2014 SEPTEMBER - Samburu, Kenya - Lioness chases Gerenuk

Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya is a unique place to photograph african wildlife. It has a very dry climate, it is hot around midday, and has unusual species not found in many other parts of Africa.

On my two scheduled trips to Kenya we always spend 4 days in this wonderland where you do not have to drive very far to find amazing landscapes and wildlife encounters.

When you first arrive at Samburu it is usually 1pm, so it is hot, the sun is harsh and most animals are huddled in the shade. You start to think "why did I come here ?" However, towards the end of the day the temperatures begin to fall and the nights are pleasantly cool. 

The early morning and late afternoon light in Samburu is unbelievably beautiful, you soon forget the harsh look of midday and the place is transformed into a totally different world.

The Lions in Samburu are regularly seen and they have a different look to them. Sleek is a good word to describe them ! Their fur is not very long and they seem to have larger ears than other lions. Fully grown adult males do not have much of a mane at all and they have an unusual menacing look to them.


Rainbow over Samburu - taken with my iPhone on Panorama Mode


This is big sky country, not only good wildlife but wonderful landscape too. The Doum Palms are characteristic of the reserve and are found concentrated along the Ewaso Nyiro River - a permanent river that has its source in the Aberdare Mountains. If rain in the mountains is heavy it can flood in Samburu without a single drop falling in the reserve.

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm 2.8 lens
1/200 sec @f8 ISO 100 - Manual mode
time: 14:59



One afternoon we headed to the bush line that follows the Ewaso Nyiro River which offers shelter from the hot sun. As we rounded a bend we noticed a few vehicles parked up ahead and soon noticed a Lioness looking intently in the direction of a small group of Gerenuk (one of the unusual animals found in Samburu). At close quarters I always find that using my shorter 70-200mm lens works best for fast action sequences, so anticipating that the Lioness might give chase at any moment, I immediately assessed the the light conditions which were a mix of sunlight and shade (tricky for a setting in manual mode), so I settled on dialling in 1/1000 sec in TV mode as well as setting my ISO to AUTO as I knew the shade would be an issue with the shutter speed even at f2.8 - this would lead to an underexposed shot where the aperture is left "blinking". The Auto ISO would kick in if I needed more light

The shorter lens is easier to handhold and follow the action. You might not always get a frame filling shot, but that is the huge benefit of cropping later when dealing with the large file sizes that modern DSLR's offer. I managed to get one shot of her with my 500mm lens but then she made her move. I barely had time to pick up my 70-200mm and 1Dmk4 Body, but seeing I had set up for this exact situation, I just had to focus and fire, this is the sequence I captured at 10 fps (frames per second)




 The Lioness as we first found her

shot details: Canon 5Dmk3 500mm f4 lens
1/640 @ f5.6 ISO 800 - Manual mode
Time: 16:32



A second later she was on the move and I switched to my 70-200mm lens which was on my 1Dmk4 Body. This is another great reason why having 2 camera bodies each with a different lens attached is a good idea.

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 640 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:11sec



At this stage she was still stalking and paused for a while

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 1000 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO 
time: 16:33:13sec
** note how the ISO compensated for the change in light  compared with the previous shot **

As she charged, the Lioness disappeared momentarily behind a tree. I re-focussed on the Gerenuk and when the Gerenuk started running I hit the fire button.

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 500 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:17sec
** note how on this image the camera adjusted both the aperture and ISO, but the shutter speed remains the same **

 Action like this in Wildlife photography happens incredibly fast, I did not even see the Lioness properly through my view finder, all I could do was to keep my focus point on the Gerenuk and keep firing.

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 500 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:17sec




shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 500 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:17sec



shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 500 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:17sec

**Note that this is the first shot in the chase sequence that is now in the 18th second 16:33:18sec
Four shots were captured in the same second before this image

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 500 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:18sec



shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 500 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:18sec





shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 500 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:18sec






shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 640 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:18sec



As the Lioness went behind a bush I monetarily stopped shooting and started again when I could see her. By this time the Gerenuk had managed to pull away by a considerable distance - those long legs can run fast !!

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 500 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:18sec



As the distance between the Lioness and the Gerenuk increased I zoomed out to fit them both in. At this point I figured the Gerenuk had got away so I focussed on the Lioness

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 400 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:19sec





shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 320 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:19sec





shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 320 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:20sec



Look carefully at the back left leg of the Lioness, it almost looks broken and unnatural, but infact the part that is flat on the ground is the equivalent of our foot from heel to toes. The heel bone on a cat is found where the "bend" is indicated on this Lionesses right leg. Like most other animals they are essentially on their tip toes all the time - this gives them the ability to suddenly burst into top speed very quickly (like permanently being in a sprinters "get set" position)

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 320 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:20sec





shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 250 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:20sec





shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 200 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:20sec





shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 160 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:20sec





shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 70-200mm f2.8 lens
1/1000 @ f3.2 ISO 160 - TV or S mode and AUTO ISO
time: 16:33:20sec

The Gerenuk got away !!


Apart from capturing a record of this hunt, some interesting information can be extracted from the exif data in the files:

Time from when she began her charge to the last frame was 2.5 seconds

My 10 FPS (frames per second) camera captured 17 images
A 3 FPS camera would only have managed around 6 images  
So does your cameras FPS ability count ? - absolutely - especially when wildlife is in action. Remember to leave it on HIGH all the time - there would have been no time on this occasion to have changed the frame rate on the camera.

Having a "freeze the action" camera setting in mind for such scenarios will enable you to capture the story you want to tell with the settings you choose - don't leave it up to your camera. Learning to shooting in Manual Mode will force you to become very familiar with your cameras buttons, settings, shutter speeds, ISO's etc.

if for example I had been in AV Mode and the last subject I had photographed was a hippo resting in the sun on a river bank. ISO at 200 and aperture at f8, my sudden arrival at this lion sighting would have caused excitement and I would most likely have forgotten to change both my ISO and aperture, resulting in very slow shutter speeds. Intentionally choosing a slow shutter speed is a different story.

Getting to know your camera and how to set it up and prepare for different scenarios will give you more freedom to experiment and explore different and more creative options. Use the technical capabilities of your camera to capture what is in your minds eye - not necessarily what you see through the view finder.


Adult Male Lion in Samburu finishing up his drink from the Ewaso Nyiro River - the lifeblood of the reserve and a magnet for an abundance of wildlife.
Note how he has almost no mane and very piercing eyes !

shot info: Canon 5Dmk3 500mm f4 lens
1/800 sec @ f5.6 ISO 800 - Manual mode
time: 17:47


A Male Gerenuk in Samburu Reserve - these unusual antelope with their long necks and legs and small head walk in a very similar way to Camels.

shot info: Canon 5Dmk3 500mm f4 lens
1/1000 sec @ f 5.6 ISO 400 - Manual mode
time: 09:13



The female Gerenuk does not have horns. Typical feeding behaviour is to stand up on their back legs and use their front legs to anchor acacia branches so that they can browse on the leaves. This opens up a food source that is not available to other similar sized antelopes such as Impala and Grant's Gazelle.

shot details: Canon 5Dmk3 500mm f4 lens
1/1000 @ f8 ISO 400 - Manual mode
time: 10:23


The Reticulated Giraffe is perhaps the most striking of all the sub species. They are abundant in Samburu Reserve

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 500mm f4 lens
1/400 sec @ f8 ISO 400 - Manual mode
time: 17:15



Another different species found in Samburu is the Beisa Oryx

shot details: Canon 1Dmk4 300mm f2.8 lens with 1.4 TC
1/320 sec @ f8 ISO 200
time: 10:39



Unlike their plains zebra cousins, the unusually marked Grevy's Zebra with its large fluffy early is also a resident of Samburu and very photogenic

shot details: Canon 5Dmk3 500mm f4 lens
1/640 sec @ f5.6 ISO 400 - Manual mode
time: 10:05



Samburu is also a good location to see and photograph Leopards. This young female had her eyes fixed on this Eastern Yellow Billed Hornbill.

shot details: Canon 5Dmk3 500mm f4 lens
1/500 sec @ f5.6 ISO 6400 - Manual mode
time: 17:54 - overcast conditions



Look out for next months post titled "BIRDS & BIG TUSKERS OF NORTHERN KRUGER"





12 comments:

  1. Outstanding chase sequence Stu - thanks very much for sharing details of your technique!

    Graham Clark

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  2. Oh Stu, lovely pictures, have a great visit. I miss Africa.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Bridget - we miss you !! thanks for reading..

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  3. Another excellent and informative blog Stu, thank you.

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    Replies
    1. Sue - thanks very much, hope you are well, just finished the migration trip with blog to come :)

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  4. Fantastic, love the photo of the leopard and the hornbill.

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  5. Hey Stu. Another great post. Agree that Auto ISO on most cameras now days does a better job of quickly getting an accurate ISO setting so majority of images are very good for subjects moving in and out of varying light quickly. Also found last trip with you that having one camera set to manual - F8 is my friend :) - and another set for fast shutter speed is the way to go. Pesky birds don't always stay around long enough before flying off to change setting so coming across action like you had and birds etc. having a camera 'ready to go' significantly improved my chances of getting good shots. THANKS again for sharing - love reading your tips !

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    Replies
    1. Hi Murray, great !! thanks for reading and your input - i agree f8 is a great aperture for that super sharpness, i love it too.. birds are the issue, they dart around so much (especially the smaller ones) and as a result it is tricky to keep up with the changes of light in manual.. looking forward to Tanzania next year - all the best to Jeanette !!

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  6. What fun Stu!! Just a note on my Nikon 80-400 lens, they just replaced the focusing mechanism, thought it wasn't functioning up to par, will check it out to see if it's doing better. My best to you, cheers Becky

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  7. Hi Becky, glad you enjoyed it, sorry to hear about the lens but great they have replaced it.. hope all is well on Whidbey !! take care

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