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.