The Morning Game Drive and the Sunriseadmin On 28 August, 2015
I like to be one of the first safari vehicles through the gates in the morning. This often means getting there 45 minutes before gate opening time. And I do make my clients get up early and either ride up with me or walk up before the gates open. So, why do it? It is usually a terrible time for photography, and, quite often, we encounter a leopard or a pride of lion on the road, but when you use your flash, their eyes glow like a firefly. This is a time to keep your Canon in your lap (fat chance). I want you to just watch. Just experience. Being with them for these few moments will stay with you longer than a photograph. The light will get better, and, if you have anything in your karma bank, you might get a shot. This leopard is one I’ve shot many times. The first photos are in dark with a flash. The last is 20 minutes later when there was enough available light. The shot was at 1/30th sec. and f5.6.
But, again, why do it? To be truthful, 3 out of 4 times we see very little, but, oh when we do, it can be quite an experience. I always explain to clients that it is the best time to see cats and to have the cats stick around for a bit, and this is true. Some of my best encounters are in these early moments of a game drive. Most often I am first or second out the gate, and this means I have a good chance of heading straight to one of my “go to” roads where I have had good experiences in the past. Of course, I always hate to encounter lions, wild dogs, or leopards soon after leaving the gate. If we do, there will be 10 other cars there in no time, and the moment is ruined. Very often I’ve come upon a lion or leopard and just stay with them just for a few moments before heading on up the road, knowing the other 10 cars will stay behind. The cat usually heads off into the bush and with it dark or poor lighting, there is no sense sticking around. And it is not just cats and dogs that can be a reward in this first hour; sometimes we come across a critter we would not see during daylight hours. A genet, or a caracal, or a civet, or a bush pig. I’m still waiting for my first pangolin, though, as are most people who frequent the bush. I came close last year, though, missing one by only seconds.
On the rare occasion when we find a super sighting like a pride asleep on the road or a leopard going for a morning drink, we often have the sighting to ourselves. This makes it worth it. We can position ourselves close enough to the pride and just turn off the engine and, well, just be part of the pride. When the sun comes up, the light is the best of the day, and we have a pride of lion just there for shooting. Best of all, we often have this sight for 10 to 15 to 30 minutes without another vehicle coming along. But if one comes up behind us, we have the best location staked out. And all good things end. When a few cars show up, the cats will usually get up and walk into the bush …but we had our moments.
I always try to plan my morning drives so that the sun is behind us or two the side. Behind is best because it will give the best light for any creature we come upon. This light is the time to shoot anything, and I will make you take more shots of impala even though you’ve seen 5,000 impala…this will be the best. We shoot anything in good morning sunlight.
So what happens when we don’t see squat? Well, we hope for a sunrise. Another blog post, perhaps.