Oct 29

Camera Equipment on Safari

Being an amateur photographer on a photography tour I gave a lot of thought, and spoke to a lot of people about what to bring on my South Africa tour.  I also looked at several websites that recommended taking a lens as short as 300mm to a 500mm fixed lens. I will break this post up into 2 parts – the casual photographer and the amateur photographer. If you’re a professional photographer, comment with your own suggestions.

Other Camera Gear:
Tripods are not really necessary on Safari, but if you have one I suggest bringing it.  A tripod with only one leg extended can operate as a monopod, which I do suggest bringing.
Monopod – essentially a one legged tripod, these are great for sports photography and wildlife as they allow you to hold your camera steadier.  They move more quickly and easily than a tripod and pan better too.  If you need to adjust heights, they are easier than a tripod since there is only one leg.  The only downside to a monopod is that they rarely have functionality for portrait orientation photos.

Beanbag – I heard this suggested and almost bought one myself.  A beanbag is used to steady your camera for a shot and can lay on safari seats, doors and windows. In the safari vehicles we were in the walls were so low that this wasn’t a great option. One guy had one and I never saw him use it.  Cheaper alternatives to this would be to use anything with a rice or small beading material in it – a neck pillow, heated neck thingies – they can all accomplish the task.

Casual Photographer:
Your iPhone/Android/Google Phone will not do the trick. Once in a while the animals will be close enough to get a decent photo with your phone, in those cases, bring out your phone and get a selfie to impress your friends at home. Otherwise, you’ll need more power than that.

Point and shoots – better than using your phone, but if there is only a 3x or 4x zoom, you’re only doing a little better than your phone, though every little bit helps.  I do not suggest using the digital zoom, this only does the same thing as cropping into a picture, it’s not actually zooming the physical lens.  Unless you need to do it to see what is in the picture, stick with the camera’s zoom and crop the picture when you get home.

If you can get your hands on a point and shoot in the 10X zoom range you’ll do well.

Borrow a friend’s DSLR, or rent one for the trip.  The 18-55 lens wont help you much, but many owners of DSLR’s have the 55-200/250 lens – this lens will be adequate for the casual photographer. If you’re renting a DSLR and want to keep costs down, the 18-200 lens is a great option for your entire trip. I’ll outline more lens options in the amateur photographer section.

Amateur Photographer:
This section assumes you have a DSLR or similar type of camera.
-I brought a 28-300mm lens, several other people had 105-500 lenses and one girl had a 70-200 lens.  Unless you’re bringing two camera bodies or can quickly change lenses I would lean towards the 28-300 lens with the 105-500 mm lens a close second (and cheaper option).
-The 70-200 lens is a good option that some amateur photographers own, they usually do well in low light, assuming you have an f2.7), but even with short days of sunlight, I didn’t find light to be too much of an issue – either you can see the animals or you can’t.  200mm is often not quite enough so if you’re bringing this lens I would recommend looking into a teleconverter.
-28-300 lens – I suck at switching lenses and have a paranoia about it since I got dust on the sensor of a brand new camera on the second day of a trip and it had to be professionally cleaned after I got home.  This lens was the perfection option for me.  300 mm was enough local length for 95% of my shots, and I never had an issue of the animal being to close to me, like the people with the 105-500 lens did.
-105-500 lens – Like I said in reference to the 28-300 lens, this lenses shortcoming is that you may find yourself too close to an animal.  In fairness, that won’t happen often, but you should be prepared with another option if that is the case. A point and shoot, phone camera, or old DSLR body with a short lens like an 18-55mm will do the trick. Or you could just watch the animal!  Otherwise, everyone who had this lens loved it.  It’s much cheaper than the 28-300, and you can really get in close with the animals.

Fixed Lenses – Unless you will be carrying more than one camera body I wouldn’t recommend a fixed lens. They do take better quality images, but they severely limit your range and animals don’t care about you taking picture and you will miss a lot of great shots.

What lens have you taken on a Safari and how did you like it?

Oct 22

Sydney Opera House

What to do on a rainy day in Sydney? I visited the Sydney Opera House and took the Sydney Opera House Tour. Tours are a bit pricey, just like everything else in Australia, and last about a hour.

  My tour guide was great and seemed to love the facility and the story about it.  The tour primarily keeps you in the common areas of the opera house, but when they can, you are brought into some of the different the theatres. We were able to see rehearsals in 3 of the theatres. We also had Hugh Jackman’s wife walk by us, apparently their daughter was rehearsing in one of the theatres.

But the story of the building is interesting in its own right.  Jorn Utzon didn’t exactly have a plan for how to build his ship sail designed building, but it impressed the committee choosing designs.  The 14 year building process didn’t go quite as well and eventually Jorn returned to Denmark and never returned to see his design completed.  The story is amazing, as well as the history of all the great actors who have performed on the stages of the Sydney Opera House.

Of course you could also see a show at the Opera House, it’s not just operas, but concerts, plays, ballets and we saw a rehearsal for an awards show.
The tour was interesting and informative. It’s great on a rainy day or as a break from the summer heat.  If you’re on a budget, try to book in advance with their online discounts.

Oct 15

Cage Diving in Cape Town

Whenever I’m traveling I try to do something unique and something that people think of when they think of certain locations.  In South Africa I decided to do Cage Diving with sharks!

My day started with a morning pick up (these tours either have pickups around 5 AM or 8 AM) and a 2 hour drive to Gansbaai, where the diving is.

Once at Supreme Sharks we filled out our forms (they’re not liable for a shark eating us) and have a continental breakfast.  We also got suited up with wet suits.  After the group was ready we walked 2 blocks to our boat and set sail for the sharks.  The ride to the dive spot took about 15 minutes and was pretty bumpy, but it was a lovely setting along the coast.

Once docked we put on our wetsuits and waited…

While we waited there was a crew member who photographed, and another member who put chum in the water. After about 15 minutes sharks started to circle and after a few minutes of watching them we got the order to get in the cage. The cage is long and holds 8 people. It has an entrance on each end for easy loading. The top portion of the cage is above water and has a bar to hold onto (and push yourself down with). The good thing is that when they start loading the cage, it’s done quickly, this is good because it is REALLY REALLY cold! Once inside the cage you wait for direction from the crew, this typically comes as “down and left” telling you where the shark is.  After the sharks went by a few times they had our group switch with the other half of the group that was still on the boat.  I was happy when it was time to switch, I felt like I was constantly being jostled around while in the cage from the natural motion of the ocean.

Once on the boat, I felt like I actually had a better view of the sharks, but the downside was the chum. It literally smells like shit and kinda looked worse.  This is the part where I almost got sick (from the smell, not the rocking of the boat) as well as several people who did get sick. From what I hear, this is not uncommon when cage diving.  Finally, after the second group finished we loaded up the cage on the boat and sailed back to town, I was never so happy to be on dry land again.

Back at the Supreme Shark HQ we had lunch, which I didn’t eat much of since I was still feeling ill. We also got to see (and purchase) the video and photos they took.  Then it was time for the 2 hour ride back to Cape Town.  The building did have facilities to change and even shower if you needed to.

What to wear: A bathing suit with easy to take off clothing, as well as a water proof camera. Also, bring a change of clothes for the ride back to the hotel. Towels were provided.

Do I recommend Cage Diving? Well either you’re interested or you’re not.  If you’re not, then don’t do it.  If you are, then yes, I think it’s a fun experience. I felt totally safe and if you don’t feel safe going in the cage once on board, you don’t have to. But at least you’ll get some nice views of the sharks.  But, be warned that you may feel sick on the boat, if you do, stay outside and breath in the fresh air away from the chum and sick passengers.

Oct 08

Visiting Seattle’s Space Needle

What to do in Seattle??? Of course go to the Space Needle. Yes, it’s an overpriced tourist attraction, but it does offer great views of Seattle. Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, a major theme of the fair was Space – hence it was named the Space Needle.

There are two options for visiting the Space Needle: tickets to the observation deck ($19 for adults purchased in advance), or eat at the SkyCity Restaurant (which allows entry to the Observation Deck).

When I went we had lunch at the SkyCity, which rotates (42 minutes for a full rotation) and although the food was pricey, the menu had an interesting variety of food, not the typical fare from a touristy spot.  They also had a cool ice cream dessert, that if nothing else, looked pretty.

The service was good, the  views great and then after we finished eating my friends and I went to the observation deck for some more pictures.  We were there after a late lunch and the observation deck had a good amount of people, but not overwhelming. If you enjoy good views of a city, the Space Needle is a good spot.  The other spot is the Columbia Tower, which I’ll write about in a few weeks.


Oct 01

What to Bring on Safari

I’ll admit, when I was planning my trip to South Africa and Kruger National Park I didn’t give much thought to what I needed for the day when I was on Safari. After the first day, I certainly did!

  • A camera and camera equipment, I will cover this in a future post.

  • Binoculars to help you find the animals that are hiding.
  • A hat – in the summer you’ll want something light to keep the sun off your face. In the Fall/Winter/Spring you’ll want a warm hat. I had a hooded fleece that did the job too.
  • Water
  • Snacks, breakfast or lunch – At Kruger I only saw one main center with a restaurant. I’m sure there are others, but they would be quite far apart. We had a packed breakfast, I brought granola bars for myself and we ate our lunches at the restaurant. If you’re chasing down an animal and get a little further away then you were planning (it happened to us) a granola bar will hold you over.
  • Dress in layers – I was there in May and the weather had already turned to “winter” with high temperatures in the mid 60s. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Until you leave your lodge at 5:30 AM and get in an open safari vehicle. It gets really cold and windy in there very fast! On our first day everyone wore a t-shirt and fleece, on the second day everyone layered up. As the day gets warmer you can take off some of those layers, until then, you’ll be warm.

  • Hand wipes – I’ll admit I didn’t use these as much as I should, but it’s dusty on Safari and if you’re going to eat or even just touch your face, you should be cleaning your hands off.
  • Sunglasses

Is there anything I missed that you think you need for a safari?