One of the things that I noticed when looking at meerkat images from other photographers, was that I never saw any with the sun behind them in the frame. So that became my goal when photographing meerkats in Botswana.

I soon learned why I hadn't come across such images - it's extremely difficult. These adorable little creatures are constantly on the move, so following them is not easy. Especially not around sunset when they're all moving back towards their burrows. Yet this is precisely the time when I wanted to photograph them - just before the sun would dip below the horizon.

They basically start running back to their home base, only occasionally stopping to have a quick look around for any threats. Those very short stops were what I was aiming for. I knew that they prefer to stand on little hills to get a better view, so I tried to use that knowledge to my advantage. In order to get the shot, I had to make a couple of guesses. First, I had to guess in what direction they would start running. Since they stop only for a very short moment when the sun is setting, I needed to be ahead of them. That meant that I also had to gues on what little hill they would stop. I would then position myself on the ground, with the hill between my camera and the sun.

If I got the direction right, and picked the right hill, there were still several factors that could mess it all up. First: the sun. Shooting into the sun with a 600mm lens is not without any danger. The sun can easily damage the sensor, or worse, your eyes. Also, I needed as must dust in the atmosphere as possible, because the more dust in the air, the more coloration at sunset. And the more colorful the sun gets, the less bright it is, and therefor much safer to photograph.

The first days the sun was way too bright to attempt a shots like this. After a few days the wind picked up and the air got full of dust. At the same time farmers started to burn their land, and the smoke caused a thick haze. I knew that the sunsets would get a lot better, and meanwhile my 'running-with-600mm-lens-and-falling-on-the-ground' technique had greatly improved. I also had a better idea of where the meerkats were heading, so my results were getting better and better.

But with wildlife and nature, there are even more factors to consider. Like vegetation blocking your subject, or your subject showing only its butt. Both happened regularly.

Eventually though, I managed to get this shot. I picked the right hill, the sun was not too bright, the vegetation was not blocking anything, and the meerkat was cooperating nicely. It's moments like that make all the hard work really worthwhile.

If you would like to join me on one our tours and workshops, please have a look on my website for more information, pictures and tour impression video clips:

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