Hello and welcome to my blog where I share my photos and experiences from my travels to the African bush and other wild places.

Friday, June 1, 2012


If someone asked me about hide photography in Southern Africa a year ago, I would have told them that we do have hide photography and it's great. I often photograph at the some of the hides at the Marievale Bird Sanctuary, as well as the Kruger National Park has a couple of good hides and people have mentioned hides in South Luangwa although I have not seen any good photographic material from there. Oh yes, there is also the vulture hide at Giant's Castle that is very popular but you have to book a year in advance to secure your spot. I'm one of many wildlife photographers in Southern Africa who is always complaining about how few good photographic hides we have but then tend to also do little about this.

Down for a drink
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 5D Mark II | 16-35mmf/2.8 | 1/800sec at f/8, ISO 400

Bee-eater portrait
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/320sec at f/4, ISO 1600

Photographic hides are different from the normal wildlife observation hides as they are designed with location, orientation for light, position and angle in mind. Both types of hides are basically a four wall enclosure, located next to an animal attraction with a small opening to observe the animals that are in turn oblivious to your presence from behind the protective walls. With photographic hides the orientation relative to the subjects is critical so that good quality light illuminates the subject from the right direction. The hide is positioned close enough to the subjects so that they can fill your frame, or as close to it as possible anyway. The viewing angle is also critical, to photograph the animals at their level, and not from too high up so that you don't end up photographing down onto the animals.

Bath time of a different nature
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/2000sec at f/5.6, ISO 1000

South Africa clearly lacks spectacular photographic hides, despite the few mentioned above. While visiting most of the normal wildlife observation hides I've always thought to myself, if they could just lower the hide slightly, or change the orientation so that we can photograph with the sun, or maybe build the hide a few meters closer to the water, our photographs could be truly spectacular instead of just average. A little thought applied could have made a big difference without having to cost extra.

Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/2000sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

Recently a young man called Bence Mate from Hungary changed our world by showcasing the spectacular photos he got from his innovative hides he constructed in his home country as well as with hides he built in Cost Rica and Brazil. This really showed that a well thought out hide concept at a wildlife hotspot can generate fantastic results. In Africa we are spoilt by an abundance of wildlife right on our doorstep and that is probably why we have not been forced to be innovative in obtaining photographs from hides.

Small sips
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/320sec at f/4, ISO 500

In Southern Africa, some incredible photographic hides have been recently constructed at Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. This has created a buzz in wildlife photographic circles and is something we are all very excited about. The last hide has just being completed and I have had the privilege to experience some of them. There have been incredible photos taken in just the first few weeks of operation. The collection of hides consists of an underground elephant hide, a bird hide, an infinity hide, and a semi-permanent movable hide. The elephant hide is sunk into the ground right next to a waterhole in prime elephant habitat. You photograph out at ground level and looking up at elephants three meters away from you, which is a thrilling experience. The bee-eater hide is perched on the side of the Mojale river overlooking a white-fronted bee-eater colony. The birds are residents so you can photograph them all year round. The infinity bird hide is built on the side of a rocky cliff where the focus is on two small shallow pools. With the water surface at eye-level the edge of the pool disappears into the distance creating the illusion of the water flowing into infinity. The semi permanent hide is built light to move from one location to another, setup at the most productive location on the reserve at the time. With location, orientation for light, position and angle in mind the hides offer exceptional quality shots. Wildlife photography can be difficult enough at times, but here some of the usually uncontrollable factors have already been taken care of, giving you the photographer a great advantage.

Inside the hide
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 5D Mark II | 16-35mmf/2.8 | 1/200sec at f/11, ISO 160

We all love innovative new ways of photographing wildlife when this is done responsibly and with respect to the animals and their natural environment. The hides at Mashatu will surely be the start of a trend in Southern Africa that is already long overdue and we have exciting times to look forward to.

Elephant dance
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Nikon D3s | 200-400mmf/4 | 1/250sec at f/5.6, ISO 800

If you'd like to join me at the Mashatu hides for a workshop, we have two scheduled iteneraries, 27 June - 1 July 2012, and 13 - 17 July 2012. Contact me by email at isakpretorius@gmail.com for more information about these trips or any custom dates.