To give a definitive list of what to bring on your stay aboard the Zambezi Voyager is difficult. It depends on a number of factors: the time of year you are travelling, whether your baggage restrictions are guided by an airline or by the size of the boot of your car, and whether your interests are prescribed by wildlife-viewing, bird-watching, landscapes, stargazing, or all of the above. Whatever the case, you’re going to want to photograph everything you see. Don’t be disappointed by not having the correct equipment when you get here. With this in mind, here are some general guidelines on what to bring when it comes to photographic equipment – lessons learnt from a life on the river.
Rule number one
The Chobe River is guided by the number one rule of wildlife photography: “You can never have too much lens.” Even though you have a lot more freedom of movement in your own tender boat than you have on land, where you have to remain on designated roads, you still need lenses with big focal length.
Over 90% of the images that I have shot on the Chobe have been with either a 500mm or 600mm fixed focal length lens. I would consider a 400mm focal length lens to be the minimum requirement on the river. You could acheive this with a shorter lens coupled with a 1.4 or 2 times converter.
If you do not have a suitable lens or combination of lenses to acheive this, do not despair, there are companies that will rent lenses and camera bodies if you need.Outdoorphoto Rentals and Lens Rent are two good options.
For the rest, a lens in the 70-200mm range is very handy for large targets such as the elephant, for which the Chobe is renowned. This is also a very handy focal length lens for contextualising the animal or bird in its environment. At the shorter focal length it can do a reasonable job of those Chobe sunsets – which can be spectacular. Sunsets besides, the Chobe doesn’t offer all that much use for a 20mm lens. If you are weight or space constrained, best to leave it at home.
Some basic support
In 2014 we will commission our first photographic-specific boat. This boat will feature comfortable seats for each photographer, with each seat swivelling 360 degrees and boasting a fully articulating arm with a Gimpro gimbal head supplied. Until this boat is in service we recommend that passengers bring along at least a monopod for supporting those big lenses. If space and weight are not an issue then a good quality tripod with a gimbal head will cover all the bases.
There will be very little opportunity to use a seperate flash head, but again, space permitting, it can be handy. Use it with a Wimberley ‘off-camera’ bracket, or at the very least an off-camera cord to avoid ‘reflector’ eyes on your subject animal.
Once the rainy season is over, which runs from November to April, the dry season has very little chance of rain. That said, you are operating in a riverine environment, so some kind of plastic ‘rain coat’ can be a very good idea to protect your expensive gear from inadverdent splashes. In a similar vein, this is a harsh environment so a good quality camera bag is a an absolute must. Finally, don’t forget the cleaning kit, to give your tour gear the tender loving care it deseves at the end of each day.
Rule number two
As we have already covered rule number one, rule number two is that you can never have enough memory. If you are remotely serious about what you are doing, you will be shooting over 500 images a day, so either plenty of memory cards or a laptop or external hard drive with you.
It may sound obvious, but above all, don’t forget your camera – it’s been known to happen. Any other accessory battery chargers are also essential. The Zambezi Voyager has 220 volt power 24/7, so you will always have full capacity.
This article is aimed at the dedicated or beginner wildlife photographer. For the rest, do not be intimidated: the average pocket or point-and-shoot digital cameras on the market these days is capable of spectacular results that were not acheivable a few years ago by professional DSLR cameras.