December 6, 2011


By Lex Hes

Temperature on arrival at the camp in the depths of the Timbavati was 38 degrees Celcius with high humidity, but this didn’t dampen the spirits of the 6 participants on this year’s photo workshop.

After settling in we served some tea and got straight down to business finding out more about each other’s photographic interests and discussing things such as white balance settings, ISO settings, image quality, over and under-exposure and the various other buttons and dials on the amazing technological wonder that is a digital camera.

With that completed we loaded up the game drive vehicle, two people for each row of seats and lots of camera gear.  As we set off, a message came over the radio that a young male leopard had been seen in the Shlaralumi River a few kilometers away.  We drove slowly in that direction, stopping regularly for photographic opportunities and when we got there found the young leopard resting on a dam wall.  We waited and after a while he got up and slowly began to move through the bush, providing us with wonderful sightings.  In particular, at one point, we were able to position the vehicle in such a way that the photographers were all close to eye-level with the leopard, which resulted in some great shots which showed the huge impact that is created by getting to eye-level with an animal.

Dinner around the camp-fire that night was extremely hot and humid and during the night a little bit of rain fell which cooled things down a bit.  Next morning, under an overcast sky, we left camp at 5-15 and a few minutes later Cecile spotted a large male African wild cat crouched in the grass.  He slunk off to a nearby bush and settled down in front of the bush in clear view and proceeded to groom himself. 

What followed was about 30 minutes of the best viewing that I have ever had of an African wild cat as he groomed himself, sat and looked around, stalked something and groomed himself again.  He eventually casually moved off towards the south.  The overcast conditions provided us with beautiful soft lighting and we all got great shots.

The soft lighting also helped with some good viewing of a group of spotted hyaena at their den.

Later that morning we saw an adult female leopard hunting through the woodland.  We were lucky enough to spend more than an hour with her as she tried to hunt impala until, as it got hot; she decided to rest in the branches of a tree.

After brunch we had an informal discussion about exposure followed by a rest period and time to download the results of the morning’s photography.  During afternoon tea we had a look at the results and discussed ways to improve our photos.

The afternoon game drive yielded a very relaxed breeding herd of elephants in the very late afternoon after the sun had gone down.  The low light was challenging for us all, but gave us the opportunity to experiment with high ISO settings and also with slow shutter speeds to create blurring effects.

On the morning of the 20th of November we got some good viewing of a pair of white rhinos which we followed for a while as they grazed peacefully.  At one point both rhinos stopped to defaecate and within minutes dung beetles began to arrive.  We waited for the rhinos to move away and then spent the next one-and-a-half hours with our lenses sticking into the dung heap trying to get photographs of the dung beetles doing their thing!  We watched them fly in, dig, create their balls, roll them away and then bury them.  This kind of photography is a completely different challenge and the results illustrated the importance of good depth-of-field in close-up photography.
In the afternoon we had some sightings of buffalo and also spent a successful late afternoon with the hyaenas at the den. 
The last full day of the workshop yielded an excellent sighting of a leopard resting in classical pose on the branch of an apple-leaf tree giving the photographers an opportunity to try many different angles and interpretations of the same subject as well as a great evening with a group of hyaenas at a waterhole, drinking, resting and hiding the leg of a buffalo in the water.  Before going back to camp we followed up on a pride of lions hunting through the woodland in the dark.
During the night the rain began to fall and continued to fall through the night and into the following morning.  We still went out and tried to get some shots of the rhinos in the rain, but the cold wet weather eventually sent us back to camp for a warm breakfast and departure.
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