A GUIDE FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS
The Okavango Delta (commonly referred to as the Delta), in Northern Botswana, was named as the 1000th location on the UNESCO World Heritage List and one of a handful of delta ecosystems that do not flood into the sea. Instead, The Delta fills with rains from the Angolan Highlands to the north and dissipates into the sands of the Kalahari Desert ultimately to evaporate as an inland delta.
The Delta is very flat. In fact, the change in elevation across is 15,000km2 (5,800 sq miles) varies by only 2 metres.
The Delta is divided into areas of National Park, community concessions and private concessions held by safari companies on leases of approximately 20 years. The largest national park area is Moremi with Khwai being the largest community reserve.
Photographing Red Lechwe antelope running through the wetlands is a truly iconic Delta image to get as is a large predator, like a lion or cheetah, making the most of a termite mound to survey its surroundings before initiating a hunt.
With there being lots of wide-open spaces in the Okavango Delta large game is easier to find and photograph with creamy smooth backgrounds normally consisting of treelines of the patches of forest.
The Okavango Delta is home to several packs of Wild Dogs, Africa’s most successful predators, and there is no more exhilarating experience than following a pack on a hunt. The dogs tend to set off in the late afternoon and spread out to identify a potential target before calling in the other members of the pack to chase their quarry down. The “kill” is often brutal but mercifully quick but it is their coordinated attack and strategy that will leave you mesmerised.
Landscapes, particularly with subject matter within the frame, are magical especially when piqued by recognisable shapes such as the palm trees which are unique to The Delta. This is even more true at sunset and sunrise.
With a continuous human presence from safari guests and rangers in The Delta, the animals tend to be very relaxed and habituated. Most guides will know some of the resident big cats and the best ways to approach and position for them when within their territories.
Photo Safari Activities in the Okavango Delta
At Pangolin, we tend to go to camps that offer more land-based activities than the “Wet Camps” which operate mainly on the waterways. We find that game drives on the Delta offer more productivity from a photographic standpoint.
When you are on a private concession (as opposed to a national park or reserve) you are allowed to off-road for special sightings to get to the best position for light and anticipated movement of the subject. Being on a river, often with tall reeds on the banks, restricts the view to the flood plains and open areas and limits positioning.
Mokoro (Dugout Canoe)
Having said that if you have never experienced a Mokoro then you have to at least once. It is a sublime sensation to be propelled by your “poler” in near silence through the narrow waterways.
There are different photo opportunities here if animals come to the water’s edge and among the reads, you will find dragonflies and painter reed frogs which make for excellent macro subjects.
Heading out on foot into the African wilderness is a visceral experience. All your senses are immediately heightened and you will certainly feel alive.
The idea is really not to seek out close encounters with large mammals, but that does happen and your highly trained guide will make sure that you are always a safe distance.
Walking is an opportunity to not only get some exercise (after lots of sitting on game drives) but to also examine some of the smaller features such as tracks, plants, scat and residents such as dung beetles going about their day.
Amazingly with such a varies ecosystem there are no known species of animal that is unique to the Okavango Delta. That doesn’t mean there is nothing unique to photograph!
The Delta is home to some of the largest buffalo herds still roaming Africa and its not uncommon to come across herds in excess of 1000 individuals.
There are very healthy populations of the larger predators like Lions, Cheetah, Leopard, Hyena and African Wild Dog.
The scattered water sources, like waterholes and rivers, are nearly always inhabited by pods of hippo as well as crocodiles.
Birdlife is especially abundant in the green season months between November and April when the migratory species arrive in the millions. Permanent residents include Fish Eagles and Saddle Billed Storks – the tallest stork species in the world.
The Delta is mainly multiple shades of green with a few brightly coloured flowers here and there but the smells that waft past you as you are on a game drive are captivating. The aromas of wild sage and the aptly named potato bush will stay with you forever.
The shape of The Okavango Delta is determined by the seasonal floods and water level that peak around April through to August. These floods contain water that fell during the rains in Angola months before (November to February) and has since travelled slowly South across international borders as it has done for hundreds of years.
The Okavango Delta consists of swamps, lagoons, flooded grasslands, islands and woodlands. With such variety there are plenty of different animals and birds, that inhabit each ecosystem, to see and photograph.
Large open areas, often with permanent water sources (waterholes or rivers) are fantastic for photographers offering uninhibited views of large herds of the larger species such as buffalo, elephants and Red lechwe.
Charter flights are the quick and easy way to get into the Delta and most originate from either Kasane in the North or Maun to the East of the Okavango Delta. Below you will see a video which answers most of the commonly asked questions about charter flights in Botswana.
Self-driving is becoming increasingly popular over the last decade or so but you have to remember some crucial factors when it comes to this as regards wildlife photography.
Firstly you have to leave yourselves lots of time to explore. On a map, the distances don’t seem huge but your average speed is often down to that of a walking pace when you take into account all the stops you will make and time to get stuck on occasion too! On that note, it’s only really advisable to self-drive if you have a modicum of 4×4 experience under your belt.
Secondly, you can only self-drive on the game reserves and community reserves (where you can off-road but they tend to be quite busy with other cars). You cant self-drive in the private concessions unless you are heading to or from a camp.
The Okavango Delta is a very special place all year round. When you decide to visit depends on what it is you are looking to photograph and what constraints your budget has.
Much is written about green or rainy season not being as productive as the dry season winter months but we simply do not believe this to be true from a photographic standpoint. You can read a detailed article about Green Season in Botswana here.
What is for certain is that you really shouldn’t do a safari in Botswana without visiting this amazing place and top African safari destination!