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“Whatever the selling point of your image, it should be hard, if not impossible to replicate” – Greg du Toit
What is a special photograph?
This is a question I have asked myself for quite some time. After ruminating on South African wildlife photographer, Greg du Toit’s quote, I saw it as a straightforward way of answering the above question. For me a special photograph is a unique moment in time that is captured with a unique idea in mind. Everything needs to be just right; elements, precision, opportunity. It is the product of the right idea meeting the right moment in time. The perfect opportunity is a rarity but there are situations that present themselves. The difficulty is never knowing when that opportunity may come.
The combination of patience and being ready are the biggest keys in this relationship between the photographer and the moment. I think everyone who takes photographs has a garden of photographic dreams, however the chances of that scenario taking place and of you being in the right place at the right time is highly unlikely. We understand that the odds are stacked against us, and this understanding only contributes to the challenge and the uniqueness of a special photograph. I have had an insight into how difficult it is to get that very special photograph; it is this inspiring journey that I have shared with Sergey Gorshgov for the past 140 game drives. This challenge is one of the main reasons I am enthralled by photography.
Over November and December Sergey had arrived, once again for two weeks, with the hope of photographing the Leopards of Londolozi in a unique way during the vibrant Lowveld summer. The summer produces new life, beautiful sunsets, thunderstorms and the unpredictable excitement that comes with the electrifying season. This provided us with the chance to experiment with some ideas we have come up with over the past year. In the search for the special photograph, I knew we would be taken on a distinctive journey that would bring with it new stories and great photographic experiences.
My hope is that this photographic journal shares the journey we went on, with you…
What do you think? Does it tell a story? Are any special to you?
All I know is the journey will forever grow, it never ends.
The Tamboti female quenches her thirst in the late afternoon. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/200 sec at f/5.6; ISO 1600)
With new life comes vulnerability and the best examples of opportunism. After following a very well-fed Piva male, we witnessed him stalk a nursery herd of impala lambs and a very careless individual ran right into his jaws. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/640 sec at f/5.6; ISO 500)
It’s not only impala that are susceptible to opportunism; during Sergey’s 15 night stay we know the Tamboti female made at least 8 confirmed kills. Here she drags away a wildebeest calf that she had killed in the midday heat. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/200 sec at f/5.6; ISO 1250)
The Tatowa female in a beautiful Acacia surrounded by vibrant green leaves. It seems all the leopards have been taking advantage of the birthing season, and her impala lamb kill can be seen stashed in the fork to the right. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/500 sec at f/5.6; ISO 2000)
After finishing one of two Impala lamb kills, the Tamboti female lay down to rest on a large dead Marula branch. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/200 sec at f/5.6; ISO 2500)
The Tamboti young female peering at a herd of impala from the confides of a Sjambok Pod Tree. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/200 sec at f/5.6; ISO 2500)
Mashaba Female in Contrast
The Mashaba female’s cub is continuing to grow in confidence, and at 7 months old is beginning to reveal more of its inquisitive nature. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/1600 sec at f/5.6; ISO 2000)
The Mashaba female stares in the direction of her cub through a forest of Marula Trees. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/1250 sec at f/5.6; ISO 400)
in search of
Colour and Vibrance
Funnily enough one of the most interesting experiences of this safari was spending 3 hours with a colony of Southern Masked Weavers. We watched and photographed them building nests, fighting for branches to build on and even stealing building material from one another. It’s incredible to think we only saw 3 hours of work from this male and there are still another 13 hours to go before his nest is completed. (Nikon D750 + 300mm f.2.8 lens; 1/2000 sec at f/3.5; ISO 1000).
Two hippo bulls fighting for a prime section of water. (Nikon D750 + 300mm f.2.8 lens; 1/1600 sec at f2.8; ISO 1000)
Love or Hate
The Piva male and Xidulu Female were elevated by a termite mound and by pure chance they faced us into the morning light. (Nikon D750 + 300mm f.2.8 lens; 1/1250 sec at f/5.6; ISO 250)
The short process of mating ended with more hostility than normal. (Nikon D750 + 300mm f.2.8 lens; 1/1600 sec at f/5.6; ISO 250)
On the second occasion they mated in front of us, they were not far from my vehicle, and I didn’t have time to remove the fixed 300mm lens. With a lot of luck it allowed an intense perspective on the hostility they show to one another. (Nikon D750 + 300mm f.2.8 lens; 1/1600 sec at f/5.0; ISO 500)
Photographing a leopard in the rain is something Sergey and I had discussed at length. Unexpectedly the heavens opened and our opportunity presented itself. (Nikon D750 + 300mm f.2.8 lens; 1/400 sec at f/5.0; ISO 2000)
The Tamboti female in the rain. (Nikon D750 + 300mm f.2.8 lens; 1/1000 sec at f/5.0; ISO 2000)
A leopard shaking is what we had been hoping for; all the stars had aligned and we had a rare chance to capture this moment in the open. (Nikon D750 + 300mm f.2.8 lens; 1/1250 sec at f/5.0; ISO 2000)
Into the shadows of a silhouette
The summer means breathtaking African sunrises and sunsets. In the very early mornings and late afternoons we focused solely on trying to capture silhouettes. The Tamboti female makes her descent from a termite mound during the evening. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/320 sec at f/5.0; ISO 400)
The Tamboti young female shows her first signs of getting moving while the last light grips onto the sky. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/640 sec at f/5.6; ISO 250)
A giraffe made for the perfect silhouette towering into the late afternoon skyline. (Nikon D750 + 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 lens; 1/2000 sec at f/5.6; ISO 800)
My special moment
Introducing the Tamboti female and her two cubs. The day Sergey arrived, tracker Lucky Shabangu, whom I have the privilege of working with, managed to find where she had moved her two-month-old cubs to. The new den was perfect and provided protection against most elements. The moment I saw this den site, all the discussions with Sergey came together. I wasn’t sure if I could capture it but then… (Nikon D750 + 300mm f.2.8 lens; 1/320 sec at f/5.6; ISO 2500)
Written and Photographed by: Don Heyneke, Londolozi Ranger
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 ...