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Cheetah Notes 1

Welcome to our opening page of images and brief notes about cheetahs, cheetah behaviour and cheetah sightings based on visits and photo safaris to game reserves and national parks in southern Africa. All images © Scotch Macaskill - for more, see Terms of Use.

Young Cheetah Making Eye Contact

Young cheetah making eye contact Caption: Young cheetah, one of five cubs, looking directly at camera with its siblings in the background, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Lens Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM; Shutter speed: 1/250; Aperture: f/8; ISO: 400; Fill-in flash.

Additional info: While visting Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana, we found a cheetah mother with her five cubs lying in the shade of a nearby tree (below).

Although such a sighting sounds a great photo opportunity, it was a challenge finding a focal point, so I tried isolating parts of the scene using a 400mm lens and, in this case, opted for black and white to minimise distractions.

We could only marvel at this cheetah mother: to successfully raise and feed five hungry cubs is an amazing achievement and testament to her hunting prowess.

Last we heard the youngsters were nearly grown up, but not yet skilled enough to hunt on their own, making the job of feeding the whole family even more onerous.

It’s a dangerous time for juveniles cheetahs as they’re bold enough to experiment, yet lacking the experience to recognise danger, leaving them susceptible to attack by lions or leopards.

Cheetah mother and five cubs lying in shade of tree, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Cheetah Mother and Cub

Cheetah Mother and Cub Caption: Cheetah mother and one of her five cubs stand out from the group lying around relaxing under a tree, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Lens Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM; Shutter speed: 1/320; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO: 400.

In my note above, I wrote about a dedicated cheetah mother who has successfully raised all her five cubs.

While on a game drive in Mashatu, we saw the whole group resting in the shade, but they were lying around randomly, in varying positions and angles. It was certainly not one of those ideal sightings where photogenic cubs line-up in symmetry, almost as if posed by a professional stylist.

It was hopeless trying to photograph the whole family, other than for record purposes. Instead, I experimented with a number of compositions (none entirely satisfactory), using a long lens to isolate small parts of the scene, allowing the out-of-focus background spots to suggest to the viewer there are other cheetah at the scene.

Well-fed Young Cheetah

Young cheetah with full belly

Caption: An inquisitve young cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) steps out of the shade to take a closer look at our safari vehicle, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D; Lens: Canon 100-400 IS Zoom; Focal Length: 330mm; Shutter speed: 1/640; Aperture: f7.1; ISO: 400.

Additional Info: A closer look at the photo above shows this elegant cat has a full belly. The previous evening, on our drive back to camp well after sunset, we were extremely fortunate to spot four cheetah, including this one, feeding on a big male impala.

While we watched, the four - comprising a mother and three sub-adult cubs - were able to eat their fill without the usual harassment from larger predators. Although there were a few jackals sniffing around, they were no real threat and were easily seen off by the cheetahs.

It was only once the cats had fully satisfied their hunger and moved off that the jackals quickly took over to feast on the remains of the impala.

Cheetah Standing on Tree Stump

Cheetah Standing on Tree Stump Caption: Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) scans its surroundings from the elevation of a tree stump, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM; Focal length: 135mm; Shutter speed: 1/125; Aperture: f/8; ISO: 400

Additional Info: Although the cheetah above obliged its human audience by climbing and “posing” atop the stump of a Mashatu tree, the lighting was extremely tricky. It was already late afternoon and we were looking into the bright light of the dipping sun, while the cheetah was in deep shadow cast by the huge tree.

While our eyes can magically adjust to the contrast produced by this sort of lighting, the background brightness will trick your camera's exposure meter, leaving the subject far too dark, like a silhouette.

To compensate for this, I overexposed by 1 1/3 stops, using the camera’s exposure compensation button.

This helped lighten the cheetah, bringing out detail in the main subject of the photograph but did mean the background vegetation is badly over-exposed. However, in this case the "blown-out" background is not unattractive and helps the eye focus on the cheetah and tree stump.

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Cheetah Notes 2

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