It is that time of the year when afternoon storms take place almost daily, which restricts daylight photography. Leopards, being creatures of the night, often only move after the sun has gone down, making it more difficult to photograph them while they are active. Using a flash is fine but that creates a flat image that can be over-exposed. The eyes of a leopard also do not come out well as they tend to reflect the light from the flash, especially when using an “on camera” flash.
So what do you do? Well you can either make sure that your flash is on a remote system or cable so that you can move the flash away from your lens, but this leads to all kinds of problems as someone needs to hold the flash for you and position it just right. The other option is the use of the spotlights that the rangers use on night safaris. In my opinion this is by far the best way of doing it. Remember that at most leopard sightings on a night safari there will most likely be your Land Rover and one other vehicle. By letting the ranger in the other Land Rover do the shining of the light, you get wonderful side-light on the subject. I prefer using manual settings at this point because your camera will try to expose for the full frame whereas you just want the light on the leopard to be exposed correctly. With the background coming out pitch black it really looks fantastic. Be careful not to use too much framing, leave some room around the leopard.
I used the following settings in this picture: ISO of 1600, F4, at 1/160 of a second. Using my 200- 400mm lens I was close, but not too close. I usually take a number of photos at once because when your camera is set to very slow you will often get camera shake. The animal will need to be stationary or the image will not be sharp. This leopard was listening for cane rats, large rabbit-like rats that are fairly common at Sabi Sabi. In doing so, he posed dead still, giving me a moment to freeze the action.