A Leopard on the prowl in evening light, Savuti, Botswana.
The Savuti marsh, in Botswana's Chobe National Park, is a magical place. After 30 years, the dried-up Savuti channel began flowing again in 2010, bringing the marshes back to life and attracting more wildlife to the area than ever before.
We spotted this female leopard in the distance across a grass plain, took up a position ahead of her and waited to get a shot. A tele-zoom lens is extremely helpful when you're limited in where you can move and I always pack several on African trips. When shooting from a vehicle, it's usually best to use the lowest viewing point (e.g. side windows rather than roof hatches) to get a more intimate image. Evening light near the equator is wonderful, but doesn't last for very long, so work fast. Try varying shots - shoot both portrait and landscape format, zoom in close but don't forget to also shoot wide angles that show the animal in it's natural environment.
Canon EOS 7D, EF100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS, 1/200 sec @ f/7.1, ISO 200, monopod
I had spent several hours in a hide by a woodland pool in the hope of photographing a Goshawk that occasionally visited the location when this Marsh Frog swam into view. As it was rather smaller than the Goshawk that I had come equipped for, I had to add a 2x extender to my 300mm lens. I knew that image quality would suffer significantly with the 2x at maximum aperture, so I stopped the lens down. As the frog remained motionless I was able to take a long exposure at low ISO to keep image noise to a minimum.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF300mm f/2.8 + 2x II, 1/5 sec @ f/10, ISO 100, cable release, tripod, hide
A Wild Cat looks out from a snow drift in the Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany.
Snow scenes can be tricky to expose - the expanse of white fools the camera's metering system, which expects the world to be grey. Left to its own devices the camera will underexpose the image, turning the scene a dirty grey so it's usually necessary to dial in one to two stops of positive exposure compensation (depending on how much of the area in the viewfinder is snow). Alternatively, changing to spot meter metering, taking a reading from a mid-tone on the cat ,such as the ear fur, and locking the resulting exposure will also work, so long as your meter's spot is small enough.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, 1/1600 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 800, tripod
A Red Squirrel foraging for food in the Highlands of Scotland.
Shooting from very low to the ground through grass allows you to create an almost ethereal soft-focus foreground. Using a wide aperture allowed me to create a complementary background blur of the distant trees.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF500mm f/4L IS II, 1/640 sec @ f/4, ISO 400, tripod
A male lion stands in a shaft of sunlight, Moremi, Botswana
Sometimes patience really does pay off. Our guide had been following a pride of lions for several days. We saw them frequently, but usually asleep underneath bushes. We kept following them and, one evening, not long before sunset the pride leader decided to stretch his legs. Although trees meant most of the surrounding were in shade, after half an hour or so he stepped into a pool of golden light in a clearing and stood there for a few seconds, long enough to get a shot.
Canon EOS 40D, EF100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS, 1/250 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 400, beanbag
Elephant playing in the Okavango Delta.
I ran into this elephant (almost literally) when my boat rounded a corner of one of the thousands of small channels that make up the Okavango Delta. Elephants have poor eyesight and it was briefly unaware of the boat. I was able to take a few pictures before retreating to a safer distance.
In harsh sunlight, you often have to make the choice between exposing to get some shadow detail (but potentially losing any detail in the sky), or exposing for the sky (and potentially ending up with a silhouette of your subject). I chose the former option, adding about a stop of exposure compensation to the camera's chosen aperture, and made sure to frame the image to include as little of the sky as possible.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF70-200 f/2.8L IS II, 1/640 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 400
Hide and seek
A Leopard peers out from its hiding place in a tree, Khwai, Botswana.
We found this leopard hiding up a tree, presumably waiting for something tasty to pass by below.
Pictures of animals usually look much better when photographed from their eye level. However, that's not straightforward to accomplish when the subject is up a tree. I solved the problem by climbing onto the roof of our Land Cruiser and standing on tip-toes (making sure first that the vehicle was far enough away from the tree to prevent the leopard from jumping onto it!)
Canon EOS 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS, 1/320 sec @ f/7.1, ISO 800
A Grey Squirrel makes a meal of a Hazelnut.
Grey Squirrels provoke a love/hate response in the UK. People seem to view them either as cute, inquisitive wildlife, or as an invader responsible for the demise of native species. Whatever your view, they make good photographic subjects as they are much less timid than most other UK wildlife. In fact, with the aid of peanuts, you can have them literally eating out of your hand.
For this shot, I put up a pop-up hide in a remote part of local woodland that I'd frequently seen squirrels in. I placed whole hazelnuts on a log, and waited. The log was positioned to be as far away from the trees in the background as possible, which created a soft background that didn't draw attention away from the furry subject. Hazelnuts have a couple of advantages over peanuts as bait - they look a lot nicer, and it takes the squirrels a lot longer to eat them giving you plenty of time to photograph.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF500mm f/4L IS II + 1.4x II, 1/400 @ f/5.6, ISO 1600, tripod, hide
View from the top
A Eurasian Lynx takes in the view.
Including more of the surrounding puts animals in context in a way that a close view simply cannot. You get a sense of scale by including the environment, and you show viewers the habitat in which the animal lives. It's even better when the scenery itself is beautiful!
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS, 1/320 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, tripod
A Brown Hare hides in long grass.
Hares have amazing eyes - so large and bright. They can carry a picture even when the rest of the animal is partially hidden. Sometimes focusing on one feature can create a more powerful image than simply showing the entire subject.
Canon EOS 7D, EF300mm f/2.8L IS + 1.4x II, 1/80 sec @ f/4, ISO 500, car used as hide
An African Wild Dog on the look-out for prey at the start of its evening hunt
African Wild Dogs (sometimes called Painted Dogs) are critically endangered. There are thought to be less than 5000 remaining in the wild. Tracking them down can be a real challenge, partly because of their rarity but also because they tend to be active at night, hiding during the day. I'm fortunate enough to have worked for several years with a Botswana guide who has an amazing ability to locate them - Rob Barbour, of Golden Africa. Rob can actually call Wild Dogs to him - something pretty unique. When you are working away from your home territory, enlisting a local guide and fixer is essential to maximise the photographic opportunities.
Canon EOS 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS, 1/320 sec @ f/5, ISO 1600, beanbag
Getting the low-down on Boar
A captive European Wild Boar enjoying a snack in the autumn sunshine
Shooting captive animals is great for creative shots. You can usually get a lot closer to the animal than in the wild. Getting in really close from an unusual angle can add impact to an image. This shot was taken lying upside down on the ground about 1m from the Boar using a 40mm lens. Waiting until later in the day, and using a polarizing filter, allowed me to keep detail and colour in both the sky and the boar. I did get rather covered in Boar drool though.
The Canon 40mm pancake lens here is an absolutely amazing bargain lens with superb image quality - watch out for a long term review of it on my blog.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF40mm STM, 1/320 sec @ f/4, ISO 320
Close-up of a Birchel's Zebra, Zimbabwe
Another case of focusing on a particular feature rather than the whole subject to create a more striking view. A panoramic horizontal shot often works very well when there are vertical lines in the image. By using a 400mm reasonably lens close to the animal, the background grass becomes an even green blur that contrasts with the black and white of the zebra. This particular shot was taken on foot, making it easy to get eye level with the zebra, although quite hard to get close as wild animals don't tolerate people on foot. This was taken concealed behind a clump of trees, but even then the Zebra fled when it heard the noise of my shuttter.
Canon EOS 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS, 1/500 sec @ f/6.3, ISO 640
Across the fields
A Red Fox running towards some food bait just out of camera shot.
A low shooting angle really put you into the animals world. It's worth getting a bit muddy - the extra effort will give you much better pictures. I took advantage of the excellent high-ISO noise performance of current generation full frame cameras to enable a high shutter speed and freeze the fox in mid-stride.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, 1/2500 sec @ f/5, ISO 2000
An old African Elephant stops to drink from one of the few water holes in Nxai Pan, on the edge of the Kalahari.
Evening light gives this image nice warm tones and soft shadows. The hour or so before sunset is one of the most productive times to photograph in Africa: not only is the light wonderful, but animals are active in the cooler temperatures.
When shooting in Africa, dust can be a real problem - changing lenses in the open is a sure way to end up with sensor dust spots decorating your images. To avoid this I use multiple cameras, each with a different lens attached (usually a wide angle, a long telephoto and a mid-range zoom).
Canon EOS 40D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS, 1/500 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 400, beanbag
Two Impala battle for control of a herd, Chobe National Park, Botswana.
Impala males spend a lot of time fighting. When they're not engaged in combat for real, males in bachelor herds can often be seen practicing with each other. Females are found in breeding herds led by a dominant male. If other males want a mate, they must first challenge and defeat the dominant male and take his place (or at least steal some of his harem).
Getting as low as possible (I was lying on the floor of an open sided Landrover) gives an Impala's-eye view of the action. Getting in close, rather than including the whole animal, creates tension in the image.
Canon EOS 7D, EF100-400mm, f/4.5-5.6L IS, 1/320 sec @ f/9, ISO 100
A Water Vole emerging from a stream.
Having lured a few Voles onto the bank with some pieces of fruit I was able to lie down in the grass a short distance away and take eye level shots. Water voles don't have great eyesight, so as long as you stay still, they'll often come to within a few metres without noticing you.
The leaves on the trees hanging over the stream gave a nice dark green reflections in the stream. I kept the aperture reasonably wide to ensure they blurred into an unrecognisable dark green background.
Canon EOS 1DX, EF500mm f/4L IS II, 1/160 sec @ f/6.3, ISO 3200, tripod
Cold weather hunter
An Otter hunting at night in an icy Hungarian marsh.
Lit using two Profoto B2 flashes either side of the camera plus a Canon speedlight for backlighting to give a rim light and light up the whiskers. The left Profoto B2 was set 1 stop dimmer than the right to create a more three dimensional image. The flashes were radio triggered from the camera via the Profoto Air system.
Canon EOS 1DX, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II at 160mm, 1/250 sec, f/3,2, ISO 1000, 2 x Profoto B2 flashes, 1 x Canon EX600-RT speedlight, tripod, hide