ex­trav­a­ganza

Tired of pho­tograph­ing an­i­mals from your For­tuner? Get down to water-level in one of South­ern Africa’s in­cred­i­ble un­der­ground hides.

Go! Camp & Drive - - Photo Mechanic - Text and photos Vil­liers Steyn Im­prove your wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy skills by down­load­ing Vil­liers’s wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy app, Learn by Ex­am­ple – Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­phy, in the App Store or Google Play Store, and fol­low his ad­ven­tures on In­sta­gram: @vil­liersst

Since an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple are switch­ing their fo­cus from mere game view­ing to wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy, clas­sic plat­form hides are slowly but surely be­ing re­placed by sunken hides that are clearly de­signed with the per­fect photo in mind. The wa­ter­holes they over­look are smaller, the di­rec­tions they face en­sure that every guinea fowl, buf­falo and gi­raffe they at­tract are per­fectly lit, and their com­fort lev­els make Lake Panic’s benches feel like tor­ture. We’re talking high-back swivel chairs, move­able gim­bal heads and, in some cases, even air con! Here’s every­thing you need to know:

1 When to go

Go­ing to an un­der­ground hide dur­ing the wet sea­son (Novem­ber to May) is like go­ing to watch the Bulls play Su­per Rugby this year – dis­ap­point­ment is vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed. An­i­mals are more likely to quench their thirst at flow­ing rivers and pools of rain­wa­ter. Rather book be­tween June and Oc­to­ber when the hides’ pumped wa­ter­holes are the only re­li­able sources of water in the area.

2 What to ex­pect

What makes this ex­pe­ri­ence so ex­hil­a­rat­ing is the fact that you’re look­ing tree squir­rels and blue wax­bills in the eye when you pho­to­graph them, and up at every­thing that’s big­ger. Not only does this give your photos a fresh an­gle, but it also makes it pos­si­ble to blur the back­ground of even the small­est of sub­jects – some­thing that’s nearly im­pos­si­ble from within a ve­hi­cle.

3 Which lenses to take

You never know what you might need, so pack your cam­era bag like you would a first-aid kit – take every­thing you have. Short lenses (24-70 mm) are a must if you’re ex­pect­ing to pho­to­graph large mam­mals like ele­phants or herds of an­te­lope, and long prime lenses (500 mm and 600 mm) are per­fect for small birds. A zoom lens (like a 70-200 mm or 100-400 mm) is also very handy for every­thing in be­tween, in­clud­ing Egyp­tian geese, herons, ba­boons, warthogs, etc.

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