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How to photograph an African safari

Sunday, May 1st, 2011 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography

If you are a wildlife enthusiast, there’s nothing like a trip to the African forests to get the hang of wildlife photography. But the rules are different out here, so some tips on wildlife photography could be of great help. Here goes…

CC photo courtesy Jim Harper

1. Involve a good travel agent/communicate directly with a tour operator in Africa. Know your itinerary. Make sure your trip has a little bit of everything in Africa, not just lions and elephants.

2. Get the best advice possible on your flights to and from, driving yourself around, moving in towns with high crime rates, etc.

CC photo courtesy of GoDutchBaby

3. For wildlife, a long lens is the standard equipment. You need a DSLR (or other cameras which take exchangeable lenses) and at least a 300mm lens. For standard lens and a long lens, you may take two bodies or make a rule that you just don’t change lenses in the field. A dusty sensor calls for cleaning. Avoid flashes in the night. Try alternatives such as using your guide’s spotlight to paint a wildlife scene in a long exposure. In areas where there are people, it is risky to carry a large lens and camera around. Consider what equipment you may want while driving or during boat trips. Carry a small portable hard drive for storing pictures and viewing images. Click only what you think is worthy, because sorting a million images becomes problematic later. Power can be an issue, too, so carry charged batteries and try to get a car charger. Your guide could charge it for you in the vehicle while you drive.

4. Avoid touristy places. For photographers, private tours yield more, even if it means that you should stay at some of the cheaper places. Keep enough time, you’ll not regret it.

5. Long lenses are a must. A 400mm will give you a good opportunity to shoot wildlife at a distance (The ‘nature’ shots). You can take images of birds and small mammals too with long lenses.

6. Carry a tripod. Perhaps your tour operator can organise one for you (depending on the type of trip that you are doing). If you are driving yourself, you may want something like a window mount. You can use an image stabilizer.

7. When taking photos in a controlled environment, the ‘clutter’ of the bush can make composition a challenge. When you have time to set up your shot, hold the camera steady and have a look around the viewfinder. Remember that the depth of field doesn’t look the same in the viewfinder as the final image. Consider if you need to flatten the depth of field (larger aperture) to cut on background clutter.

8. People behave differently when being photographed based on customs and personality types, so find out about the local people and their attitudes to being photographed from your tour operator or guide.

~ Zahid H Javali

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