Waiting in anticipation
On that last day, word came she was hunting. We dropped whatever we were doing at the time and rushed to the location. By the time we arrived there, she had unsuccessfully attempted to hunt a Thomson gazelle and retreated to a tall tree with a view of the antelope herd. There she sat and waited for her next best opportunity. Similarly, we sat on the ground below waiting for ours to capture a shot of her with her cubs, wherever they were.
She waited. We waited. She waited. Hours passed in the midday heat. We took turns sleeping in John’s safari car as time passed. We even skipped our return to camp. Despite Klaus needing to eat for his medication, he was adamant that his shot was going to come any moment. There were some biscuits and bananas left from breakfast. Those would do.
Eventually we needed to give up. Klaus was feeling weak. We drove off defeated, knowing this was the last chance to get a great image of this leopard family.
Catching up with the leopard at last
On the drive back, the radio sounded: “She’s on the move”. John’s friend Sammy was with her and said she was heading back to her cubs. Klaus shot up in his seat. His weakness was gone. We were heading back. Again, the sun was against us now. There was about an hour of “good light” left. For leopards, an hour is never enough, but what the hell, we were leaving the Mara tomorrow.
We arrived on the scene. There were several other cars present, watching and waiting. John took one look at the scene and shot off up ahead. He parked on an embankment facing seemingly backwards. Pointed at the spot they had made for Klaus to get the low shot. Klaus got out the 200mm lens, lay down and waited.
I had seen them do this “setup and wait” before. It was often a shot in the dark, but when it works out, you really can achieve an awesome picture. There she comes, with the two cutest cubs on earth at her side. I got some great footage of them walking and playing. Klaus stayed locked on that one spot. When John silently points, Klaus trusts his judgment 100%.
Waiting for the perfect moment
It was getting dark. Other cars were all leaving to get back to camp. Then, the leopard walked into the frame. Paused. Then turned back to look where her cubs were. She sat down, waiting for them to catch up. This was too good to be true. There was silence, except for the raindrops on the roof of the car and the shutter of Klaus’ camera.
The light was just right. The frame was right. The backdrop was right. The clouds were right. Her position was “ok”. He kept taking more shots because her position could be better. One cub joined its mother in the frame.
Now, there were some shots here worthy of the Pride of Africa collection. Then the second cub walked into frame too. It walked behind the mother. I could hear Klaus muttering under his breath that it was hidden. It popped out in the gap between the mother and the other cub. Stopped. For a brief moment, it looked directly at us.
Time stood still.
Ka-Click. The shutter opened and closed.
He got it.
I think before we even registered what just happened, the moment was over and they had moved on. It was all over. We drove back to the camp feeling like champions. But Klaus was unsure that the image would be sharp as he had to use really long exposure time. He immediately sat at the computer when we got back to camp and went through the files – this is so not Klaus as he usually doesn’t check the images on the same day. But this time he had to know. The moment was so perfect, hopefully the settings were too. Klaus shouted out, almost in tears: “I got it!”
You can view the scene as it happened in the wildlife documentary “Safari of my Life”, too.
The image is now available to purchase as a limited edition print in the Pride of Africa Collection.
For more info click here: https://www.klaustiedge.com/portfolio/wildlife-prints/leopard/dignity-2/
Text: Dean Paarman
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