Trip Report: Timbavati Photo Safari May 2016

Andrew Beck Andrew 3 Comments

If you haven’t already done so you should check out the trip report which covers the 3 nights of private guiding in the Timbavati leading up to our 4 night scheduled photographic safari departure.

With just 3 guests and an entire vehicle to ourselves, the Timbavati Photo Safari ensures that guests get an even greater level of personalised attention whilst on safari. All of the guests for this particular departure were of a similar level of experience which made it easy to guide and coach them through the incredible sightings that we had over the 5 days, ensuring that they not only got the shots, but that they learnt valuable lessons which can be applied when they are next out in the field by themselves.

The Timbavati is one of my personal favourite destinations in South Africa. It is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife and landscapes and provides incredible photographic opportunities for those who are patient and willing to spend some time away from the usual Big 5. The diversity of game is well reflected in the fact that we saw an abundance of the usual suspects , and  these were complimented by sightings of wild dog, civet, genet and a handful of other smaller species.

Day 1 | Afternoon Drive

The first afternoon of a safari is always great, one can feel the excitement and the prospects of what may lay ahead on the afternoon drive had everyone on the edge of their seat. Our first afternoon’s highlights included a large heard of buffalo which we found quenching their thirst at a nearby waterhole. Overcast conditions meant that we were working through settings and starting to establish how important a tool ISO is in making sure we were shooting at our desired shutter speeds.


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F4.0. ISO 160, 1/1250, -1EV

From here we spent a good 40 minutes in the presence of a nearby breeding herd of elephants. Whilst the combination of overcast conditions and later afternoon light made for difficult shooting, it provided the perfect opportunity for the guests to play around with slow shutter speeds and intentional camera movement.


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @F5.0, ISO 250, 1/6

Talk about being dropped into the deep end , but I was very impressed by what I saw on the back of the cameras given the difficult shooting conditions.


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F5.0, ISO 250, 1/5

The day was rounded off with a sighting of a chameleon in a tree, giving the guests the ideal opportunity to test out their night time settings for shooting in Manual mode.


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F2.8, ISO 2500, 1/400

Day 2

A fairly quiet morning provided some good opportunities to capture general game in golden light as we spent the majority of the morning tracking a pride of lions in the south. We didn’t end up finding the lions on this occasion but we did manage to get some shots at the hyena den and enjoy a very welcome cup of coffee in the company of elephants at Keer Keer dam.


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F4.5, ISO200, 1/500, -2/3 EV


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F5.0, ISO 320, 1/1250, -1/3 EV

The afternoon drive certainly kicked things up a notch with a lion sighting, leopard up a tree and an incredible sundowner stop where we watched the full moon rise in the distance.


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 70-200mm F2.8 @ 70mm and F5.0, ISO 250, 1/1000, -2/3 EV


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 16-35mm F2.8 @ 16mm and F2.8, ISO1250, 1/6

It wasn’t just coincidence that we had planned our evening in the treehouse to coincide with the full moon and , after dinner we packed a cooler box and headed to the nearby dam where we spent the night beneath the stars and full moon.


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 16-35mm F2.8 @ 28mm and F2.8, ISO3200, 1/8


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 16-35mm F2.8 @ 17mm and F4.0, ISO 1250, 10 sec

Whilst we may not have taken a single photo during the night, the experience of being out in the african bush under the incredible light of the full moon was one that none of us will forget.

Day 3

For those of you who have been on safari in South Africa during the winter months , you’ll know that the morning and evening skies are more often than not, crystal clear, and that means good light! Elephants and buffalo dominated the morning drive as we made the most of the incredible light – and shadows.


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F3.2, ISO1600, 1/800, -2/3 EV

We were fortunate enough to spend a good 4o minutes or so in the company of one of the largest tuskers I have seen in the Timbavati as he went about his morning forage, pushing down large knob-thorn trees with ease.


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F3.2, ISO400, 1/2000, -2/3 EV

Our focus when photographing him was to make the most of the dynamic light and to wait for strategic moments where his magnificent tusks were bathed in golden light and set against a deep dark shadow.


Canon 5 DSR, Canon 70-200mm F2.8 @ 142mm and F5.0, ISO400, 1/3200, -1 2/3 EV

It was great to see how some of the compositional guidelines and creative use of light had sunk in so well and that none of the guests went for the stock standard full frame elephant image until they had made the most of the good light and tighter, more abstract shots on offer.

The morning drive culminated with a massive herd of buffalo drinking and wallowing in the same dam where we had enjoyed our sundowners the previous evening. Once again, we were the only vehicle in the sighting…


Canon 5D MKIII, Canon 16-35, F2.8 @ 16mm and F20, ISO200, 1/125, +2/3 EV


Canon 5D MKIII, Canon 16-35, F2.8 @ 16mm and F20, ISO200, 1/125

Our drive back to the camp was interrupted briefly as a herd of elephants had come to drink at the dam where we had spent the previous night in the treehouse. We all agreed that this was the type of morning traffic we could get accustomed too!


Canon 5D MKIII, Canon 16-35, F2.8 @ 16mm and F14, ISO400, 1/500

Our afternoon drive was a great example of how being patient and spending time with your subjects can provide incredible photographic opportunities. Whilst crossing a dry riverbed we stopped to see if a large bull elephant , who was on the edge of the riverbank , would cross over the river and step into a glorious patch of light. He didn’t, but that was quickly forgotten as the herd of buffalo we had seen earlier in the day began to pour out of the embankment and into the river bed.


Canon 5DsR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F4.0, ISO500, 1/1250, -1/3 EV


Canon 5DsR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F3.2, ISO500, 1/800, -1/3 EV

We sat photographing them for a while and before we knew it they were crossing behind us, kicking up dust and providing the ideal opportunity to capture backlight silhouettes. The guests were a bit panicked at first as they saw the potential of the scene but weren’t quote sure what to do but , after a calming talk and review of camera settings and exposure compensation values , they were nailing the shots!


Canon 5DsR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F8.0, ISO400, 1/1600, -1 2/3 EV

We were on a high which was only elevated by a brief glimpse of the hyena pups and a pride of lions who attempted to briefly stalk a herd of impala.


Canon 5DsR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F3.5, ISO1000, 1/800, -1 EV


Canon 5D MKIII, Canon 70-200mm F2.8 @ 200mm and F2.8, ISO 2000, 1/125

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, we returned to camp to find that an incredible bush dinner had been setup in the riverbed for us.


Canon 5DsR, Canon 16-35mm F2.8 @ 26mm and F2.8, ISO 6400, 0.4 sec (Hand Held)


Canon 5DsR, Canon 16-35mm F2.8 @ 16mm and F2.8, ISO1600, 0.4 Sec

The images do not to the experience justice and this was without a doubt the cherry on top of our best day in the field so far.

Day 4

Once again we were greeted with glorious morning light and with a bit of luck we stumbled across a female leopard and her youngster whilst searching for lions. The pair posed for us and the energetic youngster scaled up an apple leaf tree and gave us some great photographic opportunities.


Canon 5DMKIII, Canon 300mm F2.8 at F4.0, ISO500, 1/500, -2/3EV

This was also an ideal opportunity to discuss how the posture of an animal can convey its emotional state and impact the overall mood and story of an image. I elaborate on this in this post.

We eventually found the lions that had serendipitously brought us across the pair of leopards but they were doing what lions do best, nothing. This brought our morning drive to and end and we headed back to camp for a welcome breakfast.

With just two drives left and a number of images in the bag I chatted with the guests to see what shots they were still wanting to get with the goal of making that the focus of our final afternoon and morning game drives. The requests focussed on general game, impala rutting, wild dogs and of course, the white lions should they be found.

With that in mind we headed out and spent some time with some impala and giraffe before making our way up north to where our two leopards from the morning had been found on an impala carcass.


Canon 5D MKIII, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F5.6, ISO320, 1/2500, -1EV

Our drive north was interrupted by and incredible sighting of what must have been a 3 week old white rhino calf who put on an incredible display for us.


Canon 5DsR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F4.0, ISO 500, 1/5000, -1/3 EV

Whilst mom was never far, the young calf was quite happy with our presence and lay out in the open allowing a group of oxpeckers to go about their business of removing external parasites from the youngsters soft skin.


Canon 5DsR, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ F4.5, ISO800, 1/1250, -2/3 EV

The photographic opportunities were endless but the most memorable part for me personally was being able to spend time in the presence of such a young calf who was still completely untainted by the potential threats that humans pose. Unfortunately, rhino poaching is a reality in South Africa and every sighting of one of these beautiful animals needs to be appreciated in a completely different light.

Our journey up north to the leopard resumed and our timing was perfect as the sun was just about to merge with the western horizon. On arrival, the adult female was down on the ground with her kill whilst her youngster was sound asleep in an adjacent Marula tree.


Canon 5D MKIII, Canon 70-200mm F2.8 @ 70mm and F4.0, ISO200, 1/50

The last rays of light cast soft pastel tones in the background and as the sun sank below the horizon we readjusted our position in anticipation of what was about to become the ultimate highlight of the trip.

We moved around to the other side of the Marula tree in the hope of catching an opportunity to capture the young leopard in silhouette before making its way down to the kill.

It wasn’t long before we got what we had hoped for…


Canon 5DsR, Canon 70-200mm F2.8 @ 70mm and F4.5, ISO2000, 1/2500, -1 2/3 EV

The excitement on the vehicle was at a whole new level after this moment and after pulling the guests away from their LCD screens and explaining that , with a kill on the ground we could not use a spotlight on the scene, we headed off to calm the nerves with a couple of Gin and Tonics. Image stabilisation if you will…

Day 5 | Morning Drive

Our final morning provided one of the final requests of the guests in the form of 3 very well fed wild dog and, whilst photographic opportunities were few and far between, this was still a special moment for the guests.


Canon 5D MKIII, Canon 300mm F2.8 @ f3.2, ISO 250, 1/320, – 1/3 EV

We wrapped up our final drive and  the timbavati photo safari with a pride of lions on a buffalo kill before heading back for breakfast.


Canon 5D MKIII, Canon 70-200mm F2.8 @ 150mm and F4.5, ISO250, 1/2000, -1/3 EV

I thoroughly enjoyed this time on safari with the 3 guests and know that each and every one of them has not only captured some great images, but have taken their photography to another level as a result of the variety of photographic scenarios and opportunities we had.

A photo safari with us is about growing you skill and improving you photography whilst having incredible and memorable experiences.

Based on the guests images and feedback, I think this trip ticked all the boxes!

Nicolas Deloche

“Fantastic first experience with Wild Eye. My Knowledge on photography improved a lot during this trip”

Carol Bell

“Wild Eye’s enjoyable safaris helps one understand their camera equipment, mood of the scene and behaviour of the wild life where I personally feel I have enjoyed and learnt a lot about capturing a better photo which tells a story.”

Les  Gellman

“An incredible experience!

We all got along extremely well in the group and had a socially excellent trip.

The sightings on safari and photographic opportunities were truly exceptional. In addition Andrew guided us to obtain the most terrific images. I also learned how to effectively use lightroom and I realised how my photographic knowledge and abilities have progressed in a short time.

This was a really valuable experience from all aspects, and I look forward to my next safari with Wild Eye.”

Join us in the Timbavati!

Our next Timbavati Photo safari takes place from 27 November to 1 December. If you'd like more info on this and our 2017 Timbavati Photo safaris, drop us an email!

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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 3

  1. Richard Wentzel

    A great collection. I notice you use EC frequently.This is something I rarely do except for birds when there is a bright sky background. Hope to learn more of this technique while with you in the MM.

    1. Post
      Andrew Beck

      Most definitely Richard!

      You’ll notice that many of the images have dynamic light in the frame with the subject being illuminated and intentionally placed against a darker background. Exposure compensation whilst keeping the camera in Evaluative metering mode helps to prevent the subject from being overexposed whilst simultaneously enhancing contrast of the subject against a darker background.

      Not much longer until we head north for the migration!

  2. Pingback: Trip Report: Timbavati Photo Safari May 2016 - Africa Freak

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