Photographic safaris are outings that should be experienced by every photographer at least once in a lifetime. They provide the perfect opportunity to photograph wildlife and nature. Most offer private vehicles allowing photographers to focus on specific wildlife, spend the needed time with the wildlife to get the shot, and allow for a more flexible approach to the safari.
Most importantly, these safaris are hosted by an expert wildlife photographer to assist clients with getting the perfect shot and then processing the images.
Preparing for your first photo safari:
• Contact the operator of your chosen photographic safari company and confirm with them what their recommended equipment is. This can vary from area to area, especially with regards to lenses. Some reserves allow vehicles to follow animals off road and one can get away with shorter lenses e.g. 200mm, while others do not allow this and thus longer lenses are required e.g. 600mm.
• Spend time getting to know your camera and equipment. Wildlife photography is definitely not static and you should be able to change settings quickly according to fast moving subjects or shifting light.
• Practice by photographing pets or birds in your surrounding area in order to get a feel for photographing a moving subject.
• If you are a true amateur, don’t worry! This is exactly why an expert wildlife photographer joins you on safari. The host will assist you with the best camera settings and how to get the best out of your camera.
What you should take:
• A camera and lens within your price range (some operators offer equipment rental). Lens wise, it is good to have a wide angle lens for landscapes and a telephoto lens for the animals.
• An external flash with spare batteries. It is recommended to bring a wireless flash transmitter to avoid “red-eye”.
• A shutter release switch for star trails.
• Take enough memory cards (high speed). I have shot 8GB in RAW images in less than an hour on a safari before, so it is important to have enough backup memory. It is recommended to bring an external storage device to transfer images onto after each safari. The reason why I say ‘high speed card’ is due to the fact that often in wildlife photography one shoots on high speed continuous mode.
• Take spare batteries, as game drives can last for hours at a time.
• A good laptop powerful enough to process images on Photoshop/Lightroom. Some operators offer monitors to uplink to for editing purposes but if not, bring a laptop with dedicated graphics and an RGB LED screen.
• A memory card reader.
• A good lens cleaning kit is essential, as being out in the elements does lead to dust collection.
• Insure your equipment! Weather can be unpredictable and I have had a client lose a Canon 600mm lens in a freak wind storm that caused a log to fall on the lens. The lens was not insured.
• Bean bag or vehicle mount to hold your camera nice and still while shooting.
• Plastic packets or waterproof material! Thunderstorms are common in Africa through the summer months, so bring something just to cover up that lens or camera.
• Bring a lot of patience! Wildlife photography is often about waiting for the right moment, but under the guidance of you host and guide, this wait will be more than worth it.
• A willingness to learn and share. It is important on these safaris to be willing to learn, not just about photography but about the creatures you are photographing. The more you learn about animal behaviour, the better, as it will allow you to anticipate your next shot. Share with the others on safari as everyone has some idea or technique that may just help others.
• An ethical respect for nature is very important. Not only is it unethical to disturb animals to get a shot, but it can at times put you and the rest of the clients in danger.
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