Safari at Kruger (Long, Ten Photos)

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JoanKauai Forum Member • Posts: 67
Safari at Kruger (Long, Ten Photos)

I spent a week in March near South Africa’s Kruger National Park. I spent three days at lodges in two private game reserves, the Kapama reserve and the Sabi Sands reserve. Here’s a report about shooting conditions and equipment used.

In both camps I was taken out in modified jeeps that featured three rows of seats each with space for three people. There was no canopy. Four to seven people were on my rides, so the vehicle was not too crowded. The jeep had a driver plus a game spotter who sits on a perch near the jeep’s front grill. The driver doubles as a naturalist/guide and is the person in charge.

Two four-hour rides occurred per day, one starting before dawn and the other returning after dusk. The spotter located animals in the dark using a spotlight that provided enough light to lock focus but not to take a photograph—that required a flash. About a quarter of the shooting time was in low light or actual darkness.

We were instructed to remain seated at all times. Therefore all shots had to be taken from a single sitting location.

Because birds and mammals continually come into view, it was impossible to predict which lens to use in general. I outfitted a messenger bag (Pacsafe Camsafe V18) with partitions allowing me to store lenses vertically, front down. I placed the bag at my feet where I could quickly reach down to grab a lens and swap it for the one presently on the camera.

I used an Olympus OMD-EM1.2 with the Olympus 300/f4, 40-150/f2.8, and 12-40/f2.8 lenses along with the MC-14 1.4x teleconverter and the HLD-9 battery grip. In the dark I used a Godox V860II-O TTL flash. Two Olympus BLH-1 batteries were sufficient for each four-hour ride but needed to be recharged during the mid-day break and overnight. Special US to South Africa AC plug adapters are needed for the battery chargers.

Each day I began with a newly formatted 64 GB SD card in slot 1. Also, each morning I activated the OI.Track app on my iPhone 8 and let it run all day long. At night, using the OI.Track app, I uploaded the GPS log to the camera to geotag the latitude and longitude into all the photos in slot 1. Then I copied all the photos from slot 1 to a 256 GB card in slot 2 for a cumulative backup. For redundancy, I also backed up each day’s geotagged photos to a new folder on my laptop. On the laptop I reverse-geotagged the day’s photos with the HoudahGeo app to write location information into the metadata supplementing the geotagged lat/long information.

I averaged 300 photos per ride, and with two rides per day times six days, led to about 3600 photos for the trip, all of which required about 72 GB of storage, assuming 20 MB per raw photo. Additional storage was needed for video clips. With limited down time, I wasn’t able to examine the images in any detail. I wound up saving more images than I normally would. Once back at home, I culled, keyworded and rated the images. I ended up with about 500 keeper photos, of which I am using about 100 for slide shows and prints.

With Adobe Bridge I tabulated the number of photos taken with each lens. Here are the statistics, from longest to shortest: 25% with 300mm/f4 + MC-14, 28% with 300mm/f4,

11% with 40-150mm/f2.8 + MC-14, 33% with 40-150mm/f2.8, 3% with 12-40mm/f2.8. Thus, 36% of the shots used the teleconverter, 53% of the shots used the 300mm/f4 lens (with or without the MC-14) and 44% used the 40-150mm/f2.8 lens (with or without the MC-14), and only 3% of the photos used the 12-40mm/f2.8 lens. I’ve included representative photos from these lens with this posting.

From this experience, in the future I would replace the 12-40mm/f2.8 lens with the 12-100mm/f4 lens to reduce the number of lens changes at the sacrifice of one f stop. Also, I would buy another MC-14 teleconverter and leave it permanently attached to the 40-150mm/f2.8 lens and then use a second MC-14 teleconverter for swapping on and off the 300mm/f4 lens as needed.

Nothing would have prepared me for this safari photo experience. In my day-to-day photography I rarely use the teleconverter, battery grip, or flash and yet needed them here. I found the quantity and variety of wildlife astonishing and my encounters with them rapid and unpredictable. Perhaps photographing a bicycle or soccer event is the closest analogue to what I experienced.

In each ride I was either the only passenger actively taking pictures or was accompanied by one or two others. Most passengers were simply observing, usually without binoculars, or casually snapping occasional photos with an iPhone or iPad. I did not encounter any monomaniacal bird watchers or insufferable game enthusiasts, as some have experienced according to other threads in this forum.

The biggest variable in the quality of any particular ride traced to the driver. I experienced three different drivers. My favorite was one who was genuinely excited about all wildlife. He pointed out birds and mammals equally as we encountered them. Another driver was single-mindedly determined to find a leopard in a reserve where they were rare. He had a hunter’s focus and uncanny ability to spot and follow tracks. He and the spotter working as a team did successfully find a leopard in the reserve. We encountered the leopard as he had just finished mating—we heard his purring prior to letting out a satisfied yelp. To reach this leopard, the driver drove the jeep off the trail and bushwhacked though gullies and over outcroppings in terrain that I didn’t believe was passable even with a four wheel drive vehicle. A third driver was my least favorite. He was focussed only on the “big five” large dangerous mammals. When a large lion or leopard was spotted, all the drivers out at that time notify one another of its location by walkie-talkie. They then drive like cowboys barreling along the dirt trails to converge on the spot where the large cat is, whereupon they queue up to see it. Afterwards they revisit the same spot on successive days. In one case, a leopard had killed an impala and dragged it up to a branch. We visited that leopard twice a day for three days in a row, noting how it gradually devoured its impala while hyaenas waited below for scraps to fall. I couldn’t help but feel that lots of less charismatic wildlife, including especially birds, were being neglected in the rush to revisit the same leopard.

One night the spotter located a chameleon in the bush and the driver said it was OK to get out of the jeep and approach the branch where the lizard was perched. On the way to the branch I stepped on a woody thorn that pierced the thick rubber sole of my shoe. I received a puncture wound that caused my foot to swell. Fortunately the swelling and soreness subsided after a week. The bottom line is that if you are going off the the trails into the bush, your shoes need a sole so tough that you can’t drive a nail through it.

The Kapama private reserve is surrounded on all four sides by a large fence whereas the Sabi Sands reserve is fenced on three sides, remaining open on its fourth side to the main Kruger National Park. The guides at Sabi Sands disparaged Kapama, claiming that the animals in it were stocked whereas their animals were present in natural abundance, although I couldn’t discern any difference in the relative abundance of animals between the two reserves. The Kapama animals belong to the consortium of land owners who have banded together to form their private reserve. The animals there do not belong to Mother Nature but to the consortium. A market evidently exists for game animals: Got too many lions? Sell some. Need some lions? Buy some. The animals in a private game reserve are its capital assets.

Finally, I had no idea how strong the financial incentive is for poaching rhinoceros horns. The horn is made of keratin, like hair and nails, not ivory. Like hair and nails, a rhino’s horn can be “trimmed” and grows back, leading to the possibility of farming rhino horns. However, poachers simply kill rhinos and cut off their horns for illegal sale. And how much do they get for their effort? Well, in round numbers a white rhino’s horn might weigh about 10 lbs and fetch about $10,000 per pound, leading to $100,000 per horn. On the web, prices as high as $300,000 are mentioned. Rhino conservationists feel that the price of rhino horns should not be publicized lest poaching be encouraged. Still, knowing the order of magnitude of the value of rhino horn explains why very large fences are needed to surround the private reserves, and why the temptation to poach might be appealing to organized crime as well as to isolated poor farmers at the periphery of the park, and indeed even to employees of the reserves who might be bribed by the poachers. The prevention of poaching is not only morally imperative but from the standpoint of reserve owners, financially necessary to preserve their reserve’s capital investment in game stocks.

I hope these observations will be helpful if you’re anticipating a trip to a private game reserve near Kruger National Park in South Africa.

African Buffalo at water hole, Olympus 12-40/f2.8 at 12 mm, f/4.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400

Juvenile Giraffe, Olympus 40-150/f2.8 at 82 mm, f/2.8 1/800 sec, ISO 400

Hippopotamus, Olympus 40-150/f2.8 with MC 1.4 at 210 mm, f/4.0, 1/640 sec, ISO 200, taken with ProCapture burst

Leopard eating impala, Olympus 300 mm/f4.0 at f/4.0, 1/160 sec, ISO 800, +1.3 EV

Honey Badger, Olympus 40-150/f2.8 at 150 mm, f/2.8, 1/60 sec, ISO 500, with flash

Saddle-Biller Stork, Olympus 300/f4.0 with MC 1.4 at 420 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 800, large bird

Lilac-Breasted Roller, Olympus 300/f4.0 with MC 1.4 at 420 mm, f 5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400, +1 EV, medium bird

European Bee-Eater, Olympus 300/f4.0 at 420 mm,  f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO 1600, small bird

Safari vehicles surrounding leopard, Olympus 40-15mm/f2.8 at 40 mm, f/4.0, 1/640 sec, ISO 1600. Notice that of the 15 persons in the two vehicles, only three, including the driver of one vehicle, are taking photos with a ILC camera, one person is using a point-and-shoot, five are using an mobile phone or tablet, and six (including the spotter) are not taking photos at all. The first driver who spotted the leopard summoned the other vehicles in the reserve who joined in to surround the large cat.

White Rhinoceros, Olympus 12-100/f4.0 at 100 mm, f/4.0, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400. The Rhino was photographed in a conservation facility near the game reserve. Its horns had been removed to protect it from poachers.

 JoanKauai's gear list:JoanKauai's gear list
Olympus E-M1 Olympus E-M1 II Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm 1:2.8 Macro Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm 1:1.8 Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 +12 more
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