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Nothern Namibia - Etosha and beyond, a photographers tale


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Not only Moringa, also other flood-lighted waterholes are a photographer's nightmare. I think when pros are there, they manage to turn off the flood light and use their heavy spotlights and flashguns. Yet your b&w photo is fantastic, and also the colour ones does not show the dreaded impact of floodlight I am seeing on our photos. Good work!


Now, what was the "another day at the office" for animals was a "Award Of The Year" for You! Just being there and absorbing the events as they unfold ... priceless!

Edited by xelas
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@@buddy4344 - I love the Pied Crow sitting on driftwood photos in post #18!

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Great stories from the waterhole .... and your friend''s under the signpost shot. Excellent updates with more lovely photos.


Why do you think the park authoriities placed the giraffe carcass? And do you mean they moved it a short distance or that they actually imported it from somewhere? Sorry for picking on the weird stuff again - it just stands out because it seems unusual - everything else is much more wonderful and interesting, but relatively "usual"..

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Why do you think the park authoriities placed the giraffe carcass? And do you mean they moved it a short distance or that they actually imported it from somewhere? Sorry for picking on the weird stuff again - it just stands out because it seems unusual - everything else is much more wonderful and interesting, but relatively "usual"..


@@pault, Thanks for asking. I've been on safari many times and I know of kills that conveniently occurred right next to the lodge, however, I've also known of cases where rangers have re positioned carcasses to allow better experience for guests. On this trip, two different times dead prey animals 'just happened to be next to the lodge waterholes'. This could totally be coincidence. In this case, the young giraffe was in a location that was perfect in that it attracted predators, but wasn't at a place where spectators were forced to see too much gore. It could have been luck, I'm just suspicious.

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These last waterhole photos are fantastic given the difficulty.


I would appreciate any tips, as i will be trying this for the first time in April.

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@@Peter Connan, a couple of tips from my limited experience.

  • Tripod is a must
  • Cable release is needed to miminize camera shake, but you can also use the camera timer or wireless cable release
  • Expect to shoot high ISO (from 1600 up to 6400, but 3200 to 5000 seemed common for us).
  • Keep bumping up ISO until you can get AT LEAST 1/15 sec and preferable 1/30 sec or faster. For drinking rhino, etc. 1/15 was okay if you have good technique. For lions, you need faster as their tongue is lapping up water and the head seems to often lift up to look around. I'd say 1/30 is minimum on them.
  • Make sure lens image stabilization is OFF. This setting when on will 'fight' the tripod and long shutter speeds.
  • As soon as you get set up, shoot a photo of something you think is medium gray (a rock, a rhino, etc) and something you think is really black. This can be very deep shadow of animal or similar. If you see something that would be white in daylight, even better, but that's a challenge. This will allow you to color adjust better when you get home.
  • I liked shooting in the 'live view' mode on my back screen. that way I could zoom in on an area to see that focus was looking sharp. If not sharp, switch the lens to manual and focus, then shoot. My camera focused okay, but some folks had challenges.
  • If your camera has 'highlight alert' option for the review screen, make sure this is enables to look for 'blinkies' of over exposed areas of image.
  • Check the histogram on back screen to make sure you are not overexposing any whites and to try and get the curve as for right as possible.
  • Get Lucky
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From Halali to Okaukuejo


As noted, we really enjoyed the Goas waterhole on the previous day, so for this morning, we decided to start with a return to that waterhole. About a kilometer before we got to the waterhole, we saw dust flying to our left. We slammed to a quick stop and pulled out the cameras. A couple of zebra were not getting along together very well. There was kicking and biting. Great action to watch and photograph. Several got ‘great shots’. I got a few shots worth keeping, but they were a little far away for my lens.






Moving along, we got to Goas and, as yesterday, there were plenty of zebra at the waterhole. I shot for a few minutes.








I then remembered I had brought along on the trip a 6-stop neutral density filter. Getting long shutter times in daylight is usually a challenge and this would decrease light to the sensor and allow those longer shutter speeds. My plan coming to Etosha was that I wanted some longer exposure shots of animals at waterholes with the hope one or two animals would remain motionless, while other animals moved around, creating a mix of motion and static animals. Than plan worked fairly well, however, I had not considered a few factors: I was in a vehicle with another person and I was on a beanbag with a super-telephoto lens. Any motion by my fellow photographer in the vehicle ruined shots. Any motion by me while shooting long ruined the shots. I quickly learned that the idea has great potential, but technique requires practice and patience. I will try this again in the future.




While I had the 6-stop ND on the camera, I also shot pan shots of the zebra as they came and went from the waterhole. While the keeper rate is always low on this type shot, I was moderately successful as this method did not depend on the driver or me staying still. This technique depends on some part of the moving animal not bobbing up and down as you pan.













Today we needed to transfer from the Halali Lodge to the Okaukuejo Lodge, so we headed west with plans to stop at a few holes along the way. We shot some birds, a few springbok, but the most in transit fun was when we got to the Nebrownii Waterhole. This is where we had seen the ‘white ghost’ bull elephants and, sure enough, they were once more headed to the water hole.




There were several vehicles and a bus at the waterhole, so positioning our vehicles was a problem. I shot theses brutes from a great distance and has considerable problems getting shape images due to the heat thermals.

I also shot a photo of this scruffy little bird at the waterhole. It seemed to epitomize the harsh existence animals have in this environment. I'm sure some of the forum's birders can identify this small bird, but I don't know the species.




We arrived at Okaukuejo at about lunchtime. During the mid-day, the options are a buffet similar to the one we had eaten at Halali or a few grilled items like sausage, hot dogs or hamburgers. I went with the hamburger, but had immediate regrets as I saw the lady put the pre-cooked burger on a bun into a microwave. Thank goodness, I also ordered chips (French fries) as they were acceptable once covered in salt and tomato sauce (ketchup).


STay with me, MORE TO COME. Next: Okaukuejo Waterhole - fist impressions!















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@@Bush dog, thanks, I knew I could depend on the forum for identification.

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Thanks for the tips @@buddy4344!


Some of your motion blur shkts really worked very well!

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Dave Williams

I'm enjoying the read and the very useful tips and as a result I have decided for my trip in February to add a night at Halali Camp if I can get in, knocking one off elsewhere instead. I will be staying 2 nights Dolomite,2 in Okaukuejo then 1 in Halali.

What camera gear did you take and mostly use?


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And many thanks also from my side, @@buddy4344 ! I have had a ND filter on my Etosha visit but no idea how to use it :wacko: . Now there is a task to burn some images on :) . It looks like between me (= Zvezda) and @@Peter Connan there might be some good photos to be published next June.

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@@Dave Williams, two of us on the trip shot Nikon and two of us shot Canon. I shoot Canon. I primarily used the 1Dx MkII and the Canon 100-400mm verII. I also shot my 7D MkII and I also used a 1.4x teleconverter. I actually own two copies of the 100-400, so I kept one on each camera depending on how far away the subject was. This also allowed me to keep the 6-stop ND on one camera while having the other camera free for normal shooting when I tried that technique.


My landscapes and at Okaukuejo I used a 24-105mm lens. Later in this blog, you will see that I did use a 17-40 wide angle, but only in special settings. The Nikon shooters shot a mix of 80-400, 600mm f4 and a 300 f2.8 prime.


For our time of year (Oct.), the thermals from the ground were pretty strong, so my general advice in these conditions it to primarily shoot subjects less than 100 meters away unless you are shooting across a waterhole (water is cooler, so thermals from the ground have little/no effect on images).


I'm a proponent of not taking too many lenses. From my experience, when you take too much glass, you are constantly second guessing yourself or switching lenses. Focus on working with the equipment you have.


I'm also a proponent on have different focal lengths on two bodies. This allows you to swap cameras when subjects are at different distances, etc. and also minimizes chances of getting dust on the sensor.

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wow, truly amazing! Now i don`t know if i ever dare to update my tripreport with pictures from etosha, mine seems so mediocre compared to yours now :-O Great job!!

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Okaukuejo Waterhole – First Impressions


By the time we finished our lunch, it was late enough to allow check-in to the rooms. We quickly did this, then grabbed our cameras to see what was happening at the Okaukuejo waterhole.



Arrivals of game were pretty steady and the group could use a day of rest, so stayed at this waterhole all afternoon. After sunset, there were a few animals that came to the waterhole, but I chose to just watch rather than photograph.


In planning my trip, I underestimated how good this waterhole can be during the afternoon. I had reasoned that since the view faces west, shooting in the afternoon would be a challenge. It really wasn’t. I highly recommend that if you are taking a long stay at Etosha, take a mid-day break from driving around and spend an entire afternoon at this waterhole. It is glorious with the mix of animals and activity.


Another good day in Etosha!














































And one last image for you from that afternoon. In case you are wondering, this one has been flipped 180 degrees to have the reflection on top.




If the giraffe lifting from drinking shows last on this post, I'm sorry, it's a duplicate and I've tried to delete several times but saved changes keeps reverting to showing this.


Edited by buddy4344
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@@buddy4344 fabulous Etosha photos, these bring back happy memories for me.


Looking forward to more when you have time.

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Never mind duplicates when they are of your quality :) . Impressed by b&w phto of ellie family ... perfect composition!


Speaking of filters, did you use CP-L during midday? To keep the harsh light at bay or ... ?

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Speaking of filters, did you use CP-L during midday? To keep the harsh light at bay or ... ?


@@xelas, I did not use a CP-L filter on this trip. I"m not a fan of these. Though I understand the concept, I never seem to get iniform sky colors with them.

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When we visit Etosha for the first time in April next year, we are only staying in Okaukeujo.


These photos seem to vindicate that decision. Hopefully I can get half the quality and variety shown here!

Edited by Peter Connan
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  • 2 weeks later...

I havent been on ST in awhile and this report makes me realize what I've been missing. So many beautiful images, thank you for sharing.

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My Last Full Day in Etosha


We had one more full day of exploring central Etosha and we decided to start the morning by heading northwest from Okaukuejo to the Okondeka waterhole. Our reference book said this waterhole is often littered with bones of past prey, so this sounded like it had potential for a few ‘big cat’ sightings. Sure enough, about a kilometer from the waterhole, we found a very dried up carcass of a Giraffe. Basically all that remained were bones and hide.




As we approached the waterhole, my heart started pumping as we could see a pride resting near the waterhole. Oh, and by the way, the ground was completely littered with bones from different past meals. This was clearly a favorite killing ground. What made this sighting really exciting is that there was only one other vehicle around.



As we watched, we could see various animals coming in from the salt pan: an ostrich, an oryx wildebeest, all approaching from the distance with no apparent fear from the king and his pride. The sun was rising and the lions were not particularly active. Occasionally, one would get up, move, maybe get a drink of water and then … down again. As we watched from the roadway I noted that they should be heading for shade soon, but looking toward the pan, no shade was in sight, so we decided to drive on and come back to these sleepy lions (there is an irony here that will be noted a little later).




Continuing on the road, we saw a few springbok and oryx here or there. Not much for the next hour, so we decided to head back past Okondeka before stopping for the mid-day. As we approached Okondeka, we saw there was close to a half dozen vehciles parked. There is plenty of space at this waterhole and the presence of predators made it no surprise that others had stopped.


Whoa! Several lions were up now. The cubs were playfully fighting. Time to stop and shoot … but wait, several are heading straight toward the roadway further ahead. Time to rush to get into position. As we drove with aggressive intent, I realized there was a very large, low set of thick bushes about a 100 meters from the roadway. IF I HAD LOOKED BEHIND ME BEFORE WHEN I NOTED THEY WOULD BE HEADED FOR SHADE, I WOULD HAVE OBVIOUSLY SEEN THE ONLY SHADE AROUND AND THAT MY VEHICLE HAD PREVIOUSLY BEEN DIRECTLY BETWEEN THE CATS AND THE SHADE. We would have not moved and been in perfect postion for close ups! Now other cars were there.


Since we could not get in the desired position due, we decided to position the one vehicle so that we were looking toward the salt pan in line with a nice composition of an ‘S’ shaped stream. This turned out to be the best luck of the trip as several giraffe came to the waterhole in line with our composition. Better yet, the big male stood and posed a bit for us.











Now we had the cubs and one large lioness cross the roadway to go to the shade. No great photo angles, but we shot what we could.








Then two other lionesses decided to head to shade and they took a different route, passing right by our front bumper. This photo is actually through our windscreen.




Photographically, I loved this waterhole. The 's' shaped' water stream, the clean pan in the background, the bones in the foreground ... all marvelous. It was hard to leave this scene; however, with the lions now under the brush, I predicted they had settled in for the mid-day heat, so we decided to head back to Okaukuejo for brunch.









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The Afternoon session


After lunch, we decided to make one last run eastward to Reitfontein as we would be headed west the next morning. Once more, this water hole delivered as we were able to catch a herd of elephants playing in the mud and even swimming around in the deeper water. The elephants were having a blast, but not everything was photogenic as the animals were so close to one another. Perhaps my favorite scene was a young elephant that was having some fun in the mud, but then wanted to leave the mud and began to struggle with the deep mud. Mom comes along and, with her trunk, gently pushes junior until they clear the deeper mud. A really fun moment.








We left that waterhole and wanted to hit at least one more before trying to catch afternoon light at the Okaukuejo waterhole, so we headed out to Gemsbokvlakte. The waterhole had several zebra at it as well as springbok when we arrived. Generally, I liked this waterhole as a photo location as there were no obstructions other than very distant bush; however, the water level was low, so when animals were drinking, the feet and head were below the ridge of dirt surrounding the borehole.


Then, I spotted a rhino trotting toward the hole from a distance. As it got closer, the hook lip quickly identified the brute as a black rhino. He immediately went to the water to drink, but after a few sips, decided it was time to let all of the other wildlife at the waterhole know this was his waterhole. This worked out nicely as the rhino was now in full view and fairly close. I really enjoyed photographing this animal.




We then returned to the lodge to watch the afternoon parade of game at the Okaukuejo waterhole. I also worked on some more reflection shots.







We had only settled in for a short time when the wind picked up really strong and out of know where a storm blew through the area. We rushed back to the rooms to keep equipment dry, but after only a few minutes the rains had gone; however, in that short period, there were a few lightning bursts and once and the power at the lodge went out.


With rains gone and no power at the lodge, we headed back out to the waterhole. Darkness was falling upon the area and, with power out the viewing at the waterhole was difficult, but we were treated to something different and special. The storm had moved south and west and we could see lightning jumping from cloud to cloud in the distance. Back to the room to grab a cable release and now we made attempts in the darkness to photo lightning. The funny thing is that these shots would not have been possible if the lights were on at the waterhole. They are noisy due to high ISO, but I still liked the effect. Luck came our way.


No significant game activity, power still out but we heard food was still being served by candlelight, so we ended our evening with a few beers and dinner under candlepower.











Edited by buddy4344
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Dave Williams

You have me drooling over those shots and wondering just how badly mine will compare when I finally get my chance to visit which is now only next month!

The shots of the Lion and Giraffes and the Lightening are superb.

I have already changed my accommodation booking to give me an extra night in Halali as a result of this blog, the tips on waterhole photography are very handy too.

Any tips on must haves, must go to places would be more than appreciated. I'll put a request in the Trip Planning part of the forum too.

Looking forward to the next instalment greatly.

Thanks Dave.

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@@Dave Williams,


I hope my comments are of help. The beauty of a forum like this are the tips on lodges and waterholes. It's a good forum I've enjoyed, so I feel the need to return the favor. With such a beautiful country as Namibia is, photography becomes the easy part. I'm looking forward to my return, though no date is set yet. I think the upcoming comments on Grootberg Lodge and Khowarib Lodge as well as the Hoanib River will be of a lot of interest to folks. Stay tuned and I will work to get more of my write-up done.

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