Few things are as exhilarating to watch as a cheetah running at full speed and the southern plains of Tanzania and Kenya’s Masai Mara must be the best destinations to increase your chances of seeing this first hand.
Finding the cheetah in these destinations is not usually the challenge though. The difficult part is being with them when they hunt (without interfering in the hunt in any way) and being in the correct position to capture the iconic moment.
During one of our Great Migration safaris last year we came across a female cheetah and her three cubs just below the Lookout Hill. The youngsters were at an age where the female was encouraging them to take initiative when it came to hunting. You couldn’t ask for a better scenario.
All that was missing was a potential prey item.
The youngsters picked out a Gazelle grazing along the edges of the Mara River and began to make their move towards their quarry.
We moved ahead and took a gamble on a position which we had hoped would provide us with a decent view without having any impact on the hunt whatsoever.
It was late afternoon, the light was fading and the clouds weren’t helping.
I had my trusty 70-200mm F2.8 mounted on the 5DsR which many of you will know only shoots at 5 frames per second. The combination left me with only one option really and that was to hope that they passed near our vehicle and I would try to pan them using a slow shutter speed.
An hour and half after first seeing the cheetah the youngsters were running at full speed towards the Gazelle.
The Gazelle caught wind of them and bolted, right alongside our vehicle!
I knew the chances of my capturing the actual moment of impact were slim and opted to track the lead cheetah, knowing that I was looking for the panning shot.
It paid off in the end.
The Gazelle got away in the end but there were a number of important lessons one can take from this scenario.
Evaluate your options and decide on what will provide you with the best possible opportunity or the most unique image. If you have images of cheetah taking down Gazelle in golden afternoon light at close range then you wouldn’t have tried to capture the same scene agin in poor light.
Once you’ve made up your mind, stick with the shot. If I had tried to change settings half way through the chase I wouldn’t have walked away with anything.
Risk and reward. I might not have walked away with any decent images from this sighting. It was a risk i was prepared to take. I got lucky. I got rewarded.
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