One of the 4 male cheetah's in the well known coalition in Madikwe, South Africa. Probably the best photograph I have of a cheetah. I don't have many!!!
I have been very very lucky when on Safari. I've not been photographing wildlife that long, but I have had an incredible amount of big cat sightings. I have incredible leopard images from the most amazing sighting. I've seen two leopard kills, and leopards mating. I've seen lion prides and coalitions across different seasons. I've seen lion cubs, and lion's feeding.
I've seen the Big 5 on several occasions, and I've even been on early morning drives where I've seen and photographed the Big 5 in one drive.
I've seen Wild Dogs on 3 occasions in two different reserves and on 2 of those occasions witnessed them make a kill and feed.
So I know that I have been a very lucky photographer. And that is why I never take a sighting for granted.
But there is one animal that I have always struggled with and it is mostly my own fault! Cheetah's.
The very first animal I saw and photographed on my first safari drive was a cheetah in Sabi Sands. I took some photos and they are awful. I used a 2X digital zoom and they came out terrible. Those photos are a memory of the experience but I would never post that image as an example of my work.
This is me with my camera photographing and filming my first animal on my very first Safari - a Cheetah. The images were awful, but the video was a lasting memory of the experience.
Six months after that encounter I returned to Sabi Sands and so fortunate to have witnessed a female Cheetah with two cubs. I was overjoyed. I now knew I had the opportunity to get some great images. Wrong.
Just before that sighting I had my Canon 7D on a tripod filming video and I had turned the image stabiliser off. I forgot to turn it back on, and as I shot away at these Cheetah handheld, I was oblivious to all the shots I was missing. When I returned home and viewed the images I was literally beating myself up.
The mother proceeded to take these two cubs for a walk, which provided amazing photographic opportunities all of which I missed. This one photo, I managed to get the mother in focus and my intention was to throw the two cubs out of focus with a shallow depth of field looking on. I almost executed it, but with the image stabilisation off, the image has a rather blurred feel to it. Rookie error!
Seven months after that photographic disaster, on our first drive in Madikwe we came across the coalition of 4 males lying in long grass. The light was fading and I was struggling with my iso, aperture and shutter speed to get the right balance to expose the image correctly. I got about 4 or 5 images, but I have had to really work hard with them in Lightroom to clean them up due to the level of noise and lack of sharpness. I know that at the end of the day these things really shouldn't matter. I am not a pixel peeper I assure you. But I do like my images to have a minimum of cleanliness when I export them. That's just how I am. But with a sighting of 4 cheetah's I should have had the idea opportunity to get some great shots, but the fading light of the day was against me.
Another one of the 4 males in the Madikwe coalition of cheetah's. Something alerted him and he sat up scanning the horizon for sometime before lying back down again, flat cat!
I have not seen a cheetah since.
But having gone through those experiences I learnt a lot. For a start, no more video on my DSLR. No. I will only be using it as a photographic tool from now on (I promise!). Secondly, whilst my 7D has been a trooper for 6 years, and yes I truly love that camera...it's a part of me...I decided that I needed something that would give me more latitude to shoot in low light in the early mornings and evening. I bought a 5Dmkiii. Finally I have more field craft and shooting experience. I doubt I would get things that wrong again. Sure I know I'll make the odd mistake here and there, but not as catastrophic as before.
So for my next trip this year, which will be in June, when it comes to Cheetah's I need a bit of good luck. I'm hoping that I can build my portfolio up a little bit!