Out of Africa

Last weekend I returned from leading my third photo safari to Africa. This time it was to Botswana, and once again it was a great trip.

When American Photo (www.mentorseries.com) asked me to go, I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve been fortunate to see much of the world thanks to photography, and Africa remains one of my favorite places. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of going there. And while I’ve led trips to north and east Africa in the past, this was my first time to go further south on the continent.

For photographers, probably the two best countries to visit are Tanzania and Botswana. Both modern, successful, democratic African countries,

Leroo La Tau night game drive. Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann.

they realized long ago that the wildlife was one of their great natural resources, and have worked hard to protect it. We stayed at Chobe Game Lodge, Leroo La Tau on the Boteti River, and Camp Okavango, in the Okavango Delta. Two days at each gave us a sampling of three different ecosystems in the country.

Chobe had the most game, making it the easiest for getting photos of the big animals. In fact, we got spoiled there. Our first afternoon, on our first game drive, there were reports of lions near the lodge. We arrived just in time to see a pair of lions bring down a Kudu (large antelope). That plus elephants, giraffes, impala, hippos and a stray bat and python made for an amazing first afternoon/evening.

Canoe outing in the Okavango Delta.

Botswana has one of the largest populations of elephants in Africa, and we got our fill of them. Both in Chobe and Leroo La Tau we were able to photograph elephants, both young and old, playing in or crossing water. Leroo La Tau also gave us a chance to do a night game drive, not great for photos (they use a spotlight to find nocturnal animals), but a neat experience. Camp Okavango is in the middle of the Okavango Delta, the world’s largest freshwater delta. There we stayed on an island and did most of our travel by boats (canoes as well as powerboats), although we we also able to do one walking safari on another island.

We flew in and out of Johannesburg, South Africa, and had a free day there before flying home at night. We took advantage of that

Going face-to-face with a six month old lion cub.

time to visit one of their game parks, These are very large (massive!) fenced-in areas that you drive through to see wildlife. That gave us an opportunity to see some animals up close, and see others we hadn’t seen on the trip (including rare white lions and endangered wild dogs). The best part, though, was the petting zoo there. For $5, you could get five-minutes with different young animals, or even pet a cheetah. I chose the six-month old lion cubs, and while I did pet them (rougher fur than I imagined), what I did mostly was shoot close-ups with a wide-angle. I figured, when would I ever get another opportunity like that! And when it pawed my lens, I was very happy for the Hoya HD Protector filter, which saved my front element from its claws.

Up close and personal with a 16mm lens. Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann.

This June I’ll return to Africa, making another trip to Tanzania. There are still a couple of openings if you’d like to join me. And I’m hoping to re-visit Botswana again, perhaps in 2012. You can see more photos from this trip at www.reedhoffmann.com/2011Botswana.