Jaguar photography in Pantanal

Jaguar photography in Pantanal is very popular and truly a unique experience.  It differs a lot from from photographing Africa’s big cats. In comparison, jaguars are very active during the day. During many of our jaguar photography tours, we have seen many different behaviors during the day.

Although the northern Pantanal has the highest density of jaguars in the world, we recommend patience and dedication. To search for jaguars is not easy,  jaguars blend into the environment perffrectly. An experienced guide is very important to increase the rate of success on finding jaguars and photographing them. We discovered early on that exploring by boat is the optimal way to approach jaguars due to its quiet nature.

An experienced guide is the succesfactor during a jaguar safari. Understanding the jaguar and anticipating its behavior is key. Active scanning, interpreting behaviour and anticipating what could happen makes the difference between a regular image or THE Shot of a lifetime!

Patience is the second factor of a successful strategy for great jaguar images. Many operators stay only a short while at a jaguar sighting or leave when another sighting is called over the radio. Occasionally, we go to another sighting but in most instances we decide to wait for by a single jaguar we spotted in the brush. All boats are gone to look for other jaguars or go back to the lodge for lunch, but we end up with action shots by simply waiting. Our experience proves that patience pays off.

Best time of year to photograph jaguars in Pantanal

Between mid-may and November is the best time to photograph jaguars in the Pantanal. The dryseason start from mid-may. The water level drops significantly and the temperatures during the day are hot (30C-43C). The low water level and high temperatures attract jaguars to the rivers to drink, cool off and hunt the wildlife gathered there.

 

Best month of year to photograph jaguars

The whole dryseason (mid-may till november) is great for jaguar photography. Each month shows a slightly different facet to the experience. The month of June is early in the season, which means there are very few boats on the river. In June, many jaguars return to the prime hunting grounds when the water level is getting low again. In june there is also an abundance of caiman, and the chance of seeing jaguars hunt caiman in the open is much higher compared to other months.

September, October and early november are great due to the rising of the temperaturs during the day. The rise of temperature forces the wildlife to spend more time drinking or cooling down near the water. From mid October visitors may experience interesting and different weather situations and have a more private experience around jaguar sightings.

 

What camera gear you need to photograph jaguars?

What gear is best to use depends on your objectives on how to potrait the jaguar and its habitat.  However from our experience guiding (pro) photographers for over 13+ years  including Steve Winter, Berty Gregory and many other professional photographers we learned the following set-up is mostly used.

2 camera bodies, one equiped with a zoom lens 70-200mm, and the other camera body with a prime lens such as a 400mm f2.8, 500mm f4 or 600mm f4.

Other lenses such as 200-400 or 100-400 are very versatile and great for use in Pantanal as well. Ofcourse the lower the F-stop number the better for low light conditions and creating nice Bokeh backgrounds.

For a prime lens I personally would lean towards either a 400mm or 500mm lens. For very intimate head poitraits use a 1.4 or 2.x extender. A 600mm is quite heavy and in many occasions to close when wanting to frame the jaguar whole.

Other gear which is important to bring are:

    • Monopod (for use in boat)
    • Memory cards ( I used 128GB cards in the primary slot and 64GB in the secondary slot) and bring spares so I could shoot an entire trip without back-in up incase laptop fails.
    • Laptop
    • External drive(s)
    • Batteries (I advise for each camera a back-up battery minimal)
    • Battery chargers (if you have a spare, bring might your primary charger fail)
    • Drybag or raincover, in case we have rain you can protect your gear at all time
    • Plug adapter so you can use your devices on different power outlets/plugs

Daily routine and tips for jaguar photography

  • Always start the day with full batteries. Every night charge your batteries even if they are not drained completely
  • Start with clean memory cards  (if you back-up your images on computer or external drive)
  • Organise your back so you can easily switch cameras, get extenders or change lenses etc.  I try to minimize changing lenses myself
  • Check your exposure and shutterspeed frequently!
  • Not only focus on the jaguar but also it’s surrounding so you can anticipate what could happen next.
  • The waiting game is 99 out of 100 the winning strategy. When you see a jaguar in the bush it will drink, hunt or move eventually. It can be tough to wait multiple hours but from our experience it gets you the shots.
  • When you are photographing, it is good to sometimes check if your exposure /shutterspeed are still oke. Checking images and deleting them is best to do at the lodge. It can cost you a unique photo opportunity and drains your battery.
  • AC in your room. When you have your bag closed in an AC room and you set the temperature low it might happen that you are in the boat opening your back and your lenses are fogged. This sometimes can take a while before the condens is gone. Therefore better to open you bag to adjust to room temperature and dont put AC on 16 when outside is 35 Celcius.
  • You are in Pantanal with the jaguar, occasionly enjoy the jaguar with your own eyes instead of through your camera 😉
  • When return to the lodge, charge your batteries, download and back-up your images, refresh and enjoy the diner. Then you are set for the following day

Important:

  • Make sure you drink enough water during the day, don’t get dehydrated! Drink a lot of water,  3-4 liter of water per day when out on the boat.
  • Frequently apply sunscreen
  • If you use insect repellent with (DEET), be carefull with your camera. The 50% DEET can damage your camera cover
  • Use a hat for sunprotection
  • For clothes use either UV protective clothes or lightcolored breathable clothes. Personally I prefer long sleeves and pants to protect against the sun
  •  Sunglasses both for sun, wind and insects when driving high speed on the river

Typical daily program out on the boat in search of jaguars

We stay at lodges located at Porto Jofre, which wildlife experts agree forms the best spot in the world to see jaguars.

  • 7 AM: We depart by boat from our lodge on the Cuiabá River towards the Three Brothers River in magnificent Meeting of the Waters State Park to search for jaguars. Often, we leave earlier to experience an inspiring sunrise.
  • 12 PM: We enjoy a picnic style lunch on the boat, because returning to the lodge for lunch requires spending precious travel time. We may even spot a jaguar enjoying his own lunch in his prime habitat. After lunch, we hunt once more for the jungle cat in the perfect setting.
  • 5:30 – 6:00 PM: We return to the lodge to refresh ourselves after a exciting day in the wild.
  • 7:30 PM: Dinner is served at the lodge.
  • 8:30 PM: We relax or review images to select the best ones. Our lodge provides plenty of electric outlets for all devices and for charging batteries. Afterwards, it’s off to bed to rest up for another day of splendid views.
 
For photography safaris we offer the possibility to start more early in the morning and experience the sunrise from the water.
 

Important when booking a jaguar photography tour

  • What is the number of participants in a group?
  • Does the group have photographers, or will I be the only one? Other photographers along may offer valuable advice. We make sure that our tours provide ample support for whatever level of expertise our clients have. The most satisfying shot may come from an amateur photographer as well as a professional.
  • What boats are used? For instance, will they be low profile for exciting low angle shots? Comfort means a canopy for sun protection and generous space for my camera gear and room for me to move around.
  • Does the jaguar photography tour include an effective daily program? Lunch hours back at the lodge involve travel time and possible movement of the animals away from the river. Lunch aboard the boat, by comparison, means more chances for a marvelous photo shot. There is satisfaction in taking lunch in jaguar territory to possibly observe jaguars taking their lunch, too.
  • Will I have an experienced guide with a track record for guiding photography trips and positioning the boat for the perfect shot?
  • Will a local company using local guides supply the best information? Tourism remains vital to communities and by hiring locally, we offer support to the region. The most current and important information comes from our local guides from our local company. We pride ourselves on our reputation because our future depends on it.

Find out about our Pantanal safaris:

jaguar tours
Pantanal wildlife tours

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The fly drive jaguar safari is a great option if you have limited time and want to maximize your time on the river with the jaguars.


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The ultimate Pantanal tour. Visit the finest locations the Pantanal has to offer and all iconic species of Pantanal.


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6-day jaguar safari


Full days on the boat exploring rivers and small creeks in search of jaguars in the 'Meeting of the waters' statepark.


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