A VERY common subject I field questions about is PHOTOGRAPHY. I am far from a professional photographer, but I am a fairly passionate photography enthusiast! So I’m happy to share some tips and suggestions based on my own personal “trial and error” experiences photographing wildlife in Tanzania.
“WHAT TYPE OF CAMERA SHOULD I BRING?”
There is no right or wrong answer here, but personally I use an SLR camera with interchangeable lenses, specifically a Canon 7D camera body, and most of my images were taken with Canon’s 100-400mm white lens. I find this to be a really nice all around lens. Easy to carry around and handle, while offering a reasonable range and speed. The flexibility of the zoom is great… I use both ends of the zoom range 100 to 400 and everything in between. (And the higher quality L glass seems to make a difference as the images come out much more clearly compared to my Tamron 200-500mm.)
I still bring a wider angle lens, such as my Canon 28-135 mm lens) for those landscape shots, migration shots and when the animals are REALLY close. But I find the 100-400mm lens meets my needs the majority of the time, which is great because I don’t have to change lenses that often!
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on camera equipment, you may consider “renting” some camera equipment. A camera equipment and lens rental company we have used many times in the past that offers great service, a wide selection, professional expertise and competitive prices is “Lens Pro to Go”.
They ship equipment via UPS anywhere inside the continental US, and make returning the gear super-easy with prepaid shipping labels so all you have to do is drop it off at a UPS pickup. You can find them at the following link or by calling 877-578-4777:
“DO YOU HAVE ANY GENERAL PHOTOGRAPHY ADVICE OR TIPS?”
That’s a question I get a lot too! The internet is full of many outstanding articles about photographing wildlife, and you might consider purchasing a book on the subject, like this one by Uwe Skrzypczak, “Wildlife Photography – On Safari with Your DSLR: Equipment, Techniques, Workflow”, which features advice specific to photographing wildlife in the Serengeti (thank you for the great recommendation Teddi!)
But in the meantime, here are a few very basic tips I’ve picked up through trial and error along the way!:
Tip #1) Take advantage of the special light at sunrise and sunset! Even an image of an ordinary subject can take on magical qualities when exposed to this beautiful light.
Tip #2) When shooting landscapes, or any photo where you can see the horizon in the background, try to make sure the horizon is “level”. A level shot provides perspective that is pleasing to the eye. A crooked horizon in the backdrop of an otherwise amazing photograph can be distracting and might not look “quite right”.
Tip #3) When an animal is close to the vehicle, I always like to try to shoot some photographs from the window as it gets you more of an “eye level” perspective with the animal, which can sometimes result in a more compelling image rather than just looking “down” on them from the open roof hatch of the vehicle.
Tip #4) As you are framing the subject in the view finder, you can use the “Rule of Thirds” to add some artistic flair, dimension and complexity to the overall composition of some of your photographs. It works like this: as you frame the photograph in your viewfinder, picture imaginary lines dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. You place important elements of your composition where these lines intersect, or rather positioning the main point of interest slightly “off center” in an aesthetically pleasing way. If you aren’t already familiar with this concept, you can find an excellent explanation of this rule of design here:
Tip #5) If your camera has a rapid- fire shooting option, take advantage of it for action shots! It’s much easier to use this setting than to try to capture the perfect frame yourself with a single shot while the cheetah is running past you chasing the gazelle or while the wildebeest herds are crossing the Mara river. With the advent of digital photography, it’s easy to take a serious of multiple shots now and then delete unwanted photos later!
Tip #6) A very compelling portrait of an animal can be even more compelling if you can catch the light in their eyes. This is especially true of the big cats. The angle of light in the early morning or late evenings are at an especially effective angle to help you avoid shooting the shadows in the animal’s face and rather light up those big expressive eyes! Thanks to my friend Sharon who taught me to be especially aware of this tip early on in my career!
Tip #7: Beanbags can be a useful tool to steady one’s camera when shooting photographs from the vehicle, or a rolled up sweatshirt or travel pillow can work surprisingly well. I don’t personally mess with a tripod as they can be rather cumbersome to travel with, and I find their usefulness is typically limited to landscape shots where one has time to set up the tripod safely outside the vehicle. However, there are some clever folks out there who have come up with solutions for movable tripods that one can use in the vehicle, such as this clever idea submitted by one of our returning guests:
Tip #8: I always charge my extra batteries and other devices in the lodges or camps at night. Having them charge during dinner up till bedtime seems to be the ideal time, since generators will be going full force at most camps, and that window of time seems to be more than sufficient to charge most devices.
Be sure to bring at least one 3 rectangular pin UK plug adapter is required to use electrical appliances including video cameras and digital cameras (of course the electrical equipment itself must be rated for dual voltage 120/240, as most video and digital cameras are these days). The plug adapter is placed onto your appliance plug so that it will fit into the 3 rectangular pin electrical sockets. Tanzania electrical sockets are identical to those found in the United Kingdom. You can find these adapters easily at Radio Shack or any number of travel stores.
You can also bring a multiple outlet device (a.k.a. 3-way splitter) to plug into your adapter, allowing you to charge more than one battery at a time.
It’s a good idea to travel with an extra camera battery too, just in case. I never leave home without at least one extra!
Tip #9: If you are a serious photographer, you might consider traveling with two camera bodies.
First of all, there’s the benefit of redundancy. Malfunctions can happen. Will your trip be ruined if your camera breaks or stops working properly? If so, you should strongly consider bringing along an extra camera body.
Secondly, if you have a second camera body, you can leave a telephoto or zoom lens on one of them (for distant wildlife), and leave the wider angle lens on the second one (for landscapes and close subjects). This will minimize the amount of times you will have to change lenses in the field, rather than trying to change lenses when there is action happening (things happen fast in the bush!) And the less you have to change lenses in the field, the less your camera will be opened up and vunerable to dust, etc.
Of course, for many people it can be cost prohibitive to purchase 2 nice camera bodies, but you can always rent one at Lens Pro to Go.
Tip #10) Remember, when shooting photographs of wildlife, patience is key! Spend some time with your subject if possible. Allow them time to relax in your presence so you’ll be able to observe their natural behaviors. And then be ready to capture the moment when they pounce, play, run, jump, look at you just right or simply step into the best light. It may not happen right away, but the waiting and stalking for the perfect image is all part of the fun!
29 Comments Leave a Comment
Awesome FAQ and photographs Dawn! I hope some of mine turn out half so well. I’ll get a chance to try soon – 52 days and counting! 🙂 Thanks for the great tips. What are your thoughts on flash/fill flash – seems to me it would be detrimental to the animals – but I’m seen some articles recommending it.
Hi Teddi! Thanks so much for your kind words!
To address your question, I’ve never actually tried using a fill flash when photographing wildlife, but I suspect it’s usefulness will be limited at best. I have used a fill flash for other kinds of photography, such as interiors of lodges or portraits of people. But I’ve never tried it on the wild animals.
The reason I suspect it may not be that useful when photographing wildlife is because 1) most wildlife shots are going to be outside and at a far enough distance where a fill flash would not be very effective 2) If I was actually close enough to an animal where the fill flash would be effective, I would still hesitate to use it at all for fear of startling the animal, as you already alluded to in your question. I think your intuition about this is spot on!
I was very lucky in that our wonderful guide, Ellison, had a beanbag in his vehicle. That was almost indispensible for those 400mm shots (which are a lot of them). On many occasions, I would have to hold the camera for a long time until I got the shot I wanted. I would not have wanted to pack one in luggage as they are heavy. But you could take an empty bag and fill it when you arrive.
Also, a lot of photo quality has to do with having both a guide and others in your group who are willing to wait … and wait … and… I was with my wife and my two sisters and we all had patience. It paid off very well.
Keep in mind that often you cannot exit the vehicle, so you need a guide who is willing to relocate the vehicle a few feet forward or back, or drive around to another perspective.
Finally, a pop-top vehicle may look better because it keeps you in the shade, but it would have rendered several of my best photos completely impossible to take. I would not go in any other type of truck than a roll-top so you are totally free in how you can move around, and see up.
But all of that work is well worth the effort. For what could be my only 10 days on a safari (although my wife is already thinking about a second one!), the photos came out great. ADS was the only company we would use.
Charles – Colorado
Thank you for your kind words and advice Charles!!! We do get questions about the advantages vs disadvantages for our vehicle’s canvas cover vs. a pop-top quite frequently, so I really appreciate your sharing your experience and perspective on the matter, as well as your other words of advice. I sincerely hope we can be your host to Tanzania for a second safari someday!!!
What about taking a video camera in addition to your still camera with various lens? Seems it would do much better with action shots.
Hi Len! Yes, a video camera is a wonderful asset while on safari! There are some action events that can be captured much more completely with video, such as lion cubs playing or wildebeest crossing the Mara River. Some cameras take both still photography as well as video, such as my Canon 7D, which is perfect for me because I get a little clumsy handling more than one camera at a time. But you’ve made an excellent point and a video camera will definitely be a wonderful asset while on safari!
Get a bean bag that screws into your camera/lens tripod mount, this way when you move your camera location the bean bag go;s with it.
I had a few shots ruined by other vehicles passing at a high speed.
Remember to tell your drive/guide poli poli (slowly slowly) you will see more wild life that way.
Thank you for the great tip David!
Your photos are fabulous and your photography tips are excellent. We relive our ADS safari with every testimonial we read and every photo we see. We’re still in the process of sorting out all of our photos. One piece of advise that we were given was to use the “Aperture Priority” setting on the camera. It worked out beautifully. Also, don’t worry about taking too many photos, as once the moment is gone you don’t want to have any regrets. Just be sure to take plenty of card storage. We used 16GB cards.
Ronnie & Marty Roitman
Thank you for your great camera advice Ronnie and Marty! The proof is in the pudding, as you had some of the most spectacular pictures from your safari! I hope you and your family and darling doggies are all doing well. Many Blessings to you in the New Year, and have a wonderful Holiday Season!
I have a Nikkor 70–300 f/4.5-5.6 lens. Do you think that is adequate for the majority of the pictures I will be taking on safari?
Hi Charlie! Yes, I know several people who use a 70-300mm lens, and they are quite happy with it! That being said, the more zoom capability you have, the better. Personally I prefer a zoom that goes out to at least 400mm. And I’m sure there are plenty of serious photographers that would argue for even more zoom. Balancing the capability of one’s photo equipment with practicality is an art, and the right answer depends on each individual’s photography goals balanced with their tolerance for the amount of equipment and weight they are willing to lug around. But for me, the 100-400mm range gets me where I need to be ‘most’ of the time, and strikes a nice balance between performance and practicality.
Hello My safari is not until May 2014. I am looking at camera bags specifically Think Tank Airport 4-sight. I will have two camera bodies, two lens etc. I am a little concerned about the weight on the klm flight (33 lbs??) Do you have any recommendations, I would prefer to have a bag with wheels. Thank you for your help. Awesome photos I am looking forward to the safari.
Yes each passenger is allowed only 33lbs of luggage on the internal flight in Africa. If your luggage is overweight, the airline may charge you an overage fee of $3/excess lb. A good trick is to simply hang your camera and your heaviest lens around your neck at check in.
For most of us, a super zoom like a Nikon p510 or p600 is a very useful camera for Safari, the Canon SX50 is their similar. While lacking the sharpness of an SLR, the image quality is quite adequate for most purposes. I carry an SLR with the super zoom as supplement. The large range and ability to zoom for distant animals is great. I also find that in addition to the beanbag, resting the camera on binoculars worked in a pinch. Having the 1000mm zoom ability is a great advantage in nature imaging and a super zoom is far cheaper than a long SLR lens
Thank you so much for the comments and advice! You are correct! For guests that prefer a simpler solution rather than the interchanging lenses of an SLR camera, there are indeed several very nice point and shoot type cameras on the market these days that can work VERY well, and many have have a very good zoom range too!
Excellent advice for safari photography! I wish I had had a bean bag or small monopod with me on our safari last July (see review posted 8/21/13). All in our group were definitely amateur photographers, but we managed to get a few good shots during our trip. My big issue was the dust! There is a fine powdery dust that swirls around and coats everything. How do you deal with it during lens changes? Also, how do you clean your filters/lens while out in the bush?? It was very frustrating! Any advice would be appreciated, hopefully we’ll be returning to Africa with ADS in the future!!
Thank you for your comments Chris! Yes, I agree that dust can be a challenge, especially during the dry season. Of course you can travel with 2 camera bodies to avoid changing lenses so often. OR you can simply slip a rain-cover/poncho over the camera while you are changing lenses, or change your lenses inside the protective cover of a pillowcase. A rain cover and pillowcase are easy to pack, and can shield your camera equipment from most of the dust at it’s most vulnerable time, when the lens is off! Maybe you can try out some of these ideas during your next safari with us Chris!! 🙂
I was searching for some articles about the rule of thirds today and came across http://www.africadreamsafaris.com/blog/?p=9502.
I noticed that you linked to one of my favorite articles “Composition: Rule of Thirds” on http://www.cambridgeincolour.com.
I just wanted to give you a heads up that I created something similar. It’s like “Composition: Rule of Thirds,” but more through and up to date: http://www.naissancestudios.com/rule-of-thirds-in-newborn-photography
Might be worth a mention on your page.
Either way, keep up the awesome work.
Thank you Ben!!
Dawn — Such magnificent pictures and wonderful tips too! Thanks for sharing. Makes me want to return to Tanzania. We hope all is well with you and yours.
Thank you so much Marybeth! It is great to hear from you. Miss ‘chatting’ with you about all things safari!! 🙂 Take care and please continue to stay in touch!!
Great article. It was really nice to read it. I really appreciate the insight here in this post and confident it’s going to be helpful to me and many others. Thanks for sharing all the information and useful tips.
Just a reminder that many folks who go on these trips are not avid photographers. I personally carry an SLR and a super zoom camera on this type of trip. This gives me a large range of coverage with less to carry on the long trip. While I’m not a professional, I have had photos from our ADS safari and trips to the arctic and antarctic published. Some from the slr but also some from the super zoom. My wife carries a pocket sized nikon superzoom on these trips and gets great shots. With the new high resolution movie capacity on many cameras, video for a fast changing scene lets you pull stills out of the video and not miss anything. For running animals it is especially useful. It is also important to sometimes just enjoy what you’re seeing. While the photos are great, the experience is wonderment and the photos just don’t reproduce that!
I’d like to pass on a tip that we discovered on our ADS Safari in 2015. Nikon has a camera (coolpix P900) that seemed to be the closest thing to a perfect camera for us. I shot with a SLR interchangable lens camera (Nikon D610 plus lenses) – It was great, but my wife was using the P900 and it had a wider zoom range and was a very versatile point and shoot simple almost semipro camera. It is cheap (around $600.) but versatile and loaded with features. It’s worth considering.