Chasing the perfect photo
There is a lot that goes into getting good photos of wildlife but mostly it is luck and timing with a handful of skill and a pinch of talent. This photo was a triumph of everything coming together and going wrong at the same time, it was one of those situations that was frustrating, exciting and for a brief moment a little bit scary!
At the time that this particular picture was taken I was living and working at a high-end safari camp in the South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, located on the banks of the Luangwa River.
I was taking a break for a few hours back at my little ‘house’ about 200 metres behind the camp, my colleague Katie was down in the main area when a pride of Lions was spotted on the far bank of the river. They wandered around a bit before settling under a series of bushes with a few of them out in the open. As we used a small boat to get over the river into the national park it offered the perfect opportunity to get some good shots.
Katie called me to tell me what was happening and I grabbed my Nikon with 400mm Lens and started to head down to the camp, now, I have learned a few things living in Africa and one of those is that you should never rush, especially when walking through the bush. I was taking a short cut from my house to the camp through an area covered in Combratum bushes, in a bit of a rush I wasn’t listening out for the tell tale noises that give you forewarning of large mammals, as I turned a corner I almost walked straight into a rather large elephant!
After backing off and trying to get round a few different ways I realised I had more or less walked into the middle of a fairly relaxed herd that was happily feeding…it took me 20minutes to finally find a way around without putting myself in danger and getting down to camp I was happy to see that the Lions were still there.
I grabbed a couple of our more experienced members of staff and jumped in the boat to get a bit closer, the Lions were nice and chilled out and as it was about 1600 the light was about perfect, setting over the camp behind me.
As we approached the opposite bank I managed to get a nice series of shots of some cubs lying on the bank. Because the water levels were low I was shooting up which I think gives the photos a really nice atmosphere.
This particular Lioness was nowhere near as bothered as she appears in the photo but just as we reached the bank she got up and repositioned herself so that she was able to keep an eye on us. It is at this moment that I got these shots, at the same time as telling Afax, who was driving the boat, that we should possibly back of the bank, you know…just in case!
It was not the most comforting thing to hear, as I stared down my viewfinder, that we were now stuck on the bank. I didn’t want to risk dropping the out board in and revving as this is both unethical around the wildlife and, in our current position, quite dangerous! So, what to do…Grab a paddle and lean over the bow to push to boat off of course, all while keeping a rather close eye on the beautiful Lioness stood above you!
As we made our way back across the river we were all smiles and laughs and in reality we were not in any major danger, however, there is a primal rush of adrenaline that comes with being this close to such stunning and powerful predators. I was just happy that I was able to pull a couple of good images for all the trouble…
To get great images you need a combination of a lot of elements all coming together. You need the right light conditions, too early in the day and there isn’t enough light to bring out colours and create areas of light and dark in the photo, too late in the day and the sun is too high and there is too much light to give the photo any atmosphere. From a photography perspective the seasons in Africa affect everything, the timing of the light conditions and how long they last, the colours of the surrounding environment and how much foliage there is likely to be between you and your subject, which also impacts on finding the wildlife.
You then need interesting subject matter which you have to find, it has to be in a good position with regards to the light and it has to do something interesting, look right at you to highlight the eyes or give you something that will help to make the image stand out. Unfortunately wildlife tends to have its own agenda and requesting a subject such as a Lion to move to a more photogenic position is not really an option!
My favourite time of year for photography in Zambia is June/July, there is still some green around which pops in the background yet the bush isn’t so thick that it makes things difficult. The feature image was taken in October right towards the end of the dry season.
Stay tuned for more of Tom’s safari best bits in the coming weeks as he shares some of his favourite Africa experiences.