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