Behind the Frame: Cheetah Ablaze

Morkel Erasmus All Authors, Morkel Leave a Comment

Most nature photographers live and breathe for the fleeting moments of absolute pure gold that creams over the horizon and hits their subjects or landscapes before the sun is properly risen and “normality” returns to the colour of the light. As a wildlife photographer, you always hope to find a willing subject in this kind of light…it could be a dung beetle, an impala or a lion, you don’t care!

Most photographers would be pretty happy with getting the light hitting your subject full-on, giving that classical look that has graced countless calendars and postcards. Yet, every so often, you get a chance to do something else with this gorgeous light. I always advise folks to “work the light”. Too often and too easily we complain about the direction of the light (even though it may be sweet golden light) or our own positioning or the presence of distracting objects blocking the path and flow of the light as it were. Case in point this image…

Before dawn I happened upon two young male cheetahs before who unsuccessfully chased a steenbok across the road right in front of me in the Nossob riverbed of the Kalahari desert (Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park). As they recovered their breath and surveyed the surroundings, the sun started creeping over the horizon, and if you’ve ever seen the golden light on a clear Kalahari morning, you’ll know I was in a state of frenzied excitement. Then one of them got up and started walking in my direction. I got some lovely shots in the best kind of light possible. As the cheetah approached, it eventually walked into a patch of shade that was cast by a nearby camelthorn tree. I let out a sight of frustration, as the view at this instant was quite clear through the shrubs, and I wished the light had fallen perfectly.

Fast forward about 18 months later (don’t ask – I am always about a year behind on properly processing images from my trips) and I’m trawling through some of the images from that morning, and this one caught my eye immediately. Even though I was disappointed with the fall of light and the darned tree at that moment, when I opened up the image more than a year later it just JUMPED out at me. It was something different, and it worked beautifully for me. The sweet light didn’t hit my subject, but it did bathe the surroundings in an amazing sheen of blazing gold and orange hues, with the cheetah paradoxically lit by soft shadowed light. Have a look…

Morkel Erasmus Wildlife Photography

So what do you need to take away from this musing?

1. Golden light rocks

2. Work the light, make the best of the scene as it is presented to you

3. Let your images from a specific sighting simmer a bit – don’t work on them immediately…there’s always one that will surprise you when you return to them later.

Have a good week, and keep clicking!

Morkel Erasmus


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