This is not going to be a long post, but it’s about something I can’t let slide…
A few days ago, on New Year’s Eve, we ran a post by ranger Don Heyneke on his recent stint with National Geographic photographer Sergey Gorshkov, in which Don presented some of his own best images from those 17 days. Needless to say, the quality of the photography was outstanding, and all of the photos featured would be high up in any ranger’s “Favourite Shots” album, but there is one in particular that I feel utterly compelled to make a big deal about, and that’s the last one:
The above photograph shows the Tamboti female resting on the fallen log she was temporarily using as a den site, with her two tiny cubs peeking out from the entrance, their natural fear at that age being overcome by their innate curiosity. As Don quoted at the start of his post, an image should be difficult, if not impossible to replicate to make it truly special, and almost never have these words rung more true than here. These are the words of Greg du Toit, one of Africa’s best wildlife photographers, a man who certainly knows what he’s talking about, having won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2013 as well as numerous other awards and accolades.
Don’s shot for me epitomises the idea of that one unique moment captured in time, and I doubt if we’ll ever see its like again. I’m going to go on a bit here and probably embarrass Don a little, but this is a photograph that should be getting some serious recognition.
Let’s pick it apart a little.
Everything about it, at least in my mind, is perfect. People will judge photographs individually, and I’m sure many of you have different criteria for what makes a photograph make you say “Wow!” The delayed moment-of-discovery in this case is what sets the picture apart for me. Initially one sees a leopard out of focus, but as most people are intelligent enough to take the next step and work out that the leopard therefore can’t be the main subject, they will look a little bit more closely, and suddenly BAM! there are the two cubs! I suppose working in the African bush and taking photographs myself gives me a better appreciation for just how unique this moment is, and I probably can’t ever convey the sheer glory of it in words, but I’ll at least give it a shot, since this is a picture I will never get tired of looking at.
The textures of the log and its roots, the almost disinterested attitude of the female… All the factors combine in a beautiful synergy. I think if the mother leopard was facing the camera the photograph would lose impact, as it would have been almost frustrating to have a leopard looking towards you yet out of focus. The fact that she is facing the other way eliminates that potential distraction.
The depth of field, the composition, the way the lines in the wood run away from you, the low angle and the slight mound of earth in the foreground… they are all exactly as they should be. Those who are familiar with the rule of thirds will see that the cubs occupy the lower right power point and the female leopard the top left one. A fantastic symmetry of purpose.
When Don first sent me this image on my phone I simply sat and stared at it for a long, long time, occasionally cursing him under my breath. What I was left with after my awe and supreme jealousy had subsided was almost sadness, in the knowledge that I will most likely never have the chance to capture an image quite as special. It is almost certainly the single best wildlife image I have seen out of Londolozi in the five years I have been working here.
But hey, what do I know, all this is only what I think. Some people might not even like the shot. Personally I don’t know how that could ever be, but people are entitled to their different opinions.
If you like the picture, share it. Tweet it, repost it, Instagram it, tell everyone about it! If you think Don should enter it in a competition, as I most certainly do, please say so in the comments section below.
Greg du Toit, if you happen to read this post, what do you think…?