Going ‘flashless’ – night drive photography.

Most game lodges operate on the same basic daily program – a very early wake-up, followed by coffee / tea and a morning safari. After breakfast at the lodge there may be the opportunity for a bush walk, followed by down time, lunch, more down time and an afternoon / evening safari which returns to the lodge after dark for dinner. Many people get really excited about night drives, as this is when some smaller nocturnal creatures may be seen, such as Porcupine, African Wild Cat, Genets, Civets and the like; and it’s also when the chances are good for viewing Lions on the move – these sleep-lovers spend the bulk of a 24-hr period sleeping, so 8 / 10 day-time sightings can honestly be described as rather boring, but after dark they are usually more active.  It’s a gamble – some night drives produce nothing more than numerous hits in the face by flying insects attracted to the spotlights, while others can produce some fantastic sightings.

As a guide, a comment often heard as the drive recommences after sundowners is that ‘it’s time to put the cameras and binoculars away’. Or at least fire up the flash on the DSLR… But not so – binoculars are essential at night (as they are at any time on a safari), and flash is not always needed. Really? Well, yes – you will get shots of animals at night using a flash, and sometimes this may be the only way to get a shot, but when the conditions allow, going ‘flashless’ will lend far more mood and atmosphere to your photographs than the broad cold-white light of a flash will. Basic settings for going ‘flashless’ are: Manual Mode; an ISO of around 2000, depending on your camera; and of course a wide-open aperture, as wide as it will go; and a starting shutter speed of around 1/80. A good tip is to get your camera set-up for night shots before it gets too dark – there’s nothing as frustrating as fumbling with dials and buttons in the dark while the action is taking place in front of you.

With your camera set up for night / spotlight photography, and dead-rested as steadily as possible, start off with a few test shots. Check your image – if it’s too bright you can increase your shutter speed and / or drop your ISO a bit. If it’s too dark you can drop your shutter and / or increase your ISO a bit. The lighting conditions will be changing constantly as the tracker moves the spotlight around and the animals themselves move, so one has to keep reviewing to make sure that you are getting the images. At many lodges the guides and trackers are keyed in to this type of photography and will co-ordinate with the crews on other vehicles to allow for back and side lighting with a single spotlight, which can create some fantastically moody images. Hold your breath and shoot like a special-forces sniper and you’re bound to get a few sharp shots.

Here are a few sample night safari images from the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, which is included on our September 2018 ‘Photographing the Predators’ set-departure safari, and one image from Okaukeujo Waterhole in Namibia.

Africa’s luckiest Impala.

It was the kind of sighting one only hears about, almost too outrageous to believe. Did that really happen? If it did really happen, it always happens to someone else, some really lucky person. This time however, we were the lucky folks. Here’s the summarized account of what happened, recounted by Lawson’s tour leader Leon Marais…

“The day started off cool and damp with a ‘Scottish mist’, and what a day it was to be. We headed off at 05h30 without any expectations on what was to be an almost unbelievable morning. Our guide Mornè heard that a pack of 8 male Wild Dogs had been found and we quickly joined the line up to see them. Soon we caught up with them on the hunt, moving at a fast trot through the bush. At one point a Duiker made a lucky escape, as did a herd of Impala, the dogs’ main prey item. Eventually, after an already spectacular sighting, we left them, allowing another vehicle to take our place, and headed off to a nearby dam for a coffee break. Mornè confirmed over the radio that they were moving in a westerly direction, away from the dam, and we disembarked and Dion, the tracker, began pouring the coffee. Then we noticed a herd of Kudu on the run close by, followed by an Impala ewe tearing across a clearing at a terrific pace with the dogs in hot pursuit. She ran around the inlet of the dam and then launched herself into the water to escape the dogs (at this point we were still standing around the vehicle with dropped jaws). The Impala then paddled into the middle of the dam where the Hippo’s set upon her, one bull even dunking her under the water. The dogs ran around to our side waiting for her to make the shore, with one of the Hippo’s charging out of the water to chase the dogs off. The resident Crocodile then also got involved, probably equally happy to latch on to the Impala or an unfortunate dog. Eventually the Impala made the shore and, with dogs after her she dashed back into the inlet area, where she collapsed into the shallow water. One of the dogs then bounded in and tackled her, but the attentions of the Crocodile convinced the dog to get out of the water fast. On the shore a pair of Waterbuck stormed in, chasing the dogs, and a curious Spotted Hyena arrived on the scene. The wily Impala then went to hide behind a large tree trunk in the water, out of sight of the Crocodile, which had now become the main threat. The dogs eventually, and very reluctantly, decided to give up and slowly made their way out of the area, calling with their mournful ‘hoo-hoo’ goose-bump-inducing call as they went –what a moment!. The Hyena also left the area, and the Impala suddenly made a dash for the shore, emerging somewhat shocked but not visibly injured, a pure miracle indeed. After the action had subsided we resumed our coffee stop (we felt like we needed shots of Whiskey in the coffee to calm down), with a White Rhino coming down to the dam opposite us just to end things off”

Lawson’s & InfoHub.com + GIVEAWAY!!!

Dear fellow travelers.

Today we are glad to announce that one of our tours – 14-Day Wildlife and
Photography: The Cape and the Kruger Tour – has been chosen as an Unordinary Trip of the
Month by InfoHub.com, the #1 travel portal on the Internet specialized in the out-of-ordinary, special
interest vacations. As one of the key operators of quality safari in South Africa, we see this as a good
opportunity to further promote international tourism in South Africa and remain hopeful to see more
people come and explore our beautiful country in the near future.

In connection with this, we have a special offer for our customers! Any of you who book the above
tour before September 30, 2017 may be eligible for a very special prize from InfoHub’s sister company
GPSmyCity – publisher of travel apps for Apple and Android. The GPSmyCity app features
offline city maps, self-guided walking tours and travel articles for 1,000 cities worldwide, using which
you can turn your mobile into a personal tour guide. With this app in hand you can explore Cape
Town, Durban, Pretoria and many other urban destinations in South (and not only South) Africa on
your own, at your own pace. The GPSmyCity app works offline so there’s NO need to worry about
roaming charges when traveling abroad.

A lucky winner, chosen at random, will get a one-year full membership of the GPSmyCity app
including access to ALL the GPSmyCity content – over 6,500 self-guided city walks and travel articles
– to the total value of over $8,000!!!

Book now and enjoy your safari experience at Lawson’s!

British Birdfair 2017 – number 23 for Lawson’s!

Not long to go now to that biggest global event for birding and nature enthusiasts… 20 000+ visitors over the three days! Dubbed the ‘Birdwatching Glastonbury’, the British Birdfair takes place at the usual spot in Rutland County on 19, 20 and 21 August. Lawson’s will be appearing for the 23rd year in a row, in Marquee 6, Stands 44 – 45. If you are going to be there, please come and chat to us! If you would like to find out more about this fair, which this year is going to be the biggest ever, check out the website: www.birdfair.org.uk.

Lawson's stand at the 2015 Birdfair.
Lawson’s stand at the 2015 Birdfair.

Visa-free travel in Africa for Americans, by Jackie Edwards.

Visa Free Travel to Africa

Freelance travel writer Jackie Edwards has kindly given us this short blurb on visa-free travel in Africa for American passport holders. Just another good reason to come on safari in Africa!

Attention American Travellers! These African Countries are Visa-Free!

According to VisaIndex, the American passport is one of the most respected passports around the globe, ranking fourth in the world. However, not all countries allow Americans to enter for extended stays, requiring special visas and other documentation.

When planning your next vacation, you may be envisioning an exciting destination in the wild that offers adventures on a safari amongst exotic animals and plants. If you are an American and this sounds like you, the good news is that Africa has many options for U.S. passport holders to visit the continent without applying for a specific visa.

The countries in Africa that allow Americans to enter for free (and some that grant a visa on arrival) include:

1.     Botswana – maximum stay of 3 months

2.     Comoros Islands – visa on arrival

3.     Ivory Coast – maximum stay of 90 days

4.     Djibouti – visa on arrival

5.     Egypt – visa on arrival

6.     Equatorial Guinea – maximum stay of 90 days

7.     Lesotho – maximum stay of 180 days

8.     Malawi  – visa on arrival

9.     Morocco – maximum stay of 90 days

10. Namibia – maximum stay of 3 months

11. Rwanda – visa on arrival

12. Senegal – maximum stay of 3 months

13. Seychelles – maximum stay 1 month

14. South Africa – maximum stay of 90 days

15. Swaziland – maximum stay of 30 days

16. Tanzania – visa on arrival

17. Togo – visa on arrival

18. Tunisia – maximum stay of 90 days

19. Zambia – visa on arrival

20. Zimbabwe – visa on arrival

With all of these African visa-free options for US citizens, you can easily plan an unforgettable vacation and see many of the stunning sights that the wildlife in Africa has to offer.