South African photographer Greg du Toit has travelled from the southern tip of Africa to beyond the equator seeking to capture what he calls ‘lost’ Africa, where wild creatures roam the savannah plains, enchanting forests and dusty valley floors; a place where a tangible freedom, primal energy and a spirit of adventure still linger. The result is African Wildlife Exposed, a book that shows not only his technical abilities as a photographer, but the effort and endurance that is required to capture extraordinary images of the natural world. There’s a lesson there for all of us.
Dawn King In the night I had been woken several times by the distant groans made by lions. The following morning, as dawn broke, we found three big males. They had been roaring in an attempt to track down their pride of lionesses. As they got closer to the females, they lifted their heads and curled their lips in what is known as the flehmen grimace. This allows them to sample the air for pheromones. A lingering condensation of breath caused me to hit my shutter button in a rushed panic. Even after 10 years of photographing, my wild subjects arouse in me an excitement that makes me feel as if the picture I am about to take is my very first.
Descending Leopards embody all the attributes of the ultimate predator. Their speed and agility in both climbing and descending trees is nothing short of remarkable. I have spent over 700 hours now following and documenting leopards, and one of the most difficult frames to capture has been a descent from a tree. For this seemingly intangible frame, I have wanted to use a slow shutter speed to show the swift vertical movement of a leopard’s decisive descent. Frustratingly, in my earlier attempts I badly underestimated the speed of these enigmatic predators and my frames have been at best very abstract blurs. I have since reviewed both my technique and settings, and it took me many more frustrating months of waiting before this opportunity arose to capture a leopard descending.
Grasshoppers I had been driving around looking for something big and dangerous to photograph. Passing by a clump of bushes, I spotted this pair of mating grasshoppers. Wanting you to have a window into the world of my grasshopper subjects, I carefully stuck my lens deep into the bush. Selecting a moderate aperture, I then manually focussed until the eyes of the front insect and the antenna of the back one were in focus. To get both grasshoppers equally sharp would have taken the mystery out of the image. Interestingly, I captured this image in Timbavati, an area that is renowned for its predators and other big game. For me, the fascination of the African bush extends beyond the ‘big and hairy’.
Chameleon It is not often that you find a baby chameleon shedding its skin. I watched closely as this little fellow rubbed his head against the grass stalk to remove the dead outer layer of skin. My subject, no bigger than your little finger, periodically paused and stared straight into my lens as if to say, “Do you mind? I’m shedding here!”
Pelicans I woke one morning to find Lake Nakuru covered in a thick mist. I desperately wanted to get to the shoreline before the sun rose. When I arrived, I was met with a beautiful and surreal scene. There were great white pelicans preening in the foreground, while the mist and distant Rift Valley wall had blended into a blue and white background. Without a second thought, I waded into the cool water and crouched on my haunches. When I spotted one of the pelicans flying towards the flock, I knew that this would be my chance, even though tracking the bird as it flew straight towards my camera through the mist was not an easy task for my sluggish 80-400mm lens.
Chimp siesta The eastern shore of the beautiful Lake Tanganyika is where you will find the largest wild population of chimpanzees. The forest here is dark, and photographers are not allowed to use a flash. To make matters worse, you are permitted only one hour each day with the chimps. On this particular visit, after locating a community of these great apes, things were going well and the chimps were out in the open. Then, quite suddenly and without warning, they all decided it was siesta time. While they lay on the forest floor, my guide politely informed me that they usually sleep for about an hour. Perplexed and not sure what to do, I decided to join my reclining subjects. Lying prostrate on the forest floor, I gazed into this chimp’s eyes and I must admit that I too felt sleepy.