The Ultimate Leopard Photo Tour Part 2

By the last days of our 14-day tour we were almost at the point of leopard overload. In fact, after I post this, I plan on getting back to processing leopard images, I can't remember ever being this far behind on images, ever. My leopard tour is unusual in that; it is set up to get as much photography of leopards, other big cats and the big 5 as possible. This means we don't spend time experiencing the culture of local villages, as this would take time away from our safari drives, we do not waste time driving to and from different lodges, we just concentrate on going on safari drives at least twice a day, sometimes more. This has a big impact on your photography time in the field, most 11-day safaris offer maybe 12-13 drives, during our 11-day tour we normally manage to go on 18 drives in 11 days, those 5 extra safari drives can make a huge difference on leaving Africa with the images you really want on your hard-drive.

NIKON D850 and Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 sports lens at 120mm, 1/1250th sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500 manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV 0, handheld.

We were able to spend a couple of hours one morning with this male, who has just taken over the territory and females, of a very old male leopard.  Leopards like to walk along river banks in the morning, surveying their territory, and marking their property every chance they have.

NIKON D850 and Sigma 500mm f/4 sports lens at 1/800th sec, f/4, ISO 1600 manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV 0, handheld.

This leopard is taking a much deserved rest from taking care of her two cubs, we spent a lot of time with her and the young ones over our 14 days of the tour. This female's two cubs will be the main subject of the next tour report.

NIKON D500 and Sigma 500mm f/4 sports lens at 1/500th sec, f/4, ISO 450 manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV +0.3, handheld.

This leopard is really interested in something she heard, and is scanning the horizon, she might have heard something that sounded like one of her cubs.

NIKON D500 and Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 sports lens at 120mm, 1/1600th sec, f/4, ISO 320 manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV -0.3, handheld.

After an exhausting week this male and is taking a quick 5 minute breather before getting back to work. We watched this leopard mate with two different females more than a few times over a week. They normally stay with a female for 3 or so days, mating every 15-20 minutes. This male would alternate over 7 days, one day with one female and back with another a day or two later. 

NIKON D850 and Sigma 500mm f/4 sports lens at 1/500th sec, f/4, ISO 640 manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV +0, handheld.

Tomorrow's post will feature leopard cubs, one my very favorite subjects of all time, so check back in a day or two for part 3 of the report.

If you are thinking about joining us in 2019, this tour in unlike anything you can find anywhere else. Tour dates and prices have been confirmed, please see this link for more info: http://www.robertotoole.com/south-africa-tour/

 

The Ultimate Leopard Photo Tour

We're back in the office now from this year's tour in South Africa and I have to say that our experiences will be etched into my memory forever. During last year's tour we had a once-in-a-lifetime close-up encounter with a lioness, this year the opportunities were even more unbelievable, it's hard to even decide where to start. Over the 14 days of the tour we photographed at least 12 different leopards, this is just one of our experiences.

This year my group and I experienced an encounter that just doesn't happen to people on safari, not even to professionals that spend years in the field. Our tracker George caught a glimpse of a leopard carrying something in its jaws, right before it disappeared into the bush. Our ranger named Omega explained to us that we most likely saw a mother leopard carrying one of her young to a new den, and it gets better, the mother most likely has 2 cubs, so he told us that if we wait in the same position, we will most likely get to see her carry another on the same path since she will probably use the exact same route again, which is the shortest safest route between the old and new dens. So we waited in a dry riverbed for 20 to 30 minutes and eventually George spotted something at the top of the bank and then it happened.

We could see the mother carrying her second cub walking directly at us, and then she turned and walked along the edge of the river bed for about 10 minutes, and then up the other side before disappearing again. George and Omega told us that in all of their years guiding, thats 50-60 years of combined experience, they had seen this once before, and we were there to see, and photograph it. 

NIKON D500 and Sigma 500mm f/4 sports lens at 1/1600th sec, f/5, ISO 400 manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV - 1.0, handheld.
 

We watched the mother leopard calmly carry the three week old cub past us, while it struggled and kicked as it went by only 10 - 15 feet away, I was really grateful to be able to experience this moment, but at the same time, as a photographer, it was one of the most frustrating moments of all time. The late morning sun was out in full strength and the sky was cloudless, so the light was impossibly harsh, and to make the situation more hopeless, we were on the wrong side of the leopard!

Even though the lighting conditions were terrible, I was able to take a dozens of images as the female leopard walked at us and along the river bed, and I was able to make one that I like, backlit, tight and very close-up as she passed directly under the sun.

This post is the first in a series, so there will be many more images and stories uploaded this week.