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Three Generations on an African Photographic Safari

On the Chobe river, at Chobe National Park, Botswana

Chobe – the name has a magical, mysterious sound to it which could be a mantra chanted during an ancient fire ceremony.

Being our first time in the Chobe National Park, Botswana, grandpa Sid, dad Ilan and grandson Adi did not really know what to expect. We joined an exciting photographers' expedition under the tutelage of Paul Salvado. The group of 23 keen photographers were eager to start shooting their cameras out in the bush. However, first came a tough 15 hour drive from Johannesburg with a stopover at a magical waterhole called Elephant Sands. The drive next day seemed more like a moon expedition, with massive craters in the 'road' allowing an average speed of 10km/h.

Finally we arrived at the peaceful Kubu Lodge, blissfully nestled on the banks of the Chobe river where we bedded down in thatched bungalows on stilts. We were soon to adjust to the rigorous early morning regime of rising at 5am, hitting the park before sunrise, spending the morning photographing, rushing back to process the photos and repeating the same regime in the afternoon. A restful vacation it was not, but the excitement and magnetic pull of the bush made for an addictive week, of which one could not get enough. Evenings were spent, drink in hand, around the bar for a critique and judging session of the day's best shots, with one winner honored each night.

About Chobe, Botswana

The Chobe National Park is the second largest national park in Botswana and covers around 10,000 square kilometers. Botswana is located north of South Africa, and locked between Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Zambia. Chobe is way up in the north and borders on Zambia. It has one of the greatest concentrations of game found on the African continent.

Botswana's population is around 2 million and its capital is Gabarone. The climate is semi-arid, with the rainy season being from October until April. The main ethnic groups are the Batswana, a group of tribes, of Bantu stock, who were hunter gatherers.

Chobe has approximately 60,000 elephants. There is nothing as magnificent as being on the Chobe River for the evening sunset, watching from close proximity a group of elephants drinking and playing in the water. It is truly an inspiring experience.

As far as a family vacation there is no better place to experience wild Africa.

From amateur to accomplished photographer in two weeks Sid had been struggling to capture a hovering giant kingfisher, and after several attempts was quite frustrated. Adi had no such problems. A seasoned photographer, Sid, with every award under his belt, had passed his love of photography on to me, his son Ilan, who was nipping at his heels as far as an eye for a shot was concerned but then Adi unexpectedly overtook both.

Adi, being an easy going teenager, snapped up the chance to tag along on a photographers' safari but had never even held a simple camera, never mind a sophisticated digital SLR with a 170-500mm zoom lens. Today's teenagers have grown up with technology; Facebook; Messenger; cell phones; MP3 players and everything digital, and they have no problem with picking up a device and mastering it after five minutes.

Thanks to intense coaching on the theory of photography, first from Dad , then Grandpa and Paul, Adi made leaps and bounds in understanding the equipment, and putting it into practice at lightning speed and even came close to winning some challenges. The desire to win was possibly the driving force behind his fiercely competitive nature and he came away despondent from every failed attempt at a prize. But as experience and coaching taught him, you need to get out there, use the knowledge you have gained and strive to do better.

Wildlife photography is all about speed. Things happen awfully fast out in the wild and good reflexes, luck and 20/20 vision certainly help one to react and shoot quickly.

Composition is also a key element. When faced with hundreds of elephants all mulling around drinking at the river's edge, it takes time for one to register what will be the best composed image – which may be a single elephant or a cropped picture of a small group through several shots joined together at a later stage in a wide panorama.

Technical details

Our equipment consisted of a variety of Nikon cameras and lenses including 2 D90 bodys & three D80's. Adi used a Sigma 170-500mm exclusively; Ilan a Nikkor 70-200 F2.8 and a 16-85mm; Sid a Nikkor 70-300 and an F4 200-400mm lens. It is difficult to remember every shutter press after taking thousands of shots, some underexposed, some overexposed and some just blurry. Invariably, the best shots must be absolutely pin sharp. Basically, after a couple of days in the bush your technical knowhow is pushed into the background and your instinct takes over. Some of our best images were of the least expected scenes that invariably evoke a feeling of awe from the viewer and clearly separate the subject from the background.

An animal in action adds to the shot since static poses are mundane. Always keeping the light on your back is another good tip, except when doing striking silhouettes directly into the sun which can produce some awesome shots.

To avid landscape or studio photographers I recommend that you dabble in wildlife photography. I am convinced it will help you grow to become a more rounded, expert photographer. This type of action photography adds another dimension of added difficulty. It is truly difficult to capture the perfect shot, and requires hours of perseverance, patience and luck, so when you compare yours to those taken by amateurs you can certainly pat yourself on the back after getting the important fundamentals right: no clutter; whole subject standing out; showing action; good detail in the darks, highlights not burnt out and above all - sharp focus. Of note is that there are some awesome landscapes to be seen.

In short an African Photographic Safari adventure is an ideal way of bonding. That is, if you don't get stampeded by an angry elephant, but in all likelihood the stress of waking at 5am every day and getting the winning shot will kill you first! 



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