Taking wildlife photographs requires technical skill, practice and patience. In this stunning portfolio of images, Hannes Lochner shares his tips on how to capture the animals of the Okavango Delta on camera
uring more than five years in the Kalahari Desert, I developed a craving for water, and lots of it; and elephants, and lots of them. We wanted to explore a totally different environment and spend enough time to get to know it intimately, especially its wildlife and individual animals which we could follow to study their quaint habits and characteristic behaviour under different conditions. What better location for this than the Okavango Delta?
There we could capture the animals on film, in a waterlogged environment, studying the effects on them of both an abundance of water and a lack of it, looking particularly at seasonal and unseasonal changes in the circle of life in this large ecosystem.
We fell in love with a unique part of the African continent and were sad to leave. I believe that if you live an ordinary life, you will tell ordinary stories. However, if you live an adventurous life, you will be able to entertain generations with stories and works of art depicting the miracles in nature. This is our life. Welcome to our world!
Midnight feast (above)
“After a huge fight between two hippo bulls, the older male died. The carcass drifted for a few days, and after the crocodiles had had their fair share, the smell attracted hyena and they cautiously dragged out the remains. Soon, two lions appeared on the other side of the river. To avoid the crocs, they walked onwards to cross where it was narrower. The hyena ran away and the lions feasted the whole night long until early morning. Now and then, the hippo responsible for the other’s demise attempted to chase the cats off. I tried to capture the whole scene, including the Milky Way that stretched across the skyline. The photo was taken on a tripod — one single frame, not a double exposure.”
Nikon D600, 14mm, 30s, ISO 3200, f2.8, 3 flashes
“Two hippos enjoy the balmy winter sun. Although they have thick skin, it is sensitive to sunburn, so while they are often seen basking on the riverbanks, they tend to sleep in the water during the day. The image was taken from a gyrocopter, as we soared high above them. I chose a very fast shutterspeed so I didn’t get any ‘camera-shake’, which would have blurred my image. These machines can be very unsteady in the air, so I would recommend a shutterspeed of at least 1/2500s.”
Nikon D4, 24-70mm at 38mm, 1/5000s, ISO 1600, f6.3, from a gyrocopter
“Carmine bee-eaters in flight give an amazing display of colour. They breed in their thousands in the banks of rivers. Males compete for mates and also squabble over food. Their vivid plumage can be seen when they fly high for their aerial battles. Here, I chose a fast shutterspeed to ‘freeze’ the moment. Personally, when photographing birds on foot, I shoot holding my camera in my hand with my 600mm lens — but it is a lot easier with a monopod. These telephoto lenses can get very heavy so a support is always better if you don’t have a lot of light to work with.”
Nikon D4, 600mm, 1/3200s, ISO 1600, f10
“Leopard are opportunistic hunters and will challenge any prey they can overpower. We sat with a female and watched it stalk and run at least 50m to reach a red-billed spurfowl. The bird could not hear or see the leopard and was caught in the long grass. After plucking all the feathers, it enjoyed its snack. I drove close to the leopard and used a very narrow depth of field, hence the very blurry fore- and background. I also took the image at a really low angle, which makes your subject stand out more and always gives the photograph an interesting perspective.”
Nikon D4, 600mm, 1/400s, ISO 1600, f4
“After two lionesses cornered a group of banded mongoose, the chase was on. It was never about the food but all about the pursuit — trying to catch and kill. In defence, the mongoose excretes a foul smell, so after killing it, the lion will usually leave without eating it. All the mongooses were killed, except for one (pictured) which turned back and bit the lioness on the nose. She got a huge fright and let go for a second, which was just enough time for the mongoose to escape into an old aardvark hole. I used my zoom telephoto lens because it gives you more freedom when your subject is running towards you. It’s always easier going a little wider just in case the subject fills the frame — you can crop later. I chose a high shutterspeed, which was necessary as it all happened so quickly. Moreover, a fast frame rate is crucial to make sure you can select the right frame afterwards.”
Nikon D4, 200-400mm at 400mm, ISO 500, 1/5000s, f4
“I set up a camera close to my camp inside an old aardvark hole visible from my tent. I wanted to see how many different animals, walking along the game trail, stopped to smell or inspect the hole. I mostly photographed hyena — but one evening I managed to get a serval. When I saw it, I quickly grabbed my remote pocket wizard and triggered my camera at a distance of about 80m.”
Nikon D600, 14mm, 1/25s, ISO 2500, f22, 2 flashes
“Hyena cool off in the hot summer months by just lying in pools. They also splash and dunk one another while swimming together. The periodic immersion helps to control parasites on their bodies. When a hyena runs and splashes, you need to be very accurate with your focusing. An automatic system won’t be able to capture the water droplets, and your subject would be out of focus. The key is to ensure your shutterspeed is high enough. I like using f-stops between f2.8 and f4, so the subject stands out with blurry surroundings. It’s more difficult to get things pin-sharp but it’s definitely even more rewarding when you get the shot!”
Nikon D4, 600mm, ISO 640, 1/3200s, f4
The latest coffee-table book from Hannes Lochner, Planet Okavango, is an evocative tribute to the wetland deltas of Botswana, their inhabitants and unique wonder. The meeting of Lochner’s creative mastery and the rich beauty of the Okavango has resulted in a stunning work, every page vivid with images of the Delta wildlife at their natural best. He is one of the last true wildlife photographers for whom photography is an art. His methods are groundbreaking — he visualises his images before even capturing them. His talent and skill bring his readers delight, wonder and awe, and Planet Okavango offers just such an experience.