This will be a fairly short post, but I think one of the most helpful ways to learn is through the mistakes of others, and this particular mistake is one I’ve made more times than I can count (although my maths isn’t that good).
TAKE A PRACTICE SHOT!
By simply taking a photograph before whatever you are hoping will happen actually happens, you can check that your settings are right, your framing is good, you have the right lens for the occasion, etc. etc. So many times I have sat waiting for a leopard to jump out of a tree, or an elephant to throw mud on itself, or something that requires patience, and I have neglected to check my settings, and ended up with a blurred shot, or something completely overexposed or equally unusable:
The more specific the shot you want to get is, the more dialled in your settings need to be, and therefore the less likely that the next scene you want to photograph will require the same settings.
24 hours on safari can present you with such a wide array of photographic opportunities that this whole practice shot thing should be absolutely mandatory. From astrophotography in the evening you could be photographing a leopard silhouette at dawn the next day, then want to capture a motion blur of the cat coming down the tree before moving to a waterhole to capture a freeze-frame of some elephants dripping water off their trunks when drinking… it’s a veritable smorgasboard!
I had this practice shot thought come into my head whilst browsing my Lightroom catalogue and I came across this picture:
At first I was a bit confused as I couldn’t remember why I had taken a photo of a seemingly random dead tree, but then when I clicked to the next photo, I remembered:
The Ndzanzeni female had an impala kill right down in the south-eastern sector of Londolozi, and she had with her this very shy cub of only a few months old. We knew the cub was there as we could see it creeping around in a thicket near this fallen marula, so we parked far away so as not to scare it. Hoping it would climb the dead branches, we took some practice shots and settled down to wait. Luckily the cub came out and climbed up exactly where we were hoping.
The end result is quite cropped as the photo was fairly wide, but the main thing for me is that here was evidence of actually taking the test shot, which I’ve so often forgotten to do.
At the start of each game drive it’s crucial to check your settings, and not only to make sure you are ready to go should a photographic opportunity present itself, but also to check the space on your memory card and check your battery life, both of which are easy to forget about and then you suddenly find yourself frantically deleting photos one by one as you miss half the action in front of you because your card has suddenly filled up!
Thanks to the advent of digital photography, a lot is recoverable in post-processing, but don’t rely on this. Get your settings right before the shot presents itself!
Taking a test photo is as easy as pointing the camera at something, pressing the shutter button and checking the result. It doesn’t even take 10 seconds, but it’ll save you an enormous amount of frustration in the long run…