She was the most beautiful and spiritual animal I saw on my September 2005 South African photography trip. I was enchanted with her; it was more than just a fancy or fanciful thought. She was everything that was wild and free about the unique animals of Africa. She embodied all that is Africa. The intense look in her eyes as she surveyed the savanna was mesmerizing. I was completely under the spell she cast with her enchanting yellow-green eyes.
Before Londolozi, my photography friends were chiding me about a leopard sighting earlier on our trip in Kruger National Park. I was driving and it was very late; I missed seeing a leopard in a tree flash lighted by a parked tour bus driver. Who at almost dark was shining light into a tree with a big flashlight alongside the road for his passengers.
We had stopped, my friend in our first vehicle was leading, and she engaged the driver and he pointed out the leopard to her. However for me, driving our second car the angle for viewing was wrong; the leopard was hidden by a big branch that hung down to the road. My companion in the back seat and I searched and searched for at least twenty minutes in vain and could see nothing, no leopard.
While my friend in the first vehicle chatted away with the tour bus driver, precious time was ticking down. We needed to get to Lower Sabie camp, a camp we had yet to visit before they closed the gate. Otherwise, we would face a large fine. Already there was hardly any light left in the sky.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, my friend driving the first vehicle took hurriedly off as her companion in the back seat, the fourth member of our group, made her aware of the ticking time. She was leading; I was following. It was almost completely dark now and I did not want to lose her. Actually, I had no idea where we were and where was Lower Sabie Camp. I was just following.
Concentrating on my driving, I drove by the “viewing window” to see the roadside leopard. Later, my companion in the back seat when asked said, yes, he did see the “leopard but only at 30 miles hour for a few brief seconds.” I was the only one of our group that missed seeing the leopard.
Afterward, in the Lower Sabie parking lot, my friends were riding me so hard for missing this leopard sighting that I actually got angry. Something I never do. They said that I might never see another leopard and I possibly blew my one and only chance of seeing this elusive cat. “You missed your one and only chance, Bruce. You might not have another opportunity to see a wild leopard, you came all this way to South Africa and mess up your only chance.” I could not believe we were fighting over this missed sighting. In my anger, I told them to go to hell.
I need not have worried, for our visit to Londolozi, in the nearby Sabi Sands game reserve, was just days away. Where I would have the destiny to meet this beautiful and enchanting leopard called Maxabene. It was like she was waiting for me—just for me alone. We saw other Leopards too, like the Short Tailed 5:4 Male. We had more sighting of leopards than we could have hoped and dreamed for. Not only sightings but the chance to make compelling photographs of this elusive feline species. It’s where I fell in love with the lovely and mysterious female leopard called Maxabene. Our time together was brief. However, she’ll never leave my memories of my time at the place they call Londolozi—a place that truly is a “protector of all living things”.
Plus, I have these images of Maxabene that will be with me always, as a remembrance of our brief time together.
Taken for granted are the sounds of nature, bird songs in the morning’s dawn, the whispers of the wind gently touching your face, and the powerful smell of raw wilderness. These are a few of the healing and soothing gifts of the natural world.
Too often today, we have divorced ourselves from nature. This loss of connection has sent us adrift. Most of us are ill without even knowing it. There is so much nature can bestow upon us if we accept its gifts and live close to it. A timeless peace, a sense of harmony and balance, and a belief in the essential goodness of life are a few of the benefits of living with nature.
I have a friend who is a morning person. He would get up very early before dawn and prepare some coffee on the gas burning stove at the cabin we shared. Then, he would go outside with his cup of coffee and wait for dawn to break and watch the day begin. He would listen to the birds’ songs begin as the night passed to day, as the darkness faded minute by minute. This simple act gave him peace and rid him of the anxiety created by life in the modern world. I treasured sharing these moments with him; they became part of my early exposure to tranquil powers of the wild.
We shared another passion. He fueled my desire to learn about the birds whose calls we heard, to distinguish one from another, to learn their calls by heart, and discover their unique behavior of each individual species. I started my first species list. The mysterious California Thrasher whose spring calls from the tops of the chamise bushes first intrigued us became the first species on the list.
Yet, at some point keeping a list was not enough, nor was just taking their pictures. After a few years, I took my creative passion to capturing their beauty, their very essence, and their spirit of life. I now have gone a step further with my art and my photography to capturing the sacredness of life itself.
In this way, I can share this sacredness of nature with others. Through my images, they can glimpse within their hearts and minds the mystery and wonder of the natural world–regenerating the strings that once connected and attached them to the earth. They can learn not to take nature for granted, especially the morning serenade of bird songs, and again become part of the sacred circle of life itself.
Here with my Wildlife Beyond Borders collection of bird images, I hope to ignite the love of birds, spark feelings of marvel in their brilliant colors, and open people’s hearts to their unique world. Wherever we are in our daily life we must listen, and not take nature’s gestures for granted, for bird songs are windows into the natural world.
Some may say this is the fanciful thinking of an idealistic dreamer. Yet, I believe in the power of nature to heal, comfort and soothe the human soul. All my life experiences with nature have led me to know this truth.
Come to the Wildlife Beyond Borders reception at Keeble and Shuchat and learn more. Meet my fellow artists Mary Aiu, Susan Carnahan, Diane Rebman, Wendy Hannum, and Oliver Klink. Reception is Saturday, April 16, 2016, from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM at Keeble and Shuchat, 290 California Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306.
To register for the VIP at 1:00 PM and/or Main Event click register link below
What Goes into a Spectacular Wildlife Portrait? (5 Essential Ingredients)
A portrait without a great subject just doesn’t work; there is nothing to catch and hold the eye, nothing to draw and elicit emotions from the viewer. Some would think a green lynx spider is a great subject, it can be, for spiders and insects strike a chord in some. Yet, sea otters who have a human baby like face, and other attractive animals especially cats and members of the dog family, are more popular subjects and really strike the emotional heart of humans. Young mammals have that “cute” factor that always touches people and produce that “ah” and “wow” response. Many nature photographers capitalize on this reaction and develop much of their efforts in photographing the young of many mammal species. Yet, I still believe that any wildlife subject photographed extremely well can be a great portrait.
How clean is the image? Are there distractions? Where does the eye go to? Whatever the subject is it cannot stand out or sing, unless the background is clear and clean. Ultimately, a complex and busy background will draw the viewer’s attention away from the subject itself. The background’s color, line, and content need to compliment the subject and add to the overall impact of the image, not detract from the subject. Sometimes the background is just as important as the subject.
Another significant factor is light. Light is the key to any successful image. A great image must have great light. For inherently, photography is essentially capturing light. Many types of light can be used in portrait making. Side lighting can be effective, and with human subjects, the use of flash gives the photographer lots of control over the overall quality of light. The classic Rembrandt technique with its two to one ratio give classic human portraits. Window lightening is also a very simple yet effective light source in the hands of a competent photographer. For outdoor wildlife portraits, my favorite light is diffused light: soft and not harsh, and rendering colors to their most vibrant essence. Not the thick gray clouds of rain, nor the dreary gray of fogging days, but just the thin clouds just obscuring the sun’s direct and bright light–a big giant softbox obscuring the sun.
Another factor is the spirit of life. That twinkle in the eyes that reflect back the spirit and personality of the animal. Black and dull eyes mean lifeless eyes. Without good illumination, you have a stuffed animal look that doesn’t capture the mystery and wonder of life. Eyes must be sharp in focus. As they say, eyes are windows to the soul!
The final element is composition. Like a great painter, you must draw the observer in. Create a three dimension space from a two dimension medium. Diagonal lines are more powerful and less static than horizontal or vertical lines. Use s-curves, color, form, and texture to keep your viewer engaged. Study great art! The composition principals are the same in both mediums. Keep the composition simple, for simplicity clarifies the structure and purposes the image-maker intend. Whereas complexity visually clutters the eye and leaves a general disinterest and disappointment with the viewer. Great composition means a powerful impact that engages on an emotional and spiritual level. Hauntingly drawing the viewer back time and time again, to see with fresh eye once more.
In summary, you need an interesting subject that sparkles with life and engages the viewer with its own unique personality. Where all the elements contribute and enhance the subject. Keeping the background simple and clean lets the subject captivate the viewer and tugs at the strings of the heart. Photography is an evocative art. The making of a great portrait image is accomplished with distinct and interesting illumination and with a creative composition that ties in all the elements together.
Adding a little behavior could also enhance the overall impact, educating the viewer, providing a glimpse or window into the lives of these animals. Here for my example, a fox with a prey animal in its mouth. Yet other than serendipity, this requires lots of time in the field, much studying their behavior and patience and more patience. However, the reward could be outstanding, a portrait with behavior.
Applying these ingredients over time, with practice and dedication, you will develop a style, and furthermore, your vision and unique way of seeing the world will come through in your images, in your body of work, and that’s the making of great art!
Here is a particular wildlife portrait I really love. It’s one of my gray fox images taken at my beloved ramrod ranch from a photo blind. It’s just incredible to watch a wild gray fox come into drink not ten feet away from you. It’s a humbling and spiritual experience. I just love the diffused fall colors in the background. Especially, the diagonal flow of the top part and the subtle warm circular colors in the bottom left. Love also the expression of life in this young gray fox’s face. It’s so alive and alert… One of my best wildlife portraits!!!
This image was taken at the Ramrod Ranch where I offer bird blind photography each spring and fall. Not only do birds come to water, but so does many other animals like this beautiful gray fox.
A compelling, fascinating, and a compassionate look into the “Soul of the Elephant”, done in a very poignant way as if they were telling the story through a poem. Dereck and Beverly Joubert are my favorite wildlife filmmakers. They tell important stories of iconic African wildlife in a fresh way, with breathtaking cinematography, using innovative camera angles. Their expert bush and species knowledge comes through a narration that is just mesmerizing, so lyrical and melodic–the way they switch and weave the stories and scenes between each other’s voice.
If you love elephants, wild places, wild animals, this Nature PBS episode is not to be missed. This is natural storytelling at its best, by those closest to the wildlife, living life with them. Their passion for what they do and the compassion and love for the wildlife comes through in their presentation.
I only wished for more…like their 88-minute film the Last Lions that I saw in the theater.
The original broadcast was on PBS on October 14, 2015, somehow I missed it. However, I found the full episode online at the PBS Nature site.
Take time from your busy life and please watch this Nature episode; it will change you forever, it’s haunting. I have already seen it twice, and I am sure I’ll watch again.
I highly recommend this search for the “Soul of the Elephant”, in fact, I would love to be doing what they are–immersed in the wild: living and breathing the wild smells of Africa.
When I was at Londolozi, South Africa, in September 2005, CC Africa owned controlling rights and ran the lodges and safaris. Soon afterwards, the Varty’s bought back the control of their lodge, their family place, and their reserve. They introduced the new concept of A Self-Transformation Adventure Retreat (STAR) where people would come to immerse themselves in the wildness of Londolozi and be healed by its spectacular nature.
For me, when immersed in nature I feel happy and truly alive. At Londolozi, I saw the southern cross for the first time, as well as Leopards and Lions in the wild, and other iconic animals of Africa.
A few years after I was back, I bought Dave Varty’s, book, “Full Circle” when it came out in 2009, and read his family story. His son Boyd now runs Londolozi for the family….
Here is a Ted Talk; I recently discovered on the Londolozi blog from Boyd Varty, given on the day that Nelson Mandela died…. He talks about something that I truly believe in, a sense that your well-being is really tied to the well-being of others. Living your life as such, believing and acting on this principle.
He takes it further and applies it to wild creatures when he talks about an Elephant named “Elvis”. When I was at Londolozi, I saw this elephant, I even have some images of her in my computer files. Here is one!
We thought the same. Why isn’t she food for the Lions? How is she surviving? It’s because the elephants in her group were protecting her, moving more slowly, assisting her across the difficult ground of the African bush.
See what Boyd Varty means by the African concept of Ubuntu. (I am because of you) in this wonderful and important TED Talk…
The other Ted talks in this link from the Londolozi blog are very good and inspiring, but Boyd Varty’s touch me in a very personal way, because I have been at Londolozi, and I share a similar life view!
If you are going to Africa on a photography safari, and would like some advice on what gear to take, what particular photography situations are unique to photographing in East or South Africa, etc., I would be happy to share my knowledge.
You can reach and email me at email@example.com
Nothing stirs a male lion like, the laughing cackling call of hyenas. They are mortal enemies. When the numbers favor them, hyenas in large gangs chase female lions off kills. As cubs, lions live in fear of hyenas, for hyenas will kill lion cubs if they can. With incidences from their youth, male lions remember and as adults will go out of their way to kill hyenas. It’s war; combat where lives are at stake.
This male lion perked up during the midday heat when he heard the far-off call of hyenas. You can see the alertness and the readiness to engage in battle if the threat comes.
We were patrolling in the vastness of the Serengeti, heading south from our lodge in the middle of this giant National Park. We would follow the tree-lined valleys looking for game. These valleys were a good place to find leopards, but not today. As the trees petered out, we came upon a pan, with a little water in the middle of a sea of grass.
It was here that we found two male lions. One seemed a bit younger, a red devil, with a very reddish mane, and not fully grown in. Not brothers because of the difference in ages, but probably cousins, and from the same pride. Their mothers were probably sisters. Both were lounging along the water of this recently filled pan when we coast up to them in our land rover.
It was my first trip to the Serengeti and East Africa. Like many, I was really struck by the vastness of the plains. Here in the southern Serengeti, there weren’t many trees. These plains extended all the way to the horizon, shimmering in the midday heat.
When the distant hyena calls became louder indicating the hyena clan was getting closer. The larger and older of the two males awoke from his lazy sleepy place along the pan. After pacing around a bit, he faced the direction of the calls and tested the wind; here was an aroused big cat ready to do battle.
It was a moment we were hoping for, some action, and this big cat gave us everything we could have ask for as he sat up and tested the wind for his enemy. Here in this image you really could see and feel his intent; this male lion is truly the “King of the Beasts”.
With Lions disappearing in Africa, down to less than twenty thousand, and the latest trophy hunting controversy and killing of Cecil, the famous male lion, in Zimbabwe. I felt lucky and humbled to have seen these two male lions and shared a little time with them, just being in their magnificent presence was so special.
I hope to go back to East Africa, maybe, next summer, in the dry season this time. Maybe, a visit to Kenya and the Masa Mara too. If you would like to join me and experience moments like these images depict, please stay tuned, my friend John is working on another trip. Africa is an incredible place, and in the Game Reserves and National Parks, you still can see wild Africa as it once was.
Compared to my 2005 trip to South Africa, we saw many more Male Lions. Here is a Male Lion in the very early morning light, gazing across the plains, checking out what’s going around him. As Lions often do.
We had many different color manes among the many different Male Lions we saw, darker in the Serengeti, a really beautiful blond Male Lion in a different area of Ndutu. This one belong to the Marsh pride, and his mane is in between, not light, not red like some, and not too dark or black.
I just love the side profile with that intent look, and the light was just fantastic, just after sunrise. By the way, it was our last shooting morning, and last morning in Ndutu. What a way to send me on my journey home.
Maybe, he looks so alive, because right beside him is a lioness. He was between mating bouts with her, now waking up, and ready to begin to go again. Very visceral, especially the sounds, and the action of them mating. A picture that stays on the screen of your memory forever. For that story, I used my 100- 400 mm lens, that’s how close we were, and yet that’s another image too…
More stories and images of East Africa to come…
One of the many highlights of my trip to East Africa was lions. I saw many lions in many places: like Ngornogoro Crater, the Serengeti, and here in Ndutu. This image was taken along with the image I posted a few days ago—my last morning photographing in East Africa.
This is the female lioness that my male lion (previous image) was mating with. Here they are both greatly aware and very intently checking out what another male lion about 40 yards away is doing or is up too.
Sometimes getting two subjects sharp with a telephoto lens can be difficult. Here though both lions were close to the same plane so f6.3 aperture was sufficient to capture both subjects sharp.
Notice the noses…could it be that this young Male Lion is wooing an older female. Generally, Lions noses turn black as they age. Here the female lion has a completely black nose, while her male companion nose has some red, indicating that he is a bit younger than her…
Again, I just love the light; this early morning low angle light bathes them in a warm glow that accentuates the colors of the male’s mane and their beautiful tawny bodies.
A mating image next, should I dare!!!???
Affection: Before or After???
I haven’t dare post a mating image yet. Working up my courage. So I thought I would share an image with some affection before the violent mating act itself. We can learn a lot through observing wildlife, even the King of Beast can show affection, perhaps even kindness and love.
They do seem to get along better than some people, some nations. Just think of all the wars we have been through the last fifteen years. The Islamic Jihadist war against the rest of us, and the beheading of fellow human beings, man’s cruelty to his fellow man. I could go on and on…
It just seems that wildlife can teach us a lesson of learning to get along. I know that predators eating and killing to live is violent to some and they have trouble with this. However, through death comes life, everything has a purpose, nothing breaks the strands of the web of life. There is a harmony and a balance in nature; it’s only man that can disturb the cycle of life and break the web…
Anyway, we better pay attention. It might be too late already, because if we don’t, then this beautiful planet of ours, won’t be Mother Earth; it will be something harsh and deadly.
And then, the next great mass extinction will be Homo sapiens sapiens—us!
Mating Lions at Last:
After my lion image showing affection, here is my best mating image from that morning.
Lions can mate 4 to 6 times an hour, 100 times a day, and it can go on for days. After exhausting one male, the female will sometimes mate with other male members of the pride, to insure and protect her future cubs by bonding with all the pride’s males.
Lion mating is a violent affair, and does not last long –a few minutes at most. Usually the male will scent mark afterwards, claiming and marking the territory and the females in it as his.
Other than the gorgeous early morning light, I think the success of this image is that female is looking up at her suitor engaging in communication between them, and that her eyes are clearly visible and have such a wonderful expression… Even though, there is no sound, you can almost hear it from their expressions.
Perhaps, the moment of lion ecstasy!
A Drinking Lion and A Very Thirsty Lion:
Mating expends lots of energy, and is a very thirsty endeavor. After, repeat bouts of mating, where does a Male Lion go? He heads for the river and some water. Here are some images from the previous day, when the sun had gone higher in the sky, and the heat became a little more oppressive.
One vertical, the other a horizontal orientation, one a partial portrait and the other showing the complete body. Which one do you prefer, the vertical or horizontal image of the Male Lion drinking water?
Basically, these images were taken within minutes of each other at the same place.
Pictures are ultimately are about how they make your feel. Photography is an evocative art. Most of the time your responds comes from inside, within the gut, it’s a feeling, a sense, and or an emotion.
Knowing why, and articulating the reason we prefer one image over another helps us look within ourselves, and ultimately understand ourselves better.
So tell me which image do you prefer and why!
The Blond Mane Male Lion of Ndutu’s Marsh pride:
The females lionesses had just made a zebra kill in the middle of a wide low area and were eating. This male came out of the tree line, and made a beeline to where we were, coming straight at us, to get his share of the food.
Thus, he was intent and focused. I just happen to get this image toward the end of his run. It was a great behavior moment to witness! His eyes were open in this image, and I captured the movement of the leg as he strides, both help make this a special picture.
He is the most beautiful male lion we saw; his beautiful blonde mane is extraordinary!
The Power of a Male Lion:
I will leave you with this last one image as the magnificent blond mane lion pulls up a zebra carcass. Lions have incredible strength especially male lions in their prime. They rule the Africa savanna; they are the apex predator, nothing will stand up to them, except other male lions in their prime.
Lions kill to live and eat, if they didn’t exist; the grazers like wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, and especially elephants would destroy the habitation, and degrade the environment. Lions along with the other predators like leopards, hyena, and cheetah, provided a vital function in the African ecosystem and are part of the web of life.
Perhaps, the Last lions are walking on the earth now. Down to about 20,000.00 in Africa, their numbers are under extreme threat by poaching and loss of wild places to live. As the human population in Africa grows, tremendous pressure is put on Africa’s wild habitats. The days of finding lions and wild Africa outside of the National Parks is long gone. It’s only us, man, who can save the lion, and the wild places they need to live in.
These image of this magnificent blond mane lion stir my heart and represent to me all that it is to be a lion. I want to know wherever I am or live even if it is not in Africa that Lions will still be roaming the wild African landscape. Life will be diminished knowing that they will no longer roar at night, stalk the bush, sleep under the acacia trees, and hunt to feed themselves and their cubs.
If you would like to help Lions in Africa, please donated to National Geographic’s “Big Cat Initiative” and Cause a Roar!
Here is their link: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/big-cats-initiative/get-involved/
Bruce Finocchio 3/12/2015
*Each of these segments were previously published in Facebook under “Dream Catcher Images” page as short post.
More images of a Male Lion from the wonderful Ndutu section within the Ngorongoro Conservation area, part of the greater Serengeti ecological system in East Africa.