Top 10 Photographs – Elephant Plains

28 Jan 2016

Ten favourite photos taken at Elephant Plains

…during my first year as a photographic guide for Tusk Photo

Approximately a year ago, in October 2014, I started as a photographic guide with Tusk Photo. Since then, I’ve lead nine safaris to one of the best wildlife photographic destinations in South Africa – Elephant Plains Game Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. To celebrate an extremely exciting and successful year, I thought I’d share ten of my favourite photos taken in this wildlife haven…


Leopard Stretching in road

This was the first and only time I was able to photograph Lamula, a male leopard that traverses the southern part of Elephant Plains’s concession, properly. It was October 2014 and the area had been hit by a massive fire, the remnants of which you can see in the background of this photo. Lamula was resting on the wall of Big Dam when we found him on an overcast morning. He gave us a long, rejuvenating stretch before walking along the water’s edge to mark his territory.

Rhino behind branches

We don’t often see rhinos in the Sabi Sands, not necessarily because they’re not there, but because the area is very dense, making it difficult to spot them. I all honesty, we also don’t actively search for them, mostly because we’re tracking carnivores. When we found this bull, I wanted to get a photo that captures something about their current plight. By focussing on the leaves in the foreground and purposely covering the rhino’s eyes I was able to make it look as if the rhino was trying to hide.

Leopard in Tree with Spotlight on her

Salayexe the leopard had just finished feeding on a fresh duiker carcass when she moved to the main fork of a massive marula tree. Fortunately for us, she was in no rush to come down, giving us ample opportunity to get our setting right for a few dramatic side-lit spotlight photos. I love the texture of the tree’s bark and the way it gradually appears out of the darkness…

Leopard cub playing in fallen tree

Salayexe’s cub was about three months old when I took this photo. She was at an extremely playful age, running up and down tree trunks and chewing on everything from her mother’s tail to small branches. Getting her to sit still for a photo was nearly impossible, so when she finally gave me the opportunity to get this clear photo, I was over the moon. To make things better, I could clearly capture her stunning blue eyes as well as her sharp little claws.

Male Lion marking territory

Lions in the Sabi Sands, like most lions elsewhere, love sleeping. In fact, more than 95% of daytime lion sightings I’ve had there have been of sleeping animals. So finding a handsome young male like this not only active, but posing so beautifully in gorgeous golden light early one morning was a real treat. He’s one of five brothers called the Birmingham Males, which have caused havoc in the northern regions of the reserve as they kill cubs, sub adults and even adult females trying to defend their offspring.

Leopard silhouette

This was one of my very first classic backlit leopard photos taken in the Sabi Sands.The leopard was Salayexe, and extremely relaxed female, and she wasn’t shy to pose for us as we parked on opposite side of her to help each other create perfect lighting conditions. The outline of her body is pin sharp and her long whiskers stand out beautifully. I also love the softly lit grass on either side of her placing her within her environment.

Elephant calf mock charging

I find elephants very challenging to photograph because of their oddly shaped bodies and dull colour, but when this fearless little guy turned around to face us I knew that there would be a few ‘keepers’. The overcast conditions created perfect light and with his head up and ears open the pose couldn’t have been any better!

Leopard reflection in water

Every now and then you get the opportunity to take a photo that’s out of the ordinary. Something that makes the viewer look twice. In this case it was Salayexe walking along the edge of Kraaines Waterhole late one afternoon after the sun had already set. Her body reflected in the water along with a stunning purple sky and with the image flipped vertically the final result looks almost surreal.

Leopard reflection in water

I’m a sucker for a classic head shot – the kind you see on postcards. This lioness was lit so beautifully not by the sun but with the help of a spotlight. The dark background, perfect gaze and detail in the grass give your eyes a lot to process as it jumps from one part of the photo to the next…

Leopard pulling python from tree

By far the most enthralling sighting of 2015 was Tingana the leopard pulling a massive African rock python out of the tree early one morning. We watched as he tried in vain to get the snake out of the tree, pulling with all his might. Eventually he jumped into the small bushwillow and dislodges the colossal reptile before dragging it off to a larger tree.

About the Author:

Villiers Steyn is an online photography teacher, wildlife photographer and travel writer based in Hoedspruit, South Africa. He presents courses on, leads photographic safaris for At Close Quarters and has had his work published in leading travel magazines, including go!, DriveOut, Getaway, Country Life and Travel Africa.


  1. Marc de Chalain 10 Feb 2016 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Villiers

    Absolutely great pics. Well done. We are going to EP with Tusk in June and look forward to it, expecting some great sightings and photos.



  2. John Nesser 10 Feb 2016 at 6:15 pm - Reply


    Thanks for sharing your excellent photography, especially from Elephant Plains. My wife and I have been to Elephant Plains twice, once on our own and in August 2014 with Tusk Photo. Our photo guides were Fanus Weldhagen and Andrew Schoeman. We are hoping to spend another 2 weeks at Elephant Plains with Tusk Photo in 2017. Thanks again, enjoyed your outstanding photos and the narrative that goes with them.

    John Nesser

    • Villiers Steyn 16 Feb 2016 at 7:32 am - Reply

      Thank you very much for the kind words, John. I hope to see you at Elephant Plains in 2017, and remember to book well in advance – those safaris fill up very quickly!

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