- Dust is a problem, even with dust-cleaning sensors. Bring cleaning tools and bags to protect your equipment.
- A 100-400mm zoom is the ideal focal range. You often get pretty close to the animals, so a supertele is useful but not mandatory.
- Always have backup, any piece of equipment can fail, make sure it does not ruin your trip.
- The luggage weight limit can be an issue: 20kg (44 pounds) per person.
- It's cold in the morning, bring gloves and a warm sweater.
- Africa looks great in Infrared. Consider using a modified camera or an IR filter.
- Best time of day for light and animal activity is 6:30-8am and 5-6pm. Do not go on tours that leaves camp later than 6:30 am.
As usual, I worked with multiple bodies to minimize lens changes and be able to react quickly. I am a Canon user, although I often wished I had this super cool Nikon 200-400mm!
From left to right: 1D Mark III+500mm f/4+TC1.4x; 1D Mark III+300mm f/2.8; 5D + 24-105; 20D converted to infrared + 17-85
The lenses I brought saw a more balanced use than in my Tanzania trip.
The 500mm+teleconverter 1.4x is still unreplaceable for bird photography. However, I did not use it as much as in Tanzania for other animals because we were often able to get closer to the animals. This was not always true though, and for example the lion-buffalo battle below unrolled on the other side of a river and I needed all that reach. So I was glad I had it, but unlike Tanzania you won't feel as frustrated if you go without a super tele.
I even once used it with the 2x to get a real close up of a cheetah.
1D Mark III with 500mm f/4 + teleconverter 2x.
I hand-held that lens all the time and never used the tripod for it. There is not really enough space in the vehicle for the tripod and no good place to put a window mount. Thanks to IS, I did not have too much sharpness problem. I would often use the side of the vehicle to rest my elbows or lay on my back and rest the 500 on my knees for extra stability and to to rest my non-existent muscles.
In the medium tele range I used both my 300mm f/2.8 and my 100-400mm. This time, I took as many of my "keepers" in that range as with the 500. I was glad I had the wide aperture of the 300mm f/2.8 for some of the morning shot and this lens has such perfect optical quality that it's hard not to love it. Of course, the 100-400 provides more flexibility, and I must say it's the perfect range for this type of trip. If you were to bring one single lens, this would be it. It's just frustrating that Canon does not upgrade it. Both optical quality and image stabilization are not at the level of the L series. Note that I was using those lenses on a 1D Mark III body, which means I had a 1.3x crop factor. With a APS-C body such as a 40D or rebel you get 1.6 which makes 300mm a decent maximum focal length.
1D Mark III + 300mm at f/2.8, 1/125s and ISO 1600
Finally, I had a 24-105 on my 5D for context and landscape shots. This lens unfortunately started misbehaving on the second day and turned into a 70-105 because the zoom ring would not rotate anymore. I eventually decided to disassemble the lens and found a screw that was loose. The whole operation was stressful and took a couple of hours. If you ever face this situation, don't panic; it is actually doable. The scary part was all the electronic connectors but it turns out that they're easy to disconnect and reconnect. In the end, the lens functioned properly after this surgery, except that the zoom ring was a little stiff and often required me to both rotate it and pull or push the front of the lens. The last day, the communication between the lens and the body started failing (Err. 01) and I was forced to stay at the maximum aperture. I reckon that my lenses go through a tough time and that Africa in particular causes much vibration, but I was expecting more from an L serie lens.
That's what I call a kit lens.
I also took my 180mm macro but used it only once for frogs. It was a tricky operation because I was on a boat, and getting proper focus was challenging.
Use a hood on all lenses.If your lens does not come with a hood, buy one. For some wide angle lenses, the hood has a weird shape to avoid occluding the image. Be careful as they can rotate and end up as nasty black corners in your images.
The evil rotated hood effect
My current selection of the favorite 200 pictures from the trip includes:
45 with 24-105
26 with 300mm f/2.8
25 with 100-400mm
10 with 500mm
63 with 500mm and TC1.4
In conclusion: quite a few with "reasonable" lenses, but I am still glad I had the 500!
I worked with two Canon 1D Mark III for the telephoto lenses and a 5D for the wide angle. Great camera, nothing to complain about. I was glad I had the buffer of the Mark III for some of the action scenes. Actually doubling this buffer would be nice as I was sometimes a little stressed I would run out of it when the best part happens.
I had an infrard camera (modified 20D) and a 17-85 which I discuss at the bottom of this page.
I brought a casio EX-F1 which I used a little to shoot video. However, I must it's really tough to focus on both still and video images and I did not use the Casio that much.
Finally, I had a little waterproof Olympus which was great to have around the Victoria Falls for the water-based activities. It's not a great camera (the colors are often disappointing) but convenient. Actually I have one pretty good shot with that camera, at the Victoria Falls (see below).
As usual, I traveled with a flash and a better beamer. I have not used it as much in Tanzania, partially because I was shooting at good times of the day (see below), partially because I realize that it's most useful with birds.
Bad with: lions, leopard, antelopes, wildebeest. You get terrible equivalents of red eyes.
Great with birds.
Although you should not abuse it:
OK with hippos, elephants, cheetahs
Remove the flash from its mount as often as you can. The constant bumps and vibration loosen the screws and can even break the mount on either side. The plastic mount of one of my flashes broke.
I brought along my little Macbook air. It's a little underpowered for photography editing but it's great to make the weight limit. My main complaint with the air is that it has only one USB port. That means that you need a powered USB hub to plug external hard drives and card reader.
I was systematically copying my photos onto 3 hard drives. A master and two backups. One backup was always with me (in particular during the game drives). I was also sorting regularly and my favorite pictures were also saved on a USB stick to be sure. Finally, I had brought an autonomous hyperdrive in case the laptop broke. It's important to have multiple hard disks for redundancy, but what if you end up with no laptop to feed them?
I was using 8GB memory cards and never had to change them. Since you go back to the camp for lunch, you can download the pictures twice a day.
As usual, the motto is: make sure that the failure of one piece of equipment will not ruin the trip.
Bring a small screwdriver! Screws get loose with the bumpy roads and I had to fasten screws on my flash mount and my teleconverter. Last but not least, I had to disassemble and re-assemble my 24-105 IS L lens as described above.
Bring lots of cleaning supplies. I carry both a lens pen and pre-moisterized wipes.
Unlike in Tanzania, I used my tripod regularly, mostly to take pictures of the camps around breakfast with the dawn light. I also sometimes used it in the car to shoot video with the Casio EX-F1. I brought my little gitzo 1258, a good compromise between weight and stability.
The electricity situation was great in two of the camps and so so in the third one (little Vumbura). There, the fuse of our tent would regularly go off and I was afraid to put more than two devices at once. Otherwise, you get electricity throughout the day, either generator or battery+inverter. I had brought an inverter for the car in case I had a tough time recharging at the camps, but I strictly never used it.
You get different types of plugs: British, European, South African. Be careful: South African is usually not included in universal adapters. Most of the camps had a power strip with every single plug type on the planet. Nice. However, Chitabe Lediba didn't, so make sure you bring adapters.
Bring a power strip. Careful: not a plain US one, the fuse will blow (power is 220V).
In Southern Africa, they use Land Rovers with open sides. The experience is nicer than in Tanzania where they use open-roof Land Cruisers because you have a more panoramic perspective and you feel more immersed in the environment. For photography, however, it does not provide support for a Kirk mount.
It's pretty impressive how deep a water those vehicles can handle.
For two of our three camps, we paid extra for a private vehcile. It gives you a lot more space and more control over your schedule and where you go. This was particularly important at little Vumbura where they start their activities late and where we asked to start one hour earlier to be in the field when sun rises. Don't forget to tip more when you have a private vehicle: the guide has fewer tourists and gets a smaller number of tips.
In the first camp, we could not get a private vehicle and had two other people in the car. They happened to be great, but I also heard horror stories. You might want to reserve early because camps have a limit to the number of private vehicles they can commit.
The seats in the back are taller than those in the front, so you might want to get the latter to get eye-level viewpoints. The best seat from that perspective is the one next to the driver. You can negotiate to put the cooler in the back and get that seat.
Most camps have a rule that no more than 3 vehicles can be at the same time at a sighting. This is great in comparison to Ngoro Ngoro or the central Serengeti where I have seen cases with 20 vehicles around lions. In one instance, they addressed the 3-vehicle rule by re-distributing people from a fourth car into the three cars that were present.
The weight limit is pretty tough around Botswana: 20kg (44 pounds) per person. If you're a photographer traveling alone, you will probably need to purchase an extra plane seat. They do weigh your luggage and I know someone who had to leave half of his equipment and clothes in Maun. The good news is that they only weigh the luggage you check in and you can also have a backpack as carry on. This easily added 8 kg to my weight budget.
The compartment in the plane are pretty small, which is why they ask you not to bring hard or big luggage. However, a medium-size Pelican case (1500 series) is fine.
I used a Moose Peterson backpack because the bag itself is very light and allows you to carry a lot of quipment. However, it is not too padded and I had to check it in for the interior flights, a stressful operation. I might take a lowepro next time.
Your luggage might need to go in one of those small compartments.
Africa is a nightmare for dust. New cameras with dust removal systems do a lot better but are still not completely protected from it. Bring something like an arctic butterfly and clean your sensors regularly. I was cleaning my 5D and 20D every day and my 1D Mark IIIs every few days. I still had to remove a few dust spots during post processing, including on the Mark IIIs.
I used the blankets provided in thecars to protect my equipment from dust.
The guides who were seriously into photography were carrying their equipemnt in Pelican cases (e.g. 1520) closed most of the time, except when they were about to take a picture.
I trust the metering of my Canons less and less and use either exposure compensation or the manual mode. I make test images and use the histogram to decide the proper exposure. If I can, I overexpose a little bit as long as it doesn't clip the highlight. The exposure can then be corrected in lightroom, thereby reducing noise. It's called exposing to the right.
Most of the time (for medium-tone subjects and normal light) I set my camera to +2/3. Exceptions include dark animals (elephants, hippos) who get 0, backlit birds (often +1 1/3) and scenes with a high dynamic range (can require -2/3).
I saw a lot of animal interaction, which made depth of field challenging. You both want a high shutter speed to avoid motion blur, and a small aperture to increase depth of field. If you use a super telephoto, it's really hard to get enough depth of field. The photo below is at f/18 but the background lions are blurry.
Canon 1D Mark III with 500mm and 1.4TC. 1/250s, f/18 ISO 400
I made the mistake to shoot those wild dogs at f/2.8 to get a high-enough shutter speed, but only one of them is really sharp.
300mm at f/2.8 and 1/1250s, ISO 800.
Of course it sometimes play to your advantage and I like the small blurriness of the buffalos in the picture below. It nicely emphasizes the lion. I used f/11 to avoid excessive defocus.
Canon 1D Mark III with 500mm and 1.4x TC. 1/640 f/11, ISO 1000
I usually started the day at ISO 1600 before sun rises and made sure I progressively lowered it to optimize the signal noise ratio. When I wanted extra depth of field, I often raised the ISO again to be able to stop down.
I should try to use the auto-ISO feature on the 1D Mark III. It will increase the ISO when your shutter speed goes below a threshold you set. Still, I would rather have a dial dedicated to ISO. To be fair, the new Mark III is much better than the Mark II, you can now activate ISO modification by pressing only one button, and you can do the whole operation without moving your eyes away from the viewfinder.
I wish I had spent more time trying slow shutter speed. I did it with an impala (below) and it worked out fine, except for the bush that occluded the animal in the middle of the exposure. Ashutter speed around 1/10s works well with running animals.
Canon 1D Mark III with 100-400mm at 285mm. 1/13s at f/36, ISO 125
You might want to bring a neutral density filter if you intend to take such pictures. There is too much light during the day, and even at the smallest aperture and lowest ISO you still get a fast shutter speed.
There are good opportunities for backlit subjects. The dust, which is usually annoying, can create nice lighting effects.
Very often, the feet of the animals are hidden in the grass. It's too easy to frame the image without include space for those "virtual" feet. This makes the animals look short-legged.
All the pictures of camps were taken with a single exposure and limited post-processing. I simply took them at the right time of day, just before sunrise, when the sky light is about as bright as that of artificial lamps. A tripod is mandatory though if you want good depth of field. The picture below is a 6-second exposure. I use mirror lockup to reduce vibrations.
Canon 5D with 24-105 at 24mm. 6s at f/11, ISO 800.
Guides usually try to put the car in the right direction so that the sun is behind you when you shoot the animals. They also usually pay attention that the car does not cast shadow on the animal. If you're interested in more unusual lighting situations, you should tell them where you want to put the car. Also don't hesitate to ask them to move the car a few meters to avoid a nasty piece of grass in the foreground.
You might want to manage the arrival to the animal, as they might vey well leave when the car arrives. This means that it can be a good idea to take a safe shot before the vehicle is fully stopped. It's actually better to do it a little before it stops, while you're still moving slow, because when the car stops there is usually a big final shake.
I have sometimes founf tha the guides try too hard to get too close. This is not necessarily a desirabel thing because 1/ it takes longer to get there 2/ it might scare the animals and 3/ it accentutate the fact that you are above the animals. Don't hesitate to tell them to first start a little farther to take a first series of shots, and that maybe later you can try to get closer.
Some of their helicopters have photography windows. We flew with Shearwater in Zimbabwe near the Victoria Falls and I was able to shoot without nasty plexiglass. However, only 3 of their 6 seats have that capabilities. Make sure you give a good tip early to the guy who will seat you.
The window on the right of the picture is open.
Morning is great for more diffuse light and long shadows. Noon can be good because the sun illuminates everything you see and you can see through water.
Don't forget your polarizer to filter out the haze.
Never go below 1/1000s.
I was told that only elephants dislike helicopters, other animals don't care.
Despite the open window, I still had to post-process the pictures because there was a lot of mist and dust. The image above has its black point set to 25 in Lightroom instead of 5. I find the black point ot be a good solution for aerial photography because it matches the additive process of in-scattering. It also boosts the colors.
In contrast, the transfer flights were frustrating. The Okavango Delta is gorgeous from the air but the plexiglass of the windows makes it impossible to get decent colors, as you can see in this image of a river.
Microlights in Zambia unfortunately don't let you bring a cameras. This is too bad because they fly lower that helicopters, which reduces the layer of mist between you and the Victoria Falls. They normally have a camera attached to the wings but it was broken when I did it.
The Ultralights currently do nott fly because of reduced touristic activity.
Some of the camps offer water-based activities, using either regular boats
or traditional mokoros.
The water environment of the delta is very rich and you want to experience it from a small embarkation. From a photography perspective, however, I recommend the regular boats because they are more stable and can go in more open-water areas. The problem with mokoros is that they are small and can easily be attacked by hippos. As a result, they can't go before 7:30 and avoid open-water areas. This is unfortunate, because you probably want to take picture of water lillies with papyrus in the background but without the clutter if the water grass.
Canon 5D with 24-105 at 24mm. 1/125 at f/16 ISO 800
Taking such pictures is tricky because there is little light, the boat is not entirely stable and you want maximum depth of field.
It's very hard to manage both still and video at the same time. The easiest for me was to set the video camera on the tripod and forget about it, maybe reframing once in a while. It won't give you BBC-quality video, but you can get nice souvenirs.
Bring something to stabilize the camera. For example a tripod, or maybe one of those gorillapods t oput on the rail in front of you. I have segments that are hand-held at the maximum focal length (around 400mm equivalent) and it's a disaster.
Get a smooth head. I only had my still photography ballhead and it does not enable smooth panning.
Alternate wide angle and closeup shots. This will allow you to edit a more interesting video. Ideally, I think that you need two camcorders.Keep one on wide angle, and make sure you frame the full scene. Then use the other one to follow the action tightly. The wide angle segments will give you nice transitions when you move the close up, when you cut or just to add more dynamism.
Avoid zooming in and out all the time.
You typically get woken up at 5:30, breakfast at 6, and you start game driving at 6:30. Between 6 and 6:30 is also a great time to take pictures of the camps because the artificial and natural light are roughly balanced. Don't forget your tripod though.
Starting at 6:30 is pretty good because the sun was rising at 6:40, which means you're already up and runnign when the best light strikes. It's also when the animals are most active. Passed 10am, most lions will just be sleeping. Bring a sweater and maybe even a wool hat as mornings tend to be cold in Africa. Our guides were providing warm ponchos or blankets though.
Sunrise and sunset are not completely spectacular because the air is completely void of clouds.
The light is amazing between 6:45 and 8, OK between 8 and 9, and questionnable afterwards.
We stayed with the following lion before, during and after sunset. See how light evolves. Rather cool before sun rises, then very red, then golden.
You game drive until 10:30-11 when the temperature gets too hot, the light terrible, and the animals not active at all. Then you get a brunch and some siesta time which gives you plenty of time to recharge your batteries and download your photos.
There is then a high tea at 3:30 and you resume game driving around 4. It's still a little too hot but the light is not too bad and gets very good at 5pm. Sunset was around 6:05 for us, at which time you get a sundowner, that is, a drink in the bush. If you're a hard-core photographer, you might want to convince your driver to delay sundowner a little or to cancel i altogether. Light is still quite usable for ten minutes after sunset. The sundonwer has to be in an open space with good visibility since you get off the vehicle and you wouldn't want a lion to sneak up on you. This unfortunately can limit the photography options as these can be boring open spaces.
After sundowner, you slowly go back to the camp while doing a night drive. We saw a few interesting animals, in particular a porcupine and her baby. Unfortunately, I wasn't prepared and could not get a picture. We also saw a nice owl. I tried the flash but it was a disaster because of the dust in the atmosphere. Then I just used the guide's light, which required ISO 3200 and 1/25s!
The night sky is amazing in Africa. No light polution, tons of stars. I tried to improvise a long exposure at the end of the trip but I wish I had practiced before traveling. Here is a web site with instructions, and another one, and yet another one. One big issue is battery life. Long exposures are very taxing on the battery and the camera ran out of battery in the middle of my 1 hour exposure. Better planning next time!
In one of the camps (little Vumbura), the morning game drives started one hour later, around 7:30. This is quite unfortunate for both light quality and animal activity. We requested to start at 6:30 and this was no problem.
All our camps were managed by Wilderness Safari and were just great. The tents were huge, the food was excellent and the staff friendly and helpful.
power more of a problem because only one plug.
cold in the morning
All rooms have an outdoor shower.
Under tourists' pressure, some of the guides can be obsessed by the big 5 (lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard, elephant). You might want to tell your guide if you also want to see other animals.
There are tons of lions in Botswana.
Lions sleep most of the days: make sure you start your game drives early.
Avoid the flash, you will get a nasty reflection in their eyes.
We saw lots of leopards as well. In fact, we almost saw a leopard everyday. And many of them were active and on the ground.
Cheetahs are rare in Botswana. We saw two, but the first one was extremely shy. But the second one posed for us for a long time.
Unlike the two above, the cheetah is a day animal.
Botswana is suffering from an elephant overpopulation.
Elephants cause a lot of damage and are responsible for the rather desolate nature of the landscape. The shrubs below should be full trees, but were eaten by elephants.
We saw large herds of buffalos, probably a couple hundreds. It's impressive to be in a vehicle surrounded by such a large number of them.
Zebras are just great for photography. Their patterns are so graphical.
We did not see too many wildebeest, but we might have been spoiled in the Serengeti last time.
Do not use the flash with wildebeest. You will get a zombie.
We mostly saw small crocodiles because the big ones are better at hiding.
We saw many monitor lizards.
And one nasty snake who snuck in the camp in Duma Tau. We were told that this adder is the third more poisonous snake in Africa.
Giraffes are great help to find big cats. In many instances, we found lions or a leopard becausegiraffes were staring in their direction.
Birds can greatly benefit from a little bit of fill flash (around -1 2/3) with a better beamer. It reveals their color and puts a sparkle in their eye.
Do not underestimate the wingspan of a bird. I have screwed upa number of photos when a bird would suddenly open their wing and I found myself with too much reach.
Yep, I screwed up. This could have been an amazing picture but I was not ready and did not anticipate the space that the wings would take once deployed.
As many have written, the falls are hard to photograph because they are oriented towards the South. You might think that this is great ,but remember that we are talking about the Southern hemisphere: the falls are backlit most of the day. On the the other hand, the sun rises and sets in the alignment of the falls.
An extra challenge is the large amount of mist and spray. I had brought trash bags to protect my cameras and used them a little bit. But I was there when the water level is low (end of August) and I heard that during the wet season (in particular around March) there is a lot of spray. The good news with all that water is that you get rainbows all the time.
You can visit the falls from the "Zam" or the "Zim" side. Most people these days only go to Zambia because of political unstability in Zimbabwe. We stayed two days on each side and are glad we did.
There is less water on the Zambia side, which makes the falls less spectacular. On the other hand, this means less mist and better visibility during the rainy season. I really like the views from the Zambia side though. There is a nice perspective at the beginning of the walk with a tree silhouette that works well with sunset because it is then backlit.
Sunset over the falls from the Zambia side.
My favorite viewpoint is at the end of the trail after the foot bridge because you see the first bend of the gorges.
Sunrise over the falls from the Zambia side.
Finally don't miss Livingstone Island and the Devil's pool. You get to swim at the edge of the falls which is very exciting and provides great viewpoints.We did it for high tea.
View from Livingstone Island in the middle of the falls.
They take your camera and put it with others in a dry bag. Then you half walk half swim to the Devil's pool. There, you get to jump in the pool, which is quite impressive because you're jumping towards the edge of the falls and you land maybe four meters from the edge. They take a picture of your jump with your camera, so make sure it's set properly before you give it to them. Furthermore, during high tea, you are strongly backlit and you might want to set it to use fill flash.
One of the guides jumping into the Devil's pool.
The devil's pool. Not even two meters behind us is the edge of the falls. When you jump, you land roughly at the bottom of the picture.
We stayed at the Royal Livingstone, which was great because you can walk to the falls and you get a great view over the upper Zambezi river. They unfortunately close the gates before 6am and after 6:30pm. I wasn't sure if there was a way to walk arount it. ut given that the sun was rising around 6:30 and set around 6, this was not a big problem.
Having a drink by the river at the bar of the Royal Livingstone.
The Zambezi Sun is even closer to the falls but there is no river view and the architecture is ugly.
There is more water on the Zimbabwe side and the falls are more spectacular. The falls are inside a national park, which unfortunately only opens at 6:30am and closes at 6pm, essentially right at sunrise and sunset, which means that you must be quick. Note, however, that I showed up around 6am and a soldier let me in. I suspect that the $20 I had to give him for the park entrance fees will never reach the national parks, but oh well.
There are nice reflections at sunrise. I haven't had a chance to see the falls at sunset, but the same must be true. When I was there, sunrise and sunset were not too spectacular, in particular because there was no cloud.
Sunrise over the main falls seen from the Zimbabwe side.
Half of the vista points are not very useful because there is a lot of vegetation hiding the falls.
We never felt threatened in Zimbabwe and were not too harassed by merchants. People were very friendly and we had a great time.
We stayed at the Ilala lodge, which is probably the closest to the falls (maybe about a 15 minute walk).The rooms were OK and the rest of the facilities were great. Just don't hesitate to order an ice bucket to cool your red wine bottle, they serve it way too warm.
Don't miss the rafting, as the Zambezi river is one of the best place in the world to raft. The rapids are quite serious bu there is little danger because the water is deep. I had never rafted before and had not really felt attracted to rafting, but I had a great time. Note however that the chances of falling in the water are quite high.
We went with Safpar, and they were great.
The company who organizes the rafting also has cmaera people who go ahead of you in kayaks and take both videos and still shots f your adventures in the most serious rapids of the day. The pictures are of pretty decent quality, both focus and exposure are quite good. They use 28-300 L lenses, this makes them serious people.
I had also taken my waterproof Olympus but did not use it that much. During the best moment, you're just too busy to take pictures. However, you might want to bring one to take pictures of your group during the calmer moments.
As an alternative, you can go through the rafting with a simple boogie board. I was not aware of that option and wish I had been. This looked like a huge amount of fun. Although I was told that it requires pretty serious physical condition. The good news is that it's a combo with the rafting and you can relax in the boat when you're tired.
Victoria Falls has the third tallest bungi operation in the world and it's quite a thrill.
They take pictures and videos but the quality is not as good as that of the rafting. Focus and framing are approximate (see picture below) and the video was over-exposed. You can take your own photos from the side of the bridge. Just make sure you have a good zoom that's easy to operate and use the Ai Focus mode.
You can canoe on the upper Zambezi river, but don't expect it to be a fully relaxing experience. Sure, the river is a little calmer than below the falls, and the little rapids you have to go through are not too impressive. But the stillness of the water unfortunately means that it's full of hippos, which are quite territorial and aggressive animals. Of all those activities, canoeing is actually the most dangerous.
Microlights provide an amazing view over the falls. They fly lower than the helicopters and you have a more direct contact with the elements. The bad news is that you can't bring your camera. Someone told me that a friend of his managed to convince them to let him keep his camera. I did not try.
Ultralights are unfortunately currently not running because there are not enough tourists. This is too bad because I read that they are the best for photography.
See above for my discussion of helicopter sightseeing. This was a great experience.
I had my old 20D converted to perform infrared photography. This means that the infrared filter was taken away and replaced by a visible-range filter. Note that by infrared I mean near infrared, not thermal infrared. People don't glow in the dark, and night photography is not improved. What's the point then? near infrared produces images that are almost black and white but where the tone distribution is very different from that of the visible range. First, the sky is very dark in infrared since it is blue. Second, vegetation reflects a lot of near infrared light and appears very bright. Trees look like they're blooming although it's just leaves.
It's important to use a proper white balance. The advice I got was to white balance on vegetation.
You can then keep the image straight from the sensor
turn it to black and white
or swap the red and blue channel to restore the blue of the sky.
Exposure is tricky with infrared and the only option I know is manual and the histogram. Typically you need to over-expose a lot (typically +2) compared to the meter.
Visible light version
Infrared with red and blue channels swapped
Infrared converted to black and white
Elephants look cool in infrared.
It's important to check that the lens you use works well in the infrared range. Some lenses exhibit annoying hot spots. See links below, or e.g. this site.
We organized our trip through the Adventure Travel Desk in the US. They were mostly great except for the Victoria Falls, where the person who was taking care of us told us to wait to reserve activities such as the helicopter ride. This was a big mistake! I eventually asked again to the person who had replaced him and she said that we should hurry and reserve everything. Some of those activities might be bookable at the last minute, but I wouldn't recommend it. Bottomline: reserve everything in advance if you can.
ATD mostly was an interface between us and Wilderness safari in Africa. Next time, I might consider cutting the middleman and work wirectly with Wilderness. They are big enough and have been in business a long time, I think they are quite reliable.
You can have the same guide all the time. It will cost you extra but some peopel appreciate dealing with the same person all along, they get to know you better and can better adapt to your interests. We met that fellow, Matt, from wWilderness safari who is one such guide, is a nice guide and who also is a great photographer (he has a number of pictures that I am totally jealous of). I am considering hiring him next time I go.
We did not need small bills in Bostwana. You give the tips at the end of a stay (typically 3 days) which means that you can use $10 or $20 bills. In contrast, we used a lot of $1 in Zambia and Zimbabwe. For two people and four days we had $100 in $1s and it was a little tight.
If you have a private vehicle, consider tipping more as this means fewer people in the car.
My only other experience with Africa was a two-week trip to Tanzania. I would say that Tanzania had more impressive landscapes and larger herds of animals such as zebras and wildebeests, while Botswana enabled closer sighting of animals. In particular, we saw way more lions and leopards and from a closer distance than in Tanzania.
In Tanzania we only went to National Park, while in Botswana we always were in private reserves. This partially explains the distance difference because in national parks you usually cannot off-road drive. If you see a leopard in a far-away tree, your only option is binoculars. OIn contrast, in a game reserve you can drive to that tree even if there is no trail. This sometimes meant that we sometimes felt a little concerned that we were harassing the animals. This however depends a lot on yoru guide and they do have rules against animal harassment.
The sky in Tanzania was more interesting because there were clouds. The large hilly plains of the Serengeti with their Acacia trees and the rim of the crater of Ngoro-Ngoro are spectacular sights. The landscape in Botswana is interesting because of the water, especially in the delta.
Botswana is a lot more expensive than Tanzania because it does not offer much budget options.
Bring some purell or hand wipes as these were not provided during our trip. They can be quite useful for the sundowners and snack breaks in the bush.
Not that many clothes: the camps usually do laundry for you every day.
Mombo camp - guaranteed to see the big 5
Duba plain - best for live action, even during the day
Guide: Chris Bakkes
Kolmanskop - that's where you have those deserted rooms full of sand
Good in summer:
Deception valley, Kalahari Desert - Botswana
Fodorvary - great open spaces (no idea what the first four letters are. My handwritten notes are unreadable. The fact that I am the only Google hit for this word is a bad sign).
My collection of photography travel guide links
My Tanzania notes
Digital Safari Equipment Tips at the luminous landscape by Nathan Myhrvold
Kenya trip report by Vandit Kalia
Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Photo Advice for Travelers on Safari in Africa by Jon Hill
African Photo Safari by Thom Hogan
A Botswana Photo Safari Portfolio by Michael Reichmann
A Photographer's Guide to Botswana by Philip Greenspun
African Photo Safari Guide by Philip Greenspun
FAQ and various articles by Michael "Nick" Nichols
Infrared-related topics at diglloyd.com.
Exploring the World of Infrared Photography With a Modified Canon 20D at the Luminous Landscape
Infrared Conversion Instructions at Life Pixel
Digital Infrared (IR) Experience Report by Uwe Steinmueller @Digital Outback Photo
Choosing IR Cameras at Khromagery
Digital IR Choices at Khromagery
Canon EOS Infra-Red (IR) Compatible Lenses
Photographing on Safari: A Field Guide to Wildlife Photography in East Africa, by Joe McDonald. Amphoto Books, 1996
Botswana: The Bradt Travel Guide
Adventure Travel desk