Behind the Photo – Leaping Leopard

Having just returned from leave today, I will only be able to get to a new ‘week in pictures’ from next Monday, but for now, I thought it would a good idea to do another ‘behind the photo’ post!

After years of having looked at fellow photographers posting spectacular images of leopards leaping over the handful of permanent water courses running sporadically through the Greater Kruger Park, I had given up on ever having such a chance myself…until one day, this scene presented itself!  Whilst bumbling about with my guests one afternoon, we came across some fresh signs of leopard activity that very quickly led us to not one, but three leopards!  One of these was the gorgeous Savannah leopardess, and as she moved away from the larger female on the scene, she made her way down to the inflow of a large dam in the area.  As she arrived I thought that she might go and drink, so positioned myself accordingly, but the way she kept glancing across to the other side, I soon realised that she wanted to cross to the other side of the drainage line.  It had water in it, but it was far from what one would consider a “river”.  Now, the great thing about a camera with a zoom lens is that as a photographer I get to decide what i include, and equally importantly, what i exclude from the scene.  Having messed up many photos of cats leaping in the past, i knew what i wanted to include – the entire cat (cutting off a tail would have killed the shot!), and leave enough space for the leopard to jump “into” – not enough space and it looks like the animal wants to jump out of the frame.  What I wanted to exclude was the fact that this section of water she was springing over was only about 10 feet wide, and give the impression that she was leaping across a larger river than there actually was!  I clicked away as she jumped and was fairly certain I got most of what I wanted…but there were still nerves rattling as i reviewed the pictures…fortunately as the sequence scolded across my display screen, this image popped into view!  A tail…four feet…no edge of the water on the other side…all I needed now was for it to be sharp; zooming in, a massive smile erupted on my dial as I saw the image was pin sharp!  A rare opportunity, and for once, I didn’t mess it up!
Technically; I had the ISO set fairly high for the bright light, but I needed to make sure that I had a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action.  I could have opened up my aperture to f/2.8, but I opted for a slightly safer f/4 to have more depth of field and ensure that the leopard was in focus.  I zoomed out as much as I could (70mm in this case) to ensure that I had enough space around the subject; rather have too much space that you can crop off later than zoom in too close and end up cutting body parts off!
Canon 5DmkIV
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 at 70mm
1/1600 sec
ISO 1250