How’d You Get That Shot? Safari Photography with David Kotz
Juvenile Cheetah – Serengeti, Tanzania
Photo: David Kotz
Capturing nature’s most awe-inspiring moments takes much more than good luck and a quick trigger finger. Careful planning, serious skill, and a little bit of luck are needed to create the kinds of unforgettable images that make an African safari so enticing, even from thousands of miles away. The photographs these guests snapped are so impressive, we wanted to learn more about what went into them. In this ongoing series, our most avid photographers share some of the secrets behind the stunning images that make us all wonder “How’d you get that shot?”
Photographer David Kotz joins us today.
ABOUT THE PHOTO
What do you like about this shot?
I love the watchful expression on this juvenile cheetah’s face. As a photograph, I’m pleased with the sharp focus on the cheetah and shallow depth of field that keeps the background out of focus allowing the photo to highlight the animal.
What type of planning was involved in order to capture this image?
This shot was mid-day in the Serengeti. We’d encountered a cheetah and her two cubs resting under a tree, and decided to return later when they may have finished their nap. On our return visit, the cubs were more active, and more visible above the grass.
Which camera did you use, and why?
My camera at the time was a Nikon D300, and I purchased a used Sigma 150-500mm lens for the safari. I’m glad I did!
Which settings did you use? Are there any technical tips you have for photographers who are more advanced?
I had the lens at 450mm, shooting at 1/400 sec at f/6.3 and ISO 800. With the D300 I found that ISO 800 is about as high as I can go to retain a sharp image. I run my camera in manual mode with auto-ISO so I can set the shutter speed and aperture manually; in this case I wanted a reasonably fast shutter (to avoid motion blur) and large aperture (to narrow the depth of field) without pushing the ISO above 800.
Which tools, during either the shooting or editing process, did you use to enhance the photo?
I shoot in RAW and edit exclusively in Adobe Lightroom, primarily because it allows me a convenient way to gather and organize all my photos, but also some powerful tools for editing each photo. I did very limited editing on this shot.
What advice do you have for safari goers who want to capture the perfect shot?
Patience. When photographing wildlife, be prepared to wait, camera at ready, for the perfect moment. Perhaps an hour or more. Not long after this shot, the mother cheetah stood and started stalking a group of Thomson gazelles; my camera captured a hundred frames as she and the cubs burst into speed and took down a gazelle after a short chase.
What’s your favorite tip to give fellow photographers?
Work the photo. Keep trying different angles, camera settings, and lighting; wait for wildlife to move or the clouds to shift or the sun to rise. Avoid “checking the box” – capturing a photo just so you can say “yes, I’ve seen and photographed a lion, hippo, whatever.” Look for opportunities to capture interesting images.
How many years of professional photography experience do you have?
Although I am not a professional photographer, I’ve been an amateur photographer for over 40 years. I’ve put a lot more of attention on honing my skills in the past decade.
What’s your favorite thing to photograph?
Interesting question! I enjoy photographing wildlife most of all, but when I return from an extended trip my favorite photos are often of the local people.
What do you think of Tanzania or a safari as an overall photographic opportunity? What made it special to photograph?
Tanzania is an incredible feast for photographers! The wildlife is plentiful and accessible, and the guides know how to locate and understand the animals, making it easier (and more enjoyable) to create great photos. The landscapes are varied and luxurious. And most of all, the people are friendly and welcoming.
Where can we find your work?