At Tanda Tula, as most of our guests know, we have a resident troop of Vervet monkeys and while they are fantastic animals to observe they can often prove to be rather pesky. However on some mornings they can sometimes prove their worth. While sitting and chatting over a cup of coffee after delivering “tea trays” a couple of mornings ago, I along with some of the other guides and trackers of Tanda Tula were brought to attention by the classic sound of monkeys alarm calling around the lodge. The first thought that went through my mind... Ingwe! (Leopard in the local language). I along with the others immediately stood up and went to investigate, as I approached the pool I could see one of the little monkeys peering towards the dam in front of the lodge. I stood there for a while trying hard to focus my eyes in the early morning dim light but as the monkey went on alarming and alarming I just could not see anything. It was therefore back the vehicles in order to wait for our guests to arrive so we could head out and find this mystery predator.
Eventually I had all my guests on board and so after a quick explanation we headed out. We circled around the lodge but just could not find anything to go until Glen, one of our trackers radioed in and said he had found tracks for a female leopard going past our staff village. I quickly headed that way in order to drop Jack, my tracker, off at the scene before turning around and slowly retracing my steps. Suddenly Chad, a guide at Tanda Tula radioed me. He had found her! I drove down into the river crossing and there she was, in all her gorgeous glory drinking from a small rock pond down the river bed.
The lighting at this point was still rather dull and of course being down in the river there was no sunlight hitting her and so I bided my time, only taking one or two images. She began to head out of the river bed and up onto the opposite bank. Thus I drove quickly to get a head of her, knowing full well that sadly that would mean the sunlight would now be coming from behind her, oh well!
I pulled in front of her and noticed how the sunlight was hitting the side of her body as she moved through the bush. It was at this point that I thought “This could make a cool black white image” and so I quickly turned the vehicle off, lifted my camera and dialled in some settings. My thoughts were to try and expose for her face that was basically all shaded. This would hopefully end up blowing the highlights down the side of her body and around her face out. I quickly dialled in an aperture of f/4, thinking about how I would like her face to be really sharp but also about how it might look good to have her tail be very soft. Due to the natural light in the scene I had to make do with a rather low shutter of 1/250 – I would have preferred more, however this helped to show a little movement in the front paw, something which I have come to really enjoy about the image. Needless to say, we had a great sighting and I was pretty happy with the outcome of the shoot.
In post production a bit later, I brought the highlights all the way down to -100 as the bloom affect I had gone for had really gone BLOOM! I also brought the contrast up to create even more depth in the image; finally I converted the image into black and white.
I have recently started looking for opportunities to do this and it is something I try and teach my photography guests often. Always look for the black and white image and the opportune moment to capture it. It goes a hell of a long way when you plan for black and white as opposed to taking an image in colour and later thinking “ooh I wander what this looks like in black and white!”