On last year’s September safari, which combined the mountain gorillas of Rwanda with the wildebeest migration in Kenya’s Masai Mara, we had great success with tracking and photographing leopards, lions and cheetahs. On this particular day we tracked down one of the more famous leopards of the Mara, who is simply known as ‘Olive’, and anticipated her moving across the Talek River.
We set up with our vehicles in one of the only places where we could have a clear shot of her, and luckily the light was in the best location possible. When I am photographing with water, rain, smog, fog or anything that fills the atmosphere I want to shot it off. The best way to do this is to place the light source, the sun, at an angle that puts the light coming towards the camera. This illuminates it in such a way that helps show it off, as opposed to hides it. I do prefer shooting into the sun anyway, as this helps define the edges of whatever I am shooting. Remember the adage “light illuminates and shadows define”. You don’t have definition without shadows, and without shadows you lose any sense of 3D to a scene.
We had just a few moments to set up, choose our best lens and camera settings and get the shot sequence. I set the camera to manual mode and selected a shutter speed that would freeze the splashing water and leopard, and whatever aperture did that would be fine with me. I took a quick exposure, looked at the histogram and made a quick change. I was more interested in getting the shape of the leopard than worries aboout blown highlights or ‘shadow detail’. Shadow detail is a term that drives me nuts, because it doesn’t reall mean anything and I hear about it all of the time in images that lack any contrast or soul. It all started when Photoshop introduced the Shadows & Highlights tool. But I digress. All shots taken with a Nikon D3x, 200-400mm f/4, 1/800 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 500.