I was preparing myself for my second visit to Londolozi with – as you may imagine – a lot of excitement. Long before the actual trip, I was thinking back to the great moments we had last year and trying to imagine what this one would bring. As a keen amateur wildlife photographer, I was already fantasizing about the great shots I would be able to take, I was getting familiar again with my cameras and preparing myself for the situations I would undoubtedly encounter: lots of action, fast moving subjects, difficult light conditions, challenges to frame and focus the subject properly, switching from aperture to shutter modes, management of the ISO, etc.
And then the big day came: there we were, in this heaven on earth called Londolozi, with the ever-as-nice people, the great environment, the sounds and smells of the bush, the excitement of many game drives to come and of many unexpected encounters.
The one thing I was pretty sure about was that I wouldn’t be disappointed, and… I wasn’t! Yes, it is the same place but new staff joined in the meantime, all so nice and so professional, and the bush experience was so different and so fascinating that it felt as if it was our first time there.
However, there was one thing I didn’t anticipate: how powerful light can be in shaping our experience and the photographic results. It should have been obvious because all photographers know how much light matters in a picture but I was reminded very clearly on a number of occasions when combining the perfect sighting at the perfect time of the day, the little detail having the power to transform your pictures into something special and the great advice and encouragements of our ranger Alex Jordan.
I thought that the best way to illustrate my point was to share a few pictures with you:
A beautiful view of a waterhole, almost no shadows: only light.
The first picture of a series taken in the golden light of the late afternoon (f 6.0 – 1/1250 s – ISO 500)
This heron had just taken off and was backlit by a magnificent light
A Cape Glossy Starling hit by low angle, light reinforcing its iridescent colours (f 6.3 – 1/1250 s – ISO 2500)
This male giraffe caught in the golden light had finished drinking and the speed at which he straightened up caused some water droplets to escape from his mouth. (f 5.0 – 1/1000 s – ISO 250)
This rhino was bathed in the evening light and made a funny round shape with its mouth (f 5.3 – 1/200 s – ISO 200)
The golden light again, making for a perfect reflection of this elephant in the water (f 5.0 – 1/200 s – ISO 640)
The golden light was disappearing and only hitting the top of the trees but I thought the white puffy tips of the plume chloris grass gave a special atmosphere to this picture of the Ingrid Dam 4:4 Female and her cub standing close to each other. (f 5.0 – 1/320 s – ISO 1400)
She is occasionally seen around the far north west corner of Londolozi, and is generally quite relaxed around vehicles.
I thought this picture of a hyena worked well in B&W with the back light creating a halo around its ears and face and reinforcing the quiet strength of this animal (f 5.0 – 1/400 s – ISO 1250)
Thanks to the persistence of Alex and Lucky, we managed to fulfil our son’s wish to see a cheetah, here the resident but elusive male cheetah half hidden in the long grass with his beautiful orange eye visible in the light, assessing his chances of going after a herd of impalas about 100 m away. (f 6.3 – 1/800 s – ISO 200)
The magic settings of Alex (Manual mode – ISO 3200 – 1/160 s – f5.3) allowed me to catch this male lion perfectly lit by the torch of Lucky
The Ximungwe 5:3 female (ex-Mashaba young female) was lying not far from the tree in which she had hoisted 2 recent kills, one 95% eaten and the other still intact. When she stood up in order to move away from the sun, I managed to catch her face framed naturally by the green bushes just before she started yawning. (f 5.3 – 1/250 s – ISO 200)
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
This lion was following a herd of buffalos from a distance, hoping to remain hidden in the long grass. A sun ray lit his eye and allowed me to catch this magic moment (f 7.1 – 1/160 s – ISO 200)
Once again, the sun ray directly in the eye gave this picture of the Flat Rock 3:2 Male something very special (f 7.1 – 1/160 s – ISO 450)
A dominant male leopard over the majority of the north. He originally took over the 4:4 Male's territory when he died.
Another one of the Flat Rock 3:2 Male, this time not lit directly by the sun but giving an interesting framing (f 7.1 – 1/160 s – ISO 400)
The power of light is also when there is very little light.
A special round of applause for Alex and Lucky and their great tracking, allowing us to experience those special moments and take those pictures that will remind us of the great time spent here in Londolozi.
In French we say, “Never 2 without 3” so who knows, we may be back a third time…
Written and Photographed by Sylvain Villeroy de Galhau