As nature photographers we have to be ready and willing to shoot in any conditions if we want to get the shot. In this particular sequence I want to share with you, I was in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in December a year ago when we were challenged photographically. The day started off as you would expect from a Kalahari summers day i.e. sunny and hot but as the day dragged on so the thunder clouds started to build. This is a normal occurrence in the Kalahari areas of Southern Africa during summer, but normally I would feel that this will be another wasted afternoon session without good golden light and a session that is going to require a lot of thought and concentration to get the shots. These overcast and rainy conditions did not keep me in camp and we headed South from Urikaruus down the Auob River bed towards Gemsbokplein. Some where near Batulama at around 17:30 we spotted two male lions and a single female as they lay in the soft rain, probably just having woken up from their sleep.
As soon as the temperature drops or it starts to rain the large predators will also become more active. I positioned the vehicle so that we would get a good view of the lions. In this sequence I was using my Nikon D4 with a Nikon 600mm plus 1.4 extender. For stability, the camera and lens was supported on a large beanbag. The immediate issue was that the rain, although soft was continuing to fall onto the equipment. I know the pro equipment can take a few drops, but in my mind I saw disaster and at first I grabbed a towel and covered the lens, but this soon became wet as well so I switched to a good old black bag. Secondly I wanted to ensure that I got the shots without having to push the ISO too high. I tend to want to shoot at maximum shutter speeds to limit camera shake and freeze the action. In these images I was shooting at ISO 1600 and with an exposure compensation setting of minus 1.0. The Nikon cameras handle this negative setting beautifully and if I did not use this I would have had to up my ISO another few clicks which I did not want to do.
High ISO is great when there is a bit of light around, but when there is little or no light your image deteriorates drastically as the ISO goes up. I did not just want to get the shots, but wanted to get a clean image. This left me with the situation where I was shooting at 1/400th to 1/600th of a second shutter speed. If you know that your are limited to that speed then you can manage he scene and when you press the shutter. Look for slow movement of your subject or even portraits compositions. On another afternoon when it was raining I was getting speeds of 1/1600 on a ISO of 800, but not this day. What little light was being produced by the sun had also disappeared as the sun had dropped behind the low calcrete ridge. The wet Lions and the once orange Kalahari sand, now a dirty pink colour which made for some interesting photographs. Also important if you are more than one person in the vehicle is to be considerate in these slow shutter speed conditions and not move around unnessasarily. My son and I would tell the other person when we are about to move or reposition. Team work 🙂
The Lions were playful with the one very obese male Lion even sitting on top of the head of the poor female, who was needless to say not very happy.
At one point the males just sat in the rain looking ahead, probably planning the evening’s festivities.
The obese Lion even tried to go after a herd of Springbok, who were very aware of the Lions and easily avoided the charge. In the image you can see slight movement of the left front paw, which would probably have been eliminated at a shutter speed of 1/800 if a second which I did not have here. But the colors of the wet Lions and the falling raindrops adds to the mood of the image. To increase the amount of light I removed the extender and opened up the lens all the way to f/4.0 to manage the shutter speed to a maximum of 1/320 of a second. I also lost the option to have the whole Lion in focus as the focal plane had reduced to a few centimeters. I decided to keep focus on the head of the Lion ensuring that I get the head and specifically the eyes in focus.
So when the weather turns, you don’t have to stay indoors, but simply work your camera and you will get a few magic images from the session.