In May this year – I decided that I needed to kick my butt into gear with my Wildlife Photography so after scouring the internet and travel magazines for affordable workshops. I found a guide/photographer/writer that has taken awesome wildlife photographs – Grant Atkinson http://www.grantatkinson.com he was doing a workshop in Botswana with Pangolin Photo Safaris. http://www.pangolinphoto.com
The weekend photographic workshop consisted of various photographic activities such as on the boat on the Chobe river, the amazing Elephant bunker at Senyati rest camp which is only for Pangolin attendees and on the Unimog at the Chobe National Park.
What is absolutely incredible about Botswana is that there President has banned trophy hunting and there is no poaching allowed. Botswana has set aside 17% of its land for National Parks and Game reserves while it as set aside 20% for it’s Wildlife management areas. Zambia has banned the hunting of lions and other endangered cats while Kenya has banned trophy hunting back in 1977. Hopefully more countries in Africa will follow suite. Including South Africa…
The Chobe River rises in northern Angola, then travels vast distances before it reaches Botswana at Ngoma. Our first session on the Chobe river in the specially designed boat for 8 photographers. You can mount your camera on the chair which turns around 360 degrees. If you are like me and travel with your own lenses, then you can use it by mounting one of their base plates to it. I was totally in awe of the scenery, it was absolutely incredibly beautiful. It was a case of were do you point your camera first, there were hippos bellowing in the distance, a elephant in the Chobe River, fish eagle, crocodiles and various other types of birds. One of my favourite images that I captured is a hippo jaw gapping with the sunset as the background.
Grant’s enthusiasm was contagious, with his knowledge of animal behavior he was able to put us in the best position to take photographs every time. We were a small group of four, with varying photographic abilities and he was incredibly helpful and patient giving us pointers if needed. After dinner we would go through my photos and I would scribble down numerous notes in my Moleskine.
There are two sessions a day, the following morning was filled with a boat trip on the Chobe river, sunrise shots with numerous birds. Then in the afternoon we went to the elephant bunker, as we are driving on the road to get there – there are road signs warning people of Elephants crossing the road. Once we were down in the bunker and the elephants started to arrive to drink, its was amazing. I have never seen so many Elephants in one location before. Botswana’s elephant populations are among the largest in the world. The bunker is done is such a way the the Elephants don’t know that you are there – unless you have a NIKON D700 for whatever reason the shutter is exceptionally loud. There were adorable baby elephants learning how to drink water from the mothers. I was amazed at how gentle the Elephants are towards the babies.
The following day we went to the Chobe National Park established in 1968, in the Unimog – you have your own seat. You can photograph from either side of the vehicle depending on were the animals or birds are. It’s also quite high off the ground which does give you that advantage in your shots. There are bean bags mounted onto it so if you have an heavier lens, you can rest your camera on there. Again, I saw the biggest herd of buffalo I have ever seen – at least 50. I saw my first baby buffalo which I managed to capture. One of my favourite photographs is of a Lion sitting and looking around next to the Chobe river.
Grant catered to all of our needs as some wanted to go bird watching or back to the Chobe river for another boat excursion – I felt that I needed to go back to the elephants. Going back for a second session really helped – I captured some really close up shots of the baby elephants and just focusing on various different aspects of the elephants such as their tails and trunks. Then outside the bunker Grant and I were panning elephants – which was awesome. Then we did a couple of night time shoots with baobab trees. Just pushing the ISO on my camera – which was really interesting. That night after dinner Grant regaled us with some of his hilarious travel stories. To this day it sill puts a smile on my face thinking about it.
On our last day we were back on the boat, we spotted a troop of baboons drinking from the river, hippos, Sable Antelope and more birds. When we spotted a pair of Sable Antelope and the one had drank from the Chobe river and I can recall him telling the driver of the boat to back off so the other one could drink. He genuinely does care about the environment and animals. One of my favourite images is of the baboons drinking from the Chobe river alongside a Springbuck. I also have a beautiful Pied Kingfisher in mid-flight.
Grant uses Canon gear but he is also familiar with Nikon gear which is what I used.
Nikon D700 with either Sigma 150 – 500 mm lens, Nikkor 28 – 300 mmm and my wide is Nikkor is 16 – 35 mm. Pangolin does supply digital SLR with zoom lenses, for those that are new to photography or perhaps what to try out the different camera or lens i.e. Sigma 150 – 500 mm lens.
We stayed at the Cresta Mowana Safari resort and spa, which is a 4 star lodge with dinner bed and breakfast. In my case if you have time for lunch, they can arrange it. It is absolutely beautiful, it’s on the banks on the Chobe river and you are surrounded by mother nature in all her glory. For the bird watchers there are countless birds, you can definitely scratch off a couple of lifers off your list.
Need to pay for your drinks and gratuities. You don’t need car hire as Pangolin will pick you up from the airport and drop you back there.
Check with your doctor first, Malaria including cerebral malaria, is common in northern Botswana, in the Okavango and Chobe areas, particularly during and immediately following the rainy season, from November to April. Take it after dinner so you can sleep off the side effects.
There are very few workshop options in South Africa and as the Rand to the Dollar escalates – I can’t afford to back to the States again at the moment (went to Santa Fe photography workshops last year with Mr. Jim Richardson from National Geographic). Which is so frustrating as I am trying to pursue my craft and get better at it. I would recommend to anyone without a doubt if you want to take better WILDLIFE photos go do a workshop with Grant.
I took part in National Geographic traveler photo competition this year and one of my photos was featured in the below mentioned article. Which is awesome!
The photographs below are some of my favorites and it’s just a fraction of what I can show you.
Till next time…