To me, most good wildlife shots are a combination of ...
Access to the wildlife;
The correct equipment;
Knowledge and skill to use the equipment.
These three points would ensure good photographs most of the time.
Big cats are notoriously shy and very stealthy ... so to get good shots of them you need to have a lot of patience and be prepared to return many days without much to show. These are the primary factors that will dictate your success. On top of that you need to be super comfortable with your kit so that you do not blow your opportunities because you get the jitters from the presence of the cat and ruin your shots because of a faulty setting.
With all of this in mind I made the decision to find an opportunity to get big cat shots ... driving aimlessly through Kruger is just not sensible to me and more than most, it is a huge waste of time and money.
I sulked for a few days and reconsidered my mission ... August is a bad time of the year for me due to business demands and finally I let it go.
|Searching for the cats|
Now let me elaborate a bit here. My initial contact with AT CLOSE QUARTERS was with Michael. He was very professional and answered all my questions patiently ... I can be sort of a pain in the ass for details but he kept calm and ticked the boxes off one by one. This was very comforting to me. It gave me the impression that they care about customer satisfaction ... a rare commodity nowadays. Once the financials were out of the way and everything concluded that was required from me ... my next surprise was a WhatsApp message from Villiers Steyn. He introduced himself as one of the guides on the safari and invited me to ask as many questions as I want. Naturally I wanted confirmation of my concerns about focal length and asked if it would be prudent to hire a 600mm lens. His response nailed my last uncertainties down firmly.
"Your 100-400 on a crop camera is more than enough. We get really close to the cats and the 600mm will be useless in many instances."
Then the big day arrived. I was concerned about the route, the R40 is notorious for civil unrest but all reports were positive. I will not elaborate on the last section through Acornhoek because that was pothole hell.
I arrived at the camp and was immediately welcomed and introduced to the rest of the group. As with most gatherings of this kind, people were cautiously merging together. Six strangers on a vehicle for long hours forces you to form some form of a band.
From the first drive it became clear that the organizers of the Safari was mission focused and were determined to deliver on their promises. The first cats were cheetahs and I was pleasantly surprised. I was also caught unawares by the way the tracker, driver and guide positioned us. Clearly they knew what was needed to get good shots and Villiers was constantly reminding the photographers about their camera settings and offered guidance. This man was clearly well informed and was sharing his knowledge and experience without much reserved.
I am not going to go into detail of the whole safari but will summarize my experience.
The personnel was professional and went out of their way to make the experience one that I will remember forever.
They delivered on their promises of really close encounters with the big cats of Sabie Sand. We got more than what was expected of Cheetah, Lion and Leopard. Above all ... we got really close to the cats. Many time even too close for the 100mm side of the lens.
It is long hours in the vehicle every day and you need to prepare yourself for it mentally and physically.
The professional assistance from Villiers was excellent and he tried his best to ensure that everybody got good shots. During the time between the morning and afternoon drives, he assisted those that were interested in management of images and post processing in Lightroom. So you get the complete package from AT CLOSE QUARTERS. If you went away from this safari without memorable shots of great quality, it was definitely not because of the Safari Operators.
|Lioness in the spotlight|
In conclusion ... this Safari confirmed my believe that wildlife photography is primarily driven by the opportunities and that luck has got very little to do with it. AT CLOSE QUARTERS delivers the opportunities as advertised and the shots is up to you. They do also contribute abundantly to assist you in getting the actual shots. For me, AT CLOSE QUARTERS is all that they claim to be and I will refer them to any photographer that wants to get those elusive shots.
Scrolling through my images I am a happy man and at peace. I got what I bargained for.
Finally I want to thank Michael ... you are a great host and Villiers ... you are a gifted guide.
You can contact AT CLOSE QUARTERS ... here on Facebook.