I started the photographic journal series to allow the Londolozi hobbyist photographic guides to share their photographic styles, techniques and stories. I thought this is a great opportunity for guides and staff, who don’t necessarily post on the blog on a frequent basis, to share their growth in the field of photography.

My photographic journey has had a beginning, a monotonous middle and now the forever and ongoing. When I arrived at Londolozi at the beginning of 2013 I took an immediate interest in wildlife photography as I saw it as an opportunity to express myself and share my experiences with friends and family. I loved being able to look at a single photo, letting it take me back to the exact moment and the people I shared that moment with. Yearning to understand more about photography, I sucked the life out of one of my ex-ranger colleagues, Mike Sutherland. I harassed Mike a couple times each week with questions and he patiently taught and shared his knowledge with me. After a while I was content with what I knew and I kept on the same monotonous line. That line was suddenly erased when I had the privilege of guiding Sergey Gorshkov who took me on a completely new journey.

Sergey is a National Geographic Photographer and the founding member of the Russian Union of Wildlife Photographers. Among his many awards, Gorshkov has twice been voted Russia’s Photographer of the Year, and has won BBC’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2007, 2009 and 2012.

Sergey’s accolades were one thing, but what really interested me was his journey as a photographer. Sergey’s career in photography began only 12 years ago. His birth as a photographer shared parallels to my upbringing, and to early days of Londolozi, making the transition from hunting to eco-tourism in the late 60’s. Sergey’s life changed forever when he went on a hunting trip to Africa. He told me when he first saw a leopard it was in the cross hair of his scope and he froze. He was so captivated by the leopard’s beauty that he couldn’t shoot it. “My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I knew at that moment that I couldn’t fire the gun, so I took up photography and began taking pictures instead. Photography became my opportunity to hear the roar of a leopard on the Okavango River, and the honking of geese flying over the Taymyr Tundra” Sergey says.

Sergey’s humility and manners can’t be faulted. He has a natural understanding of the world around him and his patience and passion is contagious. He has made it clear the he is not a professional, rather that he is a hobbyist, and that wildlife photography doesn’t bring him material gain. In fact, he has never looked at it as a way to make money, but the opportunity to communicate with wild animals brings him wealth beyond measure in the form of spiritual enrichment. “What I do is equal parts science, adventure and art, and I’m grateful that photography became my way of understanding nature and reflecting the world I live in. I don’t want to change that and turn it into a job, because the feelings of joy and freedom would be lost. I consider my lens to being the link between wildlife and the viewer, and to show the elusive beauty of nature — a beauty that is slowly disappearing”, Sergey says.

Sergey’s main focus is the Russian Arctic and bears, but when he comes to Londolozi for two weeks at a time we primarily focus on leopards. He has taught me to try and capture the unusual and he always says, “I never know when the shot will come, but when fate gives you a chance, you must be ready to act.”

Spending 14 days with Sergey has led to a brand new chapter in my photographic journey. I hope that this growth is depicted in the images below.

The Tail of Mashaba’s Cubs

The most incredible part of Sergey’s last trip was the insight we got into the new life in the heart of Londolozi. We spent over 50 hours looking for the Mashaba Female and her two new beings. It was the most I’ve ever followed an individual and by the last couple days the tracker I work with, Lucky, could almost precisely understand how, where and when she moved. Incredibly we were able to watch the development of the characters and confidence of the young male and female cubs – a very special time.

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One of the first views we had of one of the Mashaba females cubs. ( f2.8, ISO 500, 1/600 sec. )

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Affection was always shown to their protector and mother. (f2.8, ISO 2000, 1/800 sec)

 

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Early morning exercise. Playing with her tail was a great way to keep them active without wandering away from the den. (f.4, ISO 2500, 1/640 sec)

 

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The young male always seemed to show more confidence. (f.4, ISO 2500, 1/640 sec)

 

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On our third last day the Mashaba female moved her cubs to another den. She moved them with extreme caution and we were fortunate to have a brief view of them in the open. (f2.8, ISO 2000, 1/200 sec)

 

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Stalking with stature; already their movement is fluid, showing their instinctive nature. (f3.2, ISO 500, 1/600 sec)

 

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Born to pounce. (f.5, ISO 250, 1/800 sec)

 

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A special moment between the two that will eventually go separate ways once they reach maturity. (f2.8, ISO 800, 1/2000 sec)

 

A glimpse into Mashaba’s Past

Along with seeing Mashaba and her two cubs, we were able to briefly follow her only surviving cub, the Mashaba Young Female.

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Back lighting of the Mashaba Young Female. (f2.8, ISO 1600, 1/125 sec)

 

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Underexposing at last light in some situations is better than increasing ISO to get the image in colour. (f2.8, ISO 400, 1/3000 sec)

 

 The Struggles for Power

There is the constant battle for territory and power, both of which change shape and go through ebbs and flows.  The Piva Male had battle wounds from a territorial fight over his territory. We believe the antagonist in this case was the Inyathini male, who was also found at around the same time with lacerations on his face.

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The Piva Male has a defiant presence that he carries with him. It will be interesting to see if it lasts. (f2.8, ISO 400, 1/800 sec)

 

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This was the last time I saw the Gowrie male. There were signs of wounds around his neck and his right eye was heavily swollen. Nevertheless, his eyes always made you feel as if he was looking into your soul. (f2.8, ISO 400, 1/800 sec)

 

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We waited patiently for the Gowrie Male to move from the shade of a giant granite rock. Once it had cooled down, he moved and lay down on the higher bank of the Manyalethi River. This allowed us a rare opportunity to get an eye-level perspective. (f.5, ISO 800, 1/320 sec)

Interspecific Interactions

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This was an interesting interaction of hierarchy and pure opportunism. Shortly after a cheetah made an impala kill, a hyena stole it. The Tutlwa Female was on a granite rock in the Sand River watching the story unravel. She smartly moved towards where the hyena was and lay in wait. There was a second when the hyena was distracted by a jackal; the Tutlwa Female didn’t hesitate, and she just managed to steal and secure the remainder of the kill in a Leadwood Tree. (f2.8, ISO 2000, 1/250 sec)

 

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In true wild dog fashion we unexpectedly happened to stumble across a pack at just the right time of the afternoon. We saw them finish off a young nyala kill, chase hyenas and then get chased themselves by a dazzle of zebras. (f.4, ISO 2000, 1/200 sec)

 Short but Sharp

In search for the naturally elusive leopard we managed to stumble across a number of other interesting photographic opportunities. This was one of the best times to learn and ask Sergey questions. It was often these shorter, smaller moments that left a crater of impact and memories that I will hold dear.

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I recently did a blog on this incredible and shy animal. Spending over 30 minutes with a honey badger will go down as one of my fondest memories of the two weeks. (f.4, ISO 400, 1/400 sec)

 

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Dust and golden morning light. (f5.6, ISO 400, 1/800 sec)

 

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One of the only places at Londolozi where you can get clear sky with a low-angle perspective. This giraffe gave us a great opportunity. (f2.8, ISO 250, 1/6400 sec)

 

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A kudu bull at sunset. (f3.5, ISO 320, 1/2600 sec)

 

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The last photograph of the two weeks. An African Jacana walking on a thin layer of bright green duckweed. The fast shutter speed captured the movement of the water behind the large jacanas foot. (f2.8, ISO 250, 1/4000 sec)

 

What did you think of these images?

Written and photographed by Don Heyneke- Londolozi Ranger 

About the Author

Don Heyneke

Photographic Guide

Don defines the quintessential success story in guide development. Having limited experience in the bush or photography when starting at Londolozi, his years here have been a meteoric rise to prominence, and his understanding of the bush and wildlife around him as well ...

View Don's profile

16 Comments

on A Photographic Journal: 14 Days with a NatGeo Photographer

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

marinda drake
Guest

Stunning! Incredible beautiful images of Mashaba’s cubs.

Wendy Hawkins
Guest

Very difficult decision as they are all absolutely stunning Don, but I especially love the Mashaba’s tail circling her two babies & the close up of the ellie tusk & trunk. Thank you & enjoy your weekend 🙂

Warren Pearson
Guest

Great images & blog Don.

Ed Hubbard
Guest

Wonderfully written Don. The photos are superb. I look forward to our return next spring to Londo and hope to meet you.

Kathy
Guest

Absolutely beautiful, stunning, inspiring photos! Thank you!

Michael Klauber
Guest

Don, Truly amazing images and a great story – thanks!

Irene Nathanson
Guest

Stunning photography and writing. Great experience. Thanks for sharing

Jill Grady
Guest

Beautiful images Don! I especially like the ones of Mashaba and her cubs but they’re all really stunning.

NCJen
Guest

Wow..those are amazing photos..the elephant/tusk was prob my fav..so so different just focusing one one of a million aspects of an elephant..Thanks..of course the cubs are spectacular as well.

Judy B.
Guest

Love all the pictures! I’ve looked at them over and over!

MJ
Guest

Who can resist Mashaba and her cubs, but the elephant in the dusty morning, the illusive honey badger, the overactive Wild Dog all are superb. but my favorite is of the old warrior, Gowrie Male Leopard. It breaks ones heart to loose our warriors, but then it sings again with the coming of age of the new generation of Warriors males and females alike.

Rich
Guest

fantastic set of images don, thank you for sharing sergeys wisdom and the stories you encountered during your time out in the bush veld. I look forward to seeing how mashabas Cubs grow and what’s next for the piva male.

The images are incredibly sharp, what camera and lens were you using?

Cheryl
Guest

Great article Don. I’m only an iPhone photographer, but I got some amazing pictures and at the same time enjoyed your tutorial’s with my fellow photographers with more sophisticated cameras. Loved your storytelling around each over the photos!

Ryan James
Guest

One of my favourite blog posts this year. Thanks Don – I love your photographic eye!

Vidyasagar Premkumar
Guest

Incredible photos of great moments – this is what every photographer wants to get – the article brings forth the patience and time it takes to capture this images. We are planning to visit next year in July and hope to capture good moments

Kim Beasley
Guest

I somehow missed this blog, but so glad I found it today!! These are amazing shots. My favorite is the eye-level perspective of the Gowrie Male (tho, I wish it was a closer shot), He looks huge and powerful…and, I agree…those eyes hold you mesmerized! The elephant shot is great, too, and the giraffe B&W. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed it!!

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