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Home > Guide to making your safari holiday photographer friendly.

I have taken all kinds of people out on Safari, probably the most demanding are serious photographers who are always looking for that perfect shot. If you are planning on going on a Safari holiday and you main interest is in wildlife photography, rather than just relaxing and enjoying all that you can see around you, you will have some specific needs that could make or break your trip. Here are a few tips to ensure that you get the most out of the experience, your safari is "photographer friendly" and that you return home with the best photographs possible. This article assumes that you already have the right camera for safaris and that you know how to use it.

When to go on Safari

If you are traveling to Southern Africa, remember that the northern hemisphere's summer is Africa's winter. In many places, this can be a great time to go on safari as it is their dry season, the grass will be shorter, making it easier to spot and photograph wildlife. Temperatures will also probably be more comfortable during the day, but beware it can get very cold at night in some places. Because it is the dry season, the sky in Southern Africa is often cloudless during winter, giving you plenty of light for photography, I find this particularly useful for bird photography as you can often get better photographs of birds with a clear blue background. Another advantage of the dry season is that there is less water out in the bush and so water dependant animals tend to congregate at or not travel too far from water holes, dams and rivers, making them much easier to find and photograph.

I took this photo of a Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) in The Gambia, during their winter. Bird photos often look much better with a light coloured background, like the blue sky.

African Darter - Anhinga melanogaster

Communicate with the Guide

One of the most important and obvious things to do is to talk to the guides who will be taking you out into the bush. Let them know what your interests are, what kind of photographs you are looking to take and what your specific needs are. Most guides will be more than happy to accommodate you if they can. I know from personal experience that some of the best safari experiences that I have had have been with guests who share the same interests as I do. From experience I knew that a specific group giraffes (it is actually called a tower of giraffes!) would often visit a certain dam in the evenings and so I have even gone out specifically with one guest to the location and waited for hours hiding in the bush until we got the shot he was after. He enjoyed the experience because he got some excellent photographs and I enjoyed it because I could, with only one guest to look after also take some photographs of my own. (see below)

Giraffe Drinking at a waterhole

Talk to you guide about your needs and wants before you go out on Safari, if there are people in your group that may get annoyed waiting for you whilst you are taking loads of photographs, it can make it unpleasant for everyone involved. If the lodge has enough resources, this includes guides as well as vehicles and there is a definite split between casual wildlife observers or children that may get bored quickly and people who would like to spend longer at sightings to enable them to get great photographs they may even split you up into different game drives. They can only do this however if you speak to them in advance. You could even try expressing your concerns before you make the booking at the lodge, this way they may be able to plan better for your arrival.

Safari Vehicles

Safaris in the Masai Mara are famous for having oads of people crammed into "mini vans", which are not really suitable as a safari vehicle especially for photography. Even if you were the only passenger, the enclosed space makes it difficult to take decent photographs, but when it is full of other people it can make it really difficult and sometimes almost impossible. So make sure that the lodge that you are staying with uses open top vehicles specifically designed for game viewing and safari holidays. Also ask about their maximum passenger policy as this can make the difference between an enjoyable 4 hour game drive and a uncomfortable, hot and sticky 4 hour mission!

Decide for yourself which vehicle you would rather go on safari in!

Safari Vehicles

Number of People at a Sighting

Safari Traffic JamAgain I am going to use the Masai Mara as an example, but there are many other Game Reserves and National Parks that do not have a maximum vehicle at a sighting policy. You sometimes see over 15 vehicles at popular sightings, this can really annoy some animals and goes against a principal of viewing wildlife that I strongly believe in: That you should not disturb or change the natural behavior of the animal that you are observing. It can also totally ruin the experience for you of having loads of vehicles all crowding around a lion and for the wildlife photographer it can completely destroy your shot, by having a safari vehicle in the background, you may as well go to the zoo and have a fence in your photos! All the game reserves that I have worked on in South Africa have a maximum number of vehicles that are permitted at any sighting, usually this is 3. On top of this, it is every field guides intention to disturb the animal and other guests on other vehicles as little as possible, make the whole experience that much more pleasant for everyone. Make sure the Lodge on the reserve you are visiting has this policy.

Other Guests

If you are sharing you safari drive with other non photographing guests, speak to them, let them know what you would like. As long as you are polite many people will happily swap their position with you. This may sound obvious, but I have had guests that complain after the game drive that they could not take any photos because they were in the wrong position or we did not stop at something that they wanted to photograph, yet they sat there for 4 hours and said nothing! Also try an be patient, no matter how hard the guide tries, you can't please all of the people all of the time!

More Safari & Wildlife Photography Tips

For more, including on where I think is the best place to sit in the safari vehicle for taking photographs, check out Safari & Wildlife Photography Tips.

Visit The Africa Guide for desert, dune, wildlife, people and culture photography


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This page is part of a series of posts on what to take on safari, for further reading try:

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