The Ultimate Guide for Your Next Safari Photography Tour
Going on an African Safari can come as a once in a lifetime experience to some, or a common voyage to those passionate about the preservation of wildlife. Photography is a medium that portrays the importance of this perseveration, as well as the beauty and wonders of all things wildlife, that is why safaris offer a unique experience for photo-taking and experiencing sites of some of the most beautiful creatures known to man.
Whether you’re a safari novice or a go-getter, this guide will help you on your next safari photography tour by providing useful tips and considerations when shooting in the wild.
Know your gear
Contrary to popular methods of shooting, it’s actually very common for wildlife photographers to carry two bodies with a lens equipped on each. This is beneficial due to the fact that changing lenses can be tiresome and tedious, especially in the soaring African heat.
Generally with wildlife photography it’s standard practice to equip a zoom/telephoto lens (as I don’t think a Cheetah will appreciate a close up, and neither will you). A DSLR with at least a 300mm lens will be ideal to get you a decent shot from afar, and of course, the longer the better. Often these lenses can cause a problem if you’re in a vehicle trying to shoot so we highly recommend taking photos in bright light to further optimise your burst speed (and reduce camera shake).
If you’re in an area heavily populated with people then we highly recommend keeping the big guns hidden. Nothing quite screams ‘rob me’ when you’re lugging around a DSLR or two on show. Take a point and shoot should you wish to capture the local culture (but remember to be respectful).
Know your camera settings
As you’ll be out in the wilderness, you must respect the laws of the land and the wildlife around it. Be very aware of using flash and practice shots using long-exposure techniques at home in order to compensate for any lack of light you experience.
Aperture priority is great for a variety of lighting conditions when coupled with exposure compensation. But on the other hand shutter speed priority works wonders for birds in flight at 1/1000, without worry of blur due to the roaring African sun. WE recommend highly straying away from auto due to its inability to keep images consistent; however manual mode with a fixed ISO can offer you a range of shots in changing conditions.
Know your immediate surroundings
The weather and lighting can make or break your shot – that’s why you need to be prepared for the worst. The excitement of seeing an animal for the first time is both exhilarating and overwhelming, but don’t let this compromise your photography – By all means take a quick snap, but remember to evaluate your shot and hang around for a while to see if you can do better. Perhaps the shadows were too far cast or there was unnecessary motion blur you can correct in your next shot.
We highly recommend the infamous ‘golden hour’ that’s oh so respected by wildlife photographers. This gives your subjects a soft warm glow that can make even the most mundane of moments a beautiful one.
Pack camera accessories
One or two accessories can be all the difference in your shots – a small beanbag or cushion to balance your camera on whilst shooting out of the car can help reduce camera shake and protect your DSLR. A tripod is also highly beneficial if you’re intending on using slow shutter speeds in the dark (over the Namibian sand dunes hot spot, for example)
Another very important accessory to battle the African desert and dust is a dust-proof case – because nothing is worse than taking our lens swabs on a shaky car.
Wildlife photography can be a waiting game and in the world of photography patience is gold – perhaps you’ve spotted an elephant that’s taking it’s time or looking inactive, but that extra 15 minutes of waiting around it’s offspring might come into the scene and give you that golden shot you’ve desired.
Sometimes stopping at the most common animals can offer a mass of opportunities for your portfolio – after reviewing your photos, try and capture them a little closer or in a different lighting condition to add variety to your shots.
Know your portrayal
It’s one thing taking a well composed image of a stationary animal, but another if that animal is showing affection to another or even in its hunting prime. Animal interaction is a beautiful thing to capture and is seldom seen on a day to day basis.
Keep an eye out for framing, symmetry and overall composition of what animals are doing. If you have a long zoom lens, capture all sorts of emotions in the eyes of these animals. Capture animals like you would a human and convey these emotions to tell a story to your viewers.
- Take a variety (at least 3) zoom lenses and if you can, two bodies to equip them on
- Either back up on your laptop or a cloud (or both!)
- Take at least 2-3 along for quick changes when you’re not near a power port
- Memory cards
- Pack as many as you can handle – you’ll have thousands of photos to take
- Take at least 1 adapter and a cable for your car (if it has an output)
Wim van den Heever is a professional wildlife photographer based in South Africa and owner of Tusk Photo, who has had an ever growing interest in image-making and nature since a young age. His work is internationally published in the likes of BBC Wildlife and National Geographic. His ranges of safari tours are designed to show the beauty of African landscapes at their finest.