Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mashatu Workshop Report

Words by Isak Pretorius, images as indicated.

Taking the N1 north from Johannesburg early morning you see the sunrise over Pretoria as you pass through. The first stop is at Kranskop Wimpy for a toasted samie and famous Wimpy coffee on the go. This is bliss, not only because of the good coffee but this sequence of events usually means the start of a C4 Mashatu Photo Workshop!

It's an easy drive up to the Pontdrif border between South Africa and Botswana where you leave your car and get picked up by the Mashatu vehicles. This is where the safari starts! August is always a great time for a safari at Mashatu, but then again any time of the year is actually a good time. The photo workshop is five days with eight game drives and aimed at getting any level of photographer to take their own top quality wildlife photos. We do this through photographic guidance on the game drives and informal classroom training in the afternoons at the lodge.

I was looking forward to this trip in particular because of some familiar guests we were hosting. It always helps to know what the expectations are and in this case I knew we had to get some top leopard, lion and cheetah shots. No pressure! All the other guests had the same request and also threw in some elephants, hyena and general game photo requests. We worked hard for the sightings on the first few days but it all worked up to a climax as we were spoiled with top shots of all predators and their young by the end of the trip. In fact, on the last four game drives we could literally choose between any of lion, cheetah, leopard, or hyena sightings as they were all out and performing beautifully on the open plains of Mashatu.

Time flies when you're having fun and the workshop felt much too short. We had great sightings, great laughter and were wonderfully hosted by the friendly Mashatu staff in the quiet and comfortable Tented Camp. Thanks Richard and Justice and all of Tented Camp's staff for a great time! We will al be back shortly!

14 August 2013
Leopards and other predators were on the wish list for this photo workshop, so we spent our first game drive trying to find our first subject to photograph. We had no luck finding anything as we kept driving and searching. Eventually we found an elephant that provided us with the opportunity to warm up the shutters. After photographing the elephant we got a call on the radio of a leopard sighting in the area we had been scouting all afternoon. We quickly made our way there and got some top shots in the bag before returning to camp for supper.

15 August 2013
I love keen photographers so I was in my element to find everyone ready for the morning drive 15min before the time we had agreed on. After a bird silhouette sunrise photo we scouted again in the area we saw the leopard the previous evening. Without luck tracking down the leopard we were happy to learn about a lion kill not too far from us. Two males in a pride of 13 lions killed a big eland in a riverbed. Our shutter count went up by a few hundred photographing the lions. While we watched the lions a herd of elephants came to drink in the same riverbed where the surroundings made for great wide angle shots. The afternoon game drive started with a bang as we found the mother leopard fetching her cub (the same cub we photographed on the first evening) to take her to what we guessed was a kill she had made. They disappeared into a thick bush and we left the sighting to go to a cheetah mother and her three small cubs who were feeding on a fresh kill. After the cheetah we went back to the leopard and found them on a kill too. A drink back at the bar at camp was the perfect way to celebrate another glorious day in the African bush.

16 August 2013
Our original plan was to try the elephant hide this morning, but with all the fresh kills and good sighting around we decided to try our luck on a game drive again. Leopards at their kill and catching up with the cheetahs completed our drive. The afternoon drive had a special sighting in store for one of our vehicles as they were lucky to see a lioness bring out her four tiny cubs out of a bush, almost just to show them off for a few minutes. A hyena den with tiny pups and the cheetahs on the open plains completed another great drive.

17 August 2013
We tried the elephant hide for the morning and although the bird photography was great as always, we were unlucky not to have any elephants show up. The afternoon drive made up for any disappointments however as found the mother leopard and both her cubs in a Mashatu tree they've dragged their kill into. Beautiful skies and last golden light provided us with special back-lit and silhouette baboons, back-lit elephants and kudu, the cheetah cubs playing in last light, hyenas at the den and landscape photos which included a lesson in starscape and startrail photography.

18 August 2013
It was with shock that we realised the last morning drive had arrived. Making the most of good morning light my vehicle photographed backlit elephants in the mopanes while the other vehicle focussed on the cheetahs in golden light. They gave a phenomenal show with the cubs playing on the open plain and even climbing in a tree at one stage. We then found the leopards again exactly where we left them, to take our last photos and say goodbye to another fantastic photo workshop at Mashatu.