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  • Andrew JK Tan

Nikon D850 on Safari - Cheetahs Hunting in Masai Mara , Kenya

As some of you may know , I was on a photography safari with the fabulous C4 PhotoSafaris Team in Masai Mara , Kenya.

On our very 1st Game Drive in the Mara , we witnessed this unbelievable hunt by this coalition of 5 Cheetahs. It's really hard to describe the experience.

Coalition of 5 Cheetahs , one not in picture

When we hopped onboard our Land Cruiser , our driver / guide Henry sped off. He was driving fast & we started to see wildlife popping up all over the place but Henry did not as us if we wanted to photograph any of the wildlife. He was zooming along which did surprise me a little.

My setup was the Nikon D850 (with battery grip to provide 9FPS) and the new Nikkor 180-400mm f4.0 with integrated 1.4x TC (THANKS to Nikon Singapore for the loan). Now the entire setup weighs 5kg and I was either going to hand-hold or use a bean-bag as support.

I asked Henry why we were going so fast and Henry mentioned that this group of 5 male cheetahs were spotted and that we should take advantage of the sighting. So I sat quietly bouncing and swaying while carrying my 5kg setup as Henry sped off to the location at high speed. The drive was like an F1 / Rodeo kind of experience.

We finally reached the location , we saw the cheetahs but we also saw like 30 vehicles too tracking the cheetahs. I was like wow !! but Henry was amazing , he knew how to position the vehicle quickly so that I could get my shots especially head-on shots !

We kept following the cheetahs around with Henry always "reading" and anticipating where the cheetahs were heading. Then we saw this herd of wilderbeest and I did some panning shots while waiting for the Cheetahs to get closer.

A while later , we saw that one of the 5 cheetahs was positioned and moving on the extreme left of the wilderbeest herd while the four were moving very slowly on the right and spreading themselves out , it was then that I realized that a cheetah hunt was potentially about to take place.

Henry asked if he should go nearer to the pack of 4 cheetahs and I immediately said yes. He started moving the vehicle and 10 seconds later the Cheetah on the extreme left started his run. I was already shooting off with my setup hand-held (the bean bag was not going to be useful) as the Land Cruiser was speeding into position and pursuing both Cheetah & Wilderbeest. I was bouncing around and firing off as best I could. It was an incredible experience , I didn't care about composition , there was no time to check if exposure was spot on , I just fired away.

Nikon D850 Nikkor 180-400mm with 1.4x TC engaged (560mm focal length)

ISO800 , f5.6 , 1/1600s

In less then 30 seconds , the chase was over. The 5 cheetahs had split up in two groups. 3 cheetahs bringing down a young wilderbeest and the remaining 2 cheetahs attempting to bring down an adult wilderbeest.

ISO800 , f5.6 , 1/1600s , AF-C , Level 2 tracking sensitivity

Release priority set to Focus + Release

Group AF Area mode

It was just an incredible sight as I was firing away and attempting to compose at the same time. The adult wilderbeest did it's best to escape by kicking out and turning around as best it could , everything was happening so fast. The wilderbeest was not only making it difficult for the two cheetahs but all that movement and turning around was also making it a challenge for me to photograph.

Talk about adrenaline pumping action and this was certainly one. After the entire hunt was over I thought about it and wished that we did NOT see this hunt so soon. Why ? ......... well it was the 1st time I was photographing a hunt in progress , I did not really know what to expect and it was the first time using that new Nikkor which was a beast of a lens. I was so afraid of messing up all my shots.

I am however glad to report that the new Nikkor 180-400mm f4.0 with integrated 1.4x TC with the Nikon D850 is one fantastic combo. It was super fast , accurate and I had 46MP images. I could not ask for more , just a spectacular combo. I am also glad that I have regular pratice sessions shooting wildlife and sports in Singapore , all the experience gained kicked in and thankfully the captures runed out great.

What a terrific start to my Masai Mara safari , on the very 1st session and we already witnessed and captured such spectacular scenes. Yes , my lucky stars must have been shining brightly but it was definitely NOT all luck. I have to thank my driver Henry from the ENTIM Camp who was driving for the safari company that i trusted - C4 Photo Safaris. This was testament that using the right company and with a great driver / guide were critical to the success of witnessing such a great scene.

More sharing & blogging to come. I witnessed and captured so many incredible scenes throughout this Masai Mara Safari.

Till the next blog.



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