The Essence of Buffalo

Marlon duToit All Authors, Marlon 2 Comments

The Cape Buffalo is arguably Africa’s most revered creature.

I think there are possible more stories floating around the planet about their menacing antics than those belonging to the notorious Black Mamba.

They have a reputation that precedes them and hold no regard for any form of predator regardless of size, shape or number. They are by no means the most attractive specimen on the African plains and always look at you as if you owe them money.
I have had my fair share of encounters with them and speak of experience!

How then do you photograph such a ghastly beast? How do you capture a “nice” image of one?

Let us look at some practical ideas on how to capture great shots of Africa’s black beast without costing you an arm, leg or your ribcage.

Remember to always put extra thought into your images and to make the most with what you have on offer.
Check out my post on how to assess a scene by clicking HERE.

Portraits

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel
Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel
Buffalo have very strong facial features. The males especially have the ability to look at you with such disdain, and to capture that alone will yield great results.

I do however find that there needs to be more than just posture when it comes to a quality buffalo image.

Light and mood plays a great part here. Lets take a look at the first image. That was captured at first light on a cold winters morning. The buffalo’s breath ignited the icy winter air and by shooting at a wide-open aperture I was able to get that soft background I so love. This simply adds to the image and makes a not-s0-pretty buffalo look rather nice.

The second shot was taken in soft, overcast conditions. These conditions are perfectly suited to animals with darker skin such as buffalo, elephant and rhino. By adding the great posture this buffalo gave me I ended up with a very striking image.

Buffalo at the water

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

Buffalo absolutely love water. The large old bulls are almost always found within close proximity to water, and the larger herds prefer to drink at least once a day. They are very active at the waterhole and it makes for fantastic photo opportunities.

Look out for oxpeckers making use of the sturdy buffalo in order to take a drink. This is more common that what you would think and by paying close attention to these little blood-thirsty birds you might just catch one quenching its thirst.

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

Buffalo have very little fear of crocodiles and will more often than not wade right into the water. This creates a perfect opportunity to photograph them within the water itself. They may only enter to drink, or at times they will wallow or simply relax for hours on end.

The two images above were captured on a Wild Eye Chobe Safari and with the help of the dedicated photographic boat we were able to get down low, creating a superb angle.

No substitute for great light

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

When it comes to a subject like the Cape Buffalo, lighting is crucial. They often appear drab in colour, and have a habit of walking head-down. They also tend to rest for most of the day, mostly active in the early mornings or late afternoons. This however creates the perfect opportunity for some beautifully lit photo opportunities.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to CAPTURE BEHAVIOUR! That said, behaviour is only a part of the image and this coupled with great light will take the quality of your image through the roof!

Find the story, Capture the Moment. 

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

As I said, great light coupled with good posture or behaviour will almost always make for a great photograph!

Buffalo in a herd

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

Once again good light is important here. What will help you is that the herds tend to be most active when it is cooler, usually in the mornings and late afternoons.

Make use of these opportunities to capture the herds by switching to wider lenses. If the light is not soft the buffalo will all appear as dark objects in your frame. By waiting for the light to soften you unlock some magical light allowing you to create some stunning magic!

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

The buffalo above was photographed with a 16-35mm lens. He was completely relaxed with my vehicle and allowed me to within a meter. By emphasizing him in my frame and still getting some of the herd in the background as well as the stunning setting sun, I was able to capture a unique image.

Funny moments

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

Buffalo are in actual fact a whole lot funnier than what people think.

Keep an eye on them when the herd is on the move.

Young bulls are often at play, chasing one another and engaging in fighting rituals. The calves can be especially comical and cute, adding that X-factor to your image.

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

The image above was taken of an old buffalo bull displaying his teeth at me.

No, he was not smiling for the picture. He was testing the scent of a cow in estrous. This is done by having air flow over the Jacobson’s organ, and by doing so enabling him to chemically process the scent giving him all sorts of information on the cow in question.

That said, they look absolutely ridiculous when displaying n this manner and it makes for great photography!

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

The bulls also often engage in an act known as “self-adornment”.

They will rub the boss of their horns on the side of tree’s or as in this case, dig the horns right into the embankment of a muddy wallow. The idea is to add to the colour and dimension of their horns, making them look a whole lot more imposing to future competitors.

Interaction between bulls

Buffalo, Wild Eye, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel

The two bulls above are merely bumping one another around. They have the ability to test the strength of the opposing bull and can use this information to their advantage in future, more serious confrontations.
The skin on their necks and faces is extremely thick and these “play-fights” make for fantastic photographic opportunities.

Alway keep your eye out for this kind of action within the larger herds where competition amongst the larger bulls is fierce.

Well, there you have it. I trust that you gained some valuable insight into photographing a rather challenging subject.

Photography is all about learning and growing as you do. A sound knowledge of your camera’s function and a basic understanding of light and also animal bahviour will have you photographing better in no time.

Thanks for taking the time to read through!

Till next time,

Marlon du Toit

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Comments 2

  1. Carol Bell

    Once again super photos. I loved reading your article as I have always loved buffalo and like to sit in the herd and “feel their tension” …… At the moment there is a huge herd of buffalo to be seen in the Croc river area of Kruger. I have been trying to capture them as a “herd” ……. and your article has given me inspiration to try something “new” in photographing them. Thank you .

    Yesterday I saw 2 male lions had taken down a young buffalo and on the same road (S28) about 10ks further on (at the hide) I watched a pride of lion take down a buffalo bull (dagga boy)….(no photos as too far for my lens) Super sighting.

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