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Photographing Victoria Falls - Part II
Despite its enormous scale and obvious splendor, Victoria Falls is notoriously difficult to photograph. It is shrouded in mist, almost constantly backlit by the sun and, because the vantage points are all located on the same level as the top of the Falls, photos take a downward-looking perspective. That is, however, not to say that one can't come home with some fabulous shots of this, the mightiest waterfall on earth.
The Famous Rainbows
One advantage of the mist is that, when light conditions are right, it creates dramatic rainbows that span the gorge in front of the Falls. Rainbows (which are not seen on cloudy days) are best when the sun is behind you. In the morning, rainbows are most dramatic from the Zambian side, looking towards the Zimbabwe side (or from the Zimbabwe lookout points closest to the Zambian side). In the afternoon, the opposite is true. The Park on both sides opens at night over full moon (pre-booking is essential), making for some dramatic lunar rainbows.
There is no lookout point from which one can see the full extent of the Falls, any photo is going to capture just a small segment. Also, because you're photographing from a level at the top of the Falls, looking down, it's hard to convey the 300' height of the chasm. The only way to provide a sense of the enormous size is to include familiar objects in the frame, as a point of reference. Including people from a distance, using a telephoto lens to foreshorten the scene, is one way to do this. Alternately, 40' palm trees on Livingstone Island, in the middle of the Falls, can be included for scale.
The most versatile for safari is a circular polarizing filter, and it can also be used to intensify Victoria Falls' famous rainbows. Pay attention because, used incorrectly, it will eliminate the rainbow altogether - look through the camera's viewfinder as you turn the outer element of the filter, and you'll notice that the rainbow disappears and then gradually returns with increasing saturation, reaching a peak and then fading away again. Take a few photos at different filter settings because the most saturated look may not necessarily be best.
For more advanced photographers, a graduated neutral density filter is very helpful for sunrise and sunset shots, taming the contrast between bright sun and dark shadows in the gorge. At low water (minimal mist), a neutral density filter can be used to facilitate long exposure times of Devil's Cataract, giving the falling water a silky, ethereal appearance.
A tripod (ideally combined with a remote shutter release) is essential for long exposure shots and other advanced techniques like focus stacking, multi-image panoramas, and HDR. For most photography, however, a tripod is not necessary and can be counterproductive as one has to move quickly to take advantage of breaks in the mist, fleeting rainbows, and optimal lighting conditions. As with safari photography, we feel that a tripod's cons outweigh the pros for most travelers.
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