Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Wildest Dreams

The link below will convey your browser to the YouTube video that is a QuickTime export of the multimedia Keynote slideshow I unleashed on my relatives during the holidays. Sight, sound, and motion, but without a soundtrack, so it's not a proper "entertainment" video. When I show it, I provide bits of narration where helpful.

Titling the preso, "My Wildest Dreams" plays on the fact that this may well be the most complex and robustly adventurous trip I ever embark on, and the fact that the malaria prophylaxis, Malarone, induces "vivid dreams" in some users. It certainly did for me. Never "vividly good", of course.

My Wildest Dreams: Dean’s African Adventure 2014
June 13 - July 11

1. Machaba Camp, Botswana ·  June 16-20
Outdoor Photography Safaris

2. Kalahari Plains Camp, Botswana ·  June 20-23
Wilderness Safaris

3. Chobe Pangolin Photo Safari, Botswana ·  June 28-July 2
Outdoor Photography Safaris

4. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe ·  July 2-4

5. Elephant Plains, South Africa ·  July 5-9
Outdoor Photography Safaris

Monday, September 1, 2014

African Finalists: In Progress

I'm not done fiddling and fussing with my images. And I need to have a thorough going over of my days at Elephant Plains. But in the meantime, here's my collection of African Finalists. Many of these have found their way through my printer and onto the walls at school. Printing the panos was a new experience, and was not without technical difficulties.

Eventually, I will choose the African Champions from this set.

If you've got an AppleTV, you should be able to access these on Flickr (account name: phyzman). The best they'll ever look is on a nice big LCD/plasma digital display.

2014 06 African Finalists

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Elephant Plains Day 5: Sleepy Lions, Marking Leopard, and a Posing Roller

My last day in the bush.

We began with a sleepy pride of lions (mostly lionesses and cubs) just beginning to stir. The males had been roaring quite a bit the previous night, near the camp. If I hadn't mentioned it before, there's nothing quite like the roar of a male lion piercing the silence of a camp in the bush in the black of night.

Then we followed Salayexe (female leopard) as she walked her territory and marked a stand of bushes.

On our way back to the lodge, we stopped for a Lilac-breasted Roller who was posing nicely for portraits.

ODP Blog - Elephant Plains: Wild Dogs Successful Hunt

Elephant Plains Day 5

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Elephant Plains Day 4: An African Wild Puppy Pile

Our first sighting today was of a pride of lions feasting on a freshly killed baby giraffe. We learned that the facial scaring seen on older lions is the result not of fierce battles with enemies. Rather, it's the consequence of dinner table territorial disputes. If two lions are munching away on some tasty baby giraffe ribs and get too close to one another, the claws come out and some swatting is done to establish feeding domains.

We made our way, rightly or wrongly, to an African Wild Dog nursery. Puppies were piled into a tight formation, doing their best to sleep. But a few remained on full alert.

At our sundowner, no one (other than me) had any interest in this scene.

Thankfully, I'm not a slave to small-group social dynamics.

ODP Blog - Elephant Plains: Two Prides of Lions, One Kill, – and 10 Hyenas

Elephant Plains Day 4

Monday, July 7, 2014

Elephant Plains Day 3: Leopards and the Last of My Big Five

The early morning drive was a fairly complete bust. Lots of driving. No seeing. It was cold and overcast. But then we came upon a clan of hyenas. That led us to a female leopard (Salayexe) wobbling in a tree with a freshly killed impala. It was too much cat and not enough tree, but she wasn't going to let those pesky hyenas feast on her meal.

Then we got a call to return to the Big Dam, where we came upon two well-fed males who seemed to be occupying the same space. Each one seemed agitated, but neither was in the mood for a fight.

Before we embarked on the afternoon drive, our ODP leader, Brendon, asked the assembly of photogs if all was well with our cameras and gear. For the first time all safari long, I raised my voice with a concern. "I have a problem with my camera. It doesn't seem to have a photo of a rhinoceros. I checked it out quite thoroughly. Is there a way you can fix that?"

Not long into the afternoon drive—as if on cue—a rhino crossed our path. I watched it for a while, thinking "How did you escape extinction when your fellow dinosaurs died out?" It really seemed to be in the wrong geologic epoch. But I got my rhino; my Big Five was now complete!

We ended the day with some more spotlit lions before returning to Salayexe just as she finally descended from that wobbly tree.

ODP Blog - Elephant Plains: Dominant Male Leopards Confrontation

Elephant Plains Day 3

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Elephant Plains Day 2: Leopards and backlit lions


Here's my room at Elephant Plains. A "roundel". The roof is authentic thatch, inside and out.


At night, we found lions. Eventually, a family gathered to drink from a shallow pool. Later, we arranged our two trucks to share backlighting duties. One truck's ranger would light a lion while photogs across the way in the other truck would shoot away, then the duties would be traded.

ODP Blog - Elephant Plains: An Amorous Young Lion gets a Swat for his Interest

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Elephant Plains Day 1: African Wild Dogs


The small airports at Maun, Kasane, and Victoria Falls were either newly expanded or had construction ongoing. Even in the depths of the dry season (Winter), they all seemed quite busy.

After many small planes and large passenger prop planes, the British Airways 737 from VFA to JNB felt futuristic. Not at all how they feel from SMF to LAX on Southwest. Context!

It was a Beech 1900 the next day. This was a Fed Air shuttle service, meaning you might land and take off a few times along the way as passengers were dropped off hither and yon. From what seemed like a satellite air field adjacent to the sprawling OR Tambo, we headed to Ulusaba, where I changed planes to (once again) a small Cessna.

Upon arrival at the nicely appointed Elephant Plains, we had 20 minutes to settle in before our afternoon game drive was to commence.


The prize of the evening was a pack of African Wild Dogs (or African Painted Wolves). They do not bark or howl so much as yip.

ODP Blog - Elephant Plains: Wild Dogs vs Hyena for a Kill

Elephant Plains Day 1


Thursday, July 3, 2014

A few days at Victoria Falls: Jumping bungee and getting soaked

After breakfast, I spent a little time with Clive, The Kingdom's activity coordinator.

He told me how to get to the mid Vic Falls Bridge bungee jump, and booked me on a helicopter tour for the next morning, prior to my departure back to Johannesburg.

The moment before the moment.

Bungee jumping
You must navigate through the aggressive pan-handling mobile street merchants to the Zimbabwean border post. Produce your passport so they can see the visa you bought to get into the country (though I'm told this is not necessary, I wasn't looking to find out for certain). Tell the border agents you're going to bungee jump and they'll give you a ticket to return. Probably a good idea not to lose that ticket.

Keep walking. The bridge is open to auto traffic, so keep to the pedestrian areas at the outer edges. The nugee jump hut is in the middle of the bridge on the gorge side (not the falls side). But to jump, you must first register and pay. The place to do that is up a small hill on the Zambia side.

There may be a crowd at registration, so remember—it's Africa. Registration involves signing a few waivers, getting weighed, and paying. They offer other adventures (bungee swing, zip line), but I ws there to jump bungee. Nothing else.

They write your mass in kilograms and your number in the queue on your forearm. Proceed back through another set of aggressive merchant/pan-handlers back to the mid-bridge hut. They'll fit you with some harnesses and a flimsy floatation vest.

At long last, you'll be invited to the preflight area. There, they wrap your calves in sturdy "towel" before binding them tightly with a collar rope. That rope is attached to the bungee cord several times with independent carabiners. The camera guys chat you up as the rope guys do their work. The video will be on offer after the jump.

Then you waddle out to the diving platform. With a quick "5-4-3-2-1-Bungee!" you're helped with your jump by men who are tethered to the bridge. And off you go. Seconds of free fall. Over 100 meters. Then a jerk and increasing upward acceleration as the bungee kicks in. Some lateral motion as well, since you jumped forward. You swing under the bridge then back into the view of the platform.

Your oscillations die out as a worker in a boson's chair comes down to retrieve you. He puts you upright and gets you back to the underbelly of the bridge. You tether yourself to a guide rope on the understructure of the bridge and walk back to the Zimbabwe side and go back topside. By the time you get back to the registration area, they've got your video in the hopper and ready to show. And a round of still images, too.

I asked if they transferred the media via wifi from the cameras. No, the camera guys literally run the memory cards to the production room at registration. Wifi of the feet.

I bought the video, but not the stills. When I opened the disc on my computer, the stills were thrown in, too. (I think they presume you'll buy both video and stills, and prepare the DVD accordingly.

Victoria Phyz Falls

Was I ever in much danger bungee jumping from this bridge? Yes. The cord hardly ever breaks. But don't tell that to Australian, Erin Langworthy. She got more of an adventure than she bargained for.

Falls Watching
Having survived the bungee, I spent a few hours in the falls park ($30 per entry). The best shot I got was likely a pano on my iPhone.


I walked the full length of the path, but there was so much water here in July, the spray dominated most of the length of the falls. I got duly soaked. (I probably needed a fill-in flash here.)

At the end of the trail, you had a nice view of the bridge. Late into the afternoon, the bungee jumpers were still bouncing in the gorge.


I returned early the next morning in hopes of interesting light. This time, the trail guard manning the hotel gate to the foot trail walked me past the pan-handling merchants to the park entrance. I got a few shots before returning to the hotel to prepare for my helicopter tour. On the way out, a baboon was posing on top of the park sign.

Air Touring
The helicopter tour is called "Flight of the Angels". A quick road transfer from the hotel gets you to Zambezi Helicopter HQ. They weigh you before grouping you into a flight group. If you're in a shopping mood, a variety of wood carvings are on offer.


Eventually, your helicopter comes in, the previous passengers exit, and you climb on board.

I brought the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 for this flight, and got one nice still.


You can buy a video of your flight. I passed. Here's one I found YouTube.

Victoria Falls - Flight of the Angels

Keepers from
Victoria Falls. [coming soon]

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Chobe River Day 5 and crossing into Zimbabwe


ODP Blog - Ultimate Chobe Safari: A Congregation of Birds Fishing in One Spot

We set out for nesting (and nest-making) storks this morning. This area was downstream of the national park and nearer to some rapidly moving water, so a more experienced pilot was brought on board.


It was the last day of Pangolin Ultimate Chobe for most of us. After another meal at The Old House, ODP's Ben Cranke got me to the nearby airport. There I met up with the Botswanan driver for my road transfer to Victoria Falls, arranged through Afrizim.


The crossing at the Kazungula Border Post was a little slow and tense. I had run out of US cash paying out tips, but fortunately had R300 for the single-entry visa that Zimbabwe requires of yankees. Brits get to pay an additional R250. Cash only, but they'll take dollars or rands. (I would liked to have used a Visa to buy my visa, but that poetry was not to be.) The wait was unjustifiably long, but it's usually a mistake to be in a hurry in Africa.

With visa securely in passport, we loaded into our second van to finish the drive to Victoria Falls.

I checked in and settled into The Kingdom at Victoria Falls.
The Kingdom website

Things are expensive in Vic Falls and I don't recall eating any food that was particularly tasty in Zimbabwe.

My keepers from
Chobe River Day 5.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Chobe River Day 4: Wildlife and Kasane's Old House


ODP Blog - Ultimate Chobe Safari: A Congregation of Birds Fishing in One Spot

We were unable to get the star trails/baobab shots we hoped for the previous night due to rare dry season (winter) cloud cover. We never did get that shot, as the clouds persisted.

When you're shooting from the Pangolin custom photog boat, it's not uncommon for the guide to tell the driver that "we need the hippo to be in the orange light." The hippo is, in fact in the river. And the orange light is in the sky. The rest is reflection and geometry; getting the hippo into the orange light requires some maneuvering of the boat.


The morning's main exercise was tracking shots of birds in flight. Arrange for a slow shutter and try to pan the cam with the motion of the bird. You'll miss more than you get, but they're only pixels.


We stayed on the river past our appointed time to be back for the breakfast buffet. Instead, we went out to Kasane's Old House. If you're not in a terrible hurry, you'll be rewarded with some delicious food.

The clouds and sun produced some interesting light near sundown, and we did our best to put a group of elephants in or around the crepuscular rays.


My keepers from
Chobe River Day 4.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Chobe River Day 3: Unimogging into the park


ODP Blog - Ultimate Chobe: Kamikaze-style attacks on a Kori Bustard

We rolled in Pangolin's modified Mercedes-Benz Unimog into Chobe National Park this morning.


IMG_4425Unimog up close and personal.

Our attempt to see lions was a bit of a bust. But the birders were happy to see a variety of bird activities.

I made note of the wildlife wandering the grounds at Chobe Safari Lodge.

Baboons and Warthogs at Chobe Safari Lodge

Here are my keepers from
Chobe River Day 3

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chobe River Day 2: A swarm of birds


ODP Blog - Ultimate Chobe: Birds in their Thousands

There was a cloud of birds on the horizon when we set out on the Chobe River this day. Our guide directed the driver to that cloud. We subsequently shot a sky full of birds before moving along the river to other subjects. Between the elephants, crocodiles, hippos, cormorants, fish eagles, monitor lizards, and kudu, we came across a troop of baboons that included some energetic, rambunctious youngsters who kept our shutters clicking.


Here's a shot of my room's interior at Chobe Safari Lodge. Very concrete and modern, richly appointed with lighting fixtures and art.


My keepers from
Chobe River Day 2.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pangolin Ultimate Chobe Day 1: A busy day on the river


I headed back to OR Tambo for my South African Airlinks flight from Johannesburg to Kasane. Unlike Air Botswana, SAA flies a jet from JNB to BBK, so even though the distance is greater, the time is shorter. Like the flight to Maun, it was headed north, into the sun.

I nicked a pen from the Kalahari Plains Camp so I'd have an easier time getting through Customs / Passport control this time. Upon emerging from the airport with my luggage, I immediately found my Pangolin/ODP contacts, and we were off to the lodge, about five minutes from the airport.

Kasane is a tourist town up in the northeast corner of Botswana, and Chobe is a very popular national park.

Here's ODP's description of the photo tour.
ODP's Pangolin Ultimate Chobe

Even more detail in the information and guidelines.

Unlike Machaba Camp and Kalahari Plains, this lodge was large, sprawling, and relatively loaded with amenities. There was (underpowered) wifi in the registration area, a television in the room. The room was large, and there were two floors in my building (hotel style).

Pangolin has an extensive collection of camera gear for you to use while on safari. I was given a Nikon D3s with a Nikon 200-400mm lens (over $10k worth of gear) to use. The challenge was that I never used a top-tier Nikon body or this particular lens, so there was some learning curve to climb while trying to catch on-the-spot-right-this-moment wildlife action. The operational / logistical differences between my newer D800E and the D3s were… more than you'd think. 

The river was filled with big pontoon boats that dwarfed our wee photog skiff. It was a Saturday, and it seemed everyone was on the river. Thankfully, it was never that busy again while we were there.

Here's our specially tricked-out photographers' boat. The boat is covered, the chairs swivel all the way, the Wemberly mounts are attached to the chairs via multiple elbows, all of which are adjustable and lockable. Each chair has two beverage holders to secure "image stabilizers". Well-desinged!

On the river, we had plenty of elephants, a kingfisher, monitor lizard, thirsty giraffe, cape buffalo, and hippos. We even saw a confrontation between a buffalo and an elephant!

My keepers from

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Stop at Sandton

I was happy to have a few days back in civilization, with unlimited "free" wifi. Accessing the Radisson Blu Gautrain is quirky, though the process was the same for City Lodge at OR Tambo. You take an elevator from street-level to hotel registration, then a different set of elevators takes you to your room.

The registration/lobby area was heavily perfumed with a masculine cologne fragrance. I have to presume that this was to counter the permeating odor of motor vehicle exhaust. Johannesburg is a big city, Sandon is a bustling region within that city, and South Africa doesn't regulate tailpipe emissions the way we do in California. And it shows smells.

The workout room (again, open 24 hours) was useful.

Radisson Blu 2

And it afforded a nice view of the local, modern architecture. That's the train station at center-right.


A window between the bedroom and bathroom made me think this design esthetic was a Johannesburg mainstay.

IMG_4398The strangest element of the bathroom was its completely open design. Water from the shower is free to splash into the bathtub and onto the floor near the sink and the toilet. (Enjoy the distortion of a close-quarter, vertical iPhone pano.)

I admit I don't get out as much as some do, but I had never seen a design like this.

When getting out of the hotel, it was usually to go to the huge nearby mall, Sandton City.

But I did get my requisite shot of the giant statue of Nelson Mandela at Mandela Square, a tighter, more boutique-y mall connected to the larger megamall that is Sandton City.


While in Sandton, I made my quadrennial sacrifice to soccer by sitting through the USA's defeat at the hands of Germany in the World Cup. Now I'm good until 2018.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kalahari Plains Day 4: The black-maned lion


A male lion had been roaring near the camp throughout the night. I have to say that in the nighttime quiet of the Kalahari, the roar of an adult male lion gathers your attention. You know exactly what that sound is.

We set out to find him on the morning drive. Soon enough, we spotted him. The light was poor this early, but we kept on him and the light grew better.

He was out marking the perimeter of his territory. Later, we found two females with six cubs. All had full bellies, so it appears they made a kill while the male was out. They dashed off into the bush before I could amass a full measure of photos.

A view from out on the plains.

Kalahari Plains  29

After the morning drive and breakfast, I was driven to the Kalahari Plains airstrip for flights to Maun and back to Johannesburg. I was able to catch some video of the Wilderness Caravan coming in to land at the bush airstrip.

Landing at Kalahari Plains Camp

Air Botswana got me back to OR Tambo in Johannesburg.


From there, I jumped on the Gautrain and rode out to Sandton.


In Sandton, I lodged at the Radisson Blu Gautrain, conveniently located across the street from the train station.

My keepers from
Kalahari Day 4.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Kalahari Plains Day 3: A guide of my own


I guess it was Sunday, and the couple I'd been game driving with had to head back to civilization/work. So I had the guide to myself.

Here's what it looked at morning coffee break.

Kalahari Plains  24

Kalahari Plains  26Did I mention it gets cold in the desert overnight in the winter? Here's the only iPhone selfie I took in the Kalahari. The hooded rain jacket / wind breaker it on top of the fleece. In the truck, I had a poncho on top of that, and a blanket over my legs with a bush baby (hot water bottle) on my lap. Fingerless gloves would have been, well, handy. But I did not have such things.

The wildlife was somewhat quite this day, but we did see some nice giraffe activity, a lilac-breasted roller that I couldn't properly capture in flight (despite having my chances). Kudu, jackal, and a young impala.

My keepers from
Kalahari Day 3.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Kalahari Plains Day 2: Deception Valley


The plan for the day was to leave the camp and venture out to Deception Valley for the day. That meant we'd have lunch brought to us out in the valley.

Kalahari Plains  18

We managed to see plenty of oryx and parades of ostriches. We came across a goofy-looking yellow-billed hornbill with a serious demeanor. We tracked a leopard for a while. She annoyed a pair of jackals by walking through their territory. They complained; she ignored them. We watched a cheetah zip by. I snapped 30 shot of her; one of them turned out.

I was getting to enjoy the view from my cabin.


When night fell, I thought I'd give another try at a Milky Way time-lapse. This time I set the rig out in the back of my cabin so as to get a tree in the foreground. You have to relax about setting a $3k camera with a $3k lens on a $1k tripod out in the desert sand for an unattended 4-hour exposure.

Here's what I got.

Kalahari Night 2

My keepers from
Kalahari Day 2.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Okavango Machaba Day 5 and Kalahari Plains Day 1

ODP Blog - Okavango Machaba: Wild Dogs vs Hippo and Elephants vs Lechwe

I departed from Machaba Camp following the morning game drive. The photo highlight of the drive was a bee eater who wasn't shy about being photographed, and whose favorite stick was close to the road.


We had a larger aircraft for the flight to Maun, and a slightly larger plane for the flight from Maun to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), where Wilderness' Kalahari Plains camp was situated.
Wilderness Kalahari Plains Camp Website

Some snaps of my digs at Kalahari Plains Camp.

a. Exterior ground floor
Kalahari Plains  12

b. Interior (bedding and table), the washroom is through the door to the right
Kalahari Plains  13

c. Up top!
Kalahari Plains  19

I was "on my own" at Kalahari; this was not an ODP photo tour. After settling in, we went out for an afternoon game drive. During our sundownder, a jackal came in for close inspection. We followed the guide's instructions to remain silent and still, and the jackal moved on. Curious, but not sociable.

The skies were clear and the star were bright. Kalahari Plains Camp's lodgings have sleep-out roofs. Mind you, it was winter here south of the equator. The cold nights in the Okavango Delta (Machaba) necessitated the use of hot water bottles ("bush babies"). The bush babies were even more critical here in the desert. Since I wear corrective lenses, keeping under the stars (in temperatures that approached freezing) did not appeal to me.

But nighttime time lapses certainly did. So I mounted the wide angle lens and set the tripod up on the sleep-out roof, pointed south. I set the camera for time-lapse mode and let it go until the battery ran out. Two 25-second exposures were made per minute, and the frame-rate compresses about 4 hours to about 15 seconds.

Kalahari Night I [All videos look best full screen and full resolution]

My keepers from
Machaba Camp Day 5

My keepers from
Kalahari Plains Day 1.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Okavango Machaba Day 4: Tracking the leopard


ODP Blog - Okavango Machaba: Hunting With a Leopard in the Dark

The bees were intense as the wind had died down. Having been stung by one the previous day, I allowed a few to drown themselves in my mango juice. But ODP's guide, Andrew, came to their rescue. He scooped them out and rinsed them off with water. He won The Spirit of John Muir award in my mind. Muir might not have done so well in Africa with his practice to giving freely of himself to the mosquitoes. I guess the bees are a seasonal thing, and it was their season. Still, I thought of calling the camp "Machabee".

Large animal skulls are used around Machaba Camp as convenient guideposts ("Head down this path and take a right at the hippo head.")


Today's animal roll call included giraffe, lechwe, yet another African antelope (whose name eludes me), a bird that's headed for extinction, and the beautiful lilac-breasted roller.


After sundown, we got hippopotamus and leopard. My skills on nighttime / spotlight shooting were non-existent: I did my best to guess and check. But I'm sure my colleagues got better results. 

My keepers from 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Okavango Machaba Day 3: An elly in my yard


ODP Blog - Okavango Machaba: A Leopard Spots us First

We embark on game drives in two separate vehicles and chart independent paths. So the description on the blog doesn't always match my personal experience. And ODP's reporting priorities don't necessarily correspond to mine.

In any case, I awoke from my afternoon nap to find an elephant munching the grass across the Khwai out in my front yard. In my dazed excitement, I recorded a vertical video. Please don't judge my parents harshly.

Elly Selfie! (The camera has a wireless cable release attached, controlled by the iPhone.) And yes, that is a Camera Sutra shirt I'm wearing.


There was some pretty serious zebrage in my set from the afternoon drive. But we also spotted a leopard, so to speak.

After dinner, we went out for some night sky photography. Suddenly I was in my element as wide angle lenses and tripods were called for. Our merry band of wildlife photographers were rich with long glass; I'm not sure how many traveled to the bush with a Zeiss Distagon T*2.8/15, a Gitzo GT3541L and a cable release because… why would you? We did a bit of light painting on a random snag, and one wee (5-minute) star trail shot before heading back to camp.


My keepers from
Machaba Camp Day 3.