African Wildlife Roundup

I spent several weeks in Africa in February, but I haven’t had a chance until now to sort through everything. You might have seen my previous post with images of wild dogs, but that’s not all I saw during my trip. Here’s a few more of the exciting wildlife encounters I had in Botswana and Morocco.

Lion in grass, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana (by Ian Plant)

Seeing a mighty male lion is always an exciting experience—except when he promptly flops over and lies down to nap and escape the heat of the day. Still, it was a lion sighting, so I had to make the best of it. I opted for this tight portrait when the lion briefly looked up from its slumber, using flash to balance the mixed light coming through the bush the lion was using as shade. “Cat Nap”—Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana. Canon 5DIII, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/160 second.

Jackal pups playing, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana (by Ian Plant)

I get a bit kick out of jackals; they remind me of coyotes with their cleverness and precocious nature. When these two pups starting play fighting, I was ready, waiting for an interesting composition to emerge from the fracas. The moment the pups opened their mouths at the same time, I had what I was hoping for. Click. “Sibling Rivalry”—Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana. Canon 70D, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT, ISO 800, f/4, 1/320 second.

Leopard, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana (by Ian Plant)

I got lucky with big cat sightings on this trip. It was a treat to see this leopard emerge from the trees, even though the light wasn’t terribly interesting (I’m usually not a big fan of overcast light for wildlife, but give me some back light or mixed light and I’m a happy camper). “On the Prowl”—Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana. Canon 70D, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT, ISO 400, f/8, 1/250 second.

Barbary macaques, Atlas Mountains, Morocco (by Ian Plant)

I had one wildlife encounter when in Morocco, spending an afternoon photographing Barbary macaques in the Atlas Mountains. I found this pair grooming each other in a small patch of sunlight breaking through the trees. I like working in mixed light, although it can be very challenging, as contrast typically exceeds the dynamic range of digital cameras. You have to use the mix of shadow and light creatively; here, I made sure to zoom in tight enough to exclude any other sunlit areas of the forest, surrounding the spot lit monkeys in shadow. “Grooming”—Cèdre Gouraud Forest, Morocco. Canon 70D, Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD, ISO 400, f/9, 1/800 second.

Cheetah, Nxai Pan National Park, Botswana (by Ian Plant)

My third big cat sighting was of a cheetah. I caught this individual on the prowl in the early morning light. The cheetah was in shadow, surrounded by gorgeous morning back light, so I used flash to add some fill light and balance the exposure. Unfortunately the cheetah didn’t find any prey, and soon found a shaded spot to lie down in and get out of the sun. “Morning Hunt”—Nxai Pan National Park, Botswana. Canon 70D, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/200 second.

Moonrise behind tawny eagle at sunrise, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana (by Ian Plant)

When I spotted this tawny eagle one morning, I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of shooting a brown bird, but I hadn’t seen anything else that morning, so I stayed put to wait for the first light of dawn. Then I noticed the full moon setting behind the eagle. It took some creative positioning, but I was finally able to find an angle that allowed me to capture the moon behind the eagle’s head, creating an eye-catching halo. Sunrise light on the eagle was the icing on the cake. “Moonset”—Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana. Canon 70D, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT, ISO 250, f/5.6, 1/250 second.

I’ll be returning to Africa soon, spending five weeks in Namibia, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Africa is a wonderful place and should be on every photographer’s bucket list!

Successful wildlife photography requires much more than just getting technically perfect photos of animals striking interesting poses. Instead, the wildlife photographer must strive to capture his or her subjects in the broader context of their environment by telling a story. Light, color, motion, composition, and the magic of the moment are all creative tools at your disposal, and you should use them to create artistic and evocative images of your wildlife subjects. My newest eBook in my photography Mini Guide series, The Mini Guide to Wildlife Photography, gives you everything you need—and nothing more—to get you on your way towards successful wildlife photography for only $4.95.


Ian Plant

Author: Ian Plant

World-renowned professional photographer, writer, and adventurer Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to and blogger for Outdoor Photographer Magazine, a Contributing Editor to Popular Photography Magazine, a monthly columnist for Landscape Photography Magazine, and a Tamron Image Master. Ian is also the author of numerous books and instructional videos. Ian leads photography workshops and tours around the world to help beginner and advanced photographers explore and expand their personal vision.

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