Friday, 6 September 2013

Day Five: Stalking Elephants

Travelling in the Manyaleti private concession just outside of Kruger National park is a real eye-opener for both of us based purely on the myriad species of game we saw in our three days there. On the drive in from tiny Hoedspruit airstrip we saw elephant, zebra, impala, giraffe and even hippo. Day one revealed more than 20 different species which was great but it just got better and better, to the point where we were spotting critters that even the guides had rarely seen before, including a Marshall eagle and white breasted owl on a nest.

That said, one of my favourite is the elephant. Honeyguide Camp has its own water hole 50 metres from the observation deck – visitors to the pool are partially obscured by foliage so when I noticed four bull elephants moving into the area I got our guide, Anton, to take us closer. Luckily you have to cross a three metre deep ravine just in front of the pool, which afforded us both cover and a retreat if the bulls decided we were too close.

Shooting elephants is tough partly because they are dark, and partly because it is hard to get on the level or even higher than the animal. Dark subjects cause the camera to over-expose, thus blowing out all detail in the sky. Shooting from a low angle also includes too much sky. My answer to this is to get in as close as possible, physically and with a big lens so you can capture full-face shots. 

Bull elephant drinking at the water hole. (Canon EF 300mm f2.8 USM, 1/1250s @ f4 , ISO 800)

The three older bulls were very wary of us being 20 metres away but the small, younger male was decidedly twitchy, flapping his ears and stomping about.
One interesting fact I learned was that if the elephant pulls vegetation up but does not eat, it’s not a good sign for the onlooker. You are either too close or in the way if they want to exit, or both.

We got some great shots of the elephants drinking the dark green soup that passes for water in this pool before they turned around and sidled off back into the bush. A thrilling sight to get so close to these magnificent critters. 

We spotted this lone bull later in the day. He posed perfectly for us, while all the while swinging from one foot to the other deciding whether we were a threat or not. He stayed. (1/100s @ f7.1, ISO 800, Canon EF 300mm f2.8 + 2X Extender).

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