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Home > Guide to Safari Wildlife Photography

In an earlier article, I wrote about a few Safari Holiday Tips for Photographers, with the emphasis being on how to make sure that you safari holiday is as "photographer friendly" as possible. In this article, I thought I would pass on a few tips, to ensure that you get the best possible safari wildlife photographs. Many tips below are obvious, but you would be surprised just how often people forget or don't think about them before coming on safari.

Continuous Shooting

Most SLR, Super-zoom and compact digital cameras have a continuous shooting or burst mode function these days and I would highly recommend that you use it throughout your safari holiday. When taking a photograph, you hold down the normal button and the camera will take multiple shots very quickly. The amount of shots per second that your camera can take will vary from camera to camera and it is one factor you should look at when purchasing a new camera. Burst mode is especially useful in catching an animal that is moving, follow the moving animal with your camera taking multiple shots, you can then select the best ones later and delete the ones that don't make the grade.

I used continuous shooting / burst mode when photographing these Wire Tailed Swallows on Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe last year and managed to capture this one just before it took off.

Wire Tailed Swallow

The Background

It is very tempting to only focus on the wildlife that you are photographing, but think about the background of the photograph, zebra's make excellent photographic models and you often get great zebra photographs, but I think that this photo of two zebra's that I took at Duma Manzi in South Africa really works because of the light coloured background. Many wildlife photos will have a dull or a thick bush background to them, if at all possible try and change the angle you are taking the photo at to get the background right, you could even ask the field guide if you can move the vehicle, to get the right shot.

Two Zebra's

Small is Beautiful

We know that most people go on a safari holiday to see africa's large mammals and when most people think of African wildlife photography, they are thinking lions, elephants and zebra's. But remember to look around you at the smaller creatures, this applies even when you are back at the lodge as there are beautiful wildlife photos everywhere just waiting to be taken. It is also important to remember that you can use your zoom even at close range. I took this photo of a dragonfly at maximum zoom - 35mm equivalent of 504mm.

Red Dragonfly

Camera Sounds

Turn off all the noises on your digital camera, this includes start-up, focus, shutter sounds. This is partly to prevent you from spooking timid wildlife, like birds, but also as a courtesy to your fellow passengers in the Land Rover.

Camera Shake

A sandbag or the new compact tripods for travel can be invaluable in making sure that your camera is as steady as possible, this is especially important if you are using a large telephoto lens or Zoom. The sandbags are great, because you can travel with them empty and then only fill them once you have arrived at the safari lodge. There are also many compact tripods on the market at the moment, my personal favorite and one that I often use is this Joby Gorillapod that is flexible, allowing you to grip your camera onto many different objects and surfaces. I have even used it to attach my camera to the wing mirror of my safari vehicle before for an interesting effect.

For more including some of the best compact tripods, take a look at my guide to Tripods for Travel & Safari

Camera Memory

Make sure you have loads of memory, remember you are going to be in the middle of the African bush, no photographic shops here and the worst thing you want to happen is run out of memory just as you arrive at a sighting of a leopard with it's kill stashed in a tree! This also goes for film cameras, make sure you have plenty of film. Some lodges may have a gift store that may sell film, but it will be expensive and probably not the speed or quality that you are after.

Camera Power

Similar to the memory issue, is power. Make sure what ever power source your camera uses, you have a backup and a way of recharging your batteries. Some very remote safari camps won't even have electricity, check before you leave and if so, possibly look into getting a car charger, this way you guide may allow you to charge your batteries in the game drive vehicle, but ask first!

Where to Sit in the Safari Vehicle

This in some ways is up to personal preference, but most often serious wildlife photographers choose to sit in the front seat next to the driver. Whilst you will not get such an elevated view of all that is around you, I think that the angle that you are taking your photos at is more natural and there is the added bonus that there is plenty of room to keep your photographic equipment at your feet. You can also use the door top rest your sandbag or tripod on to eliminate any movement when taking photographs. Another advantage of this position is that it make it much easier to communicate with the guide. I would say that the next best seat would be directly behind the driver.

Safari & Travel Camera's

All the photographs on this page were taken with my Panasonic DMC-FZ18, for more on the camera, read my article on the Best Digital Camera for Safari Holiday Photography

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

Further Reading


My African Wildlife Photograph Galleries


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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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