Story from behind the lens: Cheetah’s are typically solo hunters, relying on stealth, speed and the element of surprise to bring down their prey.
They are limited by their size as to what they can and cannot take down.
Here, in the Maasai Mara North Conservancy, the scales have been tipped.
As the sun began to rise, darkness giving way to light, my Maasai guide Steve Liaram, spotted them sneaking not far to the west of the dirt road we were traveling.
His ability to spot wildlife is unparalleled. It took a few moments for me to get eyes on them.
They were not merely walking about. There was intention in their movement. Even this flatlander could tell, the hunt was on.
We had been together for nearly a week and Steve knew exactly what I was hoping for in my shots and much like the animals we were now observing, no words were needed.
He sped up the road, working to give us enough distance, placing the rising sun in the right spot, all the specifics he knew I wanted.
Fine Art Photography, at the highest end, does not allow for checking just 9 of ten boxes.
You either get all 10 or you got nothing.
It’s the ultimate big game hunt and nearly every single time, it doesn’t pan out.
My hero David Yarrow said it so well.
“4 shots a year… if I can take 4 great images in a year, I’m really happy with that.”
This, from a guy that snaps tens of thousands of images in pursuit of that goal.
We watched…and hoped.
Every now and then, they’d stop on these slightly raised dirt mounds, in an effort to get just a bit better view of the landscape. The hope being they’d find their quarry somewhere in the distance.
If they are to have any chance of success it relies on their ability to see before being seen.
Steve let me know we had a rare opportunity here.
These two had become well known locally for teaming up and learning that together they could increase not only their success rate but also the size of animal they could take down.
They’d approach, looking about, paying us no mind, marking the occasional small tree with their scent and move on.
We’d get a few snaps but not “the snap” and Steve would fire the jeep up again and we’d reposition.
Then, a much bigger tree.
They paused at the base.
“Get ready man…I think one of them is gonna go up the tree!”
There was an excitement in his voice.
Cheetah’s, unlike the leopard, don’t spend time in trees. Until they do.
Up he went, and as he did, my camera followed him…somehow I knew, something very special was happening.
He had no sooner reached his perch, starting to survey all the land to the horizon and the other followed.
Both now, side by side in this magnificent Acacia, the clouds behind…perfect…it was just the two of them and me.
My mind raced.
“Make sure the exposure is good, the shutter speed, the ISO, THE FOCUS dude…it’s gotta be pin sharp!!”
All the while, through the Sony 135mm G master lens, I am realizing my dream.
I am here, with my Maasai brother, sun rising over this wild place, one of the last wild places, seeing up close what few will ever have the privilege.
And then, in unison, as if actors perfectly playing out their roles, both swung their glance straight into the lens.
The camera whirred, 10, maybe 15 frames…and that was it…down the tree they went.
“Did you get it?!?!? Please tell me you got it!!!!” My mind screamed as I raced to pull the just taken images back into the viewfinder, zooming in as tight as the camera would allow.
My head dropped.
Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks.
The Cheetah Brothers