The 12 and a half hour game drive
How often have you found yourself trawling through Instagram or any other photo sharing platform and stopping to think about the planning or time that went into capturing an image?
Compared to other genres of photography, wildlife photographers often have very little time and options when it comes to planning their shot. Or do we?
This post is all about the better part of 7 hours spent in the company of two lioness’ in the Mara Triangle conservancy during a recent Masai Mara Off Peak Safari I hosted.
It all started around 11 am in the morning when we spotted two lioness moving through the tall red oat grass. They had drawn a bead on a zebra carcass which was in the process of being devoured by vultures and made their way directly to the carcass, scattering the vultures in all directions.
One of the lions grabbed what was left of the zebra and began to drag it back downhill towards a small drainage line.
All the photographers were so busy capturing the carcass being dragged that we completely missed the fact that the other lioness had moved straight past the carcass and had climbed the shepherds tree way in the distance. Luckily one of our skilled guides, Jackson, saw the female scale the tree on the horizon line whilst we snapped away.
You can see the tree in question quite clearly in the image below.
As the female with the carcass disappeared into the long grass I suggested that we head up to the tree to position ourselves in case she returns and scales the tree to join the other female. After all, no self respecting lion would spend the middle of the day out on the open exposed plains.
We shot up to the tree on the horizon and after looking at the angle of the lower section of the stump and the light, got ourselves into a position that I thought would give us the best opportunity to capture the scene.
This is what we were faced with.
We had loads of time on our hands, I got guests to check their exposure compensation, shutter speeds and aperture, making sure that all the variables that we had control of were taken care of.
I got everyone to shoot from as low an angle as possible in order to maximise the amount of clear blue background behind the lioness as she jumped, reducing the degree to which the horizon line cut through the trunk of the tree at the same time.
Knowing that what go’s up must come down I encouraged the guests to shoot the wider scene or bigger picture first. A cat ascending from the bottom left of the frame towards the top right of the frame creates a great flow and emphasises the height and overall story far more than it would if it were descending in my opinion.
We were set and 15 minutes after we had photographed the lioness dragging the zebra carcass to the drainage line we captured this scene:
I had passed the 24-70mm which I had with me to one of the guests in order for her to get the shot and opted to make this scene work by shooting intentionally for a panorama with the 100-400mm MKII, merging the right hand side of the frame (no movement) with my preferred image of the ascending lion (left hand side of the frame). I chose this particular frame based on the paw position and focus.
Again, what go’s up must come down right?
It didn’t take much for the group of guests to decide that this was something worth waiting for and that, should we get the shot, it would make for an incredible memory so we enjoyed our packed breakfasts in the car and hung around.
The lions got comfy, shifting their weight around form time to time but they were pretty settled in the tree – no matter how uncomfortable they appeared to us. We took the opportunity to capture some different images of the scene.
And they slept.
Admittedly, so did some of our team 😉
As the afternoon progressed the migratory herds crept closer and closer to the tree, always looking suspicious but not quite sure what it was that had them feeling so nervous.
Eventually, at 17:56, 6 hours and 20 minutes after watching the female climb up the tree, we got what we had waited for.
More than 6 hours of waiting, strategic planning and camera settings culminated in just 1/2000th of a second.
Every single one of my guests got the shot.
To be fair, we had all the time in the world to prepare but still, even after all that time, we were fortunate that the light was as good as it was – thats one variable we will never have control over.
We repositioned to see what the other lioness was up to and decided that she was not going anywhere for a while so we opted to make our way back to camp for a celebratory drink.
Our 12 and a half hour game drive was worth every minute and I am certain that this day will be a memory that our guests will hold onto for a very long time.
Ultimately it was the flexibility that we have whilst staying at the Wild Eye Mara camp which allowed us to spend the entire day out in the field. We always take a packed breakfast, coffee, drinks, fresh fruit and a range of snacks (don’t get me started on the honey coated cashews) which mean that at the drop of a hat, we can make a call to spend the day in the field and not go hungry.
After all, we’re there for a good time, not a long time!
I’ll be sharing more form our week in the mara over the coming days and look forward to returning to host two weeks of back-to-back Peak Season Safaris towards the end of August.