A Photography Dream Come True

January 11th 2018  |  Photography Safaris, Zambia  |  by  Renate
Matt Armstrong-Ford

Matt Armstrong-Ford is a superb photographer, a qualified safari guide and has run safari camps and photographic safaris in a number of African countries. If you’re looking to have someone alongside you with all these skills, who is also a great communicator, get in touch and we’ll tell you how we can help. In the meantime, enjoy Matt’s story of capturing the photo below………

Back lit leopard

Most people think that the biggest part of being a safari guide is everything animal related. This is certainly not the case, although all guides I’m sure, wish it was. Yes, the wildlife that surrounds us is the reason we chose to do what we do, but we are there for the people who pay huge sums money to come and experience the wilderness. Making sure that their hard earned cash is not wasted, and that their once in a lifetime trip to deepest darkest Africa is everything they expected and more.

It is people that can also bring the most satisfaction to what you do as a guide and for me, the part of the job that brings the greatest personal reward is seeing people’s faces when you meet or even exceed their expectations. To see the face of someone who is laying eyes on a lion, leopard or elephant for the first time in their life and knowing you helped their dreams come true is a feeling like no other and makes up for the long hours and the more challenging guests we sometimes have to deal with.

Guests do come with very high expectations and with some very difficult to meet demands. When presented with a demand that is unrealistic or extremely difficult to fulfil I always explain to the guest that these are wild animals we are dealing with and we have no control over their movements or their behaviour, but I say will try everything in my power to make their wishes come true.

One guest who was visiting Africa, not for the first time, who was very keen on his photography and I have to say he was a wonderful photographer, came to me on his arrival and announced, “I have a dream, to take a photograph” Easy enough I thought to myself. “A photograph of a leopard” Well ok I’m sure over the four days I would be able to find him a leopard. “At night time” Hummm I thought to myself I wonder where this is going, again not the most unreasonable requests given that the South Luangwa is one of the best places in Africa to view these elusive cats. “I want the leopard to be back lit by another vehicles spot light to gain a silhouette of the animal.”

There we go, I knew there was a catch somewhere. After he had explained exactly what he wanted and that he had been trying for years to get this particular shot I explained to him the difficulties in first finding the leopard, second finding a leopard in a suitable place to allow for another vehicle to position itself behind the subject and thirdly finding a leopard that will stick around long enough to allow me to call another vehicle into the sighting and lastly asking a fellow guide to sacrifice his sighting for the benefit of ours. BUT I will do everything in my power to make your dreams come true. “Good”. He said. “Lets Go.”

Over the four days we had seen everything you could possibly hope to see, even the elusive leopard, lions on a kill, lions drinking in perfect light and everything else in-between.

However, we had not managed to come across a leopard, at night in open ground, and time was running out. We left for his final game drive in the late afternoon of his last night’s stay with us, and as usual the South Luangwa produced some great sightings before the sundowner stop. We stopped briefly as my guest was anxious to have one last attempt at getting his shot.

The night drive proved quiet and I began to think about returning to camp when in the spot light I caught the eye shine of an animal sitting underneath a Leadwood tree in the middle of an open plane. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing and quickly told my guest that we have found a leopard, at night, in an open area.

Unfortunately, it was late and most of the other vehicles would be getting close to camp, if not already back at the bar, regardless of that I got on the radio to see if any of my colleagues were in the area. After a few attempts, without a response to raise anyone my heart began to sink. then all of a sudden I got a response and the radio crackled to life. “Matt Matt Matt this is Andrew go ahead, over.” “Andrew, Matt receiving you, what’s your location? Over.” “Just leaving elephant bend, have been with the Hollywood pride all evening, over. ” Damn”, I though to myself, that’s at least twenty five minutes drive away. “I have a leopard here on Guinea Fowl plain and need some assistance to set up a shot for my guest, over.” “Ok Matt, I am on my way try and stay with it, over.”

I turned off the engine and got out my binoculars to have a look at the leopard and quickly discovered that is was the male we know as Luambe. Seemingly very content relaxing under the Leadwood tree. After fifteen minutes the leopard got up and had a good stretch and prepared himself to move off on his nightly excursions. I called Andrew on the radio again to establish how far away he was. “Andrew for Matt.” “Matt Go” “Andrew what’s your location, Luambe is on the move.” “Just on the main shelf.” Good I thought, that’s only a few minutes away, he had made good time. “OK great I will do my best to stay with him”

To my relief the leopard starting moving in the direction in which Andrew was coming from which should cut down the time it takes for him to reach us. I turned to my guest and instructed him that the other vehicle was close by and for him to make the final preparations to his camera equipment in order to get this most difficult of shots. “Andrew, I can see your lights, keep heading along the edge of guinea fowl plain, you will see the leopard in my spotlight as you come onto the plane, I need you to keep him in your beam so my guest can get a back lit shot, is that ok?” “I think I can do that.”

I managed to manoeuvre my vehicle so that the leopard, on its current course, would walk right across the front of my Cruiser right between myself and Andrew, that is if he remained on his current course. Andrew rounded the corner and I asked if my guest was ready and turned off my spot light. I couldn’t believe my luck, the leopard continued on the course I had anticipated and Andrew tracked the leopard with his beam as it crossed right in front of us and I heard with sheer delight the camera shutter going like crazy. I even managed to fire off a few shots myself, to great effect.

The leopard continued on his course and Andrew began to follow, I thanked him on the radio and sat there for a while to let his dust settle before moving off. I turned around to check if my guest got the shot, which I was sure he did as I could hear his shutter going throughout the sighting. As I met his face I was shocked to see his eyes filled with tears and asked if everything was ok, to which he replied, “Thank you, Thank you so much. For making my dream come true.”

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