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Capturing South Africa on a saddle

Guest Post by Ruth S. Daly

Having bought an expensive DSLR Canon camera I was lucky enough to attend a photography course at Ant’s Nest in South Africa, one of the special weeks sometimes offered at the luxury bush home. To combine a riding safari with a photography course was all my dreams come true at once.

Photography safari at Ant's Nest, South Africa

Photography safari at Ant’s Nest, South Africa

In the African bush there are so many photo opportunities you are literally spoilt for choice, but what makes a big difference is the light.

Our photography group would meet for breakfast at five am in order to be out in the bush by 5.30. As the sun rises it creates the most spectacular colours and really brings your photos to life – and when you are shooting wildlife such as zebra, giraffe, or rhino you feel like creating your own David Attenborough film.

South Africa was an amazing adventure playground and it was incredible to see the animals in their natural habitat and have the chance to get relatively close when taking pictures.

Another great time to head out is from four pm through to sunset. The golden light gives your images a soft glow, and if you manage to find any giraffe it’s worth staying to photograph them as a silhouette, the sky painted with hues of red, yellow and orange.

Giraffe at sunset, South Africa (c) R. S. Daly

Top camera tricks & tips which I learned from the photography course

* When you’re taking a picture of for example, a giraffe or zebra, see the picture you want to take with your own eyes first and don’t just look through the lens. You will be only looking at the picture with one eye and it’s important to make sure you keep both eyes open to see the full picture.

Zebras in the bush at Ant’s Nest (c) R. S. Daly

* Once you’ve seen the shot you want, adjust the ISO, set your F-number and shutter speed. At first this seemed so clunky, but now it’s second nature after a week in the bush!

* Always have a spare battery and memory card with you. You will take more pictures than you can imagine, and you don’t want to run out in the middle of the African wilderness.

* In order to get a great shot you need to think about all the variables of ISO, aperture and shutter speed, the composition which will be either landscape or portrait and the actual subject. Be prepared for some trial and error at first.

* Another tip is to use the scale on your camera to check if you are going to get a good picture. The + or – tells you if your exposure is perfect.

If it is “-” this will mean the picture will under expose and the picture will be dark. If the scale is “+” it will over expose and the picture will be too light. Therefore + = Lots of light and = less light.

* With wildlife photography you never know what you will find so be ready for the unexpected, and make sure if you are shooting in manual that you constantly adjust your ISO, F-number and shutter speed.

It’s important to have a good guide who knows how to track and find the wildlife, and someone who will share their knowledge and passion with you.

At Ant’s Nest the owners have a real passion for rhinos. We brought back some fantastic pictures, and were also able to learn about rhino conservation. A major issue in South Africa (over a thousand fell prey to poaching in 2013).

Rhinos on the move (c) R. S. Daly

More wildlife spied on horseback

We also stayed at Camp Davidson in South Africa. The accommodation here was very different to what we had previously enjoyed at our luxury bush home, the camp boasting comfortable pre-erected “A” frame tents.

There are usually hippos to be found here and you often have the option to view these animals surfacing in the water when it gets close to dusk – something we hadn’t seen on our earlier horseback adventures at Ant’ Nest.

Hippos on safari (c) R. S. Daly

From our verandah we were treated to spellbinding views each morning, but you won’t find rhino at this camp or the Sable and Nyala antelope both regularly spotted in the surrounds of the bush home.

From my perspective Camp Davidson is a great place to ride and view wildlife, but if you want to be able to take your DSLR camera Ant’s Nest is the better choice as you have the option to take a 4X4 safari before your afternoon on horseback.

Either way game viewing on a saddle is a magical experience which will get you closer to the wildlife, the animals going by the scent of the horse and not the human. Depending on your level of ability you could be galloping with zebra and giraffe – not an option when you are back in the jeep so there are pluses and minuses on both sides.

Cooling off in the lake at Camp Davidson (c) R. S. Daly

Cooling off in the lake at Camp Davidson (c) R. S. Daly

Making more of South Africa

As for elsewhere in South Africa, it depends on what you want to see. Cape Town and its surrounds are well worth exploring and there are some amazing photo opportunities. From iconic Table Mountain to Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town with its colony of penguins. Wildlife on tap we watched the penguins jump into the sea from the rocks.

Stellenbosch is surrounded with rolling vineyards and dramatic mountains which are perfect for anyone who wants to get some great landscape shots, as is Franschhoek which is in the valley of the Huguenots, and as you’re driving around you may well see areas carpeted in wildflowers.

The Western Cape also has some great coastal scenery and a trip to Hermanus to see the beautiful coastline and enjoy some whale watching is another must do.

We also visited Pretoria, the city known as the Jacaranda City due to the thousands of Jacaranda trees planted in the streets that bloom with purple flowers. It’s worth looking out for South Africa’s National flower: “Protea” (otherwise known as the sugarbush).

I managed to snap some great shots of this flower at Ant’s Nest whilst driving around the bush, but wherever you decide to go in South Africa you will be sure to come home with a fabulous and almost endless library of photos.

If it’s a Big Five safari which interests you, the list composed of Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino, then the luxury Chitwa Chitwa reserve in the Kruger National Park is a great place to go. The tracking guides are very knowledgeable and will get you up close and personal with the animals.

Buffalo at Ant’s Nest (c) R. S. Daly

The best time to capture the wildlife on camera is in the early morning and late at night as they like to avoid activity in the hottest part of the day – making mid afternoon a great time to relax, chill and load your pictures onto your iPad for review.

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