The benefit of hindsight – Lessons with leopards

A leopard prowls in the dried stream beds near Kicheche Mara Camp, Maasai Mara, Kenya

I have often heard the criticism that the tourist with a camera sees little of the place they visit. Whilst I understand the sentiment behind this, ironically, some of the best pictures we’ve taken are when we’ve been least prepared – when we’ve been in a situation when our eyes have never been wider and our last thought has been to grab the camera. This is one such shot….

Having been unlucky with leopard sightings previously, we’d been tracking this leopard for hours. Dedicated, committed and it’s fair to say a little obsessed, we’d lost patience with the sight of the occasional glimpse of leopard skin and had downed tools to search eagerly through the bushes, eyes primed for a sighting of the elusive beast. Those sharing the van with us had grown tired hours before and had slipped into peaceful slumber in the back of the truck, but we and the trackers remained ever hopeful as we slipped into hour 3 of our search.

The light grew darker, and false alarm after false alarm led us further and further into the African thicket. Ground cover became heavier and bushes thickened as we penetrated the savannah forests further and further. The light and intense concentration played tricks on us and our eyes started to burn as the contrast between night and day grew more intense.  Hours had passed and it was less of a photographic mission now and more of a personal dream. As we pulled into a dried river bed under the canopy of trees she was there! Standing tall and proud, our presence did not even shake her. With each carefully pondered step she stalked towards our vehicle, turning on occasions to allow her coat to shine in the dappled light of the African sunset. Daring not to remove our eyes from our first leopard sighting, we slunk down into the vehicle to retain our cameras. Each grabbing what was closest to us, I ended up with the EOS 40D, a bad idea having spent most of the week shooting documentary footage with the videocamera. Still, needs must. Aware that it might be another 7 years since we would have this sighting again, we clicked and whirred away. Over 200 pictures taken in what seemed like an instant. Brain failing to engage, I snapped and snapped every opportunity I could get, only pausing once for my husband to whisper furiously about my ISO. Heart sinking I realised I’d been shooting a fast moving and camouflaged animal, in the forest during failing light. The result? One of the pictures I am most proud of – but will fail to replicate again.

With the benefit of hindsight……

1 comment

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