Take Your Time

Villiers Steyn

Patience is a virtue when it comes to wildlife photography, but for you to show it you need enough time at a sighting…

 “Look! Lions in the road!”. We’d been searching for them for days and the newlyweds whose wedding I had photographed could hardly contain themselves. “This is the so-and-so male and he’s been mating with the such-and-such female this month…” our guide started parroting whist our fingers searched for the correct camera settings in the dark.

Before I could even frame a proper wide shot, the Cruiser engine started rumbling and the guide said: “Okay, time to make space. There are lots of other people that want to see these cats as well.” We had just twelve minutes in total to photograph the lions… It wasn’t even enough time for one to lift its head.

And that’s unfortunately the way it goes at many private game reserves in South Africa. Like a sausage factory, guests are rushed from one Big Five sighting to the next, spending countless hours bumbling around aimlessly (or sometimes literally driving around in circles) in line-ups of ten cars or more, only to spend a maximum of twenty minutes in a sighting before being ‘forced’ out.

Thankfully this was not the case at Djuma in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve where I lead my first two At Close Quarters Big Cat Photo Safaris in March and April this year. In fact, the experience couldn’t have been more different.

I can count on one hand the amount of times we were in a line-up for a sighting and, even then, we were always stand-by number one, which meant we could go in as soon as one of three vehicles left. Once at a sighting, we usually stayed as long as we wanted, sometimes for up to an hour or even longer…

That’s when the magic happens. Resting lions could easily be distracted by marauding hyenas, wary vultures could muster up some courage to glide down to a half-eaten carcass or a sleepy leopard can suddenly switch over to hunting mode. And that’s exactly what happened at Djuma. We were able to spend time at each sighting, patiently waiting for the scene to change and drama to unfold, and were rewarded with some unforgettable sights and photographic opportunities.

Most memorable, was a mother cheetah with three cubs sitting on a termite mound when we first found them. Every fifteen minutes or so they would walk to a new vantage point consisting of mounds and fallen trees which allowed them to see over the tall grass that dominated most of the northern Sabi Sands. Exactly an hour after we found them, the mother stumbled upon a steenbok and chased it down right in front of us. At many other places we would only have seen a fraction of what had transpired that morning, but because of the low vehicle density at Djuma, we could enjoy and savour every second of it.

You too can enjoy the luxury of spending so much time with Djuma’s big cats by joining fellow photographic guide, Trevor McCall-Peat and I on a Big Cat Photo Safari later this year or in 2018. For more information, please visit www.atclosequarters.com/big-cat-photo-safari/ .

Written and Photographed by Villiers Steyn


  • Marc de Chalain

    Super blog maestro!

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