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Photographing Fighting Hippos in Uganda

Why the Ishasha River is one of the best places to photograph these wild Hippos in action!


In this article, you will read about one of the many photographic experiences we offer our guests during our recent Ugandan photographic safari located in Queen Elizabeth National Park. This is a very unique destination we visit during our Mountain Gorilla & Chimpanzee photo tour. With our two highlights being the Gorillas of Bwindi and Chimpanzees of Kibale, guests have plenty of opportunities to photograph many other species of wildlife in Uganda such as Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, Zebra, many bird species, and much more.


During this photographic tour in Western Uganda, we make our way into the Ishasha Sector of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, where wildlife thrives.


The Ishasha Sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park is where the place to search for the tree-climbing lions often to be seen in the vicinity of the camp which is situated just off the Northern circuit game viewing track. The lions also favour the large fig trees on the Southern circuit game viewing track and this offers alternative game viewing routes. Unknown to many others, we at Untamed take our guests to a secret spot where a pod of Hippos comes to rest each day, making one mind-blowing photographic opportunities.







Hippos of The Ishasha River

After an early lunch, followed by a photographic briefing by our photo guide, the group left the tented camp and headed to the Ishasha River campsite where guests are allowed to get out of the truck within the grounds. Next to the unfenced campsite lies a sandy bank 30 meters ahead. Our photo guide Mark A Fernley assisted the group and had everyone get their telephoto lenses ready for what was about to emerge from the river. What may seem strange, one pod of hippos, at 1pm every day, make their way onto the sandy bank of the river. At around 6pm they then retreat back into the water. This is a great photo shoot where clients have the opportunity to photograph hippos while on foot.


These grumpy and arrogant Hippos make for incredible photographic subjects as they fight and bash into one another before they get ready to rest. All the photography guests captured astonishing images of these hippos as they open their mouths and express their anger and irritability with one another. Behind the hippos is a stunning background of green that makes these images of the hippos rather harsh and dramatic. As the Ishasha River is actually a natural border seperating Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, images of the hippos actually have the forest of the DRC as a backdrop.



The Stand Off

After a successful photographic shoot with Hippos of the Ishasha River, we took a break and relaxed with beverages under the trees as the baboons, colobus monkeys, and black and white casqued hornbills sawed through the trees.


After an enjoyable and relaxing drink, photo guide Mark noticed that a rival male Hippo was wanting to come over to the resting pod of hippos relaxing on the edge of the river. The group of photographers hastily got ready with their cameras as something was obviously about to happen. Those in the group were instructed to focus on the rival male while using their back focus on AI-Servo. By focusing on the rival male, it was guaranteed that one of the males from the group would attack to defend his pod.


As predicted, the largest male belonging to the pod hastily rose up with his heavy body and charged toward the rival. The group got ready for the action shot that hopefully would happen in front of our eyes. As both heads got in frame, the group managed to get some remarkable action shots showing the raw power of these animals.


Images were captured as they fought with one another drawing blood with both of their mouth's wide open. The battle that took place on the side of the river caused the rest of the pod to get up from the ground.




The battle that took place on the side of the river caused all the Hippos to get up from the ground. The two males carried on fighting and after a short while, the rival male retreated into the water with grunts, splashes, and blood dripping from his mouth and face making for great photographic action shots. The other male chased him off and returned to his pod, aggravated.





One guest quoted: “Having the opportunity to be on foot in the African bush with my tripod and getting to photograph fighting hippos is something I will never forget”.


Back at the lodge, a photographic critique took place, with the group and photographic guide extremely impressed with how the images came out. Shown in this blog are the images wildlife photographer Mark A Fernley captured during this battle witnessed at the Ishasha River campsite.



(Image 9)


The saliva of both Hippos was captured in a sharp 2000 frames per second. As you can see, the saliva really brings the word action into this shot, connecting both heads as they battle it out with one another. As these images were taken with a fixed Canon EF 500mm F4 IS II USM Lens, Mark was limited with what he could fit in the frame during that short period of time. However (IMAGE 9) was a final shot during this battle that turned out rather well.



When it comes to lighting, the raw image turned out strong and effective and did not need much post-processing. The overcast sky at the time acted as a natural diffuser and reduced the harsh sun’s rays creating this soft effect on the Hippo’s skin. Mark states “It’s not all bad when photographing wildlife on an overcast day. It’s mostly better as the clouds can stop the harsh rays from damaging your subject. Also, the clouds are perfect for removing those overexposed leaf rosettes that we all dread to capture on a sunny day”. With the lack of sky in the background, this forest blur captured in the images truly brings out a dramatic effect that really boosts the drama in this battle.



Below shows one of the images captured during this sequence taken by wildlife photo guide Mark A Fernley, which was selected and printed in one of England’s national newspapers.





Join us in Uganda on a Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Shoebill Stork, and general wildlife photo safari of a lifetime and have the opportunity to see and photograph these Hippos in the Ishasha Region.



The images above show the accommodation used while in the Ishasha Region of Queen Elizabeth National Park. This is just one of the many luxury safari lodges guests stay ay during our 13-day Ugandan Photo Safari. For more information on joining this tour, click the button below.




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