10 Tips to Photograph An African Safari

10 Tips to Photograph An African Safari

Today African Safari guide Vernon Swanepoel from safari-pics.blogspot.com shares with us some tips on how to photograph an African Safari.


An African Safari may be a once in a lifetime experience and one that can be really fun for photographers. If you are planning a trip to Africa some time in the future there are some thoughts that you should consider before you go. I’ll share ten tips from my experience as a guide in Africa.


1. Know where you are going, and what to expect photographically

It is so important to have a good idea of what to expect. Involve a good travel agent or communicate directly with a tour operator in Africa. Make sure your trip mixes it up a bit. Not just lions and elephants the whole time. And remember that different wildlife situations give different viewing opportunities. Some places you may drive around for a couple of days and see very little. Other areas you drive right up to lions sleeping near the vehicles. Also know about photographic polices, such as those if you visit great apes and specific wildlife rehab centers. Of course, some of the best advice you can get if from friends who have been there.

2. Plan your travel, equipment transport

As you plan how you are going to get around, consider the logistics of the equipment that you are going to carry around. This includes your flights to and from, small flights (with strict language limits,) driving yourself around, moving in towns with high crime rates and so on. Get the best advice possible. You don’t want hassles like this. At some airports there are often problems with lost language. You want to minimize the risk involved with this. I know of some people who buy their big lenses in South Africa on the way out to Safari and sell them again on their way back. This is risky (be careful of not getting yourself into a tangle about import taxes….) and can be really expensive, not to mention the preparation involved in trying to make sure you get it sold at the end.

3. Plan your gear

For wildlife a long lens is the standard peace of equipment. You need a dslr (or other cameras which take exchangeable lenses) and at least a 300mm lens. 400mm is much better and longer may be even better. Consider, however, that you may be in a vehicle with others, in areas where you can’t get out of the vehicle to set up a tripod. So shaking can be a problem. You often have clear open days, with bright light, so you can take really fast shots (less time for shaking,) but still, anything over a 300 you really don’t want to hand hold or get shaken while taking pictures.

You don’t want to change lenses to much, so if you have a standard lens and a long lens, you may want to take two bodies. Otherwise, make a rule that in the field you just don’t change lenses. A dusty sensor is going to give you a headache. And you certainly don’t want to clean that out in the field.

Be aware of flashes. Respect wildlife while in Africa. Don’t use flashes at a waterhole at night or on game drive. There are some nice techniques that you can use to take photographs at night, such as using your guides spotlight to paint a wildlife scene in a long exposure.

You may want to take a nice digital point and shoot for going into areas where there are people, and that may be risky for carrying a large lens and camera around. Remember always that in people centers in Africa, a large lenses and camera shout “rich and easy”.

Are you going to do any boat trips? Or diving? Consider what equipment you want for that.

Also consider memory. You may want a small portable hard drive. They are also great for viewing images. Even though you can store so much, don’t keep too much. You probably will never find the time to view them, let alone sort them out if you arrive home with 5000 images!

Power may be an issue. Take enough charged batteries. Try to get a car charger for your batteries as well, and perhaps your guide can charge it for you in the vehicle while you drive.

It really can be a series of compromises, which is why a clear idea of where you are going and what experiences you are likely to have become so important in knowing what you are going to take.

4. Africa for travelers

Generally being a tourist in Africa means different things depending on the area. Some places are highly tuned in to tourism, and provide a lot of services. Others are less well prepared and take some thinking on your feet to manage your experience. In general, the more familiar a place sounds, the more they are geared towards tourism. But that is a good thing and a bad thing.

Consider whether you are going to join a tour, book a tailor made trip, do it self-drive, or do a flying around trip. Budget makes a lot of that kind of decision for you. But there are all sorts of options these days. I would really recommend private tours for photographers, even if it means that you should stay at some of the cheaper places.

Also, give yourself time. Rather do fewer stops and give yourself time to take it in and enjoy it. Learn what’s there and you will come away with better images!

Techniques on Safari

5. Long lens

As I mentioned earlier, long lenses are a must. A 400mm will give you a good opportunity to shoot wildlife at a distance. This gives you two advantages. Firstly, you get to shoot the pictures that others can’t (or do the lion that fits in the auto focus ring in the middle type of shot.) But secondly, it allows you to get the animal in a position where it is not reacting to you. The “nature” shots. The candid shot, if you would.

Another advantage of the long lens is that you can take images of birds and small mammals. There is so much color and life in the smaller animals that are so often ignored on many Africa trips.

6. Stability and tripod

I really would encourage anyone who is serious about photography in Africa to take along a tripod. Perhaps your tour operator can organize one for you (depending on the type of trip that you are doing.)

If you are driving yourself, or if you will be doing a private tour with a guide in a closed vehicle, you may want something like a window mount.

You can also use an image stabilizer (some are in lenses, and some are in the body.) I for one find it hard to trust something like that. Perhaps that is just from being taught early on that better photographs are taken with a camera that is secured.

7. Composition

Look all over your viewfinder. If you are accustomed to taking photos in a controlled environment, the ‘clutter’ of the bush can make composition a challenge. Sometimes you are shooting fast, but when you have time to set up your shot, really hold the camera steady and have a look around the viewfinder. Trust me, good photographers still get trees sticking out of elephant’s ears. 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. Thoughts on people

I don’t want to give blanket advice for how to photograph people in Africa. But it is important to point out that there are different attitudes to being photographed. Don’t assume that everyone wants handouts in exchange for being photographed. Some people still have religious issues with it. Find out from your tour operator or guide what the right procedures are, and respect them.

After your tour

9. Store and share

If you are a pro you may simply be aiming to sell your images, and would already have a good idea of what to do with them. If you are an amateur, there are many things that you can do with your images. You may want to touch them up in Photoshop (or Gimp if you like a rather good, but completely free image editor.) You can use a program like Windows Movie Maker to create a nice slideshow (or PowerPoint) You can share with flickr, or if you did a slideshow, Youtube, or many others on the internet.

I do find, however, that it is important to sort them right away as you download them on your computer. Otherwise you end up with a rather full “download” file, and never find the time to do what you planned. You may also want to ask others to do the organizing for you, such as creating a slideshow to share with your friends.

One final thought

10. Put your camera away and enjoy the experience

I have been guiding for years and I find that it is really important, from time to time, to get the photographers out from behind their cameras. Pull yourself into the experience. Share with your traveling partners, (especially if it is your wife,) the magic that is and African Safari

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Tina safari February 1, 2012 11:59 pm

    Truth be told,i love nature and Africa is one continent i want to visit and see all kinds of wildlife.Coming across this information has made my day.Great site.Gorilla Safari

  • Animal Safari January 12, 2012 05:17 pm

    Great information. I am glad I stumbled here. I am a big wildlife admirer and I just love capturing wild creatures in my camera but at night it is quite difficult to get sufficient exposure in low light. You have given really great tips. Thanks.

  • laurieo October 14, 2011 10:44 am

    I went on safari a couple years ago in Tanzania and loved it. As it was January, there was not much problem with dust, but I did bring two camera bodies; one for my 17-85 and the other for my 100-400. Even without dust issues, I would bring the same equipment as it was convenient and worked for my purposes. It would have been frustrating to lose a great shot because there wasn't enough time to change lenses. I also agree that a tripod is probably not very practical for driving safaris as it is quite rare to be able to get out of the vehicle. I used a foam bedroll to steady my camera and had the driver turn off the engine as mentioned by a previous poster. Seemed to work fine. On one of the occasions when we did get out of the vehicle, one of the other safari members volunteered to act as a tripod for me and I got a great shot of a hippo in a waterhole! One more thing - a friend who had been on safari before recommended taking some video as well, another good reason to bring that point and shoot. The sounds of Africa are fantastic, as are the butterflies, birds and bugs flitting about in the air. Really fun to take some short videos to share back home and remind yourself of the sights and sounds of Africa. Happy travels!

  • Mahlatini July 5, 2011 01:55 am

    These are great tips, thank you. You are correct in that the long lens is indeed a must. You will probably be shooting from a vehicle and will not actually be as close as you'll appear in pictures - which is a good thing, because that's dangerous. Though you will get the occasional very adventurous animal which comes right up to the vehicle. But I think your last point is most important. Yes, take some photos to document your experience, but remember to enjoy the safari as well. Don't get too caught up in the photos to do so!

  • Anil Sharma June 22, 2011 07:32 pm

    These are excellent tips, investing in a professional camera will give the best shots, although obvious it is true, but another tip that you may like to mention after your trip is to invest in some decent photo viewing software. This allows for you to edit out any blemishes or problems within the images and allows you optimise images so thay dont look distorted or pixellated when blow up to a bigger size. To get these amazxing pictures I would suggest going on luxury safaris whereby you will be able to get the best shots and the best sightings of animals.

  • Anna Patrick April 29, 2011 01:44 am

    Safaris are a great way to discover closely the fascinating African wildlife. What about the people? Here is a photo essay about this contrasting land - Faces of Africa http://www.photographymojo.com/2011/04/faces-of-africa-photo-essay/

  • Robin oberg November 9, 2010 04:25 am

    http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/6661- à link to talks about the negative consequences of safaris

  • David B September 29, 2010 02:19 pm

    Some great tips! I would agree with the comments about leaving the tripod at home. Generally, you are going to shoot exclusively from the vehicle (if you leave the vehicle, you become prey--not good), and since the vehicle is going to be moving, as the occupants shift, you're better off hand-held. Maybe--just maybe--a monopod could be useful if you're lucky to be with still passengers, but it's simpler to brace an elbow on the vehicle, and not have your camera tethered to just the spots where you can position it on a 'pod.

    I think sub-400mm lenses are a great option, depending on the area you're visiting. Some reserves prohibit off-road driving, and for those, you will want the longest lens you can stabilize (test this before hand--I rented a 500mm prime for a week at home and found that cropped shots from my 70-200 were sharper hand-held). I was in S.A. and Botswana, and I found myself zoomed out at 70mm regularly, to compose the way I wanted, because we were that close to animals. Don't kill yourself buying/renting and then lugging a glass bazooka around if you don't have to. I only added a 1.4 extender to my zoom on a few occasions, but it was a great, lightweight option when I needed it.

    I found that a 50 f/1.4 was awesome for dusk shots (and it was small and light). Don't discount that possibility. I have some really neat fluid shots of a leopard climbing down a tree that I couldn't have gotten even with f/2.8.

    The other thing I'd strongly recommend is a bag that you can secure to your body, while in the car. I used a sling-style bag, and wrapped the sling around my waist while seated. That allowed me to hold on with both hands, which was required to stay in the vehicle at times (seriously). I grew up off-roading in Colorado, and I've been on rougher rides--but not while trying to keep a bag full of camera gear safe. Again, that depends on the area, and how comfortable your driver is with your riding skills.

  • Stan September 27, 2010 11:50 pm

    Thanks for the great article (and the great website!)

    I have shared your site and articles with my fellow photogs, who have expressed their appreciation for the content.

    I wanted to pass along the title of a book I recently enjoyed about African safaris from the sometimes humorous, sometimes touching perspective of a guide. The book is "Don't Look Behind You by Peter Allison.



  • gturner September 25, 2010 11:00 pm

    unless you are a pro and are going to camp at one waterhole for weeks looking for an special shot, I would strongly recommend that Canon shooters take a 50D/ 7D with a 100-400L. Small, excellent IQ and super IS.

    95% of your shots are going to be handheld in good light and medium to long distance. you will not need your 85 1.8. Any night shots are going to be with the vehcile spotlight, so forget any ideas about flash.

    Your second lens should be wide. 17-40 or 24-70.

    If you have space, throw in a macro lens. There are awesome creepy crawlies to shoot.

    Yes you need to look after your kit, but there is no more chance of getting robbed than in big Europe city (Rome. Paris etc) Just don't be dumb.

    Last suggestion - take good pics, dont try and snap everything you see. Trying to spot a lions ear at 50 paces through a bush is not something you or your friends want to see. Capture good stuff and situations that tell a story. For everything else pick up a coffee table book at the airport.

    BTW - here is an awesome wildlife safari setup

  • Sarah September 25, 2010 06:48 am

    After spending 8 months in Tanzania, I cannot stress enough the importance of protecting your gear on the flights to and from Africa. Though I know most photographers wouldn't dare let their camera and gear out of their sight, but don't check anything that you would be devastated to never see again. Ipods, jewelry, cameras, computers -- all of these will most likely it will find their way into the hands of a greedy customs worker during their bag checks and you end up without it.

    Otherwise -- enjoy! Africa is a beautiful place. I can't wait to get back!

  • Will McA September 24, 2010 08:32 pm

    OK, I can't get the photos to display on the forum... if anyone wants to see them they are here:


  • Will McA September 24, 2010 08:31 pm

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/willmca/4900734603/' title='The Leopard' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4097/4900734603_e7ba364440_z.jpg']

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/willmca/4927647482/' title='Bee Eater' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4076/4927647482_bc5498b693_z.jpg']

  • Will McA September 24, 2010 08:30 pm

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/willmca/4900734603/' title='The Leopard' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4097/4900734603_e7ba364440_z.jpg'][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/willmca/4900734603/' title='The Leopard' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4097/4900734603_e7ba364440_z.jpg']

  • Will McA September 24, 2010 08:29 pm

  • Will McA September 24, 2010 08:27 pm


    The Serengeti or Kruger national park are not London though, there is a big difference in expense and the skill level you have to reach before you attempt going it alone on safari and walking around London by yourself, which of course anyone can do. I was on safari in the Serengeti, which is the size of Wales, and without our skilled guide driving us, we'd have been driving around uselessly with no clue how to find animals and come back with a million photos of empty landscapes. Following your advice may be a good idea for someone with serious ambition as a wildlife photographer but for the most part it goes against the most important rule of all travel, and that is to use local knowledge.

    Here are a couple of my photos from Africa... not, taken with a maximum 150mm focal length just to show what you can do without a 300mm zoom lens.

  • Handel September 24, 2010 02:25 pm

    The safari company is important and then the guide who can make or break the trip! Ask around before you purchase. In Tanzania we had a wonderful experience with Nomad, but there are many others.Also we were fortunate in that friends in both Kenya and Tanzania gave us excellent advice as to where to go and why, the usual places are not always the best and much depends on the time of year. we found that four and a guide was about all we wanted , there was plenty of room in the Toyota and Land Rovers that we used. From an equipment point of view the f400 is the one to have perhaps with an extender, I used a 70-300 mm IS (the IS was invaluable) it was good but not as good as a 400 would have been. I found that I did not need a tripod, but a bean bag was something you don't want to be without( many of the guides have them in the vehicle). The advice to put the camera away and enjoy is an essential piece of advice,I found the trip to be almost life changing, certainly I realize where we humans are on the food chain!! enjoy

  • sebastien September 24, 2010 11:50 am

    the one best tool I used in africa, for shooting out of the van, was a rice bag.
    I used it as a bean bag for my camera and lens, to stop the shaking and provide a solid mount. you can put them one the roof, over the door frame, on top of a window, anything.
    I'd made myself a bag with a zipper at home, and when I got there, I bought a pound or two of rice, and filled the bag half way.

    best thing i ever had.. AND i gave the rice to the guide so he could eat it after the safari was over....

  • Lilian Wasik September 24, 2010 08:50 am

    WHat if the "wife" is the photographer - SHE might like to share the experience with HER HUSBAND!!!!!

  • Robin Oberg September 24, 2010 05:06 am

    Except #10 and the comments about dust, these tips feel way too touristy for me. Even the whole idea of going on a safari, yeah, I don't get it. If you're a professional wild life photographer you'll rent your own car, or hike. A safari is for tourists. Like riding a red bus and taking pictures of Big Ben in London. Which is not a bad thing at all, but it's just not an environment in which you'd want to take pictures, except as a memory of your vacation mayhaps. My #1 tip on going on a safari would be: Don't. Not if you wanna do it for the pictures anyway. And especially not if you wanna see the "real" Africa or whatnot. Safaris are semi-structured coordinated entertainment attractions with live animals. If you like that sorta thing I guess you could go to the Zoo or the Circus. And I'm not saying those kind of things are bad in themselves, just that they aren't really for photographing. So don't go to a safari in Africa and yell at your guide for not turning off the engine, he's not the hired help of a photographer, he's a tour guide.

  • Dennis September 24, 2010 03:18 am

    Never Ever change your lens in africa. It is too dusty. So take two bodies as recommended. This way you have one spare camera, just in case.

  • Alan Feldstein September 24, 2010 02:03 am

    As a photographer and owner of a Safari company (www.infinitekayakadventures.com) that leads unique safaris and photo tours in Tanzania I thought your tips were very helpful. I agree with the other comments about tripods. We provide our clients with bean bags. These are great for putting on the open roof of the car and putting your camera in to steady. Also, besides etiquette with the animals it is also important to remember looking out for each other in your car. No sudden movements while one is getting that shot of the lion in the grass. However, your best advice was to sometimes put that camera away and soak up the experience. Africa is an incredible place with beauty and a light that just can't be found elsewhere - maybe it is the sun bouncing off the rich red dirt or yellow acacia trees. I could go on and on as I am passionate about Africa, but if you go to one place to photograph in your life it should be Africa! And remember - memories are made of the things you do - not the things you wish you had done. If anyone wants to learn more feel free to contact me.

  • Rob September 23, 2010 05:10 pm

    This is a nice capture of what is needed and what not when going on a Safari. Thanks for the write-up!

    I live in Uganda and for that I bought my Canon XSI (1.6x crop) my Canon ef 100-400Lis (Yes the light is excellent for hand holding and IS does it's job). I usually carry my laptop with me for storage. Most places (where tourists go) have power to charge your equipment but I always take a power extension socket to plug in all my gear for most of the time there is only 1 socket in the wall or you have to compete for it with mobile phone chargers of the local people.

    When your lucky a ranger will allow you to get close to the animals as in off track. W/o a ranger you pay a fine of 100.000 shillings.

    I also have my canon ef 28-135is for candid shots while driving to the game parks. Oh and one more thing: Have your gear ready before your passing the Game gate's when your arriving towards sunset if you want to spot the leopard. Also kill the engine.

    I'm posting my last safari on flickr at the moment of a long trip with friends. Lake Mburu NP, Lake Bunyonyi, Bwindi NP, Ishasha and Queen Elizabeth NP, Kibale Forest NP, Murchisson Falls NP and finally the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/gipukan/4963472674/' title='Half blind male lion from the Congo Ishasha Uganda' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4144/4963472674_cb27b411d1.jpg']

  • Drew September 23, 2010 07:20 am

    Enjoyed the article and all the suggestions. I was in South Africa for the World Cup in June, did one day at Pilanesberg and two at Kruger. Two other recommendations that aren't unique to safaris but I found to be extremely important. 1. Dust. At least for me, it was very, very dusty and I had to ensure the camera body and lens was clean - kept the camera under my jacket for much of the driving around time. 2. Always be ready to shoot. You'll drive and drive and drive and see nothing - then three lions come out of the bush and walk 20 feet in front of you to cross the road. Here's my set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kabl1992/sets/72157624417949376/

  • Kat Landreth September 23, 2010 04:41 am

    @Bill Boehm- My safari experience really turned into "Kat's booty safari" with all of the rear ends I shot!
    @Sven- Namibia was my favorite country, the landscape is breathtaking. However my friends went on the the Serengeti and they said the wildlife there can't be beat.

    I recommend skipping the beanbag everyone tells you to get and just use a folded jacket or shirt to stabilize your camera or rest your lens (if you don't have a tripod, the tripod trumps all other stabilization techniques).

    Don't forget to turn the camera around and shoot your companions fro time to time! Tourists make great subjects and I wish I had gotten more photos of the friends I made on my GAP overland tour.

    As for #5 and the color you can find with smaller animals, here's Botswana's National bird, the Lilac Breasted Roller:[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/ninepan/5014952461/' title='lbroller' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4113/5014952461_cf250665ec_z.jpg']

  • Sam September 23, 2010 01:15 am

    We took a safari in the Maasai Mara this summer and I have a few thoughts. First, a tripod is impractical if you're traveling by vehicle as you'll never get out of the vehicle when there are animals about and there's no room inside to set it up. We used monopods, which worked very well. We also asked our driver to shut the engine off when we had good shots we wanted to take, to eliminate the vibration from the vehicle.

    Because our airline had warned about a weight limit for carry-ons, I left my good 70-400 lens at home and bought an 18-250 lens for the trip. And regretted it. The airline didn't weigh the carry-ons and the quality of the all-around lens at full tele just wasn't good enough for the great shots that were there to be had. Fortunately for many of the animals, we were able to get relatively close, so my best shots were taken in the 120-150 sweet spot of the lens.

    Get to know your camera REALLY well before your trip. Learn the manual settings. The camera's meter doesn't know what your center of interest is and you don't want (or have time) to try to figure out how to work your settings when the shot is RIGHT THERE, RIGHT NOW.

    Dust in Africa is everywhere. Change lenses as infrequently as possible (bringing a good P&S for the close shots - and, as someone mentioned, for the in-town pix) so you can leave your long lens on is a thought.

    We backed our photos up at night to a hyperdrive for safety. Easy and relatively quick. We also brought plenty of spare batteries and cards and charged all batteries every night. The extra expense before the trip was worth it - how many times do you get the chance to make a trip like this?

    And finally, as someone else suggested - enjoy the experience and don't spend your entire time looking through the VF.

  • Killian September 22, 2010 11:10 pm

    Darren -- not to nitpick, but in Section 2, did you really lose your language at the airport? =)

    Great article, though. My friend and I have made a promise to each other to go on a photo safari together at some point, and more importantly, to not go without the other. I'll file this away for reference!

  • Andrew September 22, 2010 09:11 pm

    One thing I have learned in life is not to believe everything you read - so don't just do internet research, read the information booklet from the guide operators etc. Use this site, get into the forums and ask specific questions - When I go to south africa and land at johannesburg airport, am I really going to be murdered as I walk out the doors? Jest - yes, but I just met a couple who wouldn't go out of the airport on advice of the travel agent in their home country, and booked their cheap internal flight and had to wait. There are many of us that actually live here and can give real man on the street advice and tips. So, good article definitely, read it well and then ask your questions where hopefully most of us are not psychos who want to steal your gear as you get off the plane.

    Note - if anyone says go to Hillbrow and get in some candid street party shots, well, don't. And don't follow other tips they give either....

  • Beth Wode September 22, 2010 07:05 pm

    A fantastic article. Thank you so much for posting. I wish I had this last year when I ws planning MY trip.
    I have to comment of a few of the above suggestions.

    1. Do NOT put anything valuable in your luggage. We had several people in our group that had their bags broken into at airports. Definately use the safe in your room. Once again we had things stolen from rooms.
    There is such poverty in Africa so be careful where you go with a large camera around your neck. It attracts attention.

    2. I agree power is a problem in Africa. The less things you need to charge the better. Power points in rooms are limited too. I think the tip on taking a car charger with you is an excellent idea.

    3. Definately take 2 cameras with you. I took my DSLR and a smaller point and shoot. I dropped my DSLR and it played up at times so was glad I had a smaller one to fall back on.

    4. If you decide to take a tripod with you take an extra mounting plate with you. I lost mine in the first few days and had to carry a useless tripod with me for the rest of the trip :(

    5.Always ask before taking photographs of the African people. Most are happy for you to take their photograph, in fact they love to see what you have taken. I took down the names and addresses of several people and posted pics to them when I returned home. Some people ask for money for their photographs to be taken. I found this to be true particularly with the Himba people.

    6.I took little tokens of Australia with me such as little koalas etc to give to the children. They LOVED it!

    Africa is such a special place, if you use your commonsense you will have an experience of a lifetime. I know I did and you will too!

  • Biswajit Dey Photoblog September 22, 2010 03:30 pm

    Very nice article.....and I agree to your points....the best point is of course 'Put your camera away and enjoy the experience'....it's so true .... I always say this to my fellow photographers and my friends....that it's not always a photographer should try to take photographs while something is happening in front of his eyes, that he may not see in his lifetime again.....what the photographer is left with is only some photographs....no true memories in his heart.....that makes me sad.....every photographer shouls also spend some time away from his camera so as to enjoy the nature... :)


  • PhotoJenetic September 22, 2010 05:17 am

    Nice broad article on a planned trip for a South African Safari. I have used both Canon and Nikon cameras and lenses on safari so thought that I may be able to add a few items to this post...

    On the camera front it does not really matter to much on your brand of choice; however, as has been said, a crop factor is handy - generally 1.6x on the Canons and 1.5x on the Nikons. What may come in handy is the focussing speed of the camera body; megapixels and shutter burst are also considerations for me. On the Canon front, the 7D has a separate processor specifically for focussing and for me that would be my choice; the 18MP and 8fps comes in handy. On the Nikon front, their recently announced D7000 appears to be their answer to the 7D, that would be my choice. On the upper end of the scale, the Canon 1DMK4 and Nikon D3s would be my obvious choices.

    In addition, I would agree that 2 bodies would be helpful as dust can be a pain, and your sensor is a magnet for it. So, avoid changing lenses often. If you really need to avoid being in the open or in the wind and face your camera body downwards.

    A focal range of 100-300mm may very well do you fine; however, this is not always the case. For the enthusiast the ideal lenses would the Canon's 100-400mm IS or the Nikon 80-400mm VR (note this is not compatible with some Nikon bodies). These lenses provide a nice compromise between versatility and 'good' (not necessarily great) image quality.

    However, for the serious enthusiast I would recommed the following:

    1. Canon: 70-200mm F2.8 or F4; personally I find the F4 to be a sharper lens. On top of that I find that the 300mm F2.8 prime lens to be an incredible option and provides superior quality; add a 1.4x tele on takes you to 420mm F4 and add a 2x tele on takes you to 600mm F5.6 - providing you quality and an element of versatility. I generally find that the 500mm and 600mm are too long particularly if you are on a driven safari on the back of a 4x4 - they are useful for birds though. The 400mm F2.8 IS may be fine on a full frame camera with the teleconverters as well

    2. Nikon: 70-200mm F2.8. On top of that you could go the prime lens route as in the case of Canon; otherwise Nikon's 200-400 F4 VR provides great versatility and superior quality.

    3. Canon & Nikon: A much under rated lens which provides great versatility and quality is Sigma's 120-300m F2.8; adding a 1.4x or a 2x telecoverter also works well. Sigma announced a new OS version of this todayat Photokina - looking forward to getting my hands on that one.

    Don't forget the lanscapes and African sunsets! Most on safari will be focussing on the wildlife; however, Africa has some spectacular scenerary and incredible sunset which should not ignored. For me your standard lenses in the 24-100mm range will do fine; but you could also try something wider.

    Remember, an African safari may be a once in a lifetime experience. Let's face it, photographic equipment can be quite costly. An option would be to rent equipment for the safari. You could do this locally (i.e. you home country); although camera gear can be quite heavy. You could also rent in South Africa; www.lensrental.co.za is an option.

  • Saif Alnuaimi September 22, 2010 03:41 am

    hi, those are some of my "safari trips" photos, i took them in Malaysia in 2008

    [eimg url='http://i652.photobucket.com/albums/uu243/DiverUAE/fa2.jpg' title='fa2.jpg']

    [eimg url='http://i652.photobucket.com/albums/uu243/DiverUAE/fa7.jpg' title='fa7.jpg']

    [eimg url='http://i652.photobucket.com/albums/uu243/DiverUAE/fa9.jpg' title='fa9.jpg']

    Lens: Sigma 70-300
    focal length in the three photos in 300mm

    hope u like them ^^

  • Rob Clayton September 22, 2010 03:31 am

    Another great DPS article....safari photography has been a goal of mine since I first got in to photography, but refuse to go until I have all the equipment I require (and a bit of spare money wouldn't go amiss). Although some of the advice above may seem obvious, its often the obvious things that can get overlooked....

  • Will McA September 22, 2010 02:48 am

    An excellent article, lacking in one thing though.

    While using high focal lengths is part of the 'bread and butter' of the African wildlife photographer, it is by no means the only way to get good wildlife photos. I went on Safari with a maximum focal length of 150mm (with a 4/3 system) and got some pretty good shots. It's not what you got, it's what you do with it.

    The article, as I say is excellent. I just think that, like most articles about wildlife photography, it discounts any use of shorter focal lengths and seems to be sending people the message, if you haven't got at least 300mm then don't even bother.

  • Scott September 22, 2010 02:35 am

    Spent some time in Africa, but never on a safari so I can't comment on those. The practical advice, luggage, photos of people, carrying high end gear around town, all very true. Things are just different, but very it's interesting and can be the experience of a lifetime.

    A link to my photo set from Western Africa:


  • jay September 22, 2010 02:32 am

    I just got back from an african safari and it is a life time experience. one point is you hav eto be very quick with your camera. Never know when you will just see a lion coming in your view. The tripod etc is all great if you are going on a photo safari and the whole group will wait patiently for ever. Patience is required as you may be spending a lot of time waiting for thing sot happen. My suggestion, may sure the group you have in your safari like to photograph too. I was lucky. although the others had a point and shoot, they were my eyes to spot for me.
    I took $1500 pictures. memory card is a must but most hotels have internet, or computor so you can copy to flash drive. Do not take pictures of the masai people without permission. They get very angry and you have to pay for it. Take prtective plastic bag. it could rain in a moment's notice
    I have posted 90 pictures on my web site and would love to hear comments.

  • Mei Teng September 22, 2010 12:48 am

    Would love to go on an African safari tour one day.

  • African Safari Vacations December 30, 2009 07:09 pm

    Great tips.Making an african safari tour a memorable one in a tough job.Having a good cam is not just enough but the process after that too is important.This blog will be very helpful to every tourists who are planning a holiday in africa.

  • axel November 13, 2009 12:19 pm

    Your tip number 10 is really a wise remark, I enjoyed that !
    To many times the photographer , including me, sees his whole holiday thru a small lens...

    on the other hand, that is part of the job isn´t it...

  • Mike McWatts September 7, 2009 05:35 am

    As inventor/distributor of the Windbag Pro, I would be happy to receive enquiries about the product. It's a wonderful help to wildlife photography in that it can be left on the window whilst driving in the game parks.

  • James Youngman August 30, 2009 03:40 am

    For safari, it's also essential to understand the format - some safaris include driving through the savannah to get up close to herds of animals. Others (and all safaris in South Africa as I understand it) confine vehicles to roads. This will affect among other things your choice of lens. I took a 400mm zoom (the Sigma 120-400) to SA and would have been dissatisfied with anything shorter.

    Low light is also a problem for safaris; you will take literally zero photographs between 11am and 4pm. There is nothing there. All the animals are hiding away in the shade. Dawn and dusk are the best times for photography, but also have the lowest light levels. (In many cases it is impossible to see the animals at dawn or dusk because of the opening hours of the park, unless you are actually staying on the park itself. This explains the premium frequently charged for accomodation inside safari parks.

    My photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/jay/SouthAfricaSafariMarch2009#

    Final tip: consider buying a "Wind-Bag" window-mounted beanbag. I bought mine at Orms camera store in Cape Town; they're hard to find outside SA, I think. Details: http://www.orms.co.za/product.php?a=view&product=1207&PHPSESSID=ad64b5257950b5427ee7a2363c15107e

  • OutDorPhoto November 1, 2008 06:48 am

    Very interesting comments from everyone. Leon Wilken's comments are right on.
    With the Pany ultrazoom I mentioned, I got pictures of the elephant's eyelashes. Amazing zoom for a light, compact camera that has almost no shutter lag and can due 2-3 fps.
    And as others discussed, wide angle lens is very helpful, primarily for amazing landscape shots. It's nice that the little Pany can go to 28mm equivalent for that too.
    Treating clothes with permithin b/f you go is a good idea as well. It helps keep away the nighttime mosquitoes (malaira), black river bugs (river blindness), teste flies (sleeping sickness), daytime mosquitoes (dengue fever). I'd also bring my own permithin-treated sleeping net, since some of the nets I used weren't treated.

  • Marius October 31, 2008 10:26 pm

    My Wildlife photos
    Kenya: http://www.wildlife.lt/galerija.php?country_id=20
    Uganda: http://www.wildlife.lt/galerija.php?country_id=51

  • Leon Wilken October 31, 2008 03:32 am

    As a South African I can only complement Vernon Swanepoel on a great article and advice.

    My advice to tourists is to keep valuables - photographic equipment definitely, as carry on baggage - crime at the airports is an unfortunate reality.

    Always keep UV-filters on lenses. Add polarizing-filters to cut down the harsh light and haze for each lens, as necessary.

    Use a beanbag on the car-window or rooftop / roll-bar.

    Don't get out of your vehicle to get the "Ultimate Photo" - people have died because they underestimated all Wild Life, not only the carnivores.

    Take your anti-malaria medication as prescribed. Malaria mosquito is the "Big Six."

  • Streve October 30, 2008 11:35 pm

    Relatively interesting article, although hard to take seriously when the picture is so poor! Surely the author had a better picture of an elephant than one ith the head totally covered in shadow?
    The first thing I was taught about taking pictures of animals is to try and get the eye to sparkle. Not always easy, but worth the effort when it works.

  • Pigapicha October 30, 2008 11:22 pm

    Good tips! I would add that the dust here in Africa is very very fine and gets into everything, so the tip about not changing lenses too often is right on. Not a bad idea to bring a little kit with lens wipes. Also, be prepared for very high contrast light situations, think about the best settings for keeping the detail in highlights and shadows.

  • ziad chatila October 30, 2008 11:18 pm

    re: Anna

    I have been to South Africa and went on a safari to Kruger park. If you need advice, feel free to look me up via the website.

    ***One more tip***

    The weather. Very, very important. The animals can sense the rains coming a few days before. So if there is a major storm coming, than a lot of the animals will head deeper and hide.

    So plan for that. Otherwise, if you only see elephants and do not see the big cats, for example, you may be disappointed!!

    Also, don't forget the private parks, where often the conditions are semi-wild. There is a great opportunity to see wild animals but in controlled environments.

  • James October 30, 2008 12:03 am

    I have been on safari in Africa (and plan another one next year) and I have not once had a problem with lost language... ;-)

  • Mark Kenny October 29, 2008 08:19 am

    I had a EOS300D and a Sigma 400mm zoom on honeymoon, see photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/markkenny/sets/72157600110469234/ There was a couple of moments where I had to swap to my 28mm lens, but then the animals were too close for me ;-)

    A cheap/very expensive camera is a good idea, mosquito repellent (that's vital rather than useful in some areas) tends to dissolve the grip and buttons of some cameras. Use a cheap camera you don't care about or a expensive metal one than doesn't melt.

    Manual Focus. You're shooting through bushes, the only thing the camera will see is the bush in front of you. Get use to focussing manually through the view finder.

    Safari drives are done early morning and late evening; rising and setting sun. You're going to be changing settings lots, you could shoot auto but you'll have shutter lag.

    Tripod/Bipod/Monopod - If you're walking or sitting in a car, being able to rest the big camera with a huge lens is really important. With the strap around my neck I could just rest the camera on the floor. I used a velcro strap around the legs of my tripod to make a monopod I used on the truck.

    Tagging. I understand previous comments about the time it takes to tag photos on shoot, but the time spent tagging photos while your there is worth ten times how long you'll spend trying to remember 6 weeks, months or years later. Just get the tagging done, you can rate them later.

    Decide beforehand, do you want to sit there and watch your safari, or do you want to take photos? My wife enjoyed going "ooohh", I enjoyed having the camera in focus, the ISO right and the shot of the lion yawning.

  • OutDorPhoto October 29, 2008 07:22 am

    Or you can go with this super-lightweight ultra zoom compact:
    Panasonic-DMC-FZ28 or Panasonic-DMC-FZ18
    While weak indoors (long lens and small sensor), it works fantastic outdoors in full light, and is super responsive for action shots. Buy extra batteries, a car charger for them (for the car lighter on safari--if it’s not broken) small memory cards (in case one fails, you don't lose everything), and a uv lens filter (and possibly a polarized, though surprisingly I didn't really need it). And review some good wildlife and landscape photos before you go (Travels To The Edge with Art Wolfe on the cannon website). And carry the camera around in a small, dark plastic bag that you get from a convenience store (not a camera case, so you don't get robbed). Do this, and you just might come home with fantastic photos from the trip of a lifetime, which you were actually able to enjoy while not stressing so much about camera stuff. I speak from experience.
    And take tiny compact pocket camera too, so that you can get some photos of the beautiful people, and walk around towns and markets without worrying about flashing your thousand dollar SLR in front of people who might only see a buck a day.
    Less words than the article, and far better advice. Wouldn’t you agree?

  • Bill Boehm October 28, 2008 12:40 pm

    My sister just returned from an African safari. I haven't seen her pics yet but she said she's never seen so many pictures of animal's rear ends!! Her lesson learned: Always be ready for the un-expected shot. By the time she'd have her camera up and taking shots, the animals were high-tailin' it out of dodge. Thus... pics of rear ends. She's going to put together a humorous collage of all the "Pics I Missed", or "Rear Ends of Africa"!!

  • Philip Kennedy October 28, 2008 01:20 am

    We have just returned from watching grizzly bears in British Columbia, with tricky lighting conditions, mixed shade & bright sun, bears ducking into water to catch salmon with their heads reappearing glistening in the bright sunlight. Tripods were impractical, but I would have appreciated a beanbag. I used an Olympus E500 8MP with 40-150mm kit lens. My wife, who has tremor due to Parkinsons disease, used her much smaller Canon Powershot G9 12.1MP, whilst I had some blurred shots hand holding at 150mms, her shots were every bit as good as mine in spite of her tremor, the image stabilisation in the Canon is that good. We bought a 2x Tele-Converter Lens on the way home. At this price range the overall compactness & performance of the Canon was remarkable. It is worth considering if you want to carry less kit.

  • Cliff October 27, 2008 11:49 pm

    Nice article - I really like this one! Although... doesn't it apply to non-african safari's as well?

    Recently drove to Bethlehem in the Free State province of South Africa and took some awesome pics of Lion and Leopard. Also had a nice one of an imported Tiger!

    Gotta love living in Africa!

  • Sven October 27, 2008 11:42 pm

    Would be very interested in a poll to see the best photography safari location.

    I am planning to go next summer and I am in big doubt where to go to...and with me many others...

    So a poll would be great!

    Gr Sven

  • Johnny Coates` October 27, 2008 09:07 am

    Hey! thanks for the Tips... I really liked the 10th one... maybe i'll just bring a automatic digital camera. just for the memories. And I do believe I could get great shots with it.

  • Darren October 27, 2008 08:54 am

    Bill - you're right, fixed :-)

  • Anna October 27, 2008 06:24 am

    This post couldn't be better timed - I'm off to South Africa soon and planning on doing a few days of safaris at least.


  • Targophoto.com October 27, 2008 02:41 am

    1. Know were you are going, and what to expect photographically

    Although I agree that preparation is always a huge help, you'll never really know what to expect, and you should try and be ready for anything.

    2. Plan your travel, equipment transport

    Clothes can be replaced if lost, camera equipment, maybe not. I NEVER check any camera gear. I suggest only bringing what you can carry on.

    3. Plan your gear

    I have a DSLR with a 1.5x crop factor, meaning that a 400mm gives me the equivalent of a 600mm. This was invaluable, and highly recommended. You often will be unable to get close to your subjects, so you have to let the lens get you closer. Unless I wanted a wide shot of the landscape, my 80-400vr never came off.

    I brought a portable storage device, the kind with a screen for image review. Every night, after shooting, I would back up my images to the device, then sort through the images, and save my favorites back to a "favorites" memory card. Then I would erase the memory cards and do it again the next day.

    This was a huge pain in the ass. It was slow to back up, slow to sort, and slow to copy the favorites. I wasted a lot of relaxation time just messing with photos every night.

    When I went to new zealand, I brought 42gb of memory cards! three 12gb and three 2gb (They're all cheap now). I didn't back up, but rather just put full cards in my pocket and kept them on my body at all times. If one card failed, the rest would be ok. And unless I lost my shirt, the cards would always be with me. This was much better in my opinion.

    Power is an issue. many places I stayed had minimal solar power in one tent, and plugs were at a premium, often taken by cell phones. Charging is slow, and you may have to get up in the middle of the night, hike through the cold, and switch batteries on the charger to be ready for the next day. The less battery powered equipment you have, the happier you'll be.

    4. Africa for travelers

    I went with a all inclusive tour, a group of 12, with two guides, two drivers, and two vehicles. I didn't really have to worry about any logistics, and I'm grateful for that. I could just sit back and relax in good hands.

    Techniques on Safari
    5. Long lens

    This was covered before, and I agree with the original post.

    6. Stability and tripod

    I disagree with the original poster on this. I brought a tripod and almost never used it. All shots were hand held and came out fine. Any vehicle you're in will be moving and shaking tremendously, and you have to hold your camera up in the air to keep it from hitting anything. when it's time to shoot, just rest your arm on the window or roof, and rest teh camera on your arm. VR or IS lenses are a godsend, and with the bright daylight, fast shutter speeds make a tripod unnecessary. For dusk, dawn, and night shots, it would be great of course, but I don't remember any great lost shots because I didn't bring the tripod out with me.

    7. Composition

    No comment here, what he said is fine.

    8. Thoughts on people

    Listen to your guide about what is appropriate. I almost never took pictures of people though, so I don't have a lot to say about this.

    After your tour
    9. Store and share

    edit edit edit! your trip was great, yes, you took thousands of photos, yes, but please, pick the best and show those. fewer, but better images will have more of an impact than a larger set with both great and average images. A yeild of 10% or less is completely normal (I shot about 2500, but posted only about 100)

    One final thought
    10. Put your camera away and enjoy the experience

    Yes! look at things with your eyes while you can, you might not ever be able to see some of these things again!


  • bill October 27, 2008 01:13 am

    i dont mean to be an ass, but i feel like there are one too many derivatives of photograph in the title -- feels kinda clumsy to me.

  • Will October 27, 2008 01:04 am

    Good article with some useful tips. I went on a fantastic safari in Botswana earlier this year. Got some good shots of meerkats with a wide angle lens which goes to show you don't always need a super telephoto! You can see a few of my shots here: