The dynasty of Londolozi’s big cats has been chronicled over the past 31 years by the many guides and trackers, past and present, who have worked here. People come from far and wide to view these beautiful animals and most to photograph them too. I have taken some time to look at some of the images that have been taken over the years and tried to work out why some are better than others and the below five helpful tips is what I came up with! Please feel free to let me know if you would add to the tips and whether you found them helpful.
1. Get eye contact
This has definitely been mentioned before on the blog, but eye-level shots can dramatically enhance the impact of a photograph. They say that the eyes are the window to your soul and things rings true when looking into the eyes if big cats.
It is not always easy to get the animal to look directly at you so try and photograph them on a termite mound or in a tree so that the eye level shot can be achieved easily. If you understand the animals behaviour, this can help in achieving this shot which brings me to my next point…
2. Understand their habits and be patient
Many wildlife shots are based on capturing a fleeting moment, one that you might never have the opportunity of seeing or capturing again. It therefore, pays to be able to predict you subject’s behaviour to a degree and to understand their behavioural patterns. For example, knowing that if a leopard has a kill there is a big chance that they will find a tree to climb so be ready for it or a pride of lions might start waking up in the late afternoon so be patient and wait for the ‘golden moment’ of cubs playing or males roaring. There is only one way to get to know wildlife…spend time with them. Don’t just hang around for a few minutes and seek out the next subject if the one you are observing or photographing isn’t delivering the goods. Sit with them. Watch them. Wait.
3. Don’t forget the tail
A cats tail it can tell a lot about the mood of the animal and can make for some impressive and creative shots. When hunting they tend to keep their tails down in order to not bring attention to themselves and when the prey see them, you often find the tail be swung into the air as if to say ‘ I know you’ve seen me and I don’t care’. Cutting off a tail is as irritating as cutting off a limb or ear and can often destroy a great image.
4. Get on their level
This takes me back to the first point of getting an eye contact shot but is slightly different and the animal does not necessarily have to be looking at you. A shot taken at eye level whether it be from the ground (not advised with big cats) or from below them when they are on a raised platform are much more powerful images. Take a look at these two photographs of the same leopard, the Nyelethi 4:3 young male, one taken at eye-level and one taken from above as he approaches the vehicle (the photos were from different sightings). The eye-level shot is far more effective in drawing you into the photo as the leopard is staring directly at you.
5. Photograph the story
Another thing to remember when photographing wildlife is the old question of zooming in or out. Animals have personalities, and you want to show that which is often done better in a zoomed in picture. But you don’t want to be working really tight with long lenses all the time. You need to show their environment too—habitat says a lot. Back off and use wide-angle lenses to give viewers a sense of where the animals live. Take pictures that tell the story even if the animal is not the subject such as the example below of a track in the sand. Zoom out when telling a story and try to get all subjects in frame that add to that.
Written by Kate Neill