African Safari Photography

By Grace Bryant, Member of ATP

I recently went on an African safari photography trip to South Africa. It was conducted by a professional photographer from Florida, Greg Sweeney and his wife Karen. They have their own tree house lodge in the Limpopo province not far from Hoedspruit. They conduct two safaris in May and September each year and it is operated as a self catering facility out of those times.

African Safari Photography

To say this trip exceeded my expectations is a complete understatement. Nine days of non-stop activities from pre-dawn to 9 o'clock each evening. There was myself, another lady from Sydney, a Greek banker who lives in Switzerland and four wacky friends from different parts of the USA. Their camaraderie, banter and humour added a load of fun to the experience.

African Safari Photography Trip - Day One

On our first morning we went on a game drive in the Thornybush Game Reserve. We found a lioness with three cubs on a kill. While we were photographing, a very old Lion walked into the group and marched off with what was left. Mum and the kids had left him only the bones. He settled down not far away and proceeded to finish off the carcass crunching the bones as though they were match sticks. We wide eyed visitors saw Rhino, Giraffe and Buffalo, as well, on just that morning.

We went on two occasions to Kruger National Park, which is different to crashing through the scrub in Thornybush. Vehicles are not allowed off the roads and to exit your vehicle brings a hefty fine. These were the times the boys dragged out their big guns, 500mm lens plus extenders. Imagine eight photographers (that includes Greg) all with huge lenses in one game vehicle. At times we were the spectacle and people were taking photos of us taking photos.

Too many togs?

It was a dodge and weave situation and I ended up with bits of hats, elbows, lenses etc. However, we all worked together so that we each got a shot at the target. The Yanks were Birders (Bird Photographers) and were always after birds in flight, and soon taught me to rattle off a heap of frames. Our guide could not help but laugh at the noise from eight cameras in continuous shooting mode.

We were able to feed her and yet she is able to come and go as she likes. She eats 60kg of cut up vegetables and is bottle fed 8lt of a South African tea on a daily basis. She is now old enough to be a mother and has several suitors so her life as a pampered Hippo may cease for her babies sake.

Wildlife Photography

We visited the Mohololo Rehabilitation Centre and photographed:

  • Birds of prey
  • A baby Black Rhino
  • Cheetah
  • Wild Dogs
  • Hyena
  • Honey Badgers

...and had our photo taken feeding a Cape Vulture.

We were allowed access to a private lodge and saw lots of Giraffe and a beautiful (if you call her that) baby White Rhino and her mum. We happened upon two Dwarf Mongoose, so cute and no bigger than a small rat.

The food was excellent. We ate meat from a Kudu, Impala and all the food was cooked in a traditional way. We were surprised with a Bush Braii (there version of a BBQ) and entertained by the Ringatani Dance Group. This group was formed by a gentleman providing self esteem and a pride in culture for some young men who would otherwise be in trouble.

Life in a Tree House

Our tree house lodgings were excellent. Showering was a different experience as it was at the rear of the tree house in the open air. What an experience to be about 7m off the ground watching the view and having a shower at the same time.

Each year Greg and Karen take supplies for the Elementary School. Items such as pencils, rulers, rubbers etc. This year Greg's mother had knitted dolls for the girls and socks for the boys. We presented these to the best achievers in the school. I have since sent a parcel of the pencils etc that my daughter had kept.

We moved to Tshukudu Game Lodge for the last two days and this was an added highlight. Rather up market including a pool and the food was never ending. The lodge has four resident cheetahs who are all hand reared and yet have to hunt for their own food.

As long as you do not touch their tummies or feet they loved to be stroked just like an ordinary cat. I was not apprehensive in doing so. On a couple of occasions they followed the game vehicle and our guide actually took them out on a hunt. He looks for something they can catch and when he whistles and stops the vehicle the cats then go into hunting mode.

Lions and Engines Roar

We got the opportunity to photograph a rather magnificent lion. The guides have a trick of revving the engine and the sound makes the lion roar in defense of his territory.

The lodge recently saved a baby lion from death as her mother had abandoned her for some reason. They found her sitting on the side of the road obviously in distress. She is being raised by the young man who was our guide. When she is able to successfully hunt larger game, she will be released in Mozambique in a reserve that does not have human visitors. Even at three months of age she will go into a hunting crouch if she sees a Guinea fowl. They also have a young Caracal which was a dream subject to photograph.

For me it was a trip of a lifetime with memories to last my lifetime.

I had huge problems getting all my gear on the plane as hand luggage. I stowed several items in my large purse and after I passed through customs put it back in the camera bag as Qantas is very strict on carry-on limits.

What did I take do you ask?

Canon 5D Mk II: Canon 550D as a backup: 300mm f2.8: 70-200mm f2.8 mkII: 30mm f1.4: Extenders 1.4 and 2: Flash: Chargers, extra batteries, 68gb of cards, card reader, elect adapters plus bits and pieces which all weighed in at over 12kg and then there was the small laptop. If I were to go on another trip the monopod would be the only thing I would leave at home. The only thing I lost was a lens cap.

Would I do another African safari photography tour? IN A FLASH!

Grace Bryant - ATP Members

Note: Images Copyright Grace Bryant (click to view full size)

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