Tag Archives: buffalo

Three pictures and the stories behind them

The header says it all really. A simple post centred on three recent images from the files and the stories that led up to them…

Vanishing Point – White Rhino

Canon EOS 1DX, 1/5 second, f/8, ISO 100, Canon EF 300mm f/4 lens

White rhino, Kwazulu Natal

Working for several days from a hide in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal we’d often used in the past our visit had been productive. We were photographing rhinos as part of a project to raise awareness and document the ramifications of the poaching crisis there. We’d photographed lots of rhinos and the cows’ very small babies had completely charmed our socks off, but we hadn’t really got anything that conveyed what we felt about the whole sorry saga – something that summed up our sense of the rhino’s vulnerability; that here was a species on the brink, under threat of disappearing forever before our very eyes.

On our final day the light was poor, so we didn’t hold out much hope we could really add anything more. It was overcast, so there were no reflections to exploit at the water, and the whole scene appeared flat and lifeless. Perhaps because it was also a cooler day, there were fewer animals coming down to drink.  It really was a head-scratching time.

Then out of nowhere a lone rhino lumbered slowly down to the water. The muted colour palate made for an altogether more sombre mood than on previous days and that suddenly struck a chord with us.  Perhaps here was something to work with. The germ of an idea?

Selecting a slow shutter speed and deliberately moving the camera while photographing to create a, softer, more painterly, effect we experimented photographing impressionistic images of the lone rhino at the water. The results seemed to us much more emotive than the ones we’d taken in the bright, warm sunshine and certainly chimed more with our sense of sadness and despair at the pointless slaughter of these innocent creatures…

Buffalo Nocturne – Cape Buffalo

Canon EOS 5D Mk III, 1/50 second, f/4.5, ISO 2000, Canon EF17-40mm EF lens

Cape buffalo at night

Staying quiet for hours in a nocturnal hide in the middle of the bush when there’s nothing but stillness, eerie sounds and the black velvet curtain of night outside is an unusual experience to say the least. Being able to witness and photograph Africa’s large mammals in such a setting ( with wide angle lenses and without the need for flash); to gain a unique glimpse into their night-time world is truly something unique.

We’d been ensconced in this hide for a while, slowly getting accustomed to using our camera controls in the darkness when out of nowhere a small group of thirsty buffalo approached…

The bulls nervously moved closer to the drinking edge – a scant four metres from our lenses – and dipped their huge, heavy heads to drink. Their bony horn bosses and shiny wet muzzles felt near enough to touch. Right next to us in the dead of night were three burly Cape buffaloes, members of Africa’s legendary Big Five and one of the toughest and most dangerous species on the continent. Our hearts were racing as we moved to the viewfinders on our cameras waiting to squeeze the shutter releases. Against the darkness the LED lights on the outside of the hide moulded the muscular lines of their massive bodies reminding us just how powerful these heavyweight contenders really were.  We both held our breath in awe.

We took tons of pictures as you might imagine, but it wasn’t until the trio arranged themselves around the water’s edge like a diorama from a natural history museum display, that we not only had an amazing and memorable encounter of wildlife by night, but we also had our perfect composition.

Dance of Death – Cheetah with Springbok Lamb

Canon EOS-1DX Mk II, 1/800sec, f/6.3, ISO1600, Canon EF f/4 100-400mm zoom

Cheetah with springbok kill

Summer in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a time of unbearable heat, thunderstorms and heavy downpours; a time when rain brings temporary relief, when food becomes more plentiful and when the resident springbok drop their lambs. Cue the reserve’s cheetahs. Their success when hunting springbok fawns is almost assured…

We’ve been photographing in the Kalahari at this time for several years. On this occasion we’d been watching a female cheetah for over an hour. We’d been lucky in spotting her settled in a shallow gully; well hidden from us and the small herd of springbok grazing in the riverbed nearby with their newborn lambs. Although it didn’t appear as if she was actively hunting, the fact she was in cover, with an excellent view of nearby prey was reason enough to stay with her and wait.

Most of the time she was motionless, just twitching her ear or flicking her tail every now and then. The wait seemed pointless given the herd wasn’t moving nearer. Perhaps it was time to give up and move on? Then a solitary lamb began moving away from the protection of the herd right in the direction of the cheetah; seriously cutting the distance she needed to make to secure her next meal. We knew it was going to happen any minute now.

The chase happened so fast it’s difficult now to recall exactly how it panned out. Trying to follow the fast unfolding action while making sense of what was going on seemed almost impossible; particularly as the startled young lamb zig-zagged and the the chase took both predator and prey right out of sight at one point behind a thick clump of low bushes.

When the dust settled, we could see she had taken the lamb down right beside us. There she was, in the warm light of late afternoon, with the tiny springbok in a chokehold, struggling to lift and control the deadweight. It was vital for her to get away from the open terrain of the riverbed to safety with her quarry before darkness. She looked directly towards us for a brief moment before turning towards the dune with her prize and that was the picture of the two – predator and prey locked in a macabre pas de deux. No time to dial down our ISO but just press when her eyes met our own.

News Splash! See our trip award winners for 2014

Before 2015 gets underway, it might be a good time to hand out some more Beat About the Bush Trip Awards (BATBAs) – the ‘gongs’ given out when we’re back in the office reliving our exploits. The official awards season is almost upon us and we don’t want our humble blog to get eclipsed by the Oscars.

As a way to round up a bunch of disparate stuff after a photo trip before attention turns to the next project, trip awards seemed an okay idea when we did the first lot (see our blog of April 29, 2014). With barely a week’s gap between our most recent Thailand and South Africa trips however, and a nasty and lingering ‘lurgy’ plaguing our return home, we’ve not had time to repeat this contrived excuse for a blog subject until today.

So enough with the apologies already. Let the drum rolls begin…

BATBA Award for the Wettest Photographers

AMHE586 Elephant bull spraying water
A bigger splash! More embarrassing than refreshing for us…

And the BATBA for raging bull elephant goes to …. This one might alternatively be headlined ‘Elephant gets its revenge on wildlife paparazzi’. We’re still rather shamefaced about it now when our lost pride’s been regained and our camera lenses have been well and truly dried out. We definitely got what we deserved when our boatman drifted a little too close to this big guy for comfort one afternoon on the Chobe river in Botswana late last year. We’ve certainly got a sneaking admiration for this elephant who put us firmly in our place by dumping a full trunk of river water over our heads. We’ve spent years reminding people to respect these massive mammals and warning them not to get too near. Pity we couldn’t heed our own advice on this occasion. What’s even more annoying than the dousing, however, is that while one of us did have the presence of mind to press the shutter button we didn’t get the end of his dripping trunk in the frame!

BATBA Award for Best Wildlife Drama

AMHB90 Cape buffalo herd swimming across Chobe river
River wild – the buffalo crossing was our Chobe trip highlight

On a more serious note the Chobe river was also the location for the wildlife highlight of our second visit to Africa in 2014. Once again we were really lucky to have more than our fair share of highlights last year. In 2014 our list of would-you-believe-it encounters was topped by the sight of a huge herd of cape buffalo huddling together, and looking more than a little stressed out, as they paddled purposefully across the river. We were led to understand the swimming herd had been pursued by a pride of a lions the previous night and was keen to cross for refuge, but we’re really not sure why they seemed so intent on crossing at that moment. Being on a small boat (with a more experienced guide than the infamous ellie incident above) we were able to get reasonably close, without disturbing them, and certainly close enough to see the panic in their eyes as they struggled in the water with just the whites of their rolling eyes and a tangle of horns bobbing above the choppy waters. It looked for all the world like a huge, heavy oil-black rope was being dragged laboriously through the water. We felt really lucky to be close by just when it happened and, selfish as it sounds, to have this special sighting all to ourselves. It was fascinating to see how these tough guy, Big Five beasts, so dangerous on terra firma, looked completely vulnerable and out of their element in the water.

BATBA Gold Award for Best Day Off

RLB12 Gold statues, Wat Phra Kaew compound, Grand Palace, Bangko
The Grand Palace in all its glorious detail had us glued to the viewfinder

Some days it’s quite refreshing to point our cameras at something other than the wildlife when we visit a place. Quite often when we we’re away we’ll try to tack on a little bit of time for some touristy stuff. Inevitably the cameras end up coming out even though we’re meant to be enjoying a bit of downtime from ‘work’. Back in late 2014, in Bangkok, after an intense week in the Thai forest reporting on the Siam rosewood poaching story, we became so immersed in photographing the glittering Grand Palace we hardly noticed the intense heat, the thronging crowds or the passing hours. We spent ages snapping away, soaking it all in. Sometimes with no pressure to get a particular shot, or any shot at all, no deadline, no shooting list, or commission it’s nice to rediscover the joy of photography for its own sake.

BATBA Award for the Recession

RCS91 Khao Yai national park
Tranquil in late afternoon, the Thai forest seemed quite alien compared to the African bush

Nothing to do with austerity measures this was all about getting a handle on the haunting beauty of Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park. One evening, towards the end of our time in the forest, when travelling just outside the park at dusk we noticed this wonderful recession in the forested hills as if a series of coloured cards had been carefully arranged by someone to create the tranquil effect. Not the best landscape shot we’ve ever taken, it nevertheless enabled us at last to make our peace with a landscape that had swallowed us up when we were bang in the middle of it struggling to make sense of it on camera. Dwarfed by the wall of huge trees, roofed over by the thick, dark canopy, our ears ringing with the shrill whoops and shrieks of unseen birds and gibbons it seemed such a forbidding and claustrophobic place. Seen with a sunset glow from a distance and in silhouette Khao Yai was a sleeping giant – softened and tame, at least, for a while.

BATBA Award for Best Book

michaela
This plate of Michaela sums up the book better than we can!

We did a ‘book of the trip’ award last time in April 2014, but had to do it again for ‘Leopard in My Lap’ (published 1955). We stumbled across it in Barter Books, the treasure trove of a second hand book emporium in Alnwick, near our home in Northumberland. Go there if you ever have the chance. The book’s by another, much more famous, but now pretty much forgotten husband and wife duo specialising in African wildlife, called Armand and Michaela Dennis. She did the text he did the pictures. The forerunners of today’s celebrity wildlife film-makers and TV presenters, their adventures make for an interesting, often hilarious, sometimes concerning read. When we tell you it’s illustrated with lots of plates of peroxide blonde Michaela in the bush looking as glamorous as a Hollywood starlet while cuddling a series of African mammals as the title suggests, you’ll begin to get the idea. Thankfully wildlife photography’s come a long way in the last 50 years…