Trip Report: Private Timbavati Safari March 2017

Andrew Beck Andrew 2 Comments

I’m taking a slightly different approach to this trip report as I know that at least one of the guests will be sharing their experiences with you all in the coming weeks. Rather than provide a day by day breakdown I thought I’d share some of the lessons learnt and challenges we faced during our 4 nights in the Timbavati.

I’m always amazed at the general perception that summer in the bush is not a good time for photography.

Whilst visibility in the drier winter months certainly is better and the concentration of game around waterholes holding the last remaining surface water provides for incredible interactions between species, the summer months boast some advantages of their own! A lot of the lessons learnt during this trip were related to the fact that this is the height of summer and the environmental conditions were pretty different to what the guests had experienced in the past.

My pre-game drive brief on the first afternoon of this Private Guided Safari was focussed on getting the guests to understand some of the challenges of photographing wildlife at this time of year.

So, here are some of the challenges and perks of photographing wildlife in summer.

That “One Blade of Grass” and Dense Vegetation

If you thought the single blade of grass across your subject was an issue in winter then you’re in for a rough time in the summer months. This can wreak havoc with your AF as the camera continuously attempts to focus on the contrast of the grass against your subject, often choosing to focus on the grass rather than your chosen area.

Manually selecting your AF point is crucial, as is ensuring that the AF point is adjusted to be using the smallest possible area to achieve focus. You may also find yourself preferring to make use of manual focus to ensure that your subject is rendered sharp an in focus.

Alternatively, if your subjects is just too obscured by grass, as in the case above, one can get creative and intentionally focus on grasses in the foreground, leaving your subject as a “suggestion” in the back of the frame.

Exposure Compensation

This is an interesting one and I spent a considerable amount of time helping my group of guests to get to grips with exposure compensation and how important it is to get right in the field.

Remember that, in evaluative or matrix metering modes, the camera is trying to balance the entire scene to a “happy place” where the image is not too dark, and not to bright. It attempts to keep everything as close to 18% grey (not black or white). The green grasses of summer represent a very different tonal value to the brighter and lighter tones of winter. The greenery of the summer months is without a doubt darker than the 18% grey value used by the camera and we can therefore afford to underexpose using manual exposure compensation to keep the rich green tones from being washed out.

Here is an example of a scene captured at 0EV and then at -2/3 EV.



Notice how the rich colours of the darker greens are preserved and how details in the brightest areas of the subject are kept from being over-exposed?

The other benefit to under-exposing is of course the increased shutter speed which in turn leads to one being able to shoot at lower ISO values than you may expect.

I would see these two issues as the most challenging encountered during the summer months. There are also a number of benefits which make photographing wildlife at this time of year an absolute pleasure!


Your camera uses contrast as one of the variables to achieve autofocus and the rich contrasts of colours at this time of year can make AF easier in some instances but that aside, the contrast of colours at this time of year makes for visually stimulating images.

Contrast is one of the most vital elements when converting an image into Monochrome and scenes which offer very little contrast in winter suddenly lend themselves to powerful Black and White images with very little processing.

Green channels are brought down to darken the areas around the subject whilst orange channels are lifted to provide a bit more punch to the subject. A subtle vignette helps to make the subject pop even more.

Saturated Colours and Backgrounds

There’s nothing better than being able to fill the frame with content, eliminating exposure issues caused by bright skies and simultaneously showcasing the incredible habitats that our subjects live in. Scenes such as this one of a pair of White Rhino resting in a dry riverbed look completely different in winter. The dense vegetation cover of the summer months means that the canopy of trees in the background are complimented by the dense shrubs and grass to provide a uniformly green background.

Dense vegetation also provides a lot more shadows in the early mornings and late afternoons, ideal for capturing subjects against a dark background as they enter an area bathed in light. The contrast of the brighter subjects against a darker background makes for powerful images where the viewer is immediately drawn to your subject.

Busy backgrounds dominated by bare twigs and branches are replaced by a wash of emerald green, providing the ideal and complimentary background for many an image.

Clouds in the Sky

Whilst winter does produce some interesting and occasionally spectacular skies, summer is by far the winner when it comes to skies. More often than not, winter skies are clear and featureless. This may make for fairly good and uniform light throughout the day but a bit of cloud cover creates shadows and highlights across a scene whilst simultaneously creating an interesting feature when pulling back and capturing a bit more of the environment.

The Birdlife

Many of the most interesting and colourful bird species are summer migrants and are simply not present in winter!

Over and above these lessons, our guests were exposed to a number of challenging photographic situations including photographing at night with the ethical use of a spotlight.

Any and all down time in camp was spent working through images and deciding which of the images captured held the most photographic merit and why. This was a challenging exercise for all of the guests as it forced them to critically evaluate a sequence of images and decide on one image which was the best.

Overall, we enjoyed incredible sightings and photographic opportunities on every single drive and the guests have walked away with spectacular images, new friendships and special memories.

We have a number of safaris based in the Timbavati and you can find out more on each of them by following the links below:

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About the Author

Andrew Beck

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Very few people can tell you what their passion in life is. Even fewer will be able to tell you that what they do for a living is in fact their passion. My love for the bush and conservation took me on journey which would not only allow me to explore the continent which fascinates me so much, but to share my passion for photography and conservation with others. Be sure to check out my my website and instagram account.

Comments 2

  1. Janet winterbourne

    When you run this again andrew please let me know. Just a little concerned about the neagtive reporting coming out of timbavati and the elephants killed .

    1. Post
      Andrew Beck

      Hi Janet

      We have a number of scheduled Exclusive Timbavati Safaris but will gladly assist you with a private safari if you have a group in mind.

      Regarding the recent article on the hunting in the region, the quotas mentioned are not yet approved and I firmly believe that their will be some intervention in the proposal to hunt a “Tusker”. I asked one of the land-owners for his thoughts on the matter and his response was as follows:

      “I personally have been opposed to the hunting to generate income for the reserves conservation efforts. Unfortunately Timbavati is a democratically run and the anti hunting lobby is smaller than the pro hunting lobby . I have been opposed to hunting for many years and have always worked at reducing the reliance on hunting income for the reserves conservation efforts. The conservation levy covers only 30% of the budget. The pro hunting lobby think that tourism has more impact on the wilderness than hunting and so they support hunting as a means to generate income to run the conservation efforts.

      All the lodges oppose the hunting naturally but we the ones who get punished for something we do not support and the hunting lobby wins all the way. It is a matter of time before the hunting is over and Timbavati will need to find other ways of generating income for conservation effort.“

      It’s a difficult state of affairs. I understand the role of hunting and the biggest concern for me is the inclusion of species such as lion, elephant and white rhino in the annual quota.

      Ones initial thought is to boycott this sort of thing and “never set foot in the Timbavati” but this would in all honesty make the situation worse and force hunting quotas to be increased to sustain the region and make up for any loss in revenue provided by tourism.

      It’s sad that wildlife is not recognized for its intrinsic value and is rather seen as having to pay its own way. Given my conservation background I am more than happy to chat to you about this in more detail around the fire – it’s not an easy one…

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