African Safari’s make a truly unique experience. Not only does it offer breath-taking and eye-opening views, but they really make you think about the preservation and beauty of the wildlife that exists in our world.
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.
It’s very common for wildlife photographers to carry two bodies with a lens equipped with each, due to the fact that changing lenses can be tiresome and tedious, especially in the roaring African heat.
With wildlife photography, it’s standard practice to equip a zoom/telephoto lens (as I don’t think a predator 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, if your budget can allow some room then a longer lens will take your photos even further. Often these lenses can cause a problem if you’re in a vehicle trying to shoot so we highly recommend taking photos in brighter hours of the day to further optimise your burst speed (and reduce camera shake).
If you’re in a fairly residential/tourist area with locals around, then 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).
Be very wary of using flash. We highly recommend you practice shots using long-exposure techniques at home in order to compensate for any lack of light you experience. As you’ll be out in the wilderness, you must respect the laws of the land and the wildlife around it which means flash might not be an option.
Because of this, we like to make use of modes like Aperture Priority (AP) as it’s 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.
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 is highly respected by wildlife photographers. This gives your subjects a soft warm glow that can make even the most mundane of moments a beautiful one.
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 its 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.
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.
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.