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How To Photograph An African Safari

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by David Peterson

 

 

It’s a dream for most photographers to do an African Safari. With so much wildlife right at your doorstep, it’s downright humbling. Even if you aren’t heading off to Africa anytime soon, the tips are this article are still useful for capturing wildlife pictures while you’re moving around in the wilderness. The key is to develop quick photographic reflexes so you can get the shot before it’s gone. I’ll show you how.

 

 

 

I’ll mention this before you book your safari trip. Try to go on a safari that leaves just before the sun comes up. I can’t tell you how many of these trips are geared towards late risers. That’s really unfortunate because, as you know, the best opportunities happen at sunrise. If you’re going on a Safari to do what every other tourist does, that’s one thing. But it’s going to take some resolve to get up early and get the really good shots.

Practice At The Zoo Before You Go

You’ve already got a safari in your own hometown. It’s called the zoo, and it’s a great place to get some practice shooting animals before you shell out some serious money for your trip. Practice framing animals, finding which camera settings work best, and focusing.

For example, in the portrait above, you have to focus on the lion’s eyes first. When you’re in a Jeep, this can be kind of tricky because everything is shaking and you have to use a telephoto lens. Take your longest length telephoto lens (high mm number) with you to the zoo and see what kind of portraits you can get at 200mm to 300mm focal lengths. See if you can replicate the photograph above.

Lenses And Camera Gear You Will Need

Some of you might not be familiar with telephoto lenses. They are basically long lenses that allow you to zoom in very far. Most digital SLRs have lower end telephoto lenses that give you about a 4x magnification and aren’t too expensive.

On safari, you will be likely doing most of your shooting from a Jeep. So you will need a good digital SLR camera. There simply is no way around this. Point and shoot cameras just won’t allow you to zoom in as much as you need to. When the lion you want to photograph is far off in the distance, you’ll be wishing you had your neighbor’s camera.

I suggest, at the very minimum, a lower end digital SLR like the Nikon D40x with two lenses. Get the 18mm to 55mm lens and the 55mm to 200mm. You can buy both of them together for a low price, and they cover most of the photographic spectrum. It’s a fairly minor investment, compared to the cost of the trip, and it should only set you back less than $1,000.

 

There is a cheaper option. I know a lot of photographers who rent even better telephoto lenses for a safari trip. It makes sense. You only have a few days out there, and you want to bring gear that will perform at its peak. The more expensive telephoto lenses give you much better reach while making it easier to get the challenging shots. I’d rent them if I didn’t already own the gear.

Shooting From The Jeep

There’s another thing about safaris. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in the Jeep. Most of that time will involve moving around and shaking. This is unavoidable. It’s part of the charm of going on a safari. Unfortunately, you’ll need to take multiple shots of the same subject, because more often than not, the shaking will have pointed you in the wrong direction. Keep double checking your work.

A few photographers go to some pretty extraordinary lengths to keep their cameras stable while on safari. I’ve been with people who bring special tripods and sandbags with them. The sandbags keep the tripod stable so it doesn’t jostle around on the floor of the Jeep.

I encourage you to try this but realize that Africa gets pretty warm and bright. Also, most safaris happen in the middle of the day, so you’ll be able to use fast shutter speeds anyway, so unless you’re out in the early morning, you shouldn’t need a tripod. If you’re there to enjoy yourself as well as take pictures, lugging around a tripod and sandbags might not be your idea of a good time.

One final note. I’m going to say this again because I just want you to have a good time. Bring a digital SLR and not a Point and Shoot. Don’t be the tourist who’s yelling and screaming at their camera because it pauses in between every shot and keeps missing the good ones. Don’t pay a bunch of money for a Safari neglect to make the relatively small investment in a good camera. If you’ve been on the fence about upgrading your camera, going on a safari is the perfect reason to do it.

Are you going on Safari soon? Did you just get back? I want to know. Send me your pictures, or tell me about your trip!

 

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