The latest issue of Wild magazine, features an article on the Mountain Zebra National Park, which, if you have not been there, is in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa. I was fortunate to have a couple of my cheetah images that I took in the park last winter, used in the magazine in support of the article.
Helena and I were in the park in June last year, and our timing coincided with that of a very powerful cold front. We only had two nights in the park.
Mountain Zebra National Park is a super location for wildlife photography, with an incredibly scenic mixture of habitats within its boundaries. These range from elevated grasslands to rugged hills and distant mountain backgrounds.
We found lots of black wildebeest, springbok, mountain zebra, ostrich and hartebeest to keep our cameras clicking on our first two game drives.
By the middle of our last afternoon in the park it had clouded over, and a strong, icy wind was blowing. Two stationery vehicles led us to a sighting of a large male cheetah with a collar, fast asleep. After a while, the other vehicles left, and we were alone with the sleeping cheetah. The cloud cover was heavy though, and conditions for photography were not great. We did not mind at all though, and were happy to just be sitting close to the cat.
There was, however, a very thin, opening of clear sky just above the horizon. It was almost too much to hope that the cheetah was going to be awake, and that the sun would shine through, at the same time. For once, that is exactly how it happened.
First the cheetah woke up, rolled over, and looked around. Next thing he noticed some kudu walking in the distance, and went into a focused crouch. The sun now began to gradually illuminate the scene. For a few moments, the rich, warm light brushed over the cheetahs face, and into his eyes.
Just moments later, the light was gone, but not before I had managed to take the accompanying shot.
Although the image is only of a cat lying down, I was more than happy with the wonderful light, the cheetah’s pose, and the far-off mountains in the background. Luckily the road that we were on was below the level of the ground that the cheetah was lying on. That meant I was able to shoot from a relatively low angle, which helped me include the mountain backdrop.
|Canon 1Dmk4, Canon EF 300 f/.28 IS. Handheld, 1/250s at f/4.0, Iso 800. Cheetah.|
I shot with the Canon 1Dmk4, which at the time of writing is my preferred Canon camera for use in low light. I used the EF 300 f/2.8L IS lens, and handheld it. I chose an aperture of f/4.0, to make sure I got all of the cheetah in focus, and set the iso to 800, which translated into a shutter speed of 1/250s, which was fast enough to capture a sharp frame of the motionless cat.
Cheetah were reintroduced to the national park in 2007, and they are doing well. There are six collared cats. The collars allow researchers to locate the cheetah, not only for research but also for the cheetah’s own safety. The national park borders on some farming areas where cheetah are not welcome, and the collars allow the park authorities to quickly locate and capture the cats before.
Collars on wild animals are not ideal for photography but they do serve an important purpose in this case.