Leopards - photography tips please

Jul 18th, 2008, 05:40 AM
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Leopards - photography tips please

I'm travelling to Mala Mala and Mashatu in a couple of months time and need some tips on photographing leopards. My efforts so far have been disappointing as I can't seem to get the whole leopard in focus or get the lighting right. Any tips would be much appreciated.

(I have a Nikon D40X and the 19-200 Nikkor lens)
Lynneb is offline  
Jul 18th, 2008, 06:02 AM
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Well you have little control over the lighting. You'll need some luck to be in the company of a leopard during that "magic" hour, but at Mala Mala where it seems they show you little else but for the big five, you will have plenty of opportunity and little for excuses.

Tips then: Getting the whole leopard in focus.
Check your aperture setting, if it is low low, close it down as much as possible to increase your depth of field, say around 6.3 - 8. This will improve the focus area of the leopard. The trick will be balancing your exposure... so try and shoot at the least 125th. If you are using digital you could adjust your iso setting upward of 200 and that will give you more shutter speed flexibility. As a last ditch remedy, to avoid out of focus shots, you could also flash to "freeze" the movement too. The pitfall here is that you will flatten the picture and compromise the fine natural light.

From a more practical aspect, find a seat that has a roll bar or offers you a firm side to rest your camera, do take a bean bag and use it. Before you go a good exercise is practising your breathing and shooting. Actually no different to firing a weapon, press the trigger at the end of an exhale, your body won't be moving and that too will help reduce camera shake.

Practice with an orange, cut round penny size hole in the skin until you are down to the juice (squeeze the orange into a pulp first) then hold it steady pressing with your shutter release finger until you get a meniscus of juice rising above the skin, keep it there by retaining the pressure and release to let it disappear, repeat that until you have control over your finger. This helps reduce the "jerking" on the trigger, which at soft light conditions will cause blurred images.

I would be delighted to see how these tips help you...
mkhonzo is offline  
Jul 18th, 2008, 06:07 AM
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Please forgive me if this is a stupid question but have you ever been to Mala Mala?

In my very limited experience photographing leopards at Mala Mala was pretty easy. I've got a fixed lens digital camera with zoom - nothing nearly as nice as yours - and I got what I felt were some pretty nice pictures. My feeling is that if my pictures turned out even passable, anyone can take good pictures. At Mala Mala you can usually (there are no guarantees of course) get pretty close to the leopards.

I had previously posted this link from my trip in July 2007 but it does include some leopard shots, in 4 days we saw them at least 5 different times. Good luck and let us see your results when you return.


brw is offline  
Jul 18th, 2008, 07:28 AM
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Leopards are not different to photograph are they? Except maybe if you get to see one up a tree......

Lighting - well, you need to find one for photo ops during golden light. Mention to your ranger on arrival that this is what you want to do. Your Lens 19-200 is a wide angle, isn't it? How about a 70-300MM or something like that?

HariS is offline  
Jul 18th, 2008, 09:01 AM
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I can't seem to get the whole leopard in focus or get the lighting right. Any tips would be much appreciated.

It's tough when they are up in a tree or in brush ... here are a couple of tips though:

can't seem to get the whole leopard in focus

Try to align the vehicle parallel to the leopard's body since you won't have much depth of field if using a telephoto lens. http://www.hiltonphotography.net/africa/08_01_kenya/ and scroll down to the 7th image to see one that was hunting and we were able to keep parallel to her.

get the lighting right.

Sometimes we just move the vehicle to the 'right light' and hope the animal then moves to watch us and is now in good light. On that same link posted above scroll down some more to a 2nd leopard ... this one was at the base of a tree on the shady side and after we got a few pics I asked the driver to move to the other side of the tree, where the light was good, even though the leopard wasn't visible. He didn't want to do it (he wasn't very good with photographers) but I convinced him ... a few minutes later the leopard walked out into the good light (the water was behind us and I thought she would drink after eating) and we got some really nice shots in great light. There were half a dozen other jeeps here by now and all were on the wrong side, in poor light where the leopard had been.

One other example, this one was in thick brush and there were a lot of jeeps so when she disappeared I asked the driver to get the light right (behind us) near an open area, thinking she might cross the edge of it (we couldn't see her). Again, she walked out and we were able to get a couple of shots while no one else even saw her ... http://www.hiltonphotography.net/afr...2_tz/index.htm and scroll down 10 frames.

Good luck! Leopards are tough to photograph well, at least for me.

Bill_H is offline  
Jul 18th, 2008, 02:08 PM
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MalaMala and Mashatu in a couple of months - lucky you!!!! Two of our lovely lady forum posters "sundowner" and "CarlaM" have just this week returned from MalaMala and Mashatu. If they have recovered from jet lag some, maybe they can chime in here for you. In fact, they may volunteer to go with you and help you!!!

One more thing to watch is the D40X autofocus. Many times the critter (leopard) is in a tree or in tall grass/brush. The camera's autofocus then typically focuses on a tree limb or grass that is somewhat in front of the critter. You have to watch for this and when it happens manually re-focus the lens. If the critter is out in the open where focus is certain, then I'd suspect that you are not using a fast enough shutter or/nor holding the camera study. Use ISO 400 or even 800 if you have too. If you're shooting that Nikkor 18-200 at f8, then the depth of field should be ok (I also have that lens). As for lighting, yes my friend, that is the key to good photos.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Jul 18th, 2008, 05:17 PM
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I would be very surprised if you have difficulty taking shots of leopards in Mala Mala or anywhere else in Sabi Sands. Your lens is a bit short at 200mm but it should still give you excellent shots. The two main things to watch out for is back lighting and low light. With low light, you can bump up the ISO to make sure you are shooting at least 1/125 of a second with your longest telephone. With back lighting, your camera should be able to adjust to compensate by .5 to 1.5 f stops to let in less light. This can take some practice, so I suggest you might shoot into a tree with the sun behind it to see how to do it with your camera. I think you should get wonderful shots on your trip. Below are leopard shots on my last trip at Exeter and Lion Sands.


mytmoss is offline  
Jul 19th, 2008, 02:05 AM
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Many thanks for the tips. I think part of the problem is that the conditions where I've seen the leopards have been a little challenging plus the fact that when the leopard has been moving I haven't had time to change any camera settings and have relied on auto everything. Hopefully Mala Mala (where I haven't been before) will give me a better chance to play around with the camera settings if I need to.

Lynneb is offline  
Jul 19th, 2008, 12:14 PM
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Hi “Lynneb”,

I think I understand what you mean. Leopards are after all probably one of the most photogenic wildlife subjects but it is still so hard to get that special "ooomph" factor in photograph. What exactly makes a moment special, makes a photo get that second glance is very subtle indeed. I can’t quite put it into words, but I can feel it for sure, and I think this is what you mean. Lots of good technical advice has been given by previous posts. Exploit the high ISO capabilities of modern DSLR's, work hard in dawn and evening golden hour light etc etc. But a leopard in the afternoon on a fever tree can also make for some beautiful shots... Do look at his eyes... Have you ever watched a leopard’s eyes..? Especially when he is nervous, how they flit about, caught that magic moment of a split second when he/she glances at you with deep suspicion. Leopards are very suspicious animals by nature and often very hard to sight and photograph, however in the SSGR sightings are very high and they seem to be very habituated to human presence and lost their natural fear of humans and shyness.

Lynne, I am from Sri Lanka where we have superb leopard viewing in the Yala NP and leopards for me are a personal passion. I do hope the "Prince of Darkness" plays hide and seek with you when you visit MM and hope you a win few rounds… only then does he display his best spots! Do have a look at my gallery http://www.abidally.com/mp/Yala/ where I have some of my shots from Sri Lanka.
Mohammed is offline  
Jul 19th, 2008, 02:22 PM
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Mohammed -- that's an amazing series of photos! How many trips did you make -- or are they all from one trip? Any news on when Yala will re-open (I note from your site that its closed due to Tamil Tiger presence)?

thit_cho is offline  
Jul 19th, 2008, 07:31 PM
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Step #1 for good leopard photos: Book several nights at Mala Mala.

You.ve done that.

You've done that. Now practice with the orange. What a cool photographic exercise, Mkhonzo!
atravelynn is offline  
Jul 19th, 2008, 10:32 PM
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The Leopard shots in the gallery are from 3 trips to Yala. I am sorry the web site needs to be updated as the park is now re opened again. I was hope to be going that way again in a couple of weeks.

Mohammed is offline  
Jul 20th, 2008, 12:47 AM
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Thanks for posting your Sri Lankan leopard shots. You're right, there's something mysterious and powerful about a leopard that's hard to convey in a photo. Hopefully I'll be close enough in Mala Mala to see those eyes properly! Seems like a trip to Sri Lanka one day might be in order too!
Lynneb is offline  
Jul 20th, 2008, 06:11 AM
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Take a look at Kaye's todays posting with excellent photos from her recent safari at MM. You really do get that close to the big 5.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  

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