Safaris are a great opportunity for wildlife photography. It has been just over a year since I joined African Flying Adventures on one of their trips to South Africa. It surely was an unforgettable experience! One of my most treasured moments was during an evening safari in the Timbavati Game Reserve.
Landing on a bush airstrip in the Timbavati
One of the team members, Sjoerd Jan, was flying back from Johannesburg in a Cirrus SR22 aircraft and was running a bit late. His ETA to land at the gravel bush airstrip close to the lodge was around sunset. This was a perfect opportunity for me to get my gear out and capture the landing at sunset. We had to prepare the airstrip for landing, putting up paraffin lanterns all dotted along the sides of the airstrip. To indicate the start of the runway to the pilot, we placed the open game drive vehicle at the start of the airstrip, using the lights of the vehicle to illuminate the start of the airstrip. Finally, we heard the aircraft getting closer. The roaring sound of the engine soon blocked out all the usual sounds coming from the bush. The sun had already set and the light was fading quickly. The low-light conditions combined with a fast-moving aircraft made for a welcome challenge to capture on camera.
For this shoot, I used two different cameras: the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and the Fujifilm X-T1.
The tracker seat of a 4×4 safari game drive vehicle
As the pilot came in for landing, a leopard jumped off the runway right in front of the landing aircraft and into the bush. Shortly afterwards we were in the open game drive vehicle in pursuit of the leopard. Just like that, we were on an evening safari. I was granted permission to hop onto the tracker seat, which is situated at the helm of the vehicle used during safaris, causing my feet to be only about a half a meter or so from the ground. Just driving around while sitting on the tracker seat is already awesome! There is nothing in front of you as the bush glides by. Although you can hear the engine, you don’t feel a part of the vehicle anymore.
My leopard encounter
Using a spotlight, we scanned the bush along the runway and soon after we relocated the leopard. Although she was walking in the bush, we could easily keep track of her as she kept walking parallel to the runway. Suddenly, she changed direction and headed in our direction. We hit the brakes and switched off the engine and in the silence of the night, she approached us. All of a sudden you realize that an apex predator is walking straight towards you. And sitting up in front literally means there is nothing to hide behind. Only a few meters in front of me she entered the runway, her eyes locked onto mine. Only one pounce away from me. Why wouldn’t she? The few seconds it took for her to walk by and disappear back into the bush felt like an eternity. I will never forget that sheer moment with a mixture of feelings and emotions I can hardly describe. It was so exciting, beautiful, impressive, scary, intensive, stunning. A memory carved into my heart and mind as if she had left a footprint, soft but crisp and clear.
In 2018, I will have the opportunity to, once again, join African Flying Adventures on their trips, including safaris to Southern Africa. I will be joining as a photographer and tour leader and would be delighted to help you shoot your perfect pictures. Definitely highly recommended.
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