watching you watching me. aka how I snapped the elusive leopard

Thanks for tuning in to my latest blog post.  Time for a change of pace - let's get away from people, weddings and London for a short while.

Let's instead head to the great outdoors.  More specifically to the legendary Kruger National Park in South Africa. 

Even more specifically, we're heading to a copse of trees where, resting on a branch, is this magnificent leopard.

This is easily one of my personal favourite images that I've ever taken for a variety of reasons.  Firstly - I'm by no means a wildlife photographer; my skillset, experience and equipment are geared towards other areas of photography.  Until this trip, I had little idea how involved, rewarding and difficult it is to get good wildlife images.

Another reason is the story behind the image - on a three day safari, I had seen a huge variety of wildlife including four of South Africa's Big Five animals - lions, elephants, rhinos and buffalo.  The fifth (the leopard) though, was proving elusive.  By nature, they keep themselves to themselves and are hard to track.

By the final day (and after multiple drives with the rangers) there was still no sign of a leopard and I was getting desperate to snap one.

And so, to the very last drive of the safari trip, with departure looming early the following morning.  A long, beautiful drive - walking with cheetahs, following a small pride of lions, coming across some very angry looking buffalo and watching a glorious sunset over the distant Draksenberg Mountains.  Pretty much everything in fact, except for a leopard.

The light was fading as the rangers decided to head back to the lodge when......a radio crackled into life.  Another ranger had found a leopard - we had to get there quick!  And when we did, there it was - a beautiful leopard, relaxing on a tree limb. 

We sat close to that tree for 20 minutes, as I alternated between snapping away and just drinking in the sight of this magnificent predator.

Photographically speaking, this was a hard shot to take as the light was fading fast and I didn't have a long enough zoom for ideal framing.

In the end, I used my Nikkor 85mm f1.8G, at f2.2 and ISO 1600.  In editing I cropped the image and added clarity and contrast to the leopard.

What made the shot so personally memorable was something totally out of my control - the moment when the leopard looked directly at me just as I snapped the shot.  Of the dozens of shots I took, this is the one I come back to – the leopard's direct stare into my lens was unforgettable; which is the other reason why this is such a personal image.

Since I've taken it, this has been one of my most popular images - it was featured by The Guardian website and is one of my most popular prints.  It's in my Places gallery - please contact me for print and licensing enquiries.

So that's the story of the leopard.  Next time, I'll focus on a portrait as I'll dissect another personal favourite image. 

Thanks as always for reading.