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A Rare Perfect Day.....

I've found, every now and again, when you go out into the bush, with your camera, lenses and hopes in your hands, that when it just comes together you wonder why is it normally so hard. Is photography skill or luck ? whatever it is, we need a perfect day every now and again to keep us coming back for more.

I believe I hit a perfect day on Friday, 27th March 2015.

I had travelled to Tanzania to spend a couple of days on the Serengeti, the fabled expanse of land from many an Attenborough documentary, the home to the migration for 3/4's of the year, the home of vast open grass savannah as far as the eye can see, the flat limitless plains, interspersed rarely with a lone Acacia tree or two.

I arrived with some shots in mind.

I wanted a Cheetah and her cubs sat on a termite mound, surveying the savannah for a herd of gazelle, I hoped of a cheetah chase but that would be a rare gift indeed.

I dreamed of shooting the vast migration herds of Wildebeest and Zebra spread across the plains, posing me the issue of how to capture such a scene to bring the enormity of the herds into a single frame.

I wanted to get a moving herd of Elephant, walking in single file towards me as I sit waiting to get the shot just right, with no panic of losing them in the bush of South Africa.

I wanted to get something interesting around the scattered trees on the plains, perhaps a pride of lion, maybe a leopard in a tree, or even a black rhino browsing from the lower branches.

I arrived with lots of images in my head, a trick I learned some time ago. I think about where I am going and the types of photo opportunities that might greet me, the wildlife I may find, and the terrain and flora/fauna that would shape any shot.

The Serengeti is vast and open, and I wanted to shoot vast and open.

After driving for several hours and maybe 50kms with my driver, Felix, we eventually arrived at a marshy, riverine stretch of land in the midst of the plains. Here, at last, wildlife was gathered, rather than the 50kms of Grants and Thompsons Gazelle with the odd Spotted Hyena running home, or a Golden Jackal looking for rodents.

The first opportunity of this magical

day came in the form of a lioness that was enjoying the shade of another vehicle. A little yelp, and from the long grass out came three 2 week old cubs. A rare delight and given the hours spent to arrive at this spot, an investment well made.

This lionness entertained me for around 20 minutes as she let her cubs play through the long grass whilst she sauntered towards a small waterhole and sat on the banks, daring the prey animals in the vicinty to come over to drink.

Sadly the grass was a little to long to get those special shots of lion cubs playing with each other, still discovering the wonders of this world they had so recently joined. So Felix and I continued on our way.

Within the space of a few hundred yards, there stood a lone Acacia tree, and there in its shadows lazed two large Male Lions. We stopped and I asked Felix to position the jeep so that I could shoot a relatively flat shot with the lions shapes merging with the grass behind. I fired off several shots, as the lions were motionless, I even tried to shoot using the HDR method, so that I could add sufficient light into the shadow of the tree, to make the males more visible. What I would give for one or both of the lions to sit up and breakout of the shadows, but alas, these two were done for the daylight hours, and would sleep away the day until night returned and they could look for their evening meal.

I'm very happy with the final shot, above, to the point that I have nearly had this printed to a large scale. The less obvious posing of the lions adds an element of surprise to the classic serengeti panorama of the light green grass, the deep blue sky, and the vivid green of the lone Acacia tree. So I'd found my shot of the lone tree with something interesting around it - or had I?


So on we went, and again, only a few minutes later I spotted a herd of elephants in the distance. they seemed to be heading our way, but engrossed in the swampy land they were making their way through.

The scene was slowly developing, so I asked Felix to be patient with me, and perhaps move into the line of the elephants a little more. Behind me, there were several hundred Gazelles, Zebras, Topi and Wildebeest gathering around a series of waterholes, and it appeared that the elephants were also heading in this direction.

I tried to take some more shots with my 100-400mm lens, but they were still some distance away, even in the 400mm range, so again I asked Felix to bear with me, I was sure this was the opportunity to capture the image of a line of elephants walking towards me on open land. In photography, you can be lucky to find a scene perfect as you arrive into it, but this is a rare commodity, and the virtue of patience is often tested. The encounter, a few minutes earlier with the male lions under the tree was a fine example. We had sat with them for 20 minutes, but other than a flick of their manes, or returning to the lying lion position, they had not moved. Now that I had moved on, perhaps they were dancing for joy, or fighting for supremacy, whatever they were doing, I wouldn't know as my patience had worn thin, and I had moved us on.

This time I was staying, I knew my shot was waiting for me.

I believe my patience paid off handsomely, the elephants aligned and then began to walk slowly towards me. As they approached I asked Felix to reposition several times in order to get right in front of them. I was still using my 100-400mm lens, and at 400mm, this brought the herd closer to me but I still didn't have the full on shot. The couple of images below are very strong, but for me, not quite the shot I wanted. I finally got into the perfect position, and the final image below is the one I've had printed and ready to exhibit in a gallery in Johannesburg.

Canon 6D, 400mm, f7.1, 1/200sec, ISO200 - Saturation touched down in Lightroom

Canon 6D, 190mm, f7.1, 1/200sec, ISO200 - B&W conversion in Lightroom

Canon 50D, 24mm, f7.1, 1/400sec, ISO200 - Switched cameras as they approached closer, but kept settings the same for the same exposure values.


Canon 6D, 400mm, f7.1, 1/200sec, ISO200 - Saturation dropped, and Luminance increased for Oranges, Yellows and Greens, whilst dropping the luminance of the blue shades to add drama back into the sky.


The elephants finally settled around the waterholes behind me, and we stayed for another 30 minutes and enjoyed them frollicking in and around the water, but eventually, satisfied in knowing I'd nailed one of my objective shots, it was time to more on.

This part of the serengeti, running through the kilometers of riverine and swamp land were a joy. Wildlife was here in its numbers, and there was always something to see. We came across many more lions sat in the shade, more elephants, and even the rare sight of a hippo out of water in the midday sun, walking through a herd of elephant, but we slowly continued on.

A few more kilometers passed and I saw a few jeeps sat under a couple of trees, either it was time for lunch, or something my exciting, please be a leopard.

Thats what it proved to be, but although one of my objectives was to shoot a leopard in a lone serengeti tree, this was not to be the moment. A troop of Baboons were sat in the lower branches enjoying a lunch of their own. They had chased the leopard into the canopy and helped themselves to the remains of the gazelle or impala that the leopard had killed and taken into the tree to enjoy.

Using the rule of patience is a virtue, we sat under the tree, hoping that the glimpse of the leopards tail would soon become the leopard itself. I had my lunch, and along with the baboons I think we were the only ones to eat, because in the hour we sat there, the leopard didn't move. Time was beginning to get the better of us, and we had around 50 kilometers to drive to get back to the Ndutu area, where my camp sat overlooking the dried out Lake Ndutu.

As I finished lunch, I called time, and we began the journey back. As we progressed, there seemed to be a few more trees winning in the age long battle for supremacy against the savannah grass in this area. I spotted a couple of giraffes grazing from the small trees. Perhaps this was the chance to get something photogenic and interesting amongst these dozen trees sprouting out of the vast savannah.

Unfortunately the initial shots weren't working, even a mother and baby didn't quite cut it.

This was such an interesting landscape, set against the bright grass and bluey grey sky, but the giraffes wouldn't pose correctly. Again we sat and tried to see if a shot transpired. I am normally not as patient with the more common species, like Giraffe and Zebra, either they give the shot to me straight up or I move on, knowing that I will see them again during the same day or at least on my next trip into the bush.

But suddenly I looked to the right, and I spied a lone giraffe, ignoring the shorter trees and concentrating on the largest Acacia in the area. To reach the most succulent leaves, it was almost on tip toe, stretching its neck to reach the leaves. "Got it", I thought, "Felix, over there, quick".

No need for patience now, this was about composing the shot and ensuring the exposure worked. I had both my cameras ready, one with my 100-400mm zoom, and the other with my 24-105mm lens. I played with landscape and portrait, but struggled at first to get the shot right in camera, until I pulled back the zoom and nailed the money shot, just before the giraffe stopped its exertions and began to move away.

Canon 6D, 210mm, f5.0, 1/250, ISO400

Canon 6D, 210mm, f5.0, 1/250, ISO400

Canon 6D, 100mm, f5.0, 1/250, ISO400


Canon 6D, 100mm, f5.0, 1/250, ISO400. Desaturate the colours and increased the luminance in the yellows and greens, darkened the luminance of the blues to bring back the definition in the sky, and finally increased the saturation of the oranges in order to help the giraffe standout.

This shot now sits proudly in my house, printed to a grand size, along with the line of elephants. The gallery I had them printed at, has expressed interest in both, and wants to see some of my other work. Perhaps an exhibition is in the offing, and a real confidence boost to see if I can make something from this hobby that continues to grab my tighter all the time.

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