Summer is in full swing, and has been for weeks now. Although heat and rain can characterise the Lowveld summer, out here in the bush it is other things that define the season: birds, frogs, dung beetles, impala lambs, warthog piglets, the occasional flash of a black mamba across the road… All these things provide so much variety that one could literally fill a 4 hour game drive without straying more than a kilometre from camp.
For photographers too it is an exciting time. Although summer presents its own unique challenges, like a shorter golden hour (as nonsensical as that sounds), more chance of lethargic cats and the distinct chance of a wet camera should the rain arrive, the rewards of nailing a summer shot cannot be overstated. Verdant green backgrounds, wildebeest calves at play time, elephants swimming in the waterholes. The possibilities are endless.
Here are five of my favourite things about photographing in the summer:
A Splash of Colour:
Of course the green background lends itself nicely to colourful images, but the abundance of summer flowers, although nothing to compare to the sheer enormity of the Namaqualand blooms, certainly adds a nice splash from nature’s colour palette. An unexpected colour in the right place can significantly enhance a photo’s impact.
Not only are the migratory birds back in town (approximately 30% of Londolozi’s bird species are only here during the summer), but many who are resident all year go into full breeding mode, donning their breeding plumage and getting busy. Quelea flocks are everywhere this summer, the pintailed and paradise wydahs have got their groove on and are parading around with their attendant females, and of course the male weavers have gone into overdrive, building frantically in their attempts to win the attentions of the opposite sex. Sitting next to a weaver colony at a waterhole can provide hours of enjoyment as you watch the brightly coloured males industriously forging ahead with their construction efforts. A reasonable length zoom lens is probably a good idea in order to take a decent weaver photo, although at some colonies it is possible to get quite close to the nests, and a lens of 200mm might just suffice. Patience and timing is key.
The Small Stuff:
Summer is about the little things. Whilst the plethora of bugs that emerge at this time of year aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, the animals sure aren’t complaining. The insects and other small creatures that feature prominently during the summer months provide an extended menu for many denizens of the bush, such as the flap-necked chameleon below. Snakes, tortoises and other reptiles also put in an appearance, and scarcely a week goes by without some kind of ‘first’ – a sighting I’ve never witnessed before, be it beetle, butterfly, or other creepy-crawly.
Shooting in the Rain:
Rain can set the mood wonderfully in a photograph. A slightly slower shutter speed will emphasise the falling rain drops by turning them into streaks, while a faster one will freeze them. Try keep your gear as dry as possible, and given the cloudy conditions and lower light I’d certainly recommend a higher ISO, but don’t be scared to try capture a photo just because some rain is falling.
A lot of modern photographic equipment is more hardy than you would think. Although it does tend to be the more high-end gear that is designed to be robust, given the rough conditions that professional photographers often work under, a drop or two of water on a lens is not usually a train smash. I am certainly not suggesting that you take your camera out in a violent thunderstorm to shoot, but if certain precautions are taken to keep gear dry, then shooting in the rain doesn’t have to be a disaster. A plastic bag is often more than enough to wrap your camera in.
Summer is about new life. Impala lambs, wildebeest calves and warthog piglets are to be found around every corner, the resident monkey troops around camp have their share of infants, and the side striped jackal pairs of the more open areas all seem to have bred successfully. Birds are nesting, termites are emerging from their colonies, and life is bursting out of every seam at Londolozi. If I had to pick just one reason why I love summer in the bush, it is this. New births. The hope for the future.
Written by James Tyrrell
Photographed by James Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.