How to Prepare for an African Photo Safari

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photo-safar.jpgFor many, going to Africa is a once in a lifetime occurrence—a chance to see wild animals in their natural habitat, to experience new cultures and unique environments—and your opportunity to capture it in all its grandeur—so you want to make absolutely certain that you are well prepared to make the most of it.

I recently returned from a safari to the Kruger National Park, South Africa, one of the world’s largest and most spectacular wildlife reserves. I grew up in South Africa and have spent at least one holiday there a year for the majority of my thirty-nine years. Although I know what to expect from such a trip, it still takes a lot of planning to make sure I have the right equipment. Even with my knowledge, all my planning and extensive reading, there were mistakes made and valuable lessons learned on my most recent trip back there in July this year.

Here a few of those mistakes (and solutions) that will hopefully help you take magnificent photographs of one of the most spectacular corners of the earth:

THE RIGHT LENS FOR REACH

If money and my ability to carry these lenses around the world was unlimited, I’d probably have a collection of big professional glass—like the Nikon 200-400mm and Nikon 500mm f4—but alas, I have to make compromises. On this last trip, I ended up renting a few lenses which gave me the chance to try out different lenses without having to spend a ton of money. I cannot recommend the renting option highly enough, since I really only need really big lenses about two to three weeks each year, as I suspect, most of us do.

The first decision is on how much reach you need. I was tempted to rent the Nikon 200-400mm lens, but its size and rental cost put me off. I ended up renting a Nikon 300mm f4with a 1.7x TC. On my DX body that gave me the equivalent of a 750mm lens. I didn’t need longer than that and camera shake would be a real issue if I had used anything bigger. Some people recommend the 70-300mm, but performance at 300mm is reportedly weak, hence my opting for the prime lens.

CONSIDER TWO BODIES

You need to be quick: Animals and birds don’t hang around while you fumble with lenses…it seems to me that the more you fumble, the quicker they leave. Whenever I had my Nikon 300mm f4 with a 1.7x TC giving me maximum reach, I’d invariably come across an animal right next to the car. I managed to get the changes done quickly, but even with my wife acting as assistant, I often missed the action.

On my next trip I’m hoping I’ll own that essential second body or rent one. I’ll have my longest lens (likely a 300mm f4 with 1.7xTC) on one, and probably the Nikon 70-200mm lens on the other. Another benefit of this strategy is that I avoid changing lenses in dusty areas – dust is a real issue on safari and we quickly had a fine film of dust on everything.

STUDY YOUR CAMERA BEFORE YOU GO

Before you go, study your camera manual thoroughly and practice shooting with each of the lenses, flashes and filters you’ll be taking along. If you rent lenses, try to have them arrive a few days before you leave so you can get used to the feel and weight of them.

Don’t buy equipment last minute: electronics are most likely to fail in the first few days of operation and you don’t want to waste valuable photo time learning about a new camera.

TAKE A BEANBAG

Most of your safari shooting is from a vehicle, either driving yourself around or on a game-viewing truck. An essential addition to your equipment is a beanbag which gives you great stability when shooting. I found a piece of fairly heavy-duty material (thick cotton) and got someone to sew it into a bag with a zipper – roughly 8”x12” is about right. When you get to your destination, find a local supermarket and buy a bag of rice, beans or similar to fill it, on your last day you can leave the rice for the hotel cleaners! Sewing an old boot lace onto the bag also helps you retrieve the bag if you accidently drop it out the window or off the truck – just tie it to the door handle. You won’t want to be stepping out of your car in the middle of a pride of lions or herd of elephants.

COMPACT FLASH CARDS

photo-safari-1.jpgCompact flash cards can be difficult to buy in remote areas. SD cards are more common, since they are used by most point and shoot cameras. If you do find them, they’ll be expensive and probably some “no-name” brand, so take a good number of them with you. There is nothing more frustrating than not having enough memory to take that ultimate photo.

I lost a few cards while sailing in the British Virgin Islands (thankfully they were blank). I finally found a tiny general dealer in Spanish Town who sold me a 1GB “no-name” card for over $150. I also prefer 4GB cards rather than the larger versions – I’d rather lose a card with 4GB of photos than 32GB card.

FIGURE OUT A BACKUP ROUTINE BEFORE YOU GO

Volumes can be written about this topic, but it is essential to work out your field backup strategy and test it before you go. I don’t like those little portable devices that you plug your card into for backup – I had one crash on me and lost a lot of images. They don’t seem that rugged and I’ve read too many horror stories to be comfortable trusting them with all my images.

I use a portable drive which I plug into my laptop. I’ve set Lightroom to put a copy on the external portable drive and another onto the laptop when I import, plus, I keep the cards. There is always a possibility of your bag getting stolen, a good tip is to you keep these copies in different places: a hotel safe or (if you are traveling with someone else) have them carry a backup in their bag.

I only copy or backup images when traveling – never do any deleting or editing. I can do the editing when I get home and rather spend that valuable time taking photos and enjoying myself.

FLIGHTS AND BAGGAGE

The photographer’s nightmare… you have all this expensive equipment and you don’t want it to leave your side for a second (my wife calls my Nikon camera Niki – she says I spend more time and seem so much more concerned about Niki’s well being than anyone else in the family.) So, as you can imagine, the prospect of handing photo equipment to the airline makes me very nervous indeed.

Each airline has its own set of rules, and it depends on the agent as to how strictly the rules are applied. You may have to fly with small planes to get to the final destination. I flew on an SAA Jetstream 41 to get to the Kruger Park, and almost all hand baggage needs to be surrendered at the door. In this case, it really helps to have lockable hand luggage that is well padded. SAA did look after my gear… and I could watch it being loaded and unloaded.

South African Airways didn’t weigh my hand luggage, but in Asia this is becoming standard practice (usually limited to 8kg). You always need a backup plan in case and airline official forces you to check in what you’re carrying. One way to get around this is to wear a heavy jacket with lots of pockets, and distribute your heavier items in the pockets.

Check-in luggage for flights to South Africa shouldn’t be too much of a problem from the States, since both airlines (Delta and SAA) offer two pieces of 23kgs or 50lb each. Baggage on flights from Europe and some other destinations is much more limited.

Internal flights have much stricter check-in baggage limits (one piece at 20kgs or 44lbs on most flights in South Africa).

Here are a few tips which may help:

  1. Book all your flights on one booking. That way the airlines can see your full journey and generally will be more lenient on check in baggage for internal flights. SAA is a member of Star Alliance, so connections with United will be easier. This also helps with lost baggage and checking baggage through to final destination.
  2. It helps if you have kids and other family members to spread your photo equipment.
  3. Travel with a jacket (okay you might die of heat stroke), but you can stuff the pockets with lenses and other gear if carry-on is limited.
  4. Try to get status on the carrier your fly with. Having a premier status frequent flyer card will usually get you more leniencies. A Star Alliance Gold Card will usually get you 20kg (44lb) extra on check in and you get to board first.
  5. If carry-on is a problem, then keep the high value sensitive equipment (such as lenses, bodies, flashes and filters) and check in things like chargers, batteries, power convertors, etc. Worst case scenario you can replace those items when you arrive at your destination.
  6. Plan a day or two in your arrival city before you set off to game parks or remote locations. This way, delayed luggage has time to catch up, and worst case, you can find a good camera store to replace chargers, batteries or other miscellaneous items that go missing.
  7. Get some good travel and equipment insurance.
  8. Remember plugs and power converters – most chargers will accept 110-220v input, but check before you plug in – smoke and that strong electrical smell wafting in the air, are a certain result.
  9. I use cable ties to lock the zips on all my check in bags (some people prefer the locks that FAA can open – I find it a pain to keep track of keys and combination). Cut the tail off the cable tie once it’s tightened. It is very difficult to cut or break a cable tie so it is a good added deterrent. You’ll need nail clippers or ask room service for a knife so you can cut the cable tie at your destination.

BE CAREFUL OF AIR CONDITIONERS

Be very careful about leaving photo equipment in an air-conditioned hotel or lodge room. When you walk into the hot and humid air outside you lenses will condense and fog up.

Good luck.

Robert Koen is an amateur photographer who grew up in South Africa. Now living in California, he has travelled to more than forty countries. Learn more about Robert and read more of his tips and tricks at robertkoen.com.

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  • So the Nikon 300mm F4 with 1.7x teleconverter is still satisfactorily sharp? I presume you are putting it on a D300 body as well?

    I think a second body is essential for most fast paced photography. I am definitely feeling the strain of having only one body in my own work. I have definitely missed many shots because of this and will be investing in a new body as soon as possible, either going low and getting a D5000 as my second body and keeping my D300 as the main, or going high and getting whatever replaces the D700 as my main and moving my D300 to second body status.

    A beanbag seems like it would be very useful for now safari work as well. Think I’ll make one.

  • That’s like a dream photography trip come true.

  • This post has a lot of great tips, and I’d like to add some things I learned from my trip to Niger this year:

    – kit lenses like the Zuiko 14-42 and 40-150 can be enough and are easier to carry around in 40° Celsius than huge prime teles
    – a not-so-expensive insurance works wonders, you can shoot without worrying too much about broken gear or theft
    – sealed lenses might be good, but my unsealed kit lenses survived

    That said: enjoy. Every trip to Africa is worth it. Below is a photo of a village gathering in the outskirts of Dosso, Niger, West Africa.

    [img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2604/3771460463_3fd2877b7f.jpg[/img]

  • A quick addition: mine wasn’t a safari trip, even though I met wild giraffes. My gear consisted of an Olympus E-520 with the two kit lenses Zuiko ED 14-42mm and Zuiko ED 40-150mm (think crop x2), two batteries, charger, polar filter, sturdy bag.

  • Photo568

    A great article, one of the best ever photography articles that I have read.

    I hope to go on a safari some day, but that is a long way off as I am only 13 at the minute.

    Excellent article. 10/10.

  • Jack

    This is very good information…just one slight correction…In the United States, it is the TSA (Transportation Safety Authority) that wants to get into the bags, not the FAA (Federal Aviation Adminstration).

    Thanks much- the advice in the article applies when going to places other than Africa- pretty much any field trip.

  • This past summer I found myself with a 7 hour layover in Nairobi, Kenya. I heard I could get a $25 day visa and pay a cab driver $50 for about 2.5 hours on safari. With my two friends we left the airport and traveled in a Toyota Carolla wagon into Nairobi National Park with about 90 minutes left of light.

    I was not expecting a safari on the trip and I had a 50D with a 28-135mm lens with me. With the sun fading I struggled with the slow aperture but in the end it wasn’t about the photos I grabbed but the actual experience of being 20 feet from lions and nearly getting lost in the park after dark.

    I would like to add to the list: don’t worry about not being prepared enough; worry about going. If you don’t have the money to rent the perfect lens and you don’t go, you will not get any shots. Go early, go often and you will get better photos.

    My photos from the trip here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwing49/sets/72157622090358924/

  • Mary

    Thanks for mentioning the air conditioning problem. I just got from a trip to Cancun and experienced that exact problem. It had never happened before and totally threw me off! Any suggestions on how to prevent it?

  • Michael Senior

    Nicely done Michael
    I was in Kenya last year myself to see my sponsor child for a day. Didn’t get a chance to do safari there but did while i was in Uganda. Was an awesome experience.

    My 55-250 Kit lens wasn’t taken off the camera. Would have been nice to have a wide angle and a tripod to have a 360 degree shot of the savanah but ya can’t have everything i guess.

    Mike

  • Nice job!
    Only thing I might add, which isn’t photo related, is live on the edge and NOT book your safari or lodge until you arrive. I know it sounds crazy but we do it with the teams that come here all the time and we save a ton of money! Enough to rent those extra lenses you might want. The travel agents have a set price but you’ll quickly find that no price, at least here in the East, is ever “set” and if your in a group, this price can get even lower![img]http://lh5.ggpht.com/_o_UqPFjkvkE/SrdFwTTwt6I/AAAAAAAAF_4/NHPjjhIL5Ts/s720/_MG_8179.JPG[/img]

  • Nice article with some very useful tips for those who haven’t been to Africa before.

    Just one word of warning though if visiting South Africa – when in the cities and urban areas don’t carry your ‘big’ equipment around, rather pack a point and shoot for those moments.

    Petty street crime is quite common and a 5D/1D with some big glass on it will make a tempting (and lucrative) target out of you.

    I don’t want to dissuade anyone from going. I live in South Africa for 20 years and it’s a wonderful place, but a modicum of sense is required when travelling with camera gear.

    On the photography point, also have a wideangle ready, I was once on a safari where we had two rhino not 5 meters from the landy!

  • I agree that being prepared is imperative but as far as South Africa is concerned, and I live and shoot in South Africa, there are photographic kiosks about everywhere there are tourists so concerns about cards and backup are minimised. I would say the bigest problem here is internet bandwidth. Don’t expect to be uploading photos from Kruger National Park (or any parks for that matter) you will not find any decent conections. As for the rest of africa, well it’s a differant ball game…

  • You mentioned travel/equipment insurance. I have yet to find a travel insurance company who will cover high-end cameras. Everything I’ve found so far is limited to about $1,000 worth of personal belongings, and many of those policies specifically EXCLUDE electronics. Even if they didn’t, $1,000 wouldn’t even replace a single lens. Can anyone recommend something?

  • Ned

    Your article is excellent. Thanks. I very much like your website and have bookmarked it.

    I found your advice about taking two bodies, bringing a beanbag, and your reminder about the difficulty of obtaining compact flash cards while traveling in more remote areas particularly useful.

    Your advice about knowing your camera and lenses well, and having a backup routine should be part of the “prime directive” for any travel photographer, or any photographer, for that matter.

    You mentioned that some airlines are now weighing carry-ons. You are certainly right about that. It’s for that reason that I never pack my main camera body with lens in a carry-on any more, but carry it on me. I also already follow your advice by wearing a photographers vest when traveling, and fill it up as another carry-on. After my carry-on is weighed, and I’m at the gate area, I reload the carry-on to be comfortable during the flight.

    Your general travel advice was excellent too, especially about inside Africa airlines (I’ve found the same for some airlines in Europe.) having a lower weight limit than the airlines getting your there. One should always pack to fulfill the most restrictive baggage requirements.

    I do have one item I disagree with. You said, “The first decision is on how much reach you need. I was tempted to rent the Nikon 200-400mm lens, but its size and rental cost put me off. I ended up renting a Nikon 300mm f4with a 1.7x TC. On my DX body that gave me the equivalent of a 750mm lens.”

    The “multiplier effect” (1.5 on a Nikon with a DX sensor) does not mean that the magnification of a lens, or it’s “reach” is multiplied by 1.5. The “multiplier effect” is really a “crop effect.” What’s really happening is the field of view is being reduced or cropped when one has a DX sensor compared to an FX or full sized sensor (compared to the frame in a 35mm film camera). So the field of view you had was the same as a 750mm lens. You still had the magnification of a 300×1.7 = 510mm lens, and therefore its “reach.”

    I think people get confused about this because they generally compare photos printed to the same size, and then in the DX photo, the details look comparatively magnified, but that’s only because to make the DX photo the same size as the FX one, the smaller DX photo had to be enlarged.

    If you need the reach of a 750mm lens then you either have to have one, or you would need about a 440mm to go with the 1.7x TC.

    I look forward to your continued articles in the future and will be checking your site.

  • I’m curious about how you shoot off the back of a truck and avoid vibrations, is the truck switched off while you shoot?

  • yen

    just what a hobbyist wildlife like myself need to know. and in fact, this article was what I was looking for to read up before I packed up my gears for my recent trip to Borneo(lots of Proboscis Monkey and wild Orangutan) along the Sukau/Sandakan area.

  • I feel this would be an ideal point to mention the Beanpod camera support – ideal for safari!

    http://www.Beanpods.co.uk

    Cheers, Mark.

  • This is a pretty good writeup of what is needed to go on a safari in Africa. But you have Africa and Africa. I live in Uganda and I shoot with the Canon EOS 450d, the ef 28-135 is and the ef 70-300 is. I also have a Kenko 1.4x on the body with the 70-300 that makes it a 672mm with IS lens combo. Please have a look at my site.

    As i said, Africa and Africa! Uganda has many pot hole roads and when it is dry a lot ..a really lot of red dust will get into your car. We always drive w/o air-co In our Nissan tank so you get the better feel of the country.

    I would add to the list extra portable power for your gear because you will have places that run solely on an old generator that you don’t want to use to charge your camera’s battery’s. I often charge my batteries in the car off the 12 volt car power system with fused chargers. Make sure to unplug them when starting or stopping the engine. Also turn of the engine when shotting animals. This also gives you the chance to hear the elephant breathing or the impala or cobs hissing or the leopard cubs squeaking.

    [img][http://www.flickr.com/photos/gipukan/3726134850/in/set-72157617641616993/][/img]

  • Richard Crowe

    I totally recommend at least a two camera concept. This important because I don’t want to change lenses in the field and for insurance against losing the photo opportunity due to a failed camera. I fell on a slippery Alaska slope on the first day of a two week trip to the Kenai Peninsula and broke my 40D. My extra 3D camera saved the day.

  • bob gardner

    If I want to take wild animal shots I go to the zoo. I you are careful and get rid of all the junk then you are in business. i just did some shooting in the Norfolk, Va. and got images that I would never have gotten anywhere else.
    My canon 100-400 lens was perfect and I used a tripod for many shots.

  • Mahesh

    Excellent article. Completely agree with it and all the comments. In lieu of carrying my Canon XSi and several lenses and given all the hassle with lost baggages, weight restrictions and the not so clean environment to be changing lenses or having to carry two SLR bodies, I went with a Panasonic FZ-28K and I was happy with the pictures. And, with the built in HD movie recording capabilities, I had the best of both world. All I carried with me were my Samsung NC10 to offload my pictures every night, several high speed SDHC cards and extra rechargeable batteries. It all fit nicely in my carry-on backpack with room to spare. Just my 2 cents worth.

  • Karen Hunt

    What a great article! Thanks. Someone asked about insuring camera gear when traveling. I insure mine through my homeowner’s insurance…very cheap addition to the yearly fee.

  • I was in Tanzania earlier this year on safari, and I was able to add a temporary rider on my Allstate homeowner’s insurance to cover up to $5000 in camera gear for about $20 – damage, loss, theft, et cetera: Basically covered everything but bad shots.

    I too used the Canon 100-400mm on my 40D, which was a pretty good all-purpose lens on safari, then I’d swap out for my 10-22mm for wide angle stuff. The 100-400 wasn’t as sharp as a good prime, but that was expected.

    For backup, I picked up a refurbished Epson P4000 on eBay, and I’d copy my shots over every other day or so, and leave the originals on the card so I always had two copies – one on the card and one on the Epson. When one card would fill up, I’d swap it out for a fresh one. This means you have another device to keep track of and keep charged, but it also gives you a way to review your photos on a much larger display than the LCD on your camera.

    Finally, the one thing I didn’t have with me that I wish I had was a dust cover for my camera/lens. I wound up covering my gear with a bandana or extra shirt to try and protect it from the elements, but it was a poor substitute for a proper cover. I recently picked up some lightweight and compact Op/Tech rain sleeves that would suffice for dust as well as rain, and at $7 for two (resuable), there’s no reason to not throw a few in your bag.

    Here are some shots from our Tanzania trip earlier this year:

    And here’s one with the 100-400:

    [img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3400/3417482096_6cc37b88e0.jpg[/img]

  • Ned

    Bob, I take photos at zoos too, and many of the photo you can get at zoos are absolutely great.

    Having said that, I can attest that there is something special and different, and generally better about getting wildlife (animal) shots in the wild.

    There are a few places in between. For example, the photo safaris at the San Diego Wild Animal Park are fabulous. There is a difference seeing and photographing animals in these Park environments and getting up close to them without bars, berms, etc.

    But shooting animals in their native environment is very special. For example there is nothing in this world like shooting in the Galapagos, or in a rain forest in the Amazon, or on a photo safari in Africa. They most certainly eclipse the photo opportunities at zoos, at least in my opinion.

  • Jim Shinnick

    A great article. I am planning a trip West to East and North to South of Australia with a visit to Kakadu and other ‘bush’ locations. I plan to take my 70 – 300 lense and the prime 18 – 55 lense with the new Pentax k-x. Your advice on other travel matters has been very helpful

  • jimshin

    A great article. I am planning a trip West to East and North to South of Australia with a visit to Kakadu and other ‘bush’ locations. I plan to take my 70 – 300 lense and the prime 18 – 55 lense with the new
    Pentax k-x. Your advice on other travel matters has been very helpful

  • Yeah, I was the one who asked about travel insurance. My situation is a little unusual, so right now both homeowner’s and renter’s policies are out of the question.

    Anyway, I don’t want to hijack this thread, so instead I created a question on the forums. Please drop by if you have some advice. 🙂
    https://digital-photography-school.com/forum/other-digital-photography-gear/86171-travel-insurance-expensive-cameras.html#post731684

  • That is a very good article specially when I am planning a trip to Tanzania in a few months.

  • With plenty of sunshine in Africa games reserve, I believe it is important to prepare oneself on how to take photos in light to avoid over exposure of your images.

    Enjoy your Africa Safari

  • Hi

    Yeah great article even for someone still living here! :-0 The experience of seeing the animals in their natural environment is something I am privileged to enjoy occasionally (not nearly enough). I agree with the 2nd body 2nd lense. You should check with the game lodge or the forum below on lens recommendations for that particular area, some you can get away with 200+1.4X others you’ll need 400mm+.

    If you do visit South Africa I can recommend 2 great camera shops – one in Cape Town (www.orms.co.za ) and one in Pretoria – Outdoor Photo (www.odp.co.za). They will not be cheaper than US shops, but are well stocked with professional equipment. ODP offer one of the best and complete rental options in South Africa.

    The guys at Outdoor Photo run a magnificent website for outdoor photos http://www.outdoorphoto.co.za/forum/photopost/ .

  • Good article! I live in Kenya and go on safari every chance I get. Was so glad to see one of the previous commenters took the opportunity to squeeze in a couple of hours at Nairobi National Park, it really is lovely, esp. at dusk, and has some great game.

    I would mention that some care and sensitivity is appreciated when it comes to taking street shots and photos of people generally. In my three years here I have noticed increasing hostility towards photographers, which I think is understandable. There you are in a poor country with a lot of expensive gear, and many people believe that you will be making money selling the pictures you take, even though that is not usually the case. I’ve had some really interesting discussions with local people about this, and often am then allowed to shoot, but sometimes not. I do not recommend being aggressive about this or just going ahead and shooting anyway — rude, and possibly dangerous!

  • Pio Danilo P. Cuadra

    How about using a Lowepro Fastpack 350? It can accomodate a sigma 50-500 ex , a canon 70-200 2.8L and a 24-70 2.8 plus two(2) flash guns , a variety of accesssories and a 17″ laptop computer . Budget airlines are usually very strict on luggage limit but on regular carriers( ie., the established ones mostly flag carriers) they will allow you to handcarry your backpack inside the plane. On my flight from Manila to Beijing (and vice versa) , China Southern Airlines allowed me to hand carry the above backpack/gear without additional charges.

  • Wanda

    South-Africa has some of the best game reserves in the world and there are game drivers that will take you on guided tours to help you spot some of the animals.
    Escpecially the Kruger and the Kgalagadi parks are great. It is a great opurtunity for photographing the big 5, but don’t get overhelmed by the lions and elephants there are small gems in our game parks that make for great photographic oppurtunities and you can enjoy it with even the smallest cheapest camera.

    Happy trails
    Wanda
    Bloemfontein – South Africa

  • Curt Weidner

    Great article. I on my trip to Tanzania I found everything Robert said to be true especially the 2 camera bodies. Not only will 2 bodies save you from having from having to swap lens but if one body malfunctions as happened to me it will save your trip. Other tid bits I thought of include taking a photo vest ($30 fly fishing vest at Wal-mart) and cargo pants/shorts with lots of pockets were very handy while out all day on game drives. Small pocket packs of kleenex were a lot more functional than packing toilet paper rolls and had lots of uses. I also found dust to be the biggest issue. The suggestion about Op/Tech rain sleeves is great! To respond to Eric’s question on shooting with truck vibrations, on my trip they did shut off the vehicle any time we had a really good photo op. Most of the suggestions and comments apply as well to any big photo trip i.e. Yellowstone. f8 and be there! Curt

  • Mike B
  • Great article! I’ve wanted to go to Africa for many, many years on a photo safari. I hope to get there one day soon, and your article helped me immensly! Thanks so much!

  • andrea

    One thing to point out: Lithium batteries are supposed to be carried in your carry-on baggage, each in individual plastic baggies. The airlines are worried that if the terminals make contact, they could create a fire, etc. That might not be the case on all the airlines, but most that I’ve flown on request that.

  • Maria

    Can anyone recommend a good place to rent a camera in Jburg? I am in the market for a new camera and thought it might be nice to test one out while in South Africa and on safari in Kruger. Any suggestions?

  • This is a great website.I am interested in photography but was never quite sure about its details.Thanks for providing such good tips.

  • I like the way you write. Thanks for making the effort on this, Guest Contributor. I like your site too, nice looking. Bookmarked your site, so I can check it out again, thanks.

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Some Older Comments

  • Kirsten May 30, 2013 12:28 am

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  • peter November 20, 2011 06:03 pm

    I like the way you write. Thanks for making the effort on this, Guest Contributor. I like your site too, nice looking. Bookmarked your site, so I can check it out again, thanks.

  • African Safari Vacations January 8, 2010 06:54 pm

    This is a great website.I am interested in photography but was never quite sure about its details.Thanks for providing such good tips.

  • Maria November 13, 2009 06:04 am

    Can anyone recommend a good place to rent a camera in Jburg? I am in the market for a new camera and thought it might be nice to test one out while in South Africa and on safari in Kruger. Any suggestions?

  • andrea November 10, 2009 12:58 pm

    One thing to point out: Lithium batteries are supposed to be carried in your carry-on baggage, each in individual plastic baggies. The airlines are worried that if the terminals make contact, they could create a fire, etc. That might not be the case on all the airlines, but most that I've flown on request that.

  • Laurie November 7, 2009 11:55 pm

    Great article! I've wanted to go to Africa for many, many years on a photo safari. I hope to get there one day soon, and your article helped me immensly! Thanks so much!

  • Mike B November 7, 2009 03:46 pm

    i just return from an african safari photo shoot and here are the results with an Rebel XSi and 70-300 mm lenses

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/de_mike/4082371110/in/set-72157622626830283/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/de_mike/4082369004/in/set-72157622626824865/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/de_mike/4081606207/sizes/o/in/set-72157622626818739/

  • Curt Weidner November 7, 2009 05:53 am

    Great article. I on my trip to Tanzania I found everything Robert said to be true especially the 2 camera bodies. Not only will 2 bodies save you from having from having to swap lens but if one body malfunctions as happened to me it will save your trip. Other tid bits I thought of include taking a photo vest ($30 fly fishing vest at Wal-mart) and cargo pants/shorts with lots of pockets were very handy while out all day on game drives. Small pocket packs of kleenex were a lot more functional than packing toilet paper rolls and had lots of uses. I also found dust to be the biggest issue. The suggestion about Op/Tech rain sleeves is great! To respond to Eric's question on shooting with truck vibrations, on my trip they did shut off the vehicle any time we had a really good photo op. Most of the suggestions and comments apply as well to any big photo trip i.e. Yellowstone. f8 and be there! Curt

  • Wanda November 6, 2009 09:17 pm

    South-Africa has some of the best game reserves in the world and there are game drivers that will take you on guided tours to help you spot some of the animals.
    Escpecially the Kruger and the Kgalagadi parks are great. It is a great opurtunity for photographing the big 5, but don't get overhelmed by the lions and elephants there are small gems in our game parks that make for great photographic oppurtunities and you can enjoy it with even the smallest cheapest camera.

    Happy trails
    Wanda
    Bloemfontein - South Africa

  • Pio Danilo P. Cuadra November 6, 2009 07:48 pm

    How about using a Lowepro Fastpack 350? It can accomodate a sigma 50-500 ex , a canon 70-200 2.8L and a 24-70 2.8 plus two(2) flash guns , a variety of accesssories and a 17" laptop computer . Budget airlines are usually very strict on luggage limit but on regular carriers( ie., the established ones mostly flag carriers) they will allow you to handcarry your backpack inside the plane. On my flight from Manila to Beijing (and vice versa) , China Southern Airlines allowed me to hand carry the above backpack/gear without additional charges.

  • Susan November 6, 2009 06:32 pm

    Good article! I live in Kenya and go on safari every chance I get. Was so glad to see one of the previous commenters took the opportunity to squeeze in a couple of hours at Nairobi National Park, it really is lovely, esp. at dusk, and has some great game.

    I would mention that some care and sensitivity is appreciated when it comes to taking street shots and photos of people generally. In my three years here I have noticed increasing hostility towards photographers, which I think is understandable. There you are in a poor country with a lot of expensive gear, and many people believe that you will be making money selling the pictures you take, even though that is not usually the case. I've had some really interesting discussions with local people about this, and often am then allowed to shoot, but sometimes not. I do not recommend being aggressive about this or just going ahead and shooting anyway -- rude, and possibly dangerous!

  • Carl Nicholson November 6, 2009 05:03 pm

    Hi

    Yeah great article even for someone still living here! :-0 The experience of seeing the animals in their natural environment is something I am privileged to enjoy occasionally (not nearly enough). I agree with the 2nd body 2nd lense. You should check with the game lodge or the forum below on lens recommendations for that particular area, some you can get away with 200+1.4X others you'll need 400mm+.

    If you do visit South Africa I can recommend 2 great camera shops – one in Cape Town (www.orms.co.za ) and one in Pretoria - Outdoor Photo (www.odp.co.za). They will not be cheaper than US shops, but are well stocked with professional equipment. ODP offer one of the best and complete rental options in South Africa.

    The guys at Outdoor Photo run a magnificent website for outdoor photos http://www.outdoorphoto.co.za/forum/photopost/ .

  • Constantine November 6, 2009 04:57 pm

    With plenty of sunshine in Africa games reserve, I believe it is important to prepare oneself on how to take photos in light to avoid over exposure of your images.

    Enjoy your Africa Safari

  • Sarthak Singhal November 6, 2009 03:56 pm

    That is a very good article specially when I am planning a trip to Tanzania in a few months.

  • Gavin November 6, 2009 01:55 pm

    Yeah, I was the one who asked about travel insurance. My situation is a little unusual, so right now both homeowner's and renter's policies are out of the question.

    Anyway, I don't want to hijack this thread, so instead I created a question on the forums. Please drop by if you have some advice. :-)
    https://digital-photography-school.com/forum/other-digital-photography-gear/86171-travel-insurance-expensive-cameras.html#post731684

  • jimshin November 6, 2009 11:55 am

    A great article. I am planning a trip West to East and North to South of Australia with a visit to Kakadu and other ‘bush’ locations. I plan to take my 70 – 300 lense and the prime 18 – 55 lense with the new
    Pentax k-x. Your advice on other travel matters has been very helpful

  • Jim Shinnick November 6, 2009 11:33 am

    A great article. I am planning a trip West to East and North to South of Australia with a visit to Kakadu and other 'bush' locations. I plan to take my 70 - 300 lense and the prime 18 - 55 lense with the new Pentax k-x. Your advice on other travel matters has been very helpful

  • Ned November 6, 2009 08:38 am

    Bob, I take photos at zoos too, and many of the photo you can get at zoos are absolutely great.

    Having said that, I can attest that there is something special and different, and generally better about getting wildlife (animal) shots in the wild.

    There are a few places in between. For example, the photo safaris at the San Diego Wild Animal Park are fabulous. There is a difference seeing and photographing animals in these Park environments and getting up close to them without bars, berms, etc.

    But shooting animals in their native environment is very special. For example there is nothing in this world like shooting in the Galapagos, or in a rain forest in the Amazon, or on a photo safari in Africa. They most certainly eclipse the photo opportunities at zoos, at least in my opinion.

  • Erik November 6, 2009 04:56 am

    I was in Tanzania earlier this year on safari, and I was able to add a temporary rider on my Allstate homeowner's insurance to cover up to $5000 in camera gear for about $20 - damage, loss, theft, et cetera: Basically covered everything but bad shots.

    I too used the Canon 100-400mm on my 40D, which was a pretty good all-purpose lens on safari, then I'd swap out for my 10-22mm for wide angle stuff. The 100-400 wasn't as sharp as a good prime, but that was expected.

    For backup, I picked up a refurbished Epson P4000 on eBay, and I'd copy my shots over every other day or so, and leave the originals on the card so I always had two copies - one on the card and one on the Epson. When one card would fill up, I'd swap it out for a fresh one. This means you have another device to keep track of and keep charged, but it also gives you a way to review your photos on a much larger display than the LCD on your camera.

    Finally, the one thing I didn't have with me that I wish I had was a dust cover for my camera/lens. I wound up covering my gear with a bandana or extra shirt to try and protect it from the elements, but it was a poor substitute for a proper cover. I recently picked up some lightweight and compact Op/Tech rain sleeves that would suffice for dust as well as rain, and at $7 for two (resuable), there's no reason to not throw a few in your bag.

    Here are some shots from our Tanzania trip earlier this year:

    And here's one with the 100-400:

    [img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3400/3417482096_6cc37b88e0.jpg[/img]

  • Karen Hunt November 6, 2009 04:33 am

    What a great article! Thanks. Someone asked about insuring camera gear when traveling. I insure mine through my homeowner's insurance...very cheap addition to the yearly fee.

  • Mahesh November 6, 2009 04:12 am

    Excellent article. Completely agree with it and all the comments. In lieu of carrying my Canon XSi and several lenses and given all the hassle with lost baggages, weight restrictions and the not so clean environment to be changing lenses or having to carry two SLR bodies, I went with a Panasonic FZ-28K and I was happy with the pictures. And, with the built in HD movie recording capabilities, I had the best of both world. All I carried with me were my Samsung NC10 to offload my pictures every night, several high speed SDHC cards and extra rechargeable batteries. It all fit nicely in my carry-on backpack with room to spare. Just my 2 cents worth.

  • bob gardner November 6, 2009 03:37 am

    If I want to take wild animal shots I go to the zoo. I you are careful and get rid of all the junk then you are in business. i just did some shooting in the Norfolk, Va. and got images that I would never have gotten anywhere else.
    My canon 100-400 lens was perfect and I used a tripod for many shots.

  • Richard Crowe November 6, 2009 03:35 am

    I totally recommend at least a two camera concept. This important because I don't want to change lenses in the field and for insurance against losing the photo opportunity due to a failed camera. I fell on a slippery Alaska slope on the first day of a two week trip to the Kenai Peninsula and broke my 40D. My extra 3D camera saved the day.

  • Gipukan November 6, 2009 03:25 am

    This is a pretty good writeup of what is needed to go on a safari in Africa. But you have Africa and Africa. I live in Uganda and I shoot with the Canon EOS 450d, the ef 28-135 is and the ef 70-300 is. I also have a Kenko 1.4x on the body with the 70-300 that makes it a 672mm with IS lens combo. Please have a look at my site.

    As i said, Africa and Africa! Uganda has many pot hole roads and when it is dry a lot ..a really lot of red dust will get into your car. We always drive w/o air-co In our Nissan tank so you get the better feel of the country.

    I would add to the list extra portable power for your gear because you will have places that run solely on an old generator that you don't want to use to charge your camera's battery's. I often charge my batteries in the car off the 12 volt car power system with fused chargers. Make sure to unplug them when starting or stopping the engine. Also turn of the engine when shotting animals. This also gives you the chance to hear the elephant breathing or the impala or cobs hissing or the leopard cubs squeaking.

    [img][http://www.flickr.com/photos/gipukan/3726134850/in/set-72157617641616993/][/img]

  • Mark Woods November 6, 2009 02:48 am

    I feel this would be an ideal point to mention the Beanpod camera support - ideal for safari!

    www.Beanpods.co.uk

    Cheers, Mark.

  • yen November 6, 2009 02:45 am

    just what a hobbyist wildlife like myself need to know. and in fact, this article was what I was looking for to read up before I packed up my gears for my recent trip to Borneo(lots of Proboscis Monkey and wild Orangutan) along the Sukau/Sandakan area.

  • Eric Mesa November 6, 2009 12:19 am

    I'm curious about how you shoot off the back of a truck and avoid vibrations, is the truck switched off while you shoot?

  • Ned November 6, 2009 12:13 am

    Your article is excellent. Thanks. I very much like your website and have bookmarked it.

    I found your advice about taking two bodies, bringing a beanbag, and your reminder about the difficulty of obtaining compact flash cards while traveling in more remote areas particularly useful.

    Your advice about knowing your camera and lenses well, and having a backup routine should be part of the "prime directive" for any travel photographer, or any photographer, for that matter.

    You mentioned that some airlines are now weighing carry-ons. You are certainly right about that. It's for that reason that I never pack my main camera body with lens in a carry-on any more, but carry it on me. I also already follow your advice by wearing a photographers vest when traveling, and fill it up as another carry-on. After my carry-on is weighed, and I'm at the gate area, I reload the carry-on to be comfortable during the flight.

    Your general travel advice was excellent too, especially about inside Africa airlines (I've found the same for some airlines in Europe.) having a lower weight limit than the airlines getting your there. One should always pack to fulfill the most restrictive baggage requirements.

    I do have one item I disagree with. You said, "The first decision is on how much reach you need. I was tempted to rent the Nikon 200-400mm lens, but its size and rental cost put me off. I ended up renting a Nikon 300mm f4with a 1.7x TC. On my DX body that gave me the equivalent of a 750mm lens."

    The "multiplier effect" (1.5 on a Nikon with a DX sensor) does not mean that the magnification of a lens, or it's "reach" is multiplied by 1.5. The "multiplier effect" is really a "crop effect." What's really happening is the field of view is being reduced or cropped when one has a DX sensor compared to an FX or full sized sensor (compared to the frame in a 35mm film camera). So the field of view you had was the same as a 750mm lens. You still had the magnification of a 300x1.7 = 510mm lens, and therefore its "reach."

    I think people get confused about this because they generally compare photos printed to the same size, and then in the DX photo, the details look comparatively magnified, but that's only because to make the DX photo the same size as the FX one, the smaller DX photo had to be enlarged.

    If you need the reach of a 750mm lens then you either have to have one, or you would need about a 440mm to go with the 1.7x TC.

    I look forward to your continued articles in the future and will be checking your site.

  • Gavin November 5, 2009 11:00 pm

    You mentioned travel/equipment insurance. I have yet to find a travel insurance company who will cover high-end cameras. Everything I've found so far is limited to about $1,000 worth of personal belongings, and many of those policies specifically EXCLUDE electronics. Even if they didn't, $1,000 wouldn't even replace a single lens. Can anyone recommend something?

  • Pascal Parent November 5, 2009 09:38 pm

    I agree that being prepared is imperative but as far as South Africa is concerned, and I live and shoot in South Africa, there are photographic kiosks about everywhere there are tourists so concerns about cards and backup are minimised. I would say the bigest problem here is internet bandwidth. Don't expect to be uploading photos from Kruger National Park (or any parks for that matter) you will not find any decent conections. As for the rest of africa, well it's a differant ball game...

  • Suffolk Photographer November 5, 2009 07:45 pm

    Nice article with some very useful tips for those who haven't been to Africa before.

    Just one word of warning though if visiting South Africa - when in the cities and urban areas don't carry your 'big' equipment around, rather pack a point and shoot for those moments.

    Petty street crime is quite common and a 5D/1D with some big glass on it will make a tempting (and lucrative) target out of you.

    I don't want to dissuade anyone from going. I live in South Africa for 20 years and it's a wonderful place, but a modicum of sense is required when travelling with camera gear.

    On the photography point, also have a wideangle ready, I was once on a safari where we had two rhino not 5 meters from the landy!

  • Jamesdon November 5, 2009 03:18 pm

    Nice job!
    Only thing I might add, which isn't photo related, is live on the edge and NOT book your safari or lodge until you arrive. I know it sounds crazy but we do it with the teams that come here all the time and we save a ton of money! Enough to rent those extra lenses you might want. The travel agents have a set price but you'll quickly find that no price, at least here in the East, is ever "set" and if your in a group, this price can get even lower![img]http://lh5.ggpht.com/_o_UqPFjkvkE/SrdFwTTwt6I/AAAAAAAAF_4/NHPjjhIL5Ts/s720/_MG_8179.JPG[/img]

  • Michael Senior November 5, 2009 10:12 am

    Nicely done Michael
    I was in Kenya last year myself to see my sponsor child for a day. Didn't get a chance to do safari there but did while i was in Uganda. Was an awesome experience.

    My 55-250 Kit lens wasn't taken off the camera. Would have been nice to have a wide angle and a tripod to have a 360 degree shot of the savanah but ya can't have everything i guess.

    Mike

  • Mary November 5, 2009 08:12 am

    Thanks for mentioning the air conditioning problem. I just got from a trip to Cancun and experienced that exact problem. It had never happened before and totally threw me off! Any suggestions on how to prevent it?

  • Michael Stein November 5, 2009 04:47 am

    This past summer I found myself with a 7 hour layover in Nairobi, Kenya. I heard I could get a $25 day visa and pay a cab driver $50 for about 2.5 hours on safari. With my two friends we left the airport and traveled in a Toyota Carolla wagon into Nairobi National Park with about 90 minutes left of light.

    I was not expecting a safari on the trip and I had a 50D with a 28-135mm lens with me. With the sun fading I struggled with the slow aperture but in the end it wasn't about the photos I grabbed but the actual experience of being 20 feet from lions and nearly getting lost in the park after dark.

    I would like to add to the list: don't worry about not being prepared enough; worry about going. If you don't have the money to rent the perfect lens and you don't go, you will not get any shots. Go early, go often and you will get better photos.

    My photos from the trip here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwing49/sets/72157622090358924/

  • Jack November 5, 2009 04:05 am

    This is very good information...just one slight correction...In the United States, it is the TSA (Transportation Safety Authority) that wants to get into the bags, not the FAA (Federal Aviation Adminstration).

    Thanks much- the advice in the article applies when going to places other than Africa- pretty much any field trip.

  • Photo568 November 5, 2009 03:46 am

    A great article, one of the best ever photography articles that I have read.

    I hope to go on a safari some day, but that is a long way off as I am only 13 at the minute.

    Excellent article. 10/10.

  • Christoph November 5, 2009 02:13 am

    A quick addition: mine wasn't a safari trip, even though I met wild giraffes. My gear consisted of an Olympus E-520 with the two kit lenses Zuiko ED 14-42mm and Zuiko ED 40-150mm (think crop x2), two batteries, charger, polar filter, sturdy bag.

  • Christoph November 5, 2009 02:07 am

    This post has a lot of great tips, and I'd like to add some things I learned from my trip to Niger this year:

    - kit lenses like the Zuiko 14-42 and 40-150 can be enough and are easier to carry around in 40° Celsius than huge prime teles
    - a not-so-expensive insurance works wonders, you can shoot without worrying too much about broken gear or theft
    - sealed lenses might be good, but my unsealed kit lenses survived

    That said: enjoy. Every trip to Africa is worth it. Below is a photo of a village gathering in the outskirts of Dosso, Niger, West Africa.

    [img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2604/3771460463_3fd2877b7f.jpg[/img]

  • cars sioux city November 5, 2009 01:44 am

    That's like a dream photography trip come true.

  • Jason Collin Photography November 5, 2009 01:11 am

    So the Nikon 300mm F4 with 1.7x teleconverter is still satisfactorily sharp? I presume you are putting it on a D300 body as well?

    I think a second body is essential for most fast paced photography. I am definitely feeling the strain of having only one body in my own work. I have definitely missed many shots because of this and will be investing in a new body as soon as possible, either going low and getting a D5000 as my second body and keeping my D300 as the main, or going high and getting whatever replaces the D700 as my main and moving my D300 to second body status.

    A beanbag seems like it would be very useful for now safari work as well. Think I'll make one.

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