Last week’s meeting: An insight into Zimanga with Les Gordon and How difficult I find shooting wildlife with Helen Web

Last week’s meeting: An insight into Zimanga with Les Gordon and How difficult I find shooting wildlife with Helen Webb


Les gave a presentation of a trip he took with five other club members to the Zimanga Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal province, north-eastern South Africa.


The reserve is custom made for wildlife photographers with comfortable hides to photograph the game reserve’s animals. Les showed excellent shots taken from an overnight hide. You enter the hide at around 15.00 and leave the following morning at 9.30. There were long periods of nothing to photograph, boredom and nodding off but, like Guinness, good things come to those who wait.


Les had great shots, and video, of water buffalo up close and personal drinking at the night-time water hole. The animals are very close and rather than the customary wildlife telephoto lens a wide-angle lens was needed to capture what was happening. There was also night-time shots of hyena and lion. Les said it was 15-20 minutes of intense shooting then back to hours of waiting.


In the morning there were no big game to be seen but good shots of curious Oxpeckers who were attracted to their own reflection in the glass window of the hide.


Away from the overnight hide there were game drives to go on. Excellent portrait shots of lions in the low light at dusk and the light of a torch or the car headlights.


Les showed very good close-up shots of a crocodile – one of its eye and one very scary one of its sharp teeth, both verging on the abstract. These were taken with a long lens not wide-angle.


There were also excellent shots of jackals and vultures squabbling over carrion, pied kingfishers, rollers, elephants, cheetahs, antelopes, zebras, hippos, rhino, giraffe, leopard in a tree and many more.


In the second half Helen showed her wildlife images and spoke about how she critiques them to improve her photography. She is highly critical of her work and works very hard to get the very best from each photo opportunity. All the time she is trying to improve her photography, for her, not for the camera club judge.


She is first and foremost a student of wildlife, enjoying the moment being in the presence of nature, photographing it comes second. She has her trusty 400mm 2.8 lens and shoots it at maximum aperture to keep her shots simple and the background as clear and unobtrusive as possible. Helen dismissed many of her bird shots as ‘bird on a stick’ because she thought the background was not as good as she would have liked.


She ran through a series of shots of osprey catching fish in a Scottish loch. You have 2-3 seconds to take the shot, by which time the bird has come and gone. This means have to be fully prepared and know your equipment. The shot she wanted was the bird with fish in talons flying towards her. She did get it.


Not all Scottish birds are as athletic as the osprey and the more sedate ones can be photogenic. Helen had a superb shot of a grouse, just its head above the long grass that it hides amongst, and one in the snow.


She then ran through her ‘high-key’ black and white images from Africa. Due to the intense sunshine taking photos for most of the day is restricted. However, you can make this an advantage for your photography if you shoot ‘high-key’ – over exposure your shots. This was done to great effect shooting elephants. Their hides are very dark, especially if wet from bathing in a pool, and overexposing brings out the detail and texture of the hides, and also bleaches out the distracting background.


Helen finished her talk with shots of big cats. She ran through how she took a photo of a pride of lions as it preparing for a hunt of water buck. The best shot from this series was of a family of lions, cubs with elder lionesses and the male lion in the background. Helen waited and waited then positioned herself perfectly to take the shot.


An excellent evening of photography at it very best.


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