Each safari brings a wealth of wildlife encounters for my guests. I feel like I have come to know some of these animals through multiple sightings from year to year.
Safari images taken in South Africa can be very intimate since we are often able to get very close to the wildlife. Between our proximity and our medium range lenses, it is possible to get eye to eye portraits of our subjects displaying all the details of their faces and sometimes even reading their story in their eyes.
In contrast we are often witness to fast moving moments in the animals life played out right in front of our cameras and safari vehicle.
I thought it would be nice to precent couplets of images contrasting these two common image styles. Each was taken while in the Greater Kruger Park private reserves, Kruger Park, and the Sabi Sands Reserve.
The lenses used were my
Canon EF 24 – 105 F 4 IS and my EF 100 – 400mm F4.5 – 5.6L IS II
Resting like a typical cat, this lion surveys her surroundings from a mound
(ok, not an action shot exactly, but a neat contrast between adult and cub)
Love the feeling I get on safari as if I am part of these animals’ daily life. A precious few hours spent in their world indeed!
I hope you enjoyed my selections and pairings and found inspiration in them.
We are very proud to announce a new addition to Bona Ntaba Tree House Lodge. Our 4th tree house is complete and ready for guests.
The new tree house has spectacular views of the mountains with comfortable hand-made wooden deck chairs for watching the sunset with a drink in hand. Soak in the spa tub or catch more views from the outside shower. The thatched roof and wood floors give you a sense of adventure with ample protection from weather all the while catching a nice cooling breeze.
Our safari guests will enjoy several nights on our Nature Conservancy in the tree houses where they will enjoy game viewing and game drives during the day, roaming plains game species while they relax at the tree houses, and delicious meals in our boma under the stars. After dinner we enjoy listening and spotting for night creatures at the watering hole just off our deck and pool.
Most guests say they miss Bona Ntaba and its food once we move on to the Sabi reserve .
While not hosting one of our photo safaris, the lodge hosts independent travelers, mostly South Africans, who like to self cater their meals (do their own cooking). For them, we are making a special private experience with an outdoor kitchen and braai area added to the new tree house.
Though I have been leading safaris for many years, almost daily I see things that fascinate and thrill me: I still get as excited to get out there as my first time guests.
After each safari I look back at my favorite moments: an unusual encounter, a very long or intimate view of an animal, or just something fun that happened. I enjoy sharing these and their stories more than just the 4 and 5 star images.
My Favorite Photography Moments from the September 15th Safari 2016
Hippos, Elephants and Rhinos: The big herbavores
This was about the most dramatic hippo I have ever seen. For two nights in a row we got to photograph his thrashing and display of dominance. He was quite a frightening spectacle. Now I think myself and the guests all have the definitive hippo image.
I love rhinos for all of their physical character: almost cute while being so large and imposing. We found this white rhino on a foggy morning. The setting is so different from my usual shots of rhinos on an open grassy plain. I love the silhouette and the full horn (a more rare sight these days since reserves cut them to deter poaching)
This shot sums up the many encounters with elephants we had: very close. It is such an amazing experience to see, hear, and smell such a large and intelligent animal right next to our vehicles
This is a great time of year to watch and photograph elephant (an other animals) having a great time in the mud baths and watering holes. This mother and calf have just loaded up with a layer of mud and are slipping and sliding their way out of the pit.
Big Cat Portraits.
If the last group had a theme is was cheetahs. We had many sightings in many different reserves. This trip it was the whole range of big cats with some very close encounters where it was possible to get some intimate portraits showing character and the essence of life as a big cat.
A leopard relaxing in a favorite tree
An old and dominant male lion leading an evening hunt.
Leopards were a bit more shy on this trip because a pride of lions under a new leader had moved into their territory. Still we managed some close shots of a male relaxing in some brush cover.
A female lion stretches after a short nap.
This is the new leader of the pride. His face shows the struggle it took to get to the top. He is smug now because he is busy mating with his new pride females.
Encounters with rare animals, pretty scenes, and humorous moments
A hooded vulture is a more rare sight. This one is hoping to grab a scrap left by the wild dogs
Wild dogs make quick meals of their kills so I was lucky to get a few shots of this dog enjoying his take.
I love the shape and character of giraffes. This was a fun way to use an image shot in low light.
Ostrich are fast and you have to be ready with fast capture settings for your camera.
Elephants show so much personality that I have to include them in my favorite images. It is entertaining to watch them gather food using skill and selectivity or enjoying a bath. They seems to almost dance at times and look to be enjoying moving in unusual ways. This young elephant is being silly with his trunk and tusk.
Soon I will be announcing my 2017 safari dates. 2016 is nearly full.
Hope you can join me on a safari – you dont have to be a photographer to have an unforgettable wildlife adventure.
Which is the Best Season to Visit South Africa on Safari?
Since we host safaris in both April/May and September/October we get asked frequently which is the best choice for a photo and wildlife safari . The short answer is that they are both great times to visit South Africa and see wildlife. Given this, there are differences which I will point out. (please note: This information is specific to the Kruger region of South Africa and does not at all describe conditions in other African countries)
Dry season starts in May and ends in October so both the April/May and September/Oct safari sessions are going to be dry and most often with no rain at all.
May begins the South African autumn while September is a warm and dry spring month that grows to summer temperatures by early October. The seasonal “rains” start in mid October
Daytime temperatures are very comfortable for both safaris with guests wearing tshirts and shorts. There may even be a few hot days.
Night time temperatures are very warm and mild in September/Oct. Low and overnight temperatures are more variable in the April/May/June season as cold fronts are possible.
In both seasons: After warm afternoons, the evening temperature stays comfortable for dining outside with the additions of just a light jacket or top.
Mornings before 9am will be the coldest periods. But the sun quickly warms everything. Days are almost always clear.
Average daytime or high temperatures in both seasons are 70 – 88’F (20 -30’C)
Overnight and morning temperatures in September will only get down to a low of 55’F (15 C’) on the coldest days. April tends to be the same
In May temperatures will get down to the low 50’s F (10 – 13’C) during a cold spell , but more typically are around 55’F (15’C)
The wildlife in South Africa is present all year around as there is not much migration. The variety of species is large in our area and stays consistent through the year. In Kruger there is some movement of wildlife herds toward water sources and any remaining grazing, the the habitat is such that food is readily available in most every habitat so large migration is not necessary.
The peak of dry season: September/October will find animals congregating around watering holes which makes for some varied and exciting encounters. You can almost park at a water source and have the animals come to you. Wildlife is not active in the mid to late afternoon except at watering holes.
In April/May the food is still plentiful but grass is starting to die off but the wildlife is still active and easy to find since food is everywhere. Animals and especially grazers are in good condition this time of year.
Some animals enter mating season in May such as impala. The large herds and politics of the activity makes for interesting wildlife observation.
Many animals have babies all through the year. Some herd animals do not give birth until the rains start in October/November.
Changes in Surroundings
April is when the rain and high summer temperatures cease so the grass begins to die down (or gets eaten down). The green color of the landscape begins to yellow and some trees show a bit of color as the leaves fall in late May. As the grass falls flat in May it becomes easier to spot the wildlife.
Insects only thrive in moist weather so as soon as the rain stops in early April, they disappear. A cool night here and there also spells their demise. We have very little problems with bugs, flys, and mosquitos in both the April/May and Sept/Oct sessions.
When you arrive in September, the trees are bare or in bud and there is hardly any grass to speak of so it is very easy to see wildlife. Dust is more of a presence in this season. Your photos will have more muted tones in the background since much of the landscape and foliage is straw colored.
If you plan to catch the whale season down in Cape Town, they are present from June – November. This is the same season as the visiting great white sharks to the Simons Town Seal Island area. A safari in May with an extension to Cape Town works in both seasons.
Lodges and parks tend to be busier in the August – January season.
Really, you can not go wrong with either season: it is what works best for your schedule. The wildlife will be great either way. We have repeat guests who have come in both seasons and do not favor one or the other : I enjoy them both equally.
Most of my time is spent taking wildlife stills. I believe the still photo is capable of communicating a great deal, but some situations require video to tell a complete story. Here is a collection of some short videos shot with my Canon 5D MK3 while on safari
Lions relaxing after a nighttime kill and morning feed
2014 has been an exciting year for me full of travel and photography. I had a chance to host some really great people on my safaris and on my underwater trips. Being out among nature I see the impact that humans have on wildlife: mostly negative, but sometimes positive. As I review the year in photos in this blog, I have decided to highlight some of the conservation issues I experience out in the field with my camera.
March 2014 – Bahama Banks Tiger Beach
Tiger Shark Dive Expedition
This annual favorite is a chance to see and appreciate these great predators up close. We get to see some large breeding age female tiger sharks and loads of lemon and reef sharks. Unfortunately, many have fishing gear or scars from fishing gear cutting their mouths or slowly slicing through fins. I seriously want to reach out and cut the line off, but this is a shark and touching would be a big mistake!
April/May – Limpopo Province South Africa
South African Wildlife – Rhinos
Africa has many conservation issues, some newer and some are very old problems. The one that is having a vast impact on wildlife, conservation, tourism, and economy is rhino poaching. The region where my lodge is has a very high number of rhinos and thus has been changing as rhino poaching continues to increase. I have seen my region go from no rhino poaching a few years ago to armed antipoaching road blocks and patrols. This year has already seen more deaths to rhinos (and humans) from poaching than any other year.
We can still see white and black rhino on our game drives, but this is through the efforts of their caretakers: often they have had to remove the horns to keep their animals and land safe.
A baby rhino nuzzles his mother who has had her horn removed
Join one of my safaris in 2015 or 2016 – small groups of 6 and spaces are going fast!
July – Isla Mujeres and Gulf of Mexico
Whale Sharks and Giant Manta Rays
Each year whale sharks and manta rays aggregate in the Gulf of Mexico to feed on the krill bloom. The whale sharks are full grown and many are breeding females. This is a perfect opportunity to witness them in their feeding behavior. They seem to be completely unimpacted by our presence. The encounters are regulated in a sustainable way making this a great educational opportunity for people to see, experience, an appreciate a fish that is little understood and in places overfished.
Can’t wait to get back. I have secured a prime block of time in July 2015 for my 2 groups of 6. Join Us
February – Crystal River Florida
I have been photographing manatees for many years and have seen the evolution of manatee conservation awareness and the rise of manatee tourism. More and more people are impassioned and taking action for the manatees that I am confident that manatees will continue to be a stable if not increasing population in Florida.
January – Isla Mujeres Mexico
Photographing sailfish is an athletic event. It is fascinating to watch them work as a team to keep a baitball and take turns disrupting and eating the fish.
While looking for sailfish we ran across an out of season whale shark in the water. When we got in to see it we discovered it was severely tangled in a fishing net dragging buoys with the ropes running through the mouth and across the gills. I fear this whale shark may not last long.
September – Limpopo South Africa
Wild dogs were killed by farmers and homesteaders and remain a rare and endangered species. I have heard reports starting last year of some in our area and was fortunate to see some on my own land. What a wonderful feeling to host wild dogs on our reserve! They travel around but repeated reports in our area seem to indicate they are more or less residents.
South African (Jackass) Penguins
Numerous oil spills have made this species of penguin vulnerable. This colony of Simons Town in the Cape Peninsula is a rare onshore nesting group – most nest on offshore islands. In the nesting season it is possible to take a walk on the beach and have them walk right past you on the way to their nests. They also take shelter around buildings and under cars in town. The locals have adapted since the penguins came to town about a decade ago. I had one come into the restaurant where I was eating: hopping up the stairs to scout it out.
June/July – Bahama Banks, Bahamas
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
I consider this to be a positive conservation story: swimming with wild dolphins. These dolphins are not fed, trained, confined or otherwise forced to interact with the swimmers. They do it because they want to and they have been doing so for 30 years. This proves you do not need captive dolphins in order to offer close encounters: you can do it in their own environment and on their own terms. The charter captain has been documenting these pods his whole career and contributes his records to biologists. It takes some speed and creativity to interest these intelligent creatures, but when you engage together it is magic.
If this has made you hungry to get out there next year, please contact me at the link at the top or visit my website for details. Spaces on my trip schedule are filling fast. www.gregorysweeney.com