Behind the Photo – Cheetah & Wildebeest

Published On: January 28th, 2022By Categories: Behind The Photo, BlogViews: 280

THE STORY

We spotted this lone male cheetah looking to hunt in the Ol Choro Conservancy of Kenya’s Masai Mara in the late afternoon. The plains were full of potential prey, juvenile wildebeests and zebras, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles and impalas. As always, ethics come first and we watched from a distance as the cheetah began to stalk an unsuspecting pair of Thomson’s gazelles. The cheetah made its move too early and the gazelles fled, pronking high in what looked like an insult back to the cheetah for its inexperience and failure.

The cheetah gave up quickly and continued to survey the area for another opportunity. A group of wildebeest became nervous and began to chase the cheetah away from their main herd. The cheetah carried on walking and the wildebeest continued to run, forming a circle and almost ‘coralling’ him! A healthy adult wildebeest is too big a challenge for a lone cheetah but the injured or young are both potential prey. Altruism amongst antelopes!

As the Wildebeest retreated back to their herd, the Cheetah took an opportunity to rest for a few moments.

Cheetah & Wildebeest © Alan Hewitt PhotographyCheetah & Wildebeest © Alan Hewitt Photography
Equipment Focal Length Aperture Shutter Speed ISO
FUJIFILM X-H1 XF100-400mm 400mm f/5.6 1/600 800

COMPOSITION

We were keeping a respectable distance from the cheetah so our presence didn’t intefere with the hunt. As the cheetah gave up and rested, our position presented us with an opportunity to photograph it with the adult wildebeest in the background.

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Subject, I placed the cheetah around the lower left intersecting third as it was looking in the direction of the…

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negative space in the bottom right. It’s more pleasing for the main subject to be looking into negative space rather than looking immediately out of a frame.

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The background wildebeest are placed on the upper horizontal third.

FOCAL LENGTH, FOCUS, APERTURE & DEPTH OF FIELD

I was working at my maximum focal length to avoid distraction or interference with either the cheetah or the intended prey. Given the distance between myself and the cheetah and furthermore the gap between the cheetah and wildebeest, I’d never get both in the depth of field and nor would I really want too. I placed a single continuous autofocus point on the cheetah. As this is my primary subject I’m happy for the wildebeest to be blurred out of the depth of field. They’re still recognisable as a species and provide secondary interest becoming part of the natural history story. An aperture of f/5.6 was my limit but anything faster than this and I think the wildebeest would have been too blurry to the point of being unidentifiable.

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