The Chobe River. A destination renowned for its spectacular wildlife sightings and sunsets and a firm favourite amongst photographers for a number of reasons. These include the quality of light, the reflection of light off of the river, the fact that game approaches the photographer head on, the proximity of the wildlife to the boat, the variety and concentration of wildlife… I am sure you get the point! If not, check out Marlon’s trip report from a trip he lead there in march 2013.
For the purposes of this post I will be focusing purely on lens choices for photography on the Chobe River and not from a vehicle… So by now we all know that the Chobe River is a fantastic destination for photographers. Many of you may be familiar with the photographic boats which elaborate rigs for making photography on the river that much easier. These rigs are usually kitted out with 400, 500 or even 600mm prime lenses. Are they really necessary though?
My thoughts for photography on the Chobe River fall into three broad types of images that one would want to capture whilst on a photographic safari in this destination.
Landscapes & Sunsets
The sunsets on the Chobe River are nothing short of spectacular and you will want to go as wide as possible in order to capture the magic of the region.
The birdlife along the Chobe River is phenomenal both in terms of diversity and the concentrations. It really is a paradise for birders and bird photographers. This is probably the one elements of photography on the Chobe where I would recommend the use of a 600mm lens. That being said, you would still be able to get great results with focal lengths of between 300 and 500mm as well.
The wildlife along the banks of the Chobe River are fairly relaxed and accustomed to the boats, allowing one to get up close and personal a lot of the time.Apart from using your wide angle lens for sunsets, a good wide angle lens is crucial in ensuring that you capture some interesting animal in environment opportunities that you will encounter along the Chobe River. During the afternoons in the summer months there are massive build ups of clouds and storm cells which make for dramatic backgrounds and you will want a wide angle lens on hand to capture these sorts of moments.
For the most part, focal lengths of between 70 and up to 300mm will be used to get decent portraits and general wildlife images. More often than not, your guide will “park” the boat on the shores of the river to provide you with a more stable platform for photographing and this often means that you are very close to the sighting. This is where prime lenses of greater than 300mm will require some creative thinking in order to work the scene and capture interesting close-ups.
These images are a good illustration of how a single sighting can be worked with a 16-35mm lens on one body and a 600mm lens on a second body.
I have often find myself leaving the long glass out to dry as I try and include more of the environment or sky at specific sightings. As you can see, I am not the only one who does this!
What Would I Take?
The take home message here is that you don’t necessarily have to have the big toys to enjoy photography on the Chobe River. The set up of photographic boats makes it easier to spend extended periods of time photographing but the long lenses that are often seen decorating these photographic boats are not a necessity. My choices below are based up on the versatility that the combination of lenses affords me in capturing the sights of the Chobe.
- Canon 100-400mm
- Canon 18 – 200mm
- Nikon 80-400mm
- Nikon 18 – 200mm
- Sigma 150-500mm
- Sigma 10 -20mm
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