One Painful Mistake

One Painful Mistake
First of all, if you have 5 minutes to spare, please check out one of the most memorable and moving encounters I had in Kenya.
Please leave your comment at the above youtube link to let me know what you think.
So here comes my mistake. My painful mistake. 
One evening in Maasai Mara, Kenya, we were photographing 3 lioness and 7 cubs in a field. The cubs were playing nonstop.
The sun was getting closer and closer to the horizon and we positioned ourselves to have the perfect backlit.
Just right before the light got better, out of nowhere the rain came pouring. All the lions ran back to the tall bush except one lioness sleeping. 
No more photography, I thought. But wait, maybe I can try on some slow shutter on the lioness in the rain.
In order to create a photo with the rain drops turning from dots into lines, I changed the shutter speed from 1/800s to 1/30s, and I turned the aperture from f/4 to f/22 to balance the exposure. 
With the heavy rain, the auto focus was hunting back and forth as it sometimes caught on the rain to focus, so I switched from AF continuous mode (same as AI Servo in Canon) to AFS (one shot focus in Canon) where you hear a confirmation sound whenever it locked focus. 
One shot focus worked well in the rain. Yes!
But the photo didn't turn out good because the background was a bit messy with trees and tall bush instead of pure black.
Oh well, maybe I will come back next year during the rainy season to try. We did get a really nice video that I will post later.
The next morning, we saw a few vehicles so we drove closer to see what's going on.
We stopped at about 30 meters from those cars and used our binocular to check.
And before we even looked thru the binocular, we saw a leopard walking out among those cars, and directly towards us!
Geez. How lucky!
I grabbed the camera with 400 f2.8 immediately. I knew I had changed the camera setting the night before so I quickly dialed it back to f/2.8, 1/1000s, and exposure compensation 0 because it's early morning.
I didn't have time to kneel down to the floor to point the camera out of the window to get lower level because the leopard was already right there in front of us. 
I was still sitting on my seat and so I just placed the camera on my lap and pointed it out of the window to aim at the leopard.
I just kind of lean down a little bit so that even though my eye was still a few inches from the viewfinder, I could kind of see where the viewfinder was aiming at. I wish I could bend my body lower but I didn't practice yoga enough.
It was an awkward and ugly pose but I have done that before for sudden opportunity like that.
As long as I could still see a hint of the leopard to aim the center focus point on the leopard's face then I would be okay. 
The leopard didn't look very sharp from the viewfinder and I thought its my eye glasses and that of the angle I was looking into the viewfinder.
It should be all fine. I had done it many times and it was successful every time. 
After taking 30 photos within about 4 seconds, the leopard was gone. I was so happy.
"We nailed it" I said.
When I later reviewed the photos in the LCD, my heart sank. Almost none of the photos were sharp. They were all blurry. 
That's when I realized that the camera was still in one shot focus mode when I pressed the shutter.
And since my finger never let go of the shutter the whole time, it never refreshed and the focus was still stuck at where the leopard originally appeared...
I messed up one of the only 3 leopard sightings of the whole Kenya trip.
So lesson learned. I think my good friend Steve once said when we were in the Arctic photographing Polar bear babies. "DON'T EVER CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE IN A TRIP." 
When I HAVE to change my routine, I must check every setting first thing in the morning, or immediately switch back to my original setting.
I've made that mistakes before and I always tried to remember. For example, setting max ISO by accident, setting exposure compensation too low to try artsy dark mood, switched from auto ISO to manual without knowing, etc. But I had never changed my AF mode before. Ahh...
Anyways, I looked at all those 30 photos, there were only very few occasions that the leopard was facing us actually. Maybe 4 times, each for only a split second.
I only had about 3 photos out of the 30 that were sharp on the leopard's eyes, and somehow, all 3 were when the leopard was facing us.
I had no idea how that happened. They should all be blurry. Maybe it just happened that I let loose the shutter by accident and the camera re-engaged the focus again at those moment.
All I can say is. Thank you god! 
I heard her name is Kaboso. A young female leopard.
Nikon D850, 400 2.8, f/2.8, 1/1000s, ISO 220, One Shot Focus!
I will continue with my blog post on the 3 best lenses for Kenya tomorrow. I hope you don't make the same mistakes like I did.
Tin Man

If you want to be notified of new blog post, please sign up for my newsletter at

If you want to see what other gear I use, please check out my gear page and use those links to purchase. (I get about 3% commission if you use those links to purchase so thank you in advance)

If you want to learn how I edit my photos, please check out my 90 minutes free training here.

If you want to transform your wildlife photography, please check out my 3-hour free training here.

I also have written photography e-book and video guides to AlaskaColorado, and Falkland Islands.


  1. Barb Frankenfield on September 2, 2019 at 8:46 am

    Enjoyed the video so much..Nature can be cruel but it also can be kind..what a great job filming sorry about the Leopard but this shot is husband always laughs at me when I take hundreds of photos..and can’t decide which is best..he claims you only need one perfect one..

  2. Sherry Peterson on September 2, 2019 at 8:59 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this great video. So hard to watch and yet it turned out ok. You did a great job! And thank you for the leopard filming experience!! A lesson. So glad you got this great shot!

  3. Miki Teixeira on September 2, 2019 at 11:45 am

    In college I had a Leopard for 9 months, I worked for a Hematologist who brought back several baby cats from Africa-horrible. This was 1972, Leonard was his name. I actually kept him in my dorm room in Bakersfield.
    What a horrible person, to take and bring home babies, I assume now he was a hunter and sold the babies to the movie industry.
    I do have photos and think back on that unusual time in my life, he died the day I took him to the snow. He was only 9 months and I got him when he was three weeks old. The keeper didn’t remove his collar and he got up into a tree, he hung himself with a inch from the ground and I almost dropped out of school from rage and depression.
    I guess I shared this because I now understand what poaching is and does, people with money and zero ethics. I was only 18 and wasn’t aware of anything “animals” conservation, hunting etc.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.