A Favorite moment: An enlightening morning

Early Morning Hippo Photography

If you read my last post about what Wildlife photographers can learn from Landscape photography. You will start to understand how I like to go about guiding wildlife photographers. Planning for a specific photograph, is what I believe is the secret in getting the most out of a photo safari. Often these images are lingering in your mind before you arrive at a destination. Or in the case of this image you see the potential of a scene to produce something striking at a different time of day.

Planning the photograph

The idea for this photograph came from the night before. When we arrived a little late to photograph 20 odd hippo in a body of water in a distant corner of Makanyi. Over our gin and tonics, we discussed what would be the best for hippo photograph during these cold winter months. It has to be a photograph that was taken in the morning. The air temperature would be so cold that there would be a layer of fog/mist above the water. To best photograph this mist we would have to be on the western side and wait for the sunlight to illuminate this mist layer. Then there would obviously be the possibility of a snort or a yawn between the shafts of golden light. The only requirement for this image is a 05:30 start. So we had hatched our plan to return and photograph these very same hippos, in 12 hours time.

Executing the plan

Now with any plan there will always be an element of luck, good or bad. What I got was something I did not even anticipate as a possibility. We had positioned ourselves as planned. On the ground next to the game viewer we beanbags on cooler boxes and with the settings I though would be ideal.

  • Aperture Priority, we start at the lowest aperture and as the sun gradually rises we start increasing our depth of field to f/8.
  • Between the aperture changes we would want to get away from the 2500 ISO we had started with. Slowly decreasing our ISO between the aperture settings, till we were at the lowest.
  • The constant was that we wanted to have a really fast shutter speed, because if a hippo should snort, we don’t want the fast moving water to blur. So between the above changes we needed to get to 1/2000 sec as quickly as we could.
  • I usually use spot metering, however this will always be a high contrast situation and if your “spot” is in the wrong place, your whole exposure was going to be out. So it was Evaluative Metering, (I was shooting with a 7D2 + 400mm f2.8).

Our plan did not run completely to plan, firstly we did not have to be so early. The water was in a valley and it would take some time before the sunlight would reach us. Secondly, our hippos had just returned from a “big night out”, so they were quiet happy to rest the chins on each other and sleep.

Getting Lucky

As the sky started to show details of the surrounding bush, we could see on the hill side behind us that the light was slowly creeping closer. When it reach the water edge on the western side of the water hole, it was just starting to catch the mist that was rising off the water. However our hippos were just below this light layer and in shadow. It was at this moment, I took a photograph of a hippo coming up for air. It sent water spraying into the light that was just licking the top of its ears, but the spray had mushroomed into the light as if a bomb had gone off. I had not planned for that, but this was that bit of luck that one gets from time to time.

Photograph Details

Filename: An enlightening morning.jpeg
Gear: Canon 7D MK2 & 400mm f2.8 IS L USM mk1
Exposure: 1/3200 sec;   f/2.8;   ISO 500
Copyright: Copy right Etienne Oosthuizen photography

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