In light of some of the comments from last week regarding photo settings and techniques, I have taken a slightly different approach to normal. This week I have chosen photos, some recent and some older, which illustrate different situations encountered in the field and how to handle them using the settings available on most, if not all, digital SLR cameras. Most of what I have learnt has been either through fellow rangers with more experience, or through my own trial and error. I hope the information helps!

Nyaleti 4:4 Female

Nyaleti Young Female

A close up of Nyaleti Female's eye from some months back. Shutter 1/250sec; F2.8; ISO320. In order to get the very shallow depth of field where only her eye is in focus but the foreground and background are blurred, I used a wide aperture of F2.8. This creates a very shallow depth of field. In situations where you want the viewers attention drawn to a specific point in the photo, this is a good technique to use.


An older photo of one of the Nyaleti Young Males running to greet their mom. With a running shot like this, you want to have a fast shutter speed in order to freeze the movement. Shutter 1/1000; F3.5; ISO 640; Underexposed 2/3. In order to get this shutter speed, I have used a wide aperture (with aperture a low number actually means a bigger aperture!), underexposed and also used a relatively high ISO. Despite all this I still managed to cut off his tail though!.

Short Tail 5:4 Male Leopard


A recent shot of the Short Tail Male. Shutter 1/320sec; F2.8; ISO 800; Underexposed 2/3. Taken in low light which, meant having the ability to have an aperture of F2.8 even at full zoom, really helps. It not only ensured a fast enough shutter speed to get a sharp shot, it also blurred the background nicely.


This is a photo of Short Tail Male at last light. A motion blur photo like this is a good option in low light when a normal photo is unlikely to produce results. Shutter 1/30 sec, F7.1, ISO 800; Underexpose 2/3. In order to reduce the shutter speed, I narrowed the aperture (increased the number). The key to a photo like this is to set the camera on Continuous Servo Focusing. With the shutter half depressed, as you pan with the camera the lens continually refocusses. By following the leopard, with the focus point fixed on the eye, you are able to get the area focussed on reasonably sharp. Due to the slow shutter speed, anything moving at a different speed is blurred.

Tamboti Female

Tamboti Female - David Dampier

For this photo of Tamboti female, settings were as follows - Shutter: 1/800sec; F4; ISO 400, Underexpose 2/3. I also used spot metering. What this does is evaluate the light in a smal spot around the focus area. The camera makes a decision on shutter speed based on this area only. In cases such as this with a very bright background, it ensures that the face is still properly exposed. If not used, the face would be much darker as the camera would compensate for the bright background.

Vomba 3:3 Young Female Leopard

Vomba Young Female Silhouette

The Vomba Young female lies on a termite mound at last dusk. Shutter 1/200sec; F2.8; ISO 320; Underexpose 1 2/3. In order to get the silhouette shot, I underexposed by 1 2/3. This means the camera will work out the optimal shutter speed based on your settings, and the adjust so that it is underexposed (i.e allow less light in). This gives the silhouette effect on the leopard.

Vomba Young Female Termite Mound

Vomba 3:2 Female Leopard

Vomba Female Munghen

Another one from the archives-this time Vomba female descends a tree with an impala lamb. Shutter 1/1600sec; F7.1; ISO 800; Underexpose 2/3. Unlike some of the previous photos there was no need for a shallow depth of field. There are different points of attention, from the leopard to the impala and the texture of the tree bark. This means want you want a smaller aperture (big number) which results in more of the scene in focus. This usually would reduce shutter speed, but with a hgher ISO, underexposed by 2/3 and good light to compensate, a fast shutter speed was still obtained which allowed me to freeze the movement and obtain a sharp image.

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

About the Author

David Dampier

Financial Manager

David left the bright lights of Johannesburg and a promising career as a chartered accountant to join the Londolozi Ranging team in 2009. After three years spent as a guide, during which he built up a formidable reputation as one of Londolozi's top ...

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on The Leopards of Londolozi # 6

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Adri Pretorius

Lovely, lovely, LOVELY!!!!!!

Penny Parker

These shots are amazing, and although I love the bush – I’m a “point and shoot” camera lady (haha) so these tips are helpful and will hopefully sink in one day when I have my own larny camera 😉 thanks. Beautiful pictures.

Nick de Jongh

Amazing shots and a really great information on how to take these shots. Thanks so much for bringing Africa back to me in Vancouver Canada.

Rich Laburn

It is a great pleasure Nick, thank you for following the stories on these animals and for your comments. rich


These shots leave me gasping – just stunning! I really struggle to get my head around the ISO settings and then add to that you have a high ISO setting and then underexpose – if you don’t mind, can you explain this – I am really battling with my compact which has the ability to change all these things, (much more limited than SLR), but I have just had some disastrous results from using high ISO in low light and until I can get it right don’t feel I can justify the spend on an SLR! Am hoping to visit the bush again next year, so would be great if I could capture some shots half as good as these! Thanks so much for your wonderful inspiration and tips.

Rich Laburn

ISO settings can be simply understood by knowing that the lower your ISO (ie: 100) the less sensitive the camera will be to light, whilst the higher your ISO (ie: 2400) the more sensitive your camera will be to light at, however the expense of image quality. If you are photographing a leopard at dusk (low light), by increasing your ISO settings you are making the camera more sensitive to light and thus allowing for the shutter speed to increase. The result of which is a crisper, sharper image. What underexposing does to your pictures is heightens the darker tones. Many wildlife photographer will underexpose by a 1/3 or 2/3 as it gives the image a bit more contrast. I hope that helps..?


Hi Rich, Thanks very much for explaining – that’s what I thought. I must say the image quality really decreased a lot – I was in the Outer Hebrides where it was cloudy and very poor light, so bumped the ISO up (max on my camera is 400) and it took a very snowy (believe the term is ‘noisy’) image, hence thinking I had misunderstood. The images are also quite blurry, but maybe it was cause of the gale force winds! LOL. Thanks for your help and explaining, I will try it again and try as you suggest with underexposing. Maybe I should forget the Outer Hebrides and just get back into the bush and play there! Again thank you sincerely for bringing the wonderful bush to those of us who live far away (even though South African!). All the best x

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