Wildlife Photography in the Chobe

Gerry van der Walt All Authors Leave a Comment

This last weekend Andrew and I spent two days at a lodge on the Chobe River in Botswana.


What an amazing place!  In this last year I have been fortunate enough to photograph wildlife in various fantastic reserves across Africa and I can honestly say that the experience of photographing the subjects and scenes from the Chobe is right up there.  It was my first time in this area and based on stories and images I have seen my expectations were high.


Even though our visit took place during the traditional ‘bad’ game viewing season I was not disappointed.


There is something special about this place and the experience of photographing from a boat changed the game completely.  You can get a lot closer to both animals and birds and the unique point of view allows you to create a completely different kind of image to your standard shooting-from-a-game-drive-vehicle type shots.  You can get those as well but the possibilities are just so much greater when having the option include water in the foreground when shooting subjects on the banks of the river.


For this trip I was tempted to take along a 600mm lens as, based on some websites, this is the lens you would need to create striking images in this part of the world.  Not quite the case.  I ended up traveling with the following camera kit:

  • Nikon D3s

  • Nikon D7000

  • Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8

  • Nikon 70-200mm VR II f/2.8

  • Nikon 200-400mm VR II f/4


The combination of a full frame and crop sensor bodies allowed me a few more options as the 200-400mm could effectively give me a focal length of 600mm.  In the end I was very happy with my choice of gear and did not miss not having a 600mm with me.  I think it is important to mention this as there are companies out there that creates the perception that you have to have the big lenses to create good wildlife images.  This is definitely not the case and, more than that, the reality is that the majority of people do not have access to this kind of equipment.  


I would be every comfortable to go to the Chobe with a single camera body, a telephoto lens like a Nikon 80-400mm or Canon 100-400mm and a wide angle lens such as a Sigma 10-20mm.  Yeah, that’s it.  I know some of you are gonna start mentioning the slow tracking, lack of aperture and whatever other things the guys mention on the various review sites but believe me when I say – if you go to the Chobe with that kit you are going to walk away with some seriously great images!


From a wildlife point of view you can expect a very close, intimate African experience.  Getting up close to the larger species like elephants, buffalo and hippo is unique and when you throw in some out of this world birding and amazing landscapes you can be assured of an great photographic experience.  Cancel that.  A great experience.  Full stop.


Early in 2012 you will be hearing a lot more about the Chobe and I will be sharing a lot more information on shooting from a boat so make sure to stay tuned.  The angle, feeling and overall experience is awesome!  Also, if you have been thinking about visiting this amazing photographic destination… yeah, stay tuned! 😉


Even though we had rather crappy weather, and we were there in the ‘bad’ game viewing time we still had amazing sightings all round.  I can just imagine what this place must be like in the dry season when all the animals have to come down to the river to drink.  As I said earlier – watch this space.  


So with all of that said, here area couple of images from my two days in the Chobe.




Nikon D7000, Nikon 14-24mm, 1/2500, f/4, ISO 200


This herd of elephants came in for a drink at Elephant Bay, arguably the best game viewing location in the whole Chobe region.  After spending a while photographing the herd drinking the clouds kept on building and we go absolutely soaked!  What is better than getting caught in a massive storm on the Chobe river? Nothing!!



Nikon D7000, Nikon 200-400mm VR II @ 400mm, 1/500, f/4, ISO 200


If you are a birder you will recognise this little guy.  The Rock Pranticole only occurs in this northern parts of Botswana and we were lucky enough to have a number of them nesting on the rocks around the corner from the lodge.



Nikon D3s, Nikon 200-400mm VR II @ 400mm, 1/1000, f/4, ISO 500


Puku are also quite unique to this area.  We only saw three of them on the floodplains north of of the Chobe river as it started raining one afternoon.  Cute little things.



Nikon D3s, Nikon 200-400mm VR II @ 380mm, 1/2500, f/5, ISO 500


I have never seen so many Fish Eagles as I did in my two days in the Chobe.  These charismatic birds make for amazing photography and there are plenty of opportunities to photograph them in flight, sitting still and pretty much doing anything you can imagine.



Nikon D3s, Nikon 200-400mm VR II @ 400mm, 1/1250, f/5, ISO 320


During our two days we spent a lot of time photographing Jacanas.  These colorful birds make for great photography as the forage around the water lilies. 



Nikon D3s, Nikon 14-24mm @ 24mm, 1/6400, f/4.5, ISO 500


This image shows why you don’t only want to go to the Chobe with a large 600mm lens.  These two ellies was happily grazing next to the river so I chose the Nikon 14-24mm lens in order to capture the amazing skies, the two ellies and a not of the river as well.  Tomany wildlife photographers stick to the large telephoto zooms and never try and capture their subjects in their environment.  




Because it’s more difficult and you have to think more when it comes to composition.  


Is it worth it?  


Hell yes!!


So that is the short version of our awesome weekend on the Chobe River.  I will be posting a few more images in the coming weeks and like I said earlier, stay tuned in the New Year.


Until next time.


Gerry van der Walt


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