Updated January 2021
When you’re experiencing something as incredible as a safari, there is no better time than before your trip to start to hone your photography skills with some safari photography tips. After all, you will want to capture images you can be proud of and proudly display in your home. Before our first safari in Kruger National Park, we wish we would have had some safari photography tips to help us along.
A safari in Africa is one of those bucket list trips where you will feel your senses heightened as you sit on the edge of your seat in the safari vehicle. With your eyes darting all over the African plains, it is a great rush as you look to capture your dream photos.
To help you capture the best photos possible on your first safari, we have put together our 10 African Safari Photography Tips.
Invest In A Quality Camera
On our Safari we saw several people snapping away, using their iPad for their photography. To us, since we were putting out all the expense of being there, it was important to take decent photos for your memories. You are going to get the best quality photos from a quality camera. While today’s technology is great, an iPad camera can only do so much. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment.
We recommend that you invest in a good SLR camera and a couple of lenses. For wildlife photography, you will need a good telephoto lens with at least a reach of 300mm. If you’re wanting to get serious about wildlife photography, we would suggest even going as far as bringing a second camera. That way, you will not be wasting time changing lenses as you are missing out on all the action.
There will also be moments where you wish you had an even bigger telephoto lens, but you have to weigh the costs of investment against how often you will use the lens. We found that at 300mm the lens was adequate for most sightings during game-drives.
Pack Only What You Need
Figure out what lenses and accessories you want to take with you for what you intend to accomplish. Since we were also road tripping around South Africa as well, we especially didn’t want to bring more equipment than we felt we could safely take care of. The last thing you need is your equipment really weighing you down. We took our Canon 40D with a couple of different lenses. Right now, I shoot with a Canon 70D.
Really, to get great photos of the predators that stay farther away, you’ll want to have a telephoto lens that is capable of at least 400-500mm. We were lucky to get up close to most animals, but predators such as the elusive leopard would have been great to catch up close and with more detail.
Memory cards are so cheap these days, make sure you bring extra. And, bring a means of making a secondary backup. A portable hard drive works wonderfully if you’re bringing a laptop with you, or create a digital account where you can upload your images for safekeeping and downloading later should you need it. These will be photos you definitely don’t want to lose! If you do not travel with a laptop, you should still back-up your memory cards to ensure you do not suffer any data loss.
I guarantee you will be going through a lot of memory, especially if the wildlife is super active and you are shooting a lot of frames as you try to capture the perfect moment. Also, if the memory card stops working for some reason, it is always good to have another to quickly pop in so you do not miss out on incredible photos. Also, do not forget to bring backup batteries.
Research & Documentation
What is the weather likely to be like when you are there? Will the trees and bush be lush and green, or will you be seeing bare surroundings? Either is great for capturing different safari photos, but look up what you may expect- find out as much as you can. Read about other people’s first-hand experiences.
On the safari, we found it helpful to write down any animals we might forget the name of or any important facts we wanted to remember. This also included keeping a journal of our experience, what our thoughts were and what we hoped we would see before our safari journey was complete. It helps keep your head straight, keeps you organized, and knowing what you want to ask your safari driver to try to do or find.
Get Familiar With Camera Settings
Remember that there is really no correct settings when it comes to wildlife photography. It is important to understand the basics such as the relationship between aperture and shutter speed. Sport mode can only go so far. Understanding some basics will help you to work the depth of field. Practice using different natural lighting conditions. Keep in mind that safari drives happen in the very early hours of the morning and the golden hour of the evening.
Vary The Perspective
One of our most important pieces of safari photography tips is to really pay attention to what you’re snapping in the frame. Over time and practice, you will start to develop a sharp photographic eye. Pay attention to the details of what you have in the frame before pushing the shutter. Also, pay attention to the surroundings to make sure you aren’t cropping the scene poorly.
Just like humans, you can see so much when you look into an animal’s eyes. Capturing their expressions through their eyes can show you a lot. You may have to play with the focus to capture the eyes, depending on the animal and other facial features they have.
I am always tempted to zoom right in on an animal to get the ‘best shot’, but oftentimes it can tell a great story if you capture the animal among a landscape scene. Always look for a different variety of photos through different angles and perspectives.
Focus On The Small Stuff
What we appreciated the most about our safari in Kruger National Park, was that our guide did not just focus on the “Big 5”. Often, you get so excited and wrapped up in the excitement of spotting the “Big 5,” including that elusive leopard, that you forget to pay attention to the little sights around you. A great way to give some focus to the “small stuff” is by going on a walking safari.
If you’re on safari with a driver, they communicate between themselves when there is a good sighting. You can see no other drivers for the longest time, and then all of a sudden they all race to the good location and there are a ton of vehicles around you trying to capture a glimpse of whatever is happening. Know that it is possible you may have to work around this and that it can also help create some cool photographs. This is a great setting to work on a series of different perspectives.
Always Respect The Wildlife
You should never try to alter a scene to your advantage. We are there, in their home, to observe. And only to observe. Do not try to be noisy to wake a sleeping animal, get in their way, or interfere with the animals in action. Not only is it extremely dangerous, but it is also annoying to those around you who are there to respect the animals and enjoy observing them. Wildlife is unpredictable, and the “perfect” shot you envision is not worth risking your life.
Don’t Forget To Make Memories
You will miss out on a lot if you are always looking at your safari through the lens of your camera. Take a few minutes here and there to enjoy your surrounding and “just be”. It will also help give you perspective and ideas for different angles and shots for when you pick the camera back up and start snapping away again.
Also, if you are on safari with family and friends, make sure that you all get into photos, including yourself. Having shots of yourself and your family enjoying wildlife are amazing keepsakes you will really treasure. If you’re traveling alone, it does not hurt to ask one of your safari vehicle buddies to take a few of you, and you can do the same for them.