Tag Archives: camera equipment

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.

Hare it is – a fitting end to our photography in 2015

Mountain hare (Lepus timidus) in winter snow, Scottish Highlands, Scotland, UK, December 2015
Mountain hare in snow, December 2015

Found ourselves wrapping up 2015 a bit like we started the year with a trip to the Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands in the snow. Back in January our quest was wintry reindeer shots for a Christmas magazine feature for this month – now safely published and ticked off the ‘to do’ list. This time round our mission was mountain hares – a whole lot trickier to capture than docile deer lured to our lenses by expert herders and a bag of supplementary feed. This one wasn’t a commission so much as a personal challenge and a chance to brush up on our stalking skills and burn up a few calories before the Xmas excess.

Mountain hare (Lepus timidus) in winter coat, Scottish Highlands, Scotland, UK, December 2015
With patience you may get quite close

Unless you’ve been hibernating this winter you’ll know that the weather story in recent weeks here in the north of the UK has been all about milder than average temperatures and the terrible flooding following a soap opera cast list of storms a whole lot less friendly than their names – Eva, Desmond, Frank – might suggest. The white stuff has been pretty scarce so getting any shots of hares in the snow wasn’t looking that likely.

So, a week or so before the Christmas festivities were due to begin, as soon as we heard there had been snow in The Highlands, we headed off. For once luck played into our hands. The roads into the glens were just about passable and the weather was fine and fair. Wrapped up against the minus five temperatures we parked our car and climbed and climbed, and climbed and climbed, following hare tracks here, there and everywhere. It’s tiring, toe-numbing stuff – but what a place to be and what a view all around us.

Mountain hare (Lepus timidus) in winter snow, Scottish Highlands, Scotland, UK, December 2015
Only one hare was prepared to hang around and pose for a picture in the snow that day

Eventually after considerable slogging we spied a couple of hares resting up a little bit higher on the steep face of the mountain. They were watching us as keenly as we were spying on them. Time to go into hare stalking mode. If they don’t scarper straightaway – and a fair few do – then slow patient progress is the way with these subjects. Take it steady and very slow and you may be lucky enough to get quite close as some hares will tolerate you if you don’t push them. We found our new best friend, Canon’s 100-400mm zoom, proved a perfect piece of kit for the job with a 1.4x contender on hand for when you need to work at longer range.

Mountain hare (Lepus timidus) in winter coat, Scottish Highlands, Scotland, UK, December 2015
Spot the hare! The thaw made finding hares a whole lot easier.

We managed to get shots of one fairly confiding hare on that morning’s stalk. You could be lucky and photograph several or not get close to any at all. That’s how it is with mountain hares. Frustratingly we had to make do with photographing stock material at the nearby Highland Wildlife Park on the next two days because an overnight fall of snow made it dodgy for driving into the glen.

Mountain hare (Lepus timidus) in winter coat, Scottish Highlands, Scotland, UK, December 2015
The hares may sit pretty if they have an escape route uphill

We did resume our mountain hare quest later on in the trip, as soon as we were able. But the return of the unseasonal mild weather meant that, when it came, the thaw was just a bit too thorough. The snow disappeared completely – as fast as a fleeing hare – even from the high ground. We did find plenty more mountain hares and took lots of pictures, but charming and characterful as these hardy creatures are, somehow it’s just not the same without the the snow…