I am a big advocate of having at least 2 camera bodies on safari, coupled with lenses that give you a wide variety when it comes to focal length and compositional options. When I am travelling privately I use only 2 camera bodies, but of late I have been fortunate to test out some new gear combinations thanks to the guys at Nikon South Africa.
On the recent Mana Pools photo safari I hosted, I was usually sporting a Nikon Df with the Nikkor 80-400mm lens and a Nikon D800 with the Nikkor 24-70mm lens, while my Nikon D3s and Nikkor 500mm f4 was in my bag for when I really needed the reach. In the Mara Triangle recently on the Great Migration photo safari that I led my tools of choice were the Nikon D4s with the Nikkor 500mm f4 and the D3s with the Nikkor 80-400mm, while the Nikon D800 and Nikkor 24-70mm was in the bag for those wide-angle moments.
It can be cumbersome (and in general I find working with 3 bodies cumbersome) but it sure is worth it when you have a sighting that offers you a variety of options. At least when you have 2 bodies with various focal lengths at arms reach, you can switch to the closer focal length if the subject moves closer to your position and possibly too close for your longer lens.
During our recent venture to the Mara, we found a dramatic sighting late one morning where a pride of lions had killed 4 wildebeests in quick succession (possibly as a big migratory herd moved past their position, lions are such opportunists). The pride eventually only chose one wildebeest to drag into the nearby drainage line and devour, while the others were left for the scavengers – who had arrived in big numbers. Marabou, vultures of all shapes and sizes, and the indomitable Spotted Hyaenas. Don’t forget the sneaky Black-backed Jackals who loitered around. All in all the interaction in front of us had the shutters firing non-stop and the memory cards filling up fast.
The point-of-view of the sighting was also quite pleasing, with the plains of the distant Serengeti on the horizon (we were close to the Kenya/Tanzania border here).
First image: 500mm focal length
By using the long telephoto I was able to isolate some of the subjects in the fracas nicely.
Second image: 195mm focal length
Using a zoom lens, I was able to get a focal length that worked well in showing the scene as well as capturing some of the large-winged birds that flew in and out of the carcass site. This focal length also allowed me to include some sky and some more detail in the distant background.
Third image: 135mm focal length
I went one step further, besides zooming out a bit more, for this image. I also slowed my shutter speed down to 1/30 (it had been 1/1250 and up for most of the scene up to now). This allowed me to capture some of the frenzy of the moving mass of bodies, as well as the blurred shape of a vulture coming in to land. I was also able to frame the scene a bit wider here.
I always encourage my guests to “work” a scene/sighting from as many angles and perspectives as possible. I will also help them try new techniques like the slow shutter, panning and radial blur techniques to help them explore more creative options when photographing in the field. Having more than one camera at hand is ideal, if not then a good zoom lens that can accomodate various focal lengths would be advisable.
Make sure you explore all the options next time you are in the bush photographing a sighting, and if you feel a lack of inspiration, check out some of your favourite photographers and look for photos they took at “common” sightings that shows you how they think and apply their vision in the field.
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