A safari in Africa is a very beautiful trip, which you don’t do every day. In order to be able to make the images of your dreams to remember this wild adventure in the savannah, you have to be prepared! Start with the right equipment and know some basic rules.
You will experience magical and unique moments, some will only last a few seconds and you will have to be ready! Taking animal photography is a difficult photographic exercise, safari is no exception!
After this first experience in Kenya, we wanted to share some tips to help you prepare your photo bag for a safari in Africa, for example, to know what objectives to bring, but also to anticipate the conditions in which you will find yourself shooting.
A safari, an adventure like no other!
You can’t be constantly changing lenses because animal scenes usually happen very quickly, a lot can happen and you just won’t have time to make your changes or you’ll miss those essential moments.
In addition, with dust in some parks or humidity (depending on the season), you may damage your equipment by making sustained lens changes. We also advise you to proceed to a dusting every evening after the exits (with a blower bulb for example).
The ideal is therefore to have two cameras, one with zoom, and the other with a larger angle, to be ready for almost any situation. If you can’t, be careful when changing lenses, wait until the car stops and get help from someone else to go faster.
Concerning the weight of all this equipment, it’s not very embarrassing, since we don’t walk… We have everything at our disposal in the 4×4.
Without a significant zoom, you will not get convincing results. For this trip, as Nikon ambassadors, we had exceptionally on loan, a Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 lens.
It was the one I used the most during the safari, it allowed me to capture portraits and close-ups of animals, without having to approach them closely and disturb them. I was a little afraid of its lack of brightness (f/5.6) but finally overall it was and then with the D850 at ISO1250 it’s great.
We can still release nice pictures with a 70-200 when some animals are close but others are much further away, we can quickly be frustrated….
In order to get sharp images with such a large zoom, you have to be stable, the engine of the 4 x4 is switched off to avoid vibrations and disturb the animals, so it’s fine. Sometimes I would lean on the roof bar to be even more immobile.
Because the budget is substantial for such an objective, and because we don’t need it every day, we strongly advise you to rent it for the occasion, it is accessible.
I think it is essential to know your camera. In fact, it is difficult to take one in hand for the first time on a safari. This is not the ideal trip to learn! Everything can happen too fast…
I shoot in manual mode (M) because it allows me total control to get the desired result. Sometimes I like to under-expose a scene to create the desired atmosphere, which can only be done in manual mode.
In short, practice well before if you are a beginner! We had the NIKON Z7 in test (we’ll talk about it later) and it wasn’t the ideal trip to take it in hand. A safari is a real exercise.
Good things happen to those who know how to wait. To photograph wild animals, you have to be patient, not want to rush nature. It is also not possible to consider your topics! We’re talking about wild animals!
You have to be calm, silent (hard when you arrive with the 4×4, but you turn off the engine) and carefully observe the behaviour of the animal you want to photograph. By staying in one place for a long time, you can have the chance to photograph very special moments. You don’t want to see everything.
We remember scenes with a family of lions sleeping; we waited more than an hour for something to happen. One of the young lions approached the foot of our 4×4, very curious, he observed us for several minutes before joining his family.
A major thing! It can happen that people, out of despair or ignorance, engage in dangerous situations that can also harm the animal. All this to get an impressive picture… We didn’t see it in Kenya where the rangers are watching and where the rules of conduct are strict enough (under penalty of a fine), but on social networks… you shouldn’t feed wild animals anything is to give them to associate humans with food, a very dangerous combination for everyone!
Without going that far, you just don’t want to disturb the animals (engine snoring, horn) in order to try to get a reaction from them! Getting out of the vehicle can also be very dangerous.
Flashes disturb wildlife; I never use it for landscape and animal photography. Interpreting natural light is my favourite part of this type of photography.
In general opening around 6am/6.30am at sunrise and closing at 6.30pm (sunset). This means that you should plan to make the sunset near the exit of the park or your lodge (depending on whether your accommodation is inside or outside the national park).
Also depending on the animals you want to see and shoot, you should find out about their habits. For example, cats prefer the dawn or the end of the day to hunt and be active, it is less hot! It is therefore necessary to be on the ground at these times, while coping with opening hours.
No mystery that the light is much more sublime at sunrise and sunset. In Kenya, at the equator, the sun rises and sets VERY quickly, it’s shocking! The “golden hour” does not last long.
The animals of the savannah are captivating, like zebras for example. With their stripes, they can be confusing but above all very graphic for beautiful artistic photos. It is an animal that I enjoyed shooting. And then among my hundreds of zebra pictures, this one caught my attention and that’s what can make the difference.
For elephants, this was not easy because moving in herds can be complicated to take an interesting picture of the mass. They can all look alike very quickly. I think we should not be afraid to try things and isolate certain parts to propose something different.
Also consider taking landscape photos with smaller animals. Hence the interest of a larger lens (24-70mm or 18-35mm for example). It’s nice to see where you did your safari, because if you only brought back close-ups… it could be everywhere (well in Africa)!
Do some research, know what animals you want to photograph and go where they are. For this first trip to Africa, we wanted to see as many animals as possible. We chose the period of great migration on the advice of our travel agency, with the influx of wildebeests, zebras and antelopes in the Maasai Mara National Reserve; many lions were also in the area. It was a very good option!
Most special moments happen at lightning speed and last only a few seconds. To be ready to capture these specific moments, you need to know your subject and be able to anticipate / predict what they could do in certain situations.
For our first safari, we did not have the necessary skills to interpret the behaviour of these animals that were unknown to us. Our guide Felix knew the parks, talked with his colleagues so that we could maximize our chances of observation.
The very common mistake (not just on safari) is to want to go too fast, take out your camera, take a picture and rush to capture the next thing. Don’t try to photograph everything! As a photographer, you have to think about the story and the emotion you want to convey through your images, to give them a purpose. The very essence of a good image is to have succeeded in capturing a singular moment in time.
Believe me; it’s better to have a powerful and captivating picture that really means something than a dozen that doesn’t convey anything. Not easy yes, especially for a first safari, where you are tempted to shoot everything but after reflection, it is very important to keep this in mind to make more beautiful images! This is in line with point 4 Patience.
To convey an emotion, remember to photograph the eyes of the animals to captivate your audience.