JHP Newsletter - 2011, No. 3, 25 April
Greetings from Parker, Colorado.
Travel: South Africa
Our recent trip to South Africa was, in a word, different. We spent more time at most of our destinations than before and lengthened our whole stay to about seven weeks — the longest I've ever been there in one stretch. That was good, but we didn't have as many great photo ops as in the past. Part of that might have been because southern Africa had received much more rain than usual before our visit which meant higher and thicker grass than normal which reduced visibility and also probably changed the animals' behavior because they could find sufficient water away from the road system.
We started off at the end of February with 15 nights in Kruger National Park, with three nights at five different camps: Shingwedzi, Letaba, Satara, Pretoriuskop, and Lower Sabie. It was nice to have more time in each area because it provided a more relaxed pace. Bird life was abundant, especially in the northern part of the park where we started. It seemed like there was a European roller about every half mile or kilometer with an occasional lilac-breasted roller or purple roller. Bee-eaters were also plentiful, both the southern Carmine bee-eater and the white-fronted bee-eater.
One of my favorite images from Kruger is of a white-fronted bee-eater returning to its perch after going out to hunt (below left). It's fairly easy to get images of a bee-eater returning to a perch because they routinely return to the same perch over and over. So, after I had taken enough static portrait images of one, two, and sometimes three, bee-eaters on that perch, I switched to taking flight shots. I removed the 1.4x to give me some more space around the landing area, prefocused on the perch, then waited for a bee-eater to start approaching. When one did, I started to fire off some frames to catch it with its wings spread.
1/500 sec, f8, ISO 400
1/125 sec, f8, ISO 400
We had a very nice encounter with a cheetah one afternoon. I had seen cheetahs in Kruger before, but they were fleeting glimpses with no opportunity to photograph them. The encounter on this trip was fantastic, not just because the subject was cooperative, but because the cloud layer created some wonderful diffuse light in the late afternoon. We came upon the cheetah at a cheetah jam — several cars stopped on the road jockeying for position to watch and photograph the cheetah that was sitting on the shoulder of the road! We were able to get some decent images before the cheetah moved off into the grass and scattered brush. Eventually all of the other vehicles left after the cheetah was out of sight, but we waited. It was a good thing we did because the cheetah came back out to the road and we had it all to ourselves. We were able to get into a nice position to get some fantastic head shots (above right)! After a while, the cheetah went back into the brush, and after we lost sight of it and had waited for a while, we were about to leave when it came back out to the road. This time, we had it to ourselves for a while before another vehicle came. After the cheetah went back into the brush, we finally left, quite satisfied that we had gotten some great images.
Infant primates are extremely cute and I love to photograph them. We didn't have many opportunities on this trip, but I was able to get a nice image in Kruger when a little guy (below left) posed nicely next to his mother for us. Zebras are also fun to photograph, and one of them "snickered" at me (below right).
1/60 sec, f5.6, ISO 400
1/500 sec, f8, ISO 400
In the middle of March, we went to Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve and spent two nights in Imfolozi and two nights in Hluhluwe (pronounced like "Shlu-shlu-we"). One morning in Hluhluwe, we had a fantastic encounter with some African wild dogs. They are members of the family Canidae but belong to the genus Lycaon and not Canis like wolves or domestic dogs. We found one on the road and soon it was joined by three more. We photographed and followed them for a while, then they disappeared into the tall grass. We photographed some zebra while waiting for the African wild dogs to reappear, and soon there was a different group of six African wild dogs. We photographed them from a respectable distance for a while, then after another vehicle watching the dogs left, the dogs came right up to our vehicle and we could get head shots with our 70-200s! My favorite image (below right) is of one of the dogs from further away because more of its distinctive markings can be seen.
1/90 sec, f8, ISO 400
1/180 sec, f6.7, ISO 800
Then we went to Mountain Zebra National Park for three nights where we photographed the unique mountain zebra, blesbok, and black gnu. One afternoon, we photographed a fairly cooperative greater kudu in nice diffuse light (above left).
At the end of March, we went to Addo Elephant National Park for three nights. Addo is a great place to photograph elephants, and my favorite image is of two teen-aged males face to face (below left). They had been posturing off and on for an hour or so and then seemed to finally make up.
1/750 sec, f11, ISO 400
1/90 sec, f6.7, ISO 400
Addo is also a good place to photograph lions, and one morning we came upon a lioness eating at a kudu kill with two males resting nearby. One of the male lions was only about 10 yds (9m) from us, so I was photographing him with my 70-200 and 2x. I switched to my 500 and 1.4x to see what compositions I could get of just his face, and it wasn't quite tight enough. As I was telling Jan that the lens wasn't really working, the lion yawned. I quickly framed the action and captured my favorite image of the lions (above right).
At the beginning of April, we went to Simon's Town, south of Cape Town, for three nights for a bit of a vacation. We just love the Boulders Beach Lodge which is smack dab in the middle of an African penguin colony. In fact, there was a pair nesting in the courtyard of the hotel right outside our room. It's a great place for a working vacation because it's easy to get up in the morning, walk 50-100 yds (45-90m) to good locations to photograph the penguins for a couple of hours in the early light, then return to the lodge for a great breakfast and a day relaxing or doing some computer work followed by some more photography in the afternoon and then a great dinner at the lodge.
One of my favorite images is of three penguins lined up behind a small tide pool (below left). It's always nice to get a reflection or a group of three animals, and it was especially nice to get a reflection of three animals. It was mating season, which meant lots of courting and actual mating behavior (below right).
(at 192mm), 1/750 sec, f8, ISO 250
1/45 sec, f8, ISO 500
Then we went to Lambert's Bay on the west coast of South Africa for two nights to photograph the cape gannet colony on Bird Island. Bird Island is connected to the mainland via a breakwater, so it's very easy to walk out to the colony. Birds are continually flying in and out, so it's easy to get flight shots. However, they usually don't come in for a landing directly towards you which is a perspective that's great for photography (below left).
1/500 sec, f8, ISO 400
1/2 sec, f11, ISO 100
Then we went to Springbok and spent two nights there so we could photograph the quiver trees in Namaqualand. Quiver trees are a species of aloe, and my favorite image is of one early in the morning with pre-dawn light (above right).
In the middle of April, we went to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park which encompasses the former Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa. It's a true multi-country park shared by South Africa and Botswana located in the Kalahari Desert where South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia come together. We spent two nights at Twee Rivieren then two nights at Mata Mata, and we had planned to spend one more night at Twee Rivieren on our way out of the park. However, on our first two nights in Twee Rivieren, we were kept up at night by bats screeching and flying around the vaulted ceiling of our chalet that had a thatched roof. The noise and guano were rather unpleasant. So, instead of spending a third night with the bats, we stayed outside the park. The commute wasn't very fun, but it was worth it to get a good night's sleep.
The heavier than usual rains this year really changed the environment of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Instead of very low grass and scattered low bushes near Mata Mata, there was a sea of 2.5-3 ft (75-90cm) high grass. It provided some unique photographic opportunities but prevented many others because it provided too much cover for the smaller animals and sometimes even blocked our view of the larger animals.
1/1000 sec, f8, ISO 320
(at 400mm), 1/1000 sec, f8, ISO 400
We had a very nice encounter with three lions early one morning not too far from Mata Mata. Unfortunately, we had to share them with lots of other vehicles, but eventually we were able to get in a good position to get some nice images (above right).
We flew back to the States directly from Johannesburg to Atlanta — about 16.5 hours in the air. It was a nice flight and was easier than going up to Amsterdam and having a layover there. We're getting caught up on some office work and family time right now.
Take care and happy shooting.
James Hager Photography :: www.jameshagerphoto.com