in the bush it has been put through.

The blacked maned lions of the Kalahari are always a treat to photograph, this was one of the old males on Tswalu Kalahari Reserve a true king of the "jungle". If you are lucky enough to see them awake they are without a doubt the most majestic animals to photograph.

Lions are mostly active early morning, later afternoon and at night making them a challenge to photograph as you don't always have the opportunity to see them during these times of which early morning and late afternoon makes for the best photo opportunities due to the light conditions. Spend time with them, like any of the big cats it takes something as simple as a breaking branch to make them lift their heads. Patience is the key when photographing lions.

When they are on the move position your vehicle in front of them in the general direction they are travelling, this will give you enough time to setup for a perfect photo, if you are lucky enough to see them hunt put down your camera and enjoy the moment, some things are better when not seen through a viewfinder.


Enjoy the smaller things. We all tend to chase after the big five trying to see as many of them in a day when in fact the best photo opportunities are right under your nose.

Take some time and look around you next time you are in the bush, birds, insects, small mammals, reptiles all make interesting and unique subjects. I took this photo in the Kalahari of the famous Meerkats, yes the meerkats used in the TV series Meerkat Manor. They are incredible to photograph, each and every one with a personality to match its feisty reputation.

Below a photo of a female Southern Masked weaver taking some material to line her nest with.

Canon EOS 350D, 150 - 500 Sigma Lens, F/5.6, 1/250, ISO 200
Southern Masked Weaver - Tswalu Kalahari Reserve


Be patient. This must be the most crucial and important bit of advise any wildlife photographer will ever give you. Remember you are now taking photos of wild animals, not your pet, your child or a happily married couple, there are no rules as to what and when things will happen, always be ready to take a photo.

The above photo was taken by myself in Kruger National Park, after sitting at the waterhole for hours hoping to see a crocodile snatch something I saw this Egyptian Goose take flight, as he flew over the hippo's I snapped away, my composition is not perfect but it makes for a unique and interesting photo, something I always look for when photographing wildlife.



 



Mapungubwe National Park

Mapungubwe National Park is the hidden jewel of South Africa a place its visitors keeps a close kept secret, in my opinion Mapungubwe must be the most under rated national park in South Africa. With rolling hills filled with age old Baobab trees, spectacular views and a rich cultural heritage this is the ultimate bush break.

Mapungubwe is situated on the border of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, it is 28 000 hectares of untouched wilderness that will make you come back for more.

Limpopo Forest Camp - Mapungubwe National Park
Limpopo Forest Camp - Mapungubwe National Park
We had a 4 night visit to Mapungubwe hardly enough to experience what the reserve has to offer but we were ready to make the most of a short visit. We started our trip with a one night stay at the Limpopo Forest Camp situated in the riverine forest along the mighty Limpopo river surrounded by fig and fever trees you will become one with nature.

Each tent has a fully equipped kitchen, braai area, bathroom with a shower and a spacious bedroom with twin beds and a ceiling fan, if possible take an extra fan with it gets very hot in summer. The tents are serviced daily and are kept in excellent condition. Only issue we had at the tented camp was of course monkey's (because people feed them) and strangely enough mice that raids everything you leave outside.

There is a swimming pool to provide much needed relief from the at time unbearable heat.

Day 2 - 4 we spend at Vhembe Wilderness Camp, the camp consists of four stunning chalets with a bathroom and a patio overlooking the beautifully valley below you, the units are services daily and in excellent condition. There is a communal kitchen area with braai facility and gas appliances making this the ideal camp for a group and an excellent opportunity to make new friends with people that share your interests.

The camp is supplied by solar power that was very unstable during our visit, if a guest turns a fan on in their room the camp loses power, the least of your worries are lights when you have the African night sky filled with stars to gaze up at.

Vhembe Wilderness Camp
The view from your patio overlooking the valley.

Sun downers at the small pool at Vhembe Wilderness Camp
There is a small swimming pool at Vhembe Wilderness Camp, ask the guy at the camp as it is not advertised, nothing beats watching the sunset with a cold beer with a herd of elephants walking in the valley below you.

From Vhembe Wilderness Camp you are centrally located and going out for a morning or afternoon game drive from here is ideal, the park offers some of the best birding in South Africa as well as a large variety of game including the big five.

Go for a sun downer at the confluence view point, after a short walk up the hill you make your pick of the many viewing decks overlooking what is called the confluence, where the Sashe river that separates Botswana and Zimbabwe meet the Limpopo river that separates South African from its neighbours to the north. The views are out of this world with the African bush spread out in front of you as far as the eye can see.
Sunset from the Confluence viewpoint.

We did not have time to do any of the cultural tours they have on offer, the Kingdom of Mapungubwe was the largest ancient city and trading point in Africa, trading gold and ivory with China, India and Egypt 1200 - 1300 AD. This was a thriving community that existed long before the European settlers arrived in the Cape in 1652.

Items like the Golden Rhino of Mapungubwe was discovered in 1932 in a royal grave at Mapungubwe hill, the artifact is around 800 years old and currently on display at the British Museum.

Other then the rich cultural history tours you can go on an exiting 4x4 game drive, note these routes are ONLY for 4x4 vehicles. One can drive for hours without seeing another vehicle, this is what makes Mapungubwe so unique.

There is also a treetop walk that winds its way towards the Limpopo river build on stilts in between the massive trees that line the mighty Limpopo river, this is a great opportunity to take your binoculars and do some bird watching.

A true gem I would recommend Mapungubwe National Park to anyone for a great bush holiday.





Botswana

Not to far from the hustle and bustle of the city is a country filled with friendliness spectacular wildlife and the longest straightest road I have ever traveled, Botswana was our destination of choice for our next holiday and we could not be happier about it.


We made our way to Senyati Safari Lodge near the town of Kasane looking forward to some amazing trips in and around the Chobe National Park, a long drive is an understatement and the only thing I can really say put me off about Botswana was the amount of cattle, donkeys and goats on the roads, this is luckily replaced by Elephant, Lion and Buffalo as soon as you pass Nata.


Upon arrival at Senyati you immediately know you have come to the right place it is like the theme song from "The Lion King" starts playing in your head automatically, booking on hearsay, I am always a little skeptic about the perception created by the stories you have been told and the danger of utter disappointment is always in the back of your head. Well this was all but the case, Senyati is a nature lovers paradise, excellent facilities, great camping sites, chalets and a bar with a view like no other in the world.


Built on stilts the bar overlooks a man made waterhole with small "spring" in the middle, every day hundreds of elephant come down to the waterhole to quench their thirst all of them vying for a spot to get to the cold fresh water coming from the centre of the waterhole. There is a underground bunker that leads to the edge of the waterhole giving you the opportunity to see these wild animal up close and personal and of course make your camera work overtime.

Elephant bull at the Senyati waterhole.
Kasane the closest town is a thriving tourist destination settled on the banks of the Chobe river, hippo's in the background and the sound of the iconic fish eagle in the distance will make anyone forget about the busy life back home.

Enjoy a lunch at the famous "The old House" restaurant or a quick snack and a beer at "The Coffee Buzz" both restaurants offer a wide range of local cuisine and excellent service. Dinner at Chobe Safari Lodge offers you an amazing buffet with a range of dishes with an amazing view overlooking the mighty Chobe River.

                                                                               
Boat cruise on the Chobe river.
Book a boat cruise with Kalahari Tours based in Kasane in my opinion the best tour operator in the area, options include a shared boat with other guest we opted for a private boat and guide as it offers a bit more privacy and flexibility to do what you want at a slightly higher price.


The boat trips brings you up close and personal with nature, elephants cool off from the Africa sun within touching distance from you, hippos and crocodiles almost litter the water and bird life that an enthusiast will cherish forever with rare species like the African Skimmer that is only found on this small stretch of the Chobe river.

                          
Elephants enjoying a swim in the Chobe.
Other than a boat trip you can visit the Chobe National Park in your own 4x4 vehicle or by booking a game drive with many of the tour operators in the area. The reserve stretches over 120 000 hectares of African bush with a wide variety of game and bird species to be seen.


To access the park you would need a 4x4 vehicle as the roads are mainly two track sand roads, pack a picnic basket or take your gas braai "BBQ" and make a breakfast at the Serondela Picnic Site located next to the Chobe river.


Make sure to take your camera and binoculars as there are some amazing photo opportunities to be had, I would recommend a digital SLR with a 300mm Lens or bigger, good quality Tri-Pod, wide angle lens and a lot of patience. As a very passionate wildlife photographer I can without a doubt say that the Chobe had more photo opportunities in a day than any other place I have ever been in Africa. The amount of game around the river coupled with the incredible scenery makes it any wildlife photographers dream, you never know what is around the next corner and photo opportunities are endless.


My first decent Tiiger for the trip. 


If you are seeking for an adrenaline rush Victoria Falls is a short 80km drive from Kasane take a walk and look at the largest water fall in the world, sit on the edge of the falls in Devils Pools, jump off the iconic Victoria bridge (of course with a rope around your ankles) or do some extreme river rafting on the mighty Zambezi river.


If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground and like a change of scenery try your hand at some tiger fishing, these fish are pound for pound one of the strongest freshwater fish I have ever caught. Book a fishing trip with one of the many guides in Kasane or go the more daring route and fish from the bank.

Fishing from the bank is not recommended because of the large population of Nile Crocodiles in the river. I believe the Chobe around Kasane is still one of the most under rated tiger fishing spots in Botswana.


I would highly recommend a visit to Chobe and Kasane, it is a true paradise for any nature lover, wildlife photographer or adventurer.