Monday, June 30, 2008

A (Disappointing) Morning with Lions

The resulting images... Not the lions!!

I have been hoping to find the Kgala and Bulayo Lion Pride in decent 'golden' light and this morning it finally happened!

After hearing lions roaring in three different directions the night before, we headed out early morning to go and find the Kgala males, Bulayo females and their five youngsters.  We followed the direction in which we heard their last calls that morning and after only about twenty minutes of searching we saw the cubs. 

The last time I saw these five playful youngsters was when Grant and I tracked and found them up on the hill where they proceeded to give us a beasutiful show of playing and fighting with each other.  This morning was no different and again they waited until we positioned ourselves until they started their show.

These three were very active and it was sometimes difficult to see where one started and the next one started.  Great to watch!

If you have been reading my previous Blogs, you will recall that one of these youngsters had quite a serious injury to his one ear.  In the above image you can see him on the left hand side.  I have no idea how he got the injury to the ear but it seems that he is a kind og an outcast.  Always slightly on the fringes of the cub-action and always being 'picked on'.  The ear is still bothering him slightly and he still scratches it a lot.

You can see him above next to one of his brothers. Great morning light but up until now no sign of the adults.  Suddenly the cubs stopped and all looked in one direction.

Apart from a few tracks and the previous night's audio this was the first sign of the male in quite a few days.

Almost shark-like in his appearance the male was fast asleep but we realized soon enough that he had other things on his mind along with relaxing in the early morning sun.

The Kgala male was VERY interested in one of the pride's females.  Everytime she moved or got up to change position he would be right there testing her reproductive status by smelling her urine and doing the Flehman grimace.  Not going into any detail now but the idea is that the smell molecules gets forced (through muscular contraction) into the organ of Jacobsin in the upper lip which gives the male an idea of the females willingness to comply to his endless advances!

This specific morning she did not want anything from him and he reluctantly made his way back to a nice sunny spot to sleep the day away.

Now I have been looking forward to get this specific pride in golden light, but was actually quite dissapointed by the resulting images.  When I checked the mornings images on the pc everything was blown out even though I also tried underexpose just slightly during the shoot (making the lions sound like models now!)

I reckon taking pictures of lions in winter grass with early morning light is actually quite a challenge as they blend perfectly and it can prove quite difficult to meter correctly as the winter light tends to be a little bit hazy.  When looking through the hundred plus images of the morning I found that only a few was actually usable.  A little bit of tweaking in Photoshop did save quite a few but I still think that metering differently might make a difference.  White balance, saturation, contract and even brightness was off the charts even though I checked ISO, shutter speed and aperture all the time.

ust admit, I still have a few things to learn and be 100% sure of on the D300 (love that machine!!) which I have been using for about two months now and luckily I got another chance this afternoon but more on that in the next Blog.

I don't have a problem 'fixing' images in Photoshop as long as it is only minor tweaking of the histogram.  I am not too fond of erasing leaves, adding a cloud or any of the other fancy things people do in Photoshop.  There is most definitley a time and place for that kind of thing and I do enjoy messing around every now and then, but I feel you should try and get as much of your shots correct when you click the shutter. I would rather be a photographer then a photoshop-er.  I reckon that is why I felt dissapointed and felt I have to go out and try again!

Anyway, the images uploaded in this specific Blog are a few of the mornings shots that I quickly tried to save from total disaster but once I get back home I will have a decent look through all the raw images and see what can be done.  I might actually do a blog in a week or so with some of the above lion images that have been properly images to try and get them right.  (Any comments?)

On with the morning drive.

As we left the lion sighting, where we spent almost two hours, we saw this Purple Roller sitting watching us from the top of a tree.

Beautiful bird (yes I know the colours are still off!!) and very chill as he was trying to warm up in the morning sun.

As we got home we heard this little guy singing in the tree.  A Black-Backed Puffback. 

In Afrikaans this guy is called a 'Sneeubal' which translates directly to Snowball - referring to the way he puffs the white feathers on his back up when he gets excited.  I was quite happy to get a few shots of this little guys and I am sure the final images will be great!

So, it was a great morning out in the bush but the resulting images did not get me very excited.  In a way it is a good thing to get a wake-up call like this every now and then so that you remember the basics and hopefuly learn something in the process so don't take any of the images in this Blog too seriously! :)

As luck would have it, we found the lions again in the afternoon and this time I was ready.  The light was perfect and this time the images are more something that I am proud to say is some of my better work!  As soon as I have had a chance to go through them I will upload some of them to the Blog as well.

I have still not uploaded any of my latest (last two weeks) images to the Photo-Africa Stock Library.  Once I have finalized all these images (on my desktop in JHB) I will do a huge upload.  Make sure to keep an eye on the Blog as I will mention it here as well.  In the meantime you can visit the Stock Site to view some of Gavin Tonkinson's many new images that was uploaded today.

As always I look forward to hearing from you!


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Weekly High Five #5

It was not my intention to choose this many lion images for this weeks High Five, even though it would have been quite easy since I have been searching for, and obsessing about, the Kgala males the entire week. 

It just so happend that included in the hundred plus images uploaded to Photo-Africa this week there were many brilliant pictures of lions.  This week features eight images again of which four are of lions.  So here goes with the fifth Weekly High Five.

Image 1 - Lion Silhouette by Andrew Fullerton

The only thing that I would change in this image would be to place the lion further to the left of the frame.  When shooting an image like this it is always difficult to get the image nice and dark without burning out the sky.  It might require the photographer to under expose the image slightly which, in this case, was done perfectly. 

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Image 2 - Double Lion by Quintin Janse van Vuuren

A lion image with that little bit of extra. The mane that is blowing in the wind gives the image a slight dynamic feel and gives you an idea of what the moment must have been when the image was captured.  For me that is one of the things that will make one wildlife image stand out above another - making your viewer feel like they were there.  Great image of one of the Kgala males.

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Image 3 - Rose Macro by Warren David Diack

Something different - a perfect close up of a pink rose.  The photographer pulled this one off brilliantly by keeping the image focused and very sharp in the centre and then fades it out towards the edge of the frame.  Whether by very clever cropping or good in camera framing, the rose petals close to frame in the image rounds it off very well and draws the viewers eye to the centre of the image.  Great macro.

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Image 4 - Kgala Male Lions by Quintin Janse van Vuuren

Even though the sky is burnt out a little, this image still works.  The two lions are obviously resting in the sun but the image captures the power of these beautiful males perfectly.  The fact that the two manes are touching also creates a nice bond between the lions which is true for real life as well when looking at the behavioural patterns of a coalition such as this.  Awesome animals.

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Image 5 - Moon by Warren David Diack

Have you ever tried taking a 'decent' image of the moon?  It is not all that easy and the above image pulls it off perfectly.  Capturing the slight colour variations and even the sharpness in the craters makes this a very good image.  I also like that it is not a completely full moon and leaves a slight bit of the moon out of the scene - a full moon would almost have been too cliché.

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Image 6 - African Fish Eagle by Craig Muller

One of Africa's most beautiful and graceful raptors captured perfectly. 

To capture any bird in flight takes a great bit of luck or a great deal of skill.  If I could change anything in the aboce image it would be to extract a small bit of detail from the left wing (which is totally black).  Other than that a great bird image.

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Image 7 - Blurred Lions by Quintin Janse van Vuuren

This is not an image you can plan.  It is clicking the shutter at the correct time and allowing nature to complete the process.  This image shows why wildlife photography is not always about planning and trying to get everything in the frame perfectly in focus and sharp.  Yes - luck is a part of what we do!  There is an element of 'wild' in this and the fact that both lions are blurred gives you a feel for the action that was taking place at that precise moment.  This is an image I would expect to see in a wildlife book or magazine.  Amazing wildlife image!

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Image 8 - Lonely Tree by Gavin Tonkinson

On the other side of the scale.  This is an image that the photographer planned.  You could sit at the same tree for five days and never get the opportunity to capture this image again.  The diagonal foreground starts the image very nicely and allows the tree to lead your eyes up the branches and to thge beautiful clouds in the sky.  In a previous Blog I mentioned Wildlife & Nature photgraphy in the same sentence as Fine Art Photography.  This images is one of those which I will use should I have to create an argument that it IS possible to create Fine Art from Wildlife & Nature images.  Great image and my pick for this week.

All these and other images uploaded during the week can be found at the Photo-Africa Stock Library.  To view the latest images that have been added click here.

As always I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback on this weeks High Five!


Madikwe Gardens - An Oasis in the Bushveld

Whether you have been on safari, browsed through a coffee table book or watched a African wildlife television program - this is the African bushveld we all know and love. On the Eastern side of Madikwe there is an oasis that is a stark contract to the semi-arid conditions which houses Africa's natural heritage.

I have, in the past, heard about the Madikwe Gardens but as it was to far to travel from the West of Madikwe and the fact that it is on a private concession made it very difficult to follow up and see what the story is.

Adele and I have for the last few weeks been helping out at Morukuru which is on the same property as Madikwe Gardens and this gae us the perfect opportunity to visit the Gardens.


The old couple who take care of the Gardens, Frikkie and Gerda, have been living on the property for more than thirty years. Originally their own propety, they recently sold the Gardens to an American who asked them to stay and 'manage' the property.

When speaking to the old couple, who are almost eighty years old, knows exactly when each tree was planted as they took the Gardens from what you see in the first image...

To this...

The talk with passion about how they planted all the plants, except for three trees, from seeds or seedlings.  Amazing!  They also have a vegetable garden which feeds about fifty people a week.


Adele and I went to visit the Gardens to walk around and try and capture some of the beauty of this oasis in the middle of the African bush.

When walking through the Gardens it feels more like you are in  tropical jungles then in Southern African bushveld.  They have been able to accomplish this by pumping water from the nearby Marico river and as a result of the successful expansion of the gardens they have had to increase the size of the fence around the property five times.

It was an amazing experience to walk around the Gardens and get the history of this beautiful place.

Next Blog will be the Weekly High Five and I am still looking through all the images, more than 100, before I upload!  Make sure to check back soon!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!


Friday, June 27, 2008

A Wild Morning at Morukuru

What was the first thing you did this morning?  Perhaps make a nice cup of coffee or read the newspaper?

This morning this was mine...

This is Holiday, the tracker at Morukuru, and me carrying a freshly killed Impala out of the staff village.  During the early morning hours the Wild Dogs made it into the fence around the lodge and killed the female impala right next to our house hence my not so pleasant first-activity-of-the-morning! :)

There are currently two packs of Wild Dog in Madikwe and this was the 'Collection Pack'.  Originaly about six strong, there are now only two left as a result of fighting with the much larger 'Dwarsberg Pack'.  The Kgala lions (my photographic obsession for this week) also comes into their story as they killed the pups of the Collection Pack about two weeks ago.  Very sad story but something for a different Blog.

So anyway, before even having a chance to have a cup of coffee we had to get the carcass out of the fenced in area as the female dog was inside the fence and the male was still outside.  She was visibly uncomfortable with us walking towards her and not having the safety of her pack.  I think she was also still quite 'emotional' (at the risk of giving the dog human emotions) and stressed at having lost her pups less than two weeks ago.

We got the carcass out of the fenced area and dropped it about a hundred meters from the entrance gate.  The male, who was circling us the whole time, was there in a flash but the female was now stuck inside the fence as the electric gate closed before she could get out.

After trying for about twenty minutes we eventually got her out of the fence and she joined the male at the kill.  It was very sad to see how she ran away from the kill every ten minutes or so to scan the surrounding bushes, obviously looking for something.  They might not intelectualise about things like we do but the mother's insticnt is definitley still a very strong factor in nature.

I was still a great feeling to have these two very endangered animals close to us as they fed on the impala.  Even though there were only two of them, they ate very quickly.  One of the reasons for this is that they do not rank very high on the predator hirarchy and even a hyena or leopard can steal the kill from them.  Kill, eat quick and move on has worked for them for hundreds of uears so why change it now.

My original plan was to do a Blog about the Madikwe Gardens today but with the Weekly High Five also due I might only get to that later this weekend.  I also have a lot of images of the fanily of Banded Mongoose who we have been watching around the property the last week.  Very cute but I just had to upload a quick Blog about our Wild Morning at Morukuru!  I will upload all of the images from this morning to the Photo-Africa Stock Library with next weeks big upload.

Make sure to check back over the weekend as I upload Blogs on the Weekly High Five, Madikwe Gardens and the Banded Mongoose.

As always I look forward to hearing from you!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Power of Possibilities


is a gift of the wild,

of retracing steps;

looking back

from time to time

at our first spoor,

our other signatures."

~ Sir Ian McCallum

Finding a lion as you drive around a corner in the bush is absolutely amazing. The shock. The surprise. There is however one thing that is even better still.

Finding a track. A lion track. Following it. Following the possibilities that is signifies and following through until you eventually find the animal who left you that one single sign that it has been there.

Yesterday Grant Marcus, who is also one of the Photo-Africa photographers, went out early morning in an attempt to find the Kgala and Bulayo lions in Madikwe. You might have read in an earlier Blog that these are the lions I have been trying to find the whole week but up until now no luck. Tracks all over, but no sign of thee majestic animals. We left the lodge just after six in the morning and headed East towards the last confirmed sighting of one of the Kgala males It was still dark and very cold but the horizon was just starting to show the promise of another beautiful winters day in Africa. As we reached Rondawel Dam the wind was also starting to blow which, even though it adds to the atmosphere of a chilly winters morning, makes tracking a little more difficult.

We spotted a lion track.

It was heading towards the dam, but it was pretty hard to determine how fresh it was as by now the wind was increasing in strength and blowing little bits of loose sand grains into the tracks thereby hiding the history of that particular lion. We walked around in a circular pattern to try and get an idea of direction but neither of us was convinced this was the tracks we were looking for. It felt right, but everything you read or hear about tracking runs through your head. It is amazing how your mind is quiet and very busy at the same time. You focus completely on the tracks and all the other signals around you such as birds and wind direction but at the same time your mind is racing through all the possibilities of what could have happened here. Where could they have gone? Are we on the right tracks? How old are they? Are they watching me through the bushes?

We decided to head to the plains to see if we could find any other signs. Not five hundred meters from there we found very fresh track that were also heading to the dam. There were tracks for all the lions. Two large males, two females and five youngsters. Nice that there are so many lions as they obviously leave a lot of signs to read but there are many lions. And walking into or around a thicket where nine lions might be waiting is also makes your mind think of ‘the possibilities’.

We went back to the dam and picked up on the original tracks we found (lesson #1 – go with your gut feeling). For about forty-five minutes we followed the tracks as the winded North up the mountain side. Drive for a while. Get out and walk on the tracks to see where they go. Back to the vehicle and drive again. As we slowly edged our way up the mountain side the sun was rising in the East, waking all the birds and creating fantastic light for photography.

It was getting rocky and following the tracks was getting more and more difficult to follow but as we almost got to the top of the ridge…

We saw them.

Four of the cubs next to and on top of an old broken Marula tree.

Sharing something like this with guests, friends and families is amazing but every once in a while to have it to yourself and just have the opportunity to sit, watch and become a part of their story is an indescribable experience.

The light was great and it was as if the cubs were just waiting for us to find them before launching themselves into their morning bout of playing.

Fantastic sighting and even though it was amazing watching these 11 month old cubs slapping each other around the question remained. Where is the rest of the pride? We were missing five lions, including the two big males. Normally when cubs get left somewhere and the adults disappear it means only one thing.


We drove a small way from the cubs and tried to find as track of the adults and the missing cubs but the rocky terrain made this very difficult. Nothing. We walked around, always keeping an eye on the cubs, but to no available. We could not find any tracks. No sign at all.

We moved back to where the cubs were but they were slowly moving West, further into the rocky hills. No way of following with a vehicle so we slowly followed on foot to see if they might lead us to the rest of the pride. No luck. The four cubs only moved about three hundred meters into the hills and went to lay down under a large thicket. It seemed that were not supposed to find the big guys that morning.

However, that afternoon was a different story as Adele and I headed out with a few friends to try our luck.

We drove to the same dam to check if they pride did not return to the water. After confirming that there was definitely no sign of the lions we moved back towards the hill to see if we could pick up where we left off that morning. Still no luck and we were not even able to relocate on the four youngsters.

Oh well, back to the lodge we go. As we took the last turn, probably about three kilometers from where we had the cubs in the morning, heading back to the lodge there they were. No tracking. No searching. They came to us.

The Kgala males walking out of the bushes on our left hand side. These males are magnificent. The ‘perfect’ light was about ten minutes from disappearing and these guys showed up at exactly the right time. They both walked right next to the vehicle and onto the road in front of us.

The two males lead us about four hundred meters along the road where they joined the rest of the pride, minus the four cubs we had that morning, and threw themselves down on the floor like only a lion can. The two females were ‘flat cat’ and the one cub was laying down continually scratching his ear.

The cub had a pretty serious wound on his left ear and it was obviously bothering him quite a bit. Now the first thing everybody on the vehicle starts saying is loaded with emotion and points to how sad and miserable this young lion mist be due to the injury. Not quite the case. They don’t work like that. In nature you cannot, like in the human world, stop and feel sorry for yourself or attempt to gain pity from your friends and family. Life goes on and you cannot wallow in your misery like some people like to do.

Gavin Tonkinson uploaded the following image to Photo-Africa this week which shows the same kind of scenario.

This lion, one of the Thola-Mateya coalition, was injured in a fight with the Batia brothers (who you might have read about previously). The wound is obviously quite serious and his mate also had a very seriously injured leg but they just carry on. Keep on doing what they are supposed to do. A lesson in their somewhere?

Anyway, back to the Kgalas.

The perfect light unfortunately did not last long enough and the shot I have in mind, the Kgala males together looking straight at me with sun from behind, was not going to happen today. The sighting was spectacular though. The one female was busy waking up and grooming while the rest of the pride was still out cold and still no sign of the four cubs.

I tried to play around with my flash and different ways to capture the two males other than in that golden afternoon light and all in all I was quite happy with the results. It's all to easy to just pop your flash no and fire on full strength bbut I wanted to try and keep the feeling that light was fading and night was approaching. (Any thoughts?)

As this was happening two zebra were slowly grazing down the road towards the lions and immediately the ‘power of possibilities’ comes into play again. What if? Will they?

The lions only realized the zebra where close to them after about ten minutes and the two females were up and ready to hunt immediately. The two males were lying down with their heads up as the two females starting moving around the zebra.

Ultimately nothing happened and after a very brief charge the females returned but immediately there were speculations as to why the males never hunt. This is a whole different story and a myth that I will write about at a later stage.

So, I finally got to see the two beautiful Kgala males but I am still waiting for the opportunity to photograph them in the early morning or late afternoon light. Hopefully the next week will bring a few more opportunities.

This afternoon Adele and I will be returning to the Madikwe Gardens to try and capture some of this oasis in the middle of the bushveld on film (or rather digital). I will be uploading a Blog on the Gardens tomorrow and also be adding these images and those I have been able to capture this last week or so, including the images in this Blog, to the Photo-Africa Stock Library during next week. I will post a Blog as soon as I have had the chance to upload. In the meantime you can visit the Stock Library as there are a few new photographers and a lot of new images that have been uploaded during the last week.

As always I look forward to hearing from you!