The perfect way to capture memories from your African safaris is through photography. Every year, tourists from across the world travel to Africa in hopes of seeing and capturing the best wildlife photos. In theory, photography sounds easy, just point the camera and shoot. However, that is not entirely the case. At times, great moments captured on camera take a lot of patience in waiting for the perfect shot. Other times, great moments happen spontaneously and one has to be on standby to capture the moment.
Getting the best pictures from your safari is more than just luck and patience. Careful planning will significantly increase your odds of getting the best shots out of your photographic safari.
In this article, we will offer a few tips to prepare for your African Photographic Safari.
When to travel
To decide when to travel, one has to look back at what type of photos need to be captured. In general, African safaris are best done during the dry season when game viewing is at its best. If you aim to capture shots of abundant wildlife, then visiting during the dry season is ideal. For specific interests such as capturing the great migration in East Africa, more details will be needed to decide when to travel. You will need to consult your trip planner on where exactly the migration will be at different times of the year.
If you are interested in capturing bird-life and river activities, then the best time to travel would be just after the rains. This is when the rivers are still full of life and one can navigate through by using boats or canoes.
Some photographers prefer traveling during or just after the rainy season. In that period, there is less dust, better lighting conditions, and the weather outside is pleasant enough.
Check with us to find out when is the best time to travel and where to stay
Pick a trusted and knowledgeable operator
To plan a photographic safari, you will need an operator who understands your needs and is equipped to support your photography mission. Apart from experience, you need to find out what kind of vehicles and tour guides the operator has.
If the budget allows, you can book a private vehicle for yourself or your group. This will give you more freedom to stop and move as you wish.
If you’re going for a group photographic safari, find out how many people will be in each vehicle, how many vehicles will be in the group, the length and time of photography sessions as well as the pace of the trip. Slow-paced safaris are best for photographic safaris, allowing you to capture well-planned shots. It is recommended to stay in one camp for at least 3 days to get a feel of the land, plan your shots and capture great moments.
It is important to find out the type of photographic vehicles that will be used by your tour operator. Do they have drop-down sides? Pop-up roof? How about a swivel seat for shooting 360 degrees? Do they have charging kits or do they come with bean bags? These are just some of the questions you can ask. Feel free to add more questions to best match your needs.
With vehicles comes the choice of knowledgeable wildlife guides. A guide with expertise in guiding photographic safaris will be an added asset. An experienced guide will take you to locations known for great shots, or less-explored areas for unique shots. A professional guide will have experience with wildlife to ensure you are at the right place and time.
Choose the destination
Do you prefer to take photos of wildlife or landscapes? Africa has plenty of destinations to cater to your particular interests. An experienced tour operator will help you pick the right destination to maximize your viewing pleasure and chances of getting great shots.
Some destinations have photographic hides. These are spots that provide you with extraordinary opportunities to observe and capture wildlife. Check with your tour operator to see if there is one at your selected destination.
Try a different perspective
Game drives are the go-to way of seeing and capturing wildlife in Africa. But that is not the only available option. Other options for viewing wildlife provide for more interesting photos.
For a different touch in your photo collection, capture the great migration or sunrise over the plains of Serengeti from an aerial perspective. Balloon safaris or scenic air safaris are a great way of taking aerial shots.
On the ground, you can go on walking safaris to see things that might be overlooked in a vehicle. If permitted, go on a night game-drive and take pictures of nocturnal animals.
What to pack
Packing for a photographic safari requires extra caution to ensure that you have all the necessary equipment needed in the field. Apart from the standard safari packing list, here is what you will need to pack for a photographic safari:
A good camera and lens:
We will let you decide what a good camera is for you depending on your style and preferences. However, the consensus is to use a camera that will take you close to the action without weighing you down. Most photographers will say that the most important thing is to invest in interchangeable lenses. You will need a long lens to capture distance objects and a wide-angle lens to capture the landscape.
Some swear on having two cameras, one with a long lens and one with a wide lens. This will avoid missing out on great shots while you’re switching lenses right when the action is taking place.
Note that some countries have established guidelines to follow for using drones. Check the guidelines before deciding to pack one. If interested in aerial shots, balloon safaris offer the opportunity for amazing aerial shots.
Tripod and Monopod:
Tripods are less useful and prove cumbersome in vehicles. They are however great for long exposure shots or in shooting videos. Monopods, on the other hand, are easy to use, portable, and work well whether in a moving vehicle or while taking pictures on the ground.
You can organize some bean bags to support your telephoto lens if you have one. Some properties have bean bags available to guests. Be sure to find out in advance if this can be provided to you locally.
Plan to carry your camera adapter and an extension cable. Check what voltage is in use at your destination of choice as well as the types of plug sockets being used. If the plugs are different from what you’re using, get an adapter accordingly.
The African wilderness can get quite dusty when traveling during the dry season. You will need to pack cleaning supplies for your equipment, especially the lens. Sensor swabs and special fluid for cleaning your lenses are a-must to keep your lenses clean. Don’t forget to pack brushes and soft cloths for cleaning other items.
You will need to pack extra batteries, memory cards, and a device to back-up your memory cards. If you don’t want to carry a laptop, some lodges will have a computer that you can use to transfer footage from your memory card to a portable storage device.
With so much going on in the wilderness, it is tempting to move from one action to another in pursuit of a few shots of each. The risk is, you may end up missing out on the shot of your life. To get a spectacular shot, you need to observe things over time and understand animal behavior. This is when you need the help of a professional guide and a lot of patience, a great shot is yours to take.
Avoid packing too much luggage. Note that some camps can provide some form of photographic equipment, so you may not need to carry everything. Be sure to check in advance and hopefully be able to reduce the amount of luggage that you have to travel with.
Traveling with photographic gear
As a photographer, your photography equipment will most likely take up the most space and weight out of your luggage. This is not usually a problem with most international flights that allow baggage weight of 20 or more kilograms. The problem will most likely arise with local flights on smaller aircrafts that have less luggage weight allowance.
Make it a point to check with your airline on the allowed luggage limits. Consider booking a freight seat or paying for extra weight for your camera equipment.
Documentation and fees
You will need a valid passport with at least 6 months’ validity before the expiry. Next, find out if you need a visa to the destination you are traveling to and whether you will need to get it in advance or on arrival.
In some destinations, a photographic fee will be chargeable in addition to the standard entry fees.
Travel insurance is recommended to cover yourself against any emergencies that may arise during your travel. Check if any of your existing insurance policies will cover your photographic equipment in case of damage or loss while on safari. If not, we advise you to insure your equipment before traveling.
Practice makes perfect
What use is acquiring top-quality photography gear only to fail to use them fully while on safari? Practice with your equipment before a safari. Get familiar with the settings of your camera and understand your lens abilities to avoid missing out on fantastic photo opportunities.
A great way to practice is to visit your local zoo or simply try to take pictures of animals in your home. This way, you can learn to anticipate animal movements. Time is crucial in wildlife photography. You will need to be ready to take a shot at a moment’s notice, which means carrying your camera everywhere with you and keeping the lens attached.
We hope you find these tips useful. It would be our pleasure to assist you in planning the photographic safari of your life. We would love it if you can write to us and tell us what you wish to capture in a safari, and we will get back to you with suggestions.