Dedicated wildlife holidays not only offer the chance to observe the world's most exotic animals in their natural habitat, they are also the perfect opportunity to commit what are often once-in-a-lifetime experiences to permanent memory through photographs.
For those with a particular interest in big cats, a Jaguar safari to the tropical wetland environment of the Brazilian Pantanal provides a wealth of opportunities for sightings, but capturing the magnificence of the big cat to its full potential takes a little skill.
Here are some tips to make the most of the extraordinary photographic moments that will be encountered on a Jaguar safari.
The beauty of a dedicated Jaguar safari in the Pantanal is that they are led by experienced naturalists and local guides who know the best places for a sighting at any given time. Whether it's during the day or on a night drive, being in the right place at the right time is pivotal to an encounter with this most elusive of big cats. Within the so-called Jaguar Zone, in the northern region of the Pantanal, the density of the population means there's a good possibility of multiple sightings. For those with cameras at the ready, the opportunities are there for the taking.
Time and Timing
Timing is just as crucial as location when it comes to photographing wildlife. In the case of Panthera onca, a Jaguar safari to the Pantanal during the dry season offers a higher probability of sightings. (The peak time is late in the season around October. )
But when it comes to photography, time as well as timing is important. When dealing with the unpredictability of wildlife, patience and persistence are key, so expecting to capture a David Attenborough-worthy image on the first attempt is unrealistic. A good Jaguar safari itinerary will offer day and night drives to a variety of locations over a number of days – including habitat around riverbanks, grasslands, dense forests and scrub.
While an image of the big cat may be the main goal, photographers should not lose sight of the proliferation of other wildlife species that thrive in the Pantanal. As well as a stunning array of avian life that can be captured in the canopy of the forests, there's the opportunity to shoot images of Giant River Otters, Capybaras, Caiman, deer and many others.
Experiment with Vantage and Exposure
Even the most experienced photographer can benefit by stepping out of their comfort zone, but when it comes to capturing an image of a Jaguar in the wild, experimenting with vantage and exposure in the diverse environment of the Pantanal can yield some wonderful results.
- Even when constricted to the confines of a vehicle, it's not hard to find a different perspective of a scene: stand up, crouch down, or simply tilt the camera and the frame and point of view surrounding a subject or scene can change dramatically.
- The depth of jungle foliage can play havoc with exposure when photographing an animal in the wild. In daylight, exposing for the highlights and allowing the rest to fall into shadow will have the dramatic effect of creating a silhouette of the subject.
- In harsh, open afternoon sun, along riverbanks for example, the use of a flash can balance out the lighting on the subject focal point, while in areas of great contrast, like along jungle trails, a flash will equalise the exposure of the entire scene.
As the world's largest tropical wetland, the ecologically diverse region of the Pantanal is a wildlife photographer's delight – and no subject is more rewarding than the magnificent Jaguar.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led Jaguar safari itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.