a photographer’s dream

For most guides, getting into photography is a natural progression and in our case it is not only a means of documenting the natural world we are so fortunate enough to play a part in protecting, it is an art of observation. It has little to do with what we see, but everything to do with the way we see them. For this reason each moment captured is a very personal expression of the person behind the lens.

A recent photographic guest at Sabi Sabi gets into position to capture his moment, while I capture mine.

safari at Sabi Sabi

I recently had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with a couple of really great guys (Joe and Gerry), like-minded and full of insight into the world of wildlife photography. One is an avid wildlife enthusiast; the other, a professional photographic guide; and both would be my guests for the next couple of days. Now, both of these gentlemen came to me with some very high expectations so needless to say the pressure was most definitely on, but one thing about Sabi Sabi is, it very seldom disappoints. What follows occurred over only two nights (three game drives)…

We began our first afternoon with a gang of buffalo bulls wallowing in a mud pool. A great sighting offering some fantastic photographic opportunities with the golden afternoon sunlight and then the call came in, “Mafazi ingwe slowly mobile east on Ackermans…” This is what these guys came to see, this is what Sabi Sabi is famous for. We left the buffalos and headed straight for the female leopard sighted only a few minutes from our position. We would stay with this particular female and her youngster, who she would soon introduce us to, for almost two hours. In that time, we would see them finish off the last remains of a kill, watch them meander through the bush together, catch a cane rat, encounter a massive hyena and finally, move off into darkness. What an awe inspiring encounter.

Warthog Wallow’s cub takes a brief moment to rest while mom finishes off the last remnants of a kill.

leopard cub at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

Notice Warthog Wallow’s cub in the background… This hyena walked by only a couple metres away and this youngster didn’t even flinch!

hyena while on safari at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

Warthog Wallow pauses after drinking from a small puddle on the side of the road. We used another vehicle’s spotlight to create some great side-lighting on our subject.

leopard at night at Sabi Sabi

We were all abuzz with excitement the following morning and departed from Bush Lodge a little earlier to get a head start on the day. It didn’t take us long to locate a couple of massive elephant bulls slowly sorting through the ripened Marula fruits scattered all over the ground beneath them. Cue sound, “A saw cutting through wood”. Leopard! Could we be so lucky? Dollen, my tracker and good friend smiled back at me and said, “Mfo, we gonna tolla”. We left the elephants to follow up in the direction of the leopard’s call. We picked up on fresh tracks soon after, it was a male and we knew exactly which male it would be. We were all in for a treat and within a few minutes we found him, the Maxabeni male. This leopard is the epitome of confidence and power, a true force to be reckoned with! Initially when we found him he was on a boundary walk, marking territory intensely, but then he started making his way toward one of his favourite day resting spots, a photographic bird hide we know as Greg’s Hide. It was a spectacular sighting and he really did put on a show for the cameras…

Maxabeni moves with purpose while marking territory in the early morning light.

leopard walking in the road at Sabi Sabi Private game Reserve

A frame within a frame. Maxabeni, full of confidence, sits on a termite mound to scan the area.

leopard at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve while on safari

I love this pose! This shot was taken just before Maxabeni entered Greg’s Hide. He was investigating the immediate surrounds of the structure.

leopard at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve while on safari

After a quick bite to eat and stretch of the old legs, we moved out again in search of some interesting general game shots. We were so involved with the leopards thus far that we had neglected the abundance of other creatures on offer, but then again this was why these gentlemen were here. Up to this point we had only been in four sightings, with quality definitively triumphing over quantity. I steered us toward an open area where I knew there would be a great chance of seeing a variety of game species due to the excellent quality of grasses in that particular spot and on the way we spotted this beautiful Wahlberg’s Eagle.

I am a very keen birder and capturing great bird shots is what I strive for. In this situation the elements all worked together to produce an image I am very happy with.

Wahlbergs Eagle at Sabi Sabi

We approached the plain I had in mind and were greeted with a landscape filled with zebra, waterbuck, impala and rhino. We spent a lot of time trying different techniques and capturing the perfect frames for us and then something interesting and not often seen happened. The rhinos we had seen nearby started becoming increasingly agitated with one another until moments later, a fight broke out! It was a true “Clash of the Titans” kind of moment. Two evenly matched bulls were fighting over a female nearby. We watched this back-and-forth between the two for well over an hour until there was clearly one victor. It was difficult to capture the mood of the moment and the incredible power and ferocity of the whole affair, but it was absolutely amazing to watch! None of us had seen a spectacle of this nature before.

“Clash of the Titans” These two giants were nose to nose for over an hour, making the most incredible grunts and growling sounds.

Rhino fight

In the late afternoon we decided to focus on some birds before sunset and then turn our attentions toward finding the lions whose tracks had been seen in the north-eastern extremity of our range. All was well and captured some great shots. My personal favourite of the drive was of this Yellow-billed Hornbill. A peculiar looking bird with loads of character.

Yellow-Billed Hornbill

Then the craziness started… A pack of wild dog burst onto the scene and given the rarity of the animals, a frenzy ensued to keep up with and view the animals. Wild dogs move at a rate of knots and are difficult to keep sight of at the best of times. It was still quite early in the afternoon and I made the executive decision to hold off on an approach to the dogs until the sun started dipping a bit and boy was it the right decision! Literally as we made our way into the sighting, we had a common duiker scream passed our vehicle, followed by the dogs and then absolute chaos ensued. The dogs reduced the unfortunate little duiker to bones in a little over five minutes! It was yet another incredible moment and a perfect way to end off a fantastic photographic safari experience, especially seeing as Joe had never witnessed a kill before.

One of the adult wild dogs pauses for a moment as the feeding frenzy behind him continues. There were 6 adults and 6 youngsters in the pack.

wild dog while on safari at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

It’s not often that we as guides get to spend hours on end taking photographs and enjoying moments like these with such talented individuals. We are often the ones in the educational role, sharing our intimate knowledge of the African Bush and its wonders with our guests, snatching the odd image here and there, so it was amazing to be on the receiving end of some great advice. I am so blessed to do what I do and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with my future guests here at Sabi Sabi.



  1. gerry says

    Great blog post Mike. Thanks for an amazing experience. Your professional guiding was incredible and added immense value to our visit. Can’t wait for our next visit!

  2. wendy hawkins says

    Thank you Mike, that was fantastic & your pictures outstanding! Yes you guys have the best offices!!!! Enjoy it!
    I’m glad to see that the Sabi Sabi blogs have “improved”, they were always too short with not enough about the too few pictures!

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