My long-awaited photo safari to South Africa was everything I had hoped it would be and more. David and LaDawn Ziser, well-known wedding photographers, decided to offer a photography workshop as part of their first safari in Africa and contacted Kevin and Tricia Dooley, owners of Idube Photo Safaris in Johannesburg, South Africa, to announce the safari. Having attended workshops with David and using software that he has promoted for years, I jumped at the chance to learn from him again and return to Africa. Thakadu River Camp was my safari group's home for a week in the Madikwe Game Reserve, located in South Africa’s North West Province, bordering Botswana. Madikwe is a private game reserve comprising more than 185,000 acres and home to 20 lodges housing visitors to the reserve. Thousands of animals, including all the "Big Five" (lion, leopard, rhinoceros (both black and white species), elephant, and Cape buffalo) roam thousands of acres and provide endless possibilities for great photography. To take advantage of the blue and golden light of early morning and late afternoon to sunset and beyond we rose before sunrise and set out at 6 AM, returning for breakfast around 10:30 to 11, participated in David's workshop from 12-2 pm, enjoyed high tea from 2-3 PM, and set out for the afternoon game drive at 3 PM. Most days we did not return for dinner until 8 PM. All of this made for long, tiring and exhilarating days.
The drivers of our three large Toyota safari vans were in constant contact with each other giving updates on game sightings. Our Toyota Land Cruiser had 4 rows (stadium seat style) for a total of 8 passengers. The fourth-row seating must have been 8 feet off the ground and the total vehicle length was probably 12-15 feet. It meant that anyone sitting in that fourth row REALLY felt the bumps of the road and was CLOSE, sometimes too close, to the charging elephants we had to elude. Yes, charging elephants! Being charged three times was scary but oh, so exhilarating. Since private game reserves allow "off-roading" we were able to follow game wherever they were spotted. Our drivers often drove right over large bushes and small trees in pursuit of lion, leopard and cheetah. We had to be careful not to get scratched by the 3" thorns on the acacia bushes that would often slap into the open vans as we careened through the bush. Our group of 12 professional and avid photographers from the mid-west, Toronto, Canada, and New York were rewarded everyday with views of magnificent animals, most from less than 25' away. There were so many beautifully colored birds all around us too, that I was compelled to try to capture some of their beauty and elegance. Never having taken bird photographs before, it was a bit of a challenge, but using the Continuous Auto Focus Tracking option on my cameras and using the longest telephoto lenses I had ever used, I was truly amazed at how many of them I was able to capture. I am now hooked!
Most of the safari participants had purchased 100 to 600mm telephoto lenses just for this trip! My Nikon D750 body with this telephoto lens weighed about 8 lbs. It turned out to be too heavy for me and although I got some terrific shots, I had to use a gimbal (an instrument that can rotate along at least one axis and serves to stabilize things like cameras and compasses) because of the weight, but it limited my ability to move the camera freely up and down and to the other side of the Toyota Land Cruiser when the game was on my right side. I found that I could handle my Olympus OMD EM1 with 40-150 lens plus a tele-extender (for the equivalent of a 450 mm lens on a full frame camera) much easier and easily slide to the right side of the van when necessary to capture shots of the game on that side. The weight and bulk of my Nikon camera and long lens was too much for my hand and I developed inflammation in my right hand that made handling that camera difficult. Since returning to New York, I have traded in my Nikon equipment for a newer Olympus OMD EMII. So much lighter and more appropriate for my small hands. It is a 4/3 mirrorless camera and since it is not full-frame I won't be able to print wall size prints, but the convenience and pain-free handling outweigh the final print size limitation.
I hope you enjoy my photographs from this safari. The website, of course, shows just a small number of images so I will change them up every so often to give you the opportunity of seeing more of them.
Inspired by this safari and my experience in 2009 on my Tanzania safari, I have signed up for a Gorilla and Chimpanzee Trekking safari to Uganda in March 2019.