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07.12.2016

The stiffness in my back and legs from 15 hours in coach was a small price to pay considering I was on my way to photographic heaven. My flight was taking me non-stop from Atlanta all the way to Johannesburg to catch a charter fight to an airstrip on a private conservation area adjacent to the 7,500 plus square miles of Kruger National Park. For the next 10 days I would be shooting in a place with unlimited photographic opportunities so good its like nowhere else on earth.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens and Nikon D810 and D500, handheld.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens and Nikon D810 and D500, handheld.

Over the course of 10 days we had the opportunities to photography 11 different leopards and 6 different cubs. These are 3 of the six the young leopards had the pleasure to photograph on the tour. The cub on the right has a red nose from gorging on an impala that was brought back by its mother.

The area that I visited on my tour is special and known for the large number of habituated leopards found there. Since very few photographers even know of this area there is a lack of crowds and other photographers. Another important advantage here is that this area is a private nature reserve so off-road driving is no problem at all, anyone that has experiences the on-road only Serengeti or the Maasi Mara knows how priceless off-road capability is for making good images.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens @ 360mm and Nikon D500, 1/250s, f/8, ISO 800, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV -1.3, handheld.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens @ 360mm and Nikon D500, 1/250s, f/8, ISO 800, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV -1.3, handheld.

Spotted cats are at the very tip top the photographic desirability scale. I can never get enough of photographing leopards like this energetic young one that could not take its eyes off of us.

On a few drives this tour I was able to fill a 64GB card, normally for me its unusual to fill a 32GB card, even with a 36 MP DSLR.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens @ 390mm and Nikon D500, 1/500s, f/7.1, ISO 1100, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV -0.7, handheld.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens @ 390mm and Nikon D500, 1/500s, f/7.1, ISO 1100, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV -0.7, handheld.

Adult leopards will leave their cubs alone while they hunt, sometimes for days at a time. If you can manage to find cubs alone you quickly see that they are a photographers dream since when they are not sleeping or eating, they love to play, explore and get into trouble.

You know you are in the right place when you find yourself in a situation like we did when we found ourselves surrounded by three leopards, one old male, a younger female and a young male, two of them with prey!

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens and Nikon D810, 1/500s, f/7.1, ISO 2000, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, handheld.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens and Nikon D810, 1/500s, f/7.1, ISO 2000, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, handheld.

Adult leopard enjoying the soft morning sun and looking out over its territory.

On this trip I brought a combination of the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Sports lens for low light conditions and the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens is my all around main safari lens. A third lens, my Sigma art 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM | Art lens was always close by. These 3 lenses gave me all the coverage and reliability I needed to allow me just concentrate on making images and not once did I ever have to worry about not ever having the right focal length or any image quality issues.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens @ 450mm and Nikon D810, 1/500s, f/8, ISO 1000, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV +0.7, handheld.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens @ 450mm and Nikon D810, 1/500s, f/8, ISO 1000, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, EV +0.7, handheld.

Lion cubs are another favorite to photograph but since lions sleep about 20 hours a day, most of the time you find them they will be sleeping before moving out in the evenings when its cooler to hunt.

In the area you can easily photograph the big 5, elephant, lion, leopard, cape buffalo and rhino every day if thats your goal but this area is very well known for superb opportunities to photograph leopard.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens @ 500mm and Nikon D810, 1/250s, f/8, ISO 1250, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, handheld.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens @ 500mm and Nikon D810, 1/250s, f/8, ISO 1250, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, handheld.

Here two young elephants use their trunks to touch and say hello. Tactile sensations are very important to communication and they use their trunks to caress each other or explore other objects.

Africa elephants are found in groups of females that take care of the young ones. They communicate by touch, scent, sight and sound. They use their trunks to touch, caress and smell and to maintain their social bonds.

Researchers have discovered that elephants use more than 70 different kinds of vocal sounds and 160 different visual and tactile signals, expressions, and gestures to communicate day-to-day. Almost all of the sounds they use are out of hearing range of humans.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens and Nikon D810, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, handheld.

© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens and Nikon D810, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, handheld.

Elephants are always on the move, feeding, exploring, playing, bathing, so you should always make time to stop and photograph them whenever you have a chance. For everything from tight portraits to environmental images I think the best tool for elephant photography is a zoom like the 150-600 sports lens. This allows you to capture that moment in perfect light that brought you to Africa without having to worry about changing cameras or even worse changing lenses to get the shot you were dreaming about.

If you have a chance to visit Africa I would highly recommend it. For me South Africa has the best combination of accessibility, safety and close up opportunities that you cant fine anywhere else on earth.

For more images and information on a South Africa photo safari visit my site: https://www.robertotoole.com/workshop/south-africa/

If you have any questions or comments be sure to share ’em in the comments section below.  Robert O’Toole is a Sigma Pro and has been a professional photographer for more than 20 years. As an accomplished instructor, Robert leads photography workshop tours across the US and internationally. For more info visit Robert’s web site at robertotoolephotography.com

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