Photographic Failures (Lion cubs on a fallen tree)

I look forward each week to the Londolozi photo blog. It brings me back to a place I loved and whets my appetite for a return trip. This week James mentioned two things that got me thinking. The first was a computer problem causing photo access issues – a great reminder to hook up my portable harddrive and do another backup (plus a secondary backup in case of a serious meltdown). The second was a photo he included that he noted was a photographic failure, but the story of the sighting was amazing (check out the week in photos #80 on the Londolozi site). Had I not had the explanation, I wouldn’t have gotten the full impact of the photo. Which got me thinking about the lion cubs we saw while at Londolozi.

The photos I have of the cubs include some of the most shockingly poor photos I have taken. Out of focus, odd colour, motion blur when there shouldn’t be, depth of field that was inappropriate for the situation, highly grainy & filled with noise… Honestly without the story behind the photos, people would probably think one of two things:

1) “That is the first time this person held a camera… and it didn’t go well.”

2) “The photographer was drunk.”

I can assure you that this gem was taken by someone, who although is in perpetual learning mode when it comes to photography, has definitely held a camera before, and was also stone cold sober (in fact, I’m quite certain I have managed far more in focus photos than this after a glass or three of wine. (I have no idea how I managed to cut her feet off and make her float.)

A floating lion, otherwise known as a photo fail, April 2013
A floating lion, otherwise known as a photo fail, April 2013

So why, out of 98 photos, did only a handful turn out?

The weather was poor when we headed out for our afternoon game drive – the ponchos went on right away, and I actually took my iPhone with me in case I couldn’t get my Nikon out (note to self, I need to get rain gear for my camera for the next trip). We found tracks of a lion pride, and followed them up through the trees and a dried riverbed, and eventually found the pride – with four adults and 7 cubs. As we had been driving, the weather got steadily worse. Lead gray skies, pouring with rain as well as cold and windy. Perhaps Mother Nature just wanted to ensure that the people from BC felt right at home in South Africa! I finally extracted my camera from beneath my poncho and instead of trying to coordinate manual settings, I just put it on auto – and the camera couldn’t focus (the joyous “Subject too dark” message – and wanting to us the flash on a subject 20+ feet away). Back to manual mode, I found that to get a correctly exposed photo,I would need to use an exposure time of around 2 seconds. Long exposures are great – with stationary objects and a tripod. Playful lion cubs? Not so much. So I snapped away using the slowest time I thought I could manage, and mostly just watched. Because when Talley and Freddy started saying things like “This is special – we don’t see this everyday” it was all about the experience. The camera was definitely a secondary consideration, and not something that would take my focus off the scene.

Four cubs on a fallen tree
Four cubs on a fallen tree, April 2013

The lion cubs played in the rain on a fallen tree – they climbed, wrestled a bit – they entertained us immensely, and the rain and cold didn’t matter at all. They stayed in the area a good 20-30 minutes before setting off. We were also lucky enough that day to see an old female lion, who has since passed on.

Two Lionesses, April 2013
Two Lionesses, April 2013

The lions gave us great viewing opportunities at Londolozi, from the mating pair on night one, to the beautiful male I wrote about earlier, to the playful cubs, and rounding out with a male and female stalking impala as we drove off in the transport on route to the airport (actually a male watching a female stalk impala). Not to mention the calls we heard throughout the night each night we spent at Londolozi.

Lioness with added watercolour effect, April 2013
Lioness with added watercolour effect, April 2013

Below are a couple of the shots I managed to salvage. The nice clear shots will have to live on only in my head – unless I’m lucky enough to see such a sight on my next trip, with far more favourable lighting conditions.

Cub in focus!!!, April 2013
Cub in focus!!!, April 2013

Three cubs on a tree, April 2013
Three cubs on a tree, April 2013