The bush is ever changing; the plants, trees, animals and birds are constantly adapting in new ways to suit a dynamic and competitive environment. Each element of the bush, from the smallest ant to the tallest giraffe or jackalberry tree, fulfills a niche and unique purpose in this environment. The bush is a synchronous and natural system here at Londolozi; this is something worth being proud of. What we observe each week is the product of that synchronicity; we observe the product of forty years of dedicated conservation efforts and a deep respect for the land and its animals.
To read the Week in Pictures is to open a window into the lives of a few guides and guests who witness the incredible natural events that occur here in the Lowveld of South Africa.
This week I have incorporated a number of different species; the main focus, however, is on lions. I have done this because this week has been a brilliant one for lion viewing at Londolozi. We have had consistent sightings of all four of the Birmingham males and five lionesses of the Nstevu pride (the sixth lioness we suggest is close to the sand river hiding away her new litter). Our leopard viewing, although not the preference in this post, has also been fantastic with sightings of the Nkoveni, Tamboti and Nanga females, the Mashaba young female, the Ingrid dam female and her cub, as well as the Flat Rock and Inyathini males. The Nweti male, a relative newcomer, has also been showing his face in the south-west. Elephant herds and large solitary bulls have also been prominent
The bush itself is looking very healthy and lush; we have received a number of welcome storms causing the river to rise and the grasses, trees, plants and flowers to burst with colour. From a relatively dry spell for the last two months it is encouraging to see how quickly the bush returns to a vibrant and thriving ecosystem when water embeds itself into the earth.
I have chosen to do this week’s edition using only a fixed 400mm lens and I will explain the perks as well as the frustrations that came along with this!
Enjoy this Week in 400mm Pictures…
An elephant bull walks with immense presence in our direction. There are very few animals who command as much attention as a bull of this age and size, by simply being. He was walking with apparent intent, looking to find any marula trees with ripe fruit to eat. What I loved almost as much as the feeling I had when he walked past us was the quiet awe of the guests on my vehicle. With a fixed 400mm lens I had to position myself about a hundred meters away from the elephant to get him in frame! ISO 1600, F 5.6, 1/1600s.
One of the Birmingham males looks up whilst walking in the darkness. At night a lion is at its most comfortable. A layer of tissue behind the retina of the lion’s eye called the tapetum lucidum reflects light back through the retina allowing these great predators to see very well in low light conditions. Most of their hunting is done during the night because this is when they have the upper hand over their prey. Seeing a lion on the move after dark is enough to humble you! The fixed 400mm lens proved difficult here as I had to position the vehicle about fifty meters away from the lions and then had only a few seconds to take the photograph before the lion either changed direction or was too close to get his body in the frame. ISO 2500, F 5.6, 1/160.
A panoramic of impala drinking. With a fixed 400mm lens it is almost impossible to get a photograph like this one, unless you are positioned about two hundred meters away! Lightroom has a function called Photo Merge which takes a number of photographs and, quite literally stitches them together. This panoramic is made up of about ten different images. This is one way around not having a zoom lens! This pano had slightly different shutter speeds on each image. Visit Kylie Jones’s post here to learn how to do this.
A moment with a python. We found this enormous snake lying across the road; its tail was touching one side and its head the other. Once I realized that it was attempting to gain heat from the warm road surface and wouldn’t be disturbed easily I got out the vehicle and lay in the sand to get an eye-level shot. This is where the 400mm came in handy once again; I could lie at a distance where both the snake and I felt comfortable and get a close up photograph. ISO 2000, F 5.6, 1/160.
The Tamboti female’s female cub lies in the roots of a Jackalberry and stares in our direction. Her mother had killed a duiker the previous evening and hoisted it into the tree directly above the cub. About ten minutes after this photograph was taken, a stressed herd of elephants stormed in to the scene, chasing both of the leopards up the tree. This is what a fixed 400mm is really good at; portrait photographs to get the detail of the eyes, spots and whiskers. ISO 2500, F 5.6, 1/320.
Can you see it? A highly camouflaged thick-knee chick remains dead still, realizing that its best form of defense against predators is the fact that its colour blends it into the background. Here, again, the fixed 400mm allowed me to get clarity on the eye of the bird and the naturally close framing creates something unique! ISO 2000, F 5.6, 1/250.
Yesterday we had a brief but incredible viewing of an unknown young male leopard close to the southern tip of Londolozi. It is a good feeling to know that we did not know who this leopard was or where he came from. It just reiterates the wilderness of this area. In this instance I pressed the shutter for the split second he looked up, providing a beautiful sunlit eye. My fixed 400mm lens was rejoicing at the opportunity to get a close up like this! If one looks carefully below his eye one will find a tick (an ectoparasite) and further right a fly in the air beside his face. ISO 640, F 5.6, 1/1000.
A backlit white-fronted bee-eater perched on a Matumi tree in the Sand River at sunset. A long lens is often a good choice when aiming to photograph the smaller things out here, including birds! Bee-eaters will perch on extended branches and wait eagerly for insects to fly close enough for them to hawk out and catch them. After doing so, they will return to the same branch and wait once more. ISO 2500, F 5.6, 1/8000.
A close up of a male waterbuck. Waterbuck are difficult to photograph as they are naturally skittish animals and won’t often stand still for long. This male, however, stood calmly by as if he wanted us to take a photograph of his magnificent face. The lens worked well here because it provided the opportunity for great detail, allowing us to see the finer facial features of this beautiful antelope. ISO 1000, F 5.6, 1/2500.
A Temminck’s courser is rarely seen out here. It is a ground-nesting bird with long legs built for covering a lot of ground in search of insects. Much like the thick-knee chick shown above, the courser understands that its camouflage is an important feature when hiding from predators and so bends down to stay out of sight and blend in with the landscape. ISO 1000, F 5.6, 1/3200.
One of the Birmingham males stands only fifteen meters from the vehicle looking past us at a lioness approaching from behind. After walking past our Land Rover, she met with him and they proceeded to mate. It was a moment my guests and I will not forget. Notice the scars on this face, especially the one below his right eye. These are mainly from fighting with other males for territory but some will have been the result of a lioness clawing him after aggressive mating. ISO 800, F 5.6, 1/1000.
A spotted eagle-owl stares with intense yellow eyes at its onlookers. Owls are the ultimate silent hunters of the night. Along with incredible eyesight and hearing, they have small comb-like structures on their wings which displace air as the owl flies, making each wing flap virtually in silence. ISO 2500, F 5.6, 1/200.
Here a hyena eats the tail end of a young giraffe which we suspect to have died from natural causes during a storm. At first I did not bring out the camera because I was close and I thought that I would not be able to capture anything of meaning with the fixed 400mm. After realizing that I would be missing out if I didn’t at least try, I pulled out my camera and focused on capturing textures and detail. The product was intense and vivid but tells an incredible story! ISO 1600, F 5.6, 1/1600.
This moment was one of the most profound of the week for me. This lion cub, less than two months old, and dwarfed by its mother’s paw behind it, inquisitively walked towards the strange object in front of it. I had to remember that this cub has only seen a handful of vehicles in its life. To get a sharp image with a fixed 400mm lens, one should always try to have a dead rest of some kind! ISO 640, F 5.6, 1/1000.
A lioness’ eye in the night. This was taken in darkness with a spotlight to light the flanks of the lioness. This is one of the Ntsevu females. At this moment she was following her sisters through the bush; they were hunting a waterbuck. At a distance behind, two Birmingham males followed them. Imagine how well that eye can see in the darkness of the night! ISO 2500, F 5.6, 1/160.
A male ostrich stands tall, gazing at four females in front of him. Each time I am with ostriches I try to get a shot like this; needless to say I have a handful of them! This is framed by the fixed 400mm lens; there was no cropping done. If one can get positioning and framing right, the hardest part of your post-processing work is already done. . ISO 1250, F 5.6, 1/5000.