A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go on a photo safari in Tanzania. What an extraordinary experience! I then spent one week visiting the wonderful national parks of Lake Manyara, the very famous Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro crater, and finally the Tarangire N.P. I learned many things in photography that I would like to share with you today, the objective being to give you some photography tips to take better pictures on your safari.
Although it is not the decisive element in enabling you to bring back beautiful pictures from your safari, it is nevertheless a very important point to think about. I have written a complete article on the subject.
So I’m not going to repeat the whole thing, but to sum up:
- First, evaluate your budget and your current and future needs in photography to know which equipment to prioritize,
- Select a rugged, dust- and moisture-resistant camera,
- Start with at least a 300/400 mm equivalent (24×36 format),
- Choose a zoom lens rather than a prime lens,
- Choose a bright lens,
- Remember to include a lens for landscape photography.
In any case, this is one of the main photography tips for a successful safari: identify what you need and choose your equipment accordingly.
Here are some quality telephoto lenses that I recommend for a safari. You have, as always, the choice between native brands (Nikon/Canon) and third party brands which now offer very nice long focal length lenses, at very interesting prices. All these lenses are compatible for APS-C format cameras, as well as full frame bodies.
For your safari, I recommend that you buy a polarizing filter for your telephoto lens, which will allow you to saturate and brighten the colors, especially in the savannah for example. I particularly recommend these filters for the following sizes: 67mm, 77mm and 95mm.
|Brand||Model||Max. aperture||Filter||Weight||Best price|
|Canon||70-300mm f/4-5.6 L||f/4-5.6||67mm||1,05 kg||Amazon|
|Canon||100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 II||f/4.5-5.6||77mm||1,64 kg||Amazon|
|Nikon||200-500mm f/5.6||f/5.6||95mm||2,30 kg||Amazon|
|Sigma||100-400mm f/5-6.3||f/5-6.3||67mm||1,36 kg||Amazon|
|Sigma||150-600mm f/5-6.3||f/5-6.3||95mm||1,93 kg||Amazon|
|Tamron||150-600mm f/5-6.3||f/5-6.3||95mm||2,01 kg||Amazon|
|Tamron||100-400mm f/4.5-6.3||f/4.5-6.3||67mm||1,14 kg||Amazon|
So why am I talking about renting if I just advised you to choose your equipment carefully? It is possible that some of you may not want to buy all the photography equipment for your safari or may not want to spend 1000€ on a lens that you won’t use again once the safari is over.
This is one of the great photography tips for a successful safari. If you can’t (or don’t want to) buy, then rent.
You can rent a very good Canon 100-400mm vII lens for only 100€ per week whereas buying it will cost you more than 2000€. It’s up to you to see if you can afford it and if you will still use it after the safari?
It is also important to know that it is better to rent a very good lens than to buy a very cheap lens. Your pictures will be 100 times better.
Yes, it may sound silly, but I recommend changing places on the safari several times if you get the chance. If you go with several people, the car will probably be full, which was the case on my safari. We asked with the agreement of the others in the car to change a little bit to be able to change the framing.
You won’t be able to take the same pictures when you’re in the front and the back of the car. One seat is not necessarily better than another, just different. If you’re in the two front seats, you’ll find it difficult to take pictures towards the rear because you’ll often have people in the field of vision. On the other hand, you’re often the first to see the animals.
Conversely, when you are in the back seat, your field of vision in front of the vehicle will be reduced by the people in front of you. In return, you will have a very free field of vision to the rear of the car.
It is also one of the most important photography tips to shoot great pictures on safari. So what do I mean by that? Quite simply that if you take 50 pictures of a zebra in full frame, that’s fine, but frankly, everyone will have the same picture as you. The final objective on a safari is not necessarily to ONLY take pictures of wildlife! You can also take pictures of wildlife in their environment, which is very different!
So my advice would be to vary your framing. Take a few full frame pictures but try to vary the type of picture to integrate the animal in its natural environment: in the savannah, by the lake, etc.
For this, I give you two pieces of advice:
- Take a step back. Just because you have a 400mm doesn’t mean you have to zoom in on every shot. So try to de-zoom and take pictures at 100 or 150 mm to include the animal in its environment,
- Changing lenses: if the animals are close by, you can use your lens for landscape and shoot ambient photos of these animals with a standard wide-angle lens.
I know that many of you will have the unfortunate tendency to put your cameras down when you return to camp in the evening to rest and spend the night. One of the photography tips I can offer to have better pictures in your safari is to think about taking other pictures! Of what? The possibilities are multiple:
Why not take a picture of your camp
Or simply landscape pictures…
So please bear in mind that there are many other possibilities to capture beautiful pictures of your safari. The landscapes are superb (even without animals), and don’t forget to take pictures of them, respecting the basic rules for great photos (composition, and other).
And yes, because going on a photo safari doesn’t necessarily mean taking only your camera and lenses. In fact, I have written a complete article on the essential accessories to bring on safari. To sum up, in my opinion, these accessories are clearly worth considering:
A polarizing filter, mainly for landscape pictures (to increase the contrast and saturation of your colors) but also for pictures of animals on the lake (to avoid reflections). Be careful though, because the polarizing filter will make you lose a little bit of brightness. The Beanbag: one of the essential accessories to rest your telephoto lens and relieve your arms!
This also seems to be one of the photography tips for a successful safari. The fact is, you’re going to be eating dust all day long. Believe me, your camera is going to suffer quite a bit, especially with the dust and the little twigs getting stuck everywhere.
I therefore recommend that you clean your camera equipment (especially the body and lenses) every night in a place sheltered from the wind if possible. I advise you to bring some cloths to clean the lenses and a cleaning pen to remove all the dirt that will have been stuck.
You can refer to the article on the essential accessories to pack for a photo safari.
You will spend the week in a dusty place with occasional wind, not to mention your car journeys. As mentioned above, you will surely want to change your lens as to not only stick with a zoom.
I therefore advise you to only change your lenses when you are stopped, even several minutes after you have stopped. The movement of the car brings dust and dirt that will fly away. Therefor take the time to do it calmly and be careful that no car arrives at that moment.
This advice can be given to improve your travel pictures in general, think about the time of day and the pictures you will be able to take at those times. The most beautiful photos will surely be in the hours after and before sunrise and sunset, the famous “golden hours”.
You will then have access to a magical light in the African savannah to highlight your animals in their environment and even more your landscape pictures that will get those golden and soft colors. Even the tight portraits of animals will be of better quality with a beautiful light compared to the hard lights of the middle of the day.
Of course, you can’t wait for those hours to take your safari pictures because you will be in the car all day, but give special importance to those hours seeing as you can really enhance your pictures.
It is one of the photography tips for a successful safari, even if I also give it in general to improve oneself and to make a success of one’s travel photos in general.
If you have some experience in photography, you already know why shooting in RAW is important. If you already take some time to edit your JPEG photos, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to shoot in RAW?
On safari in particular and depending on the season when you are there, the colours can sometimes be a little bland (yellow/light green). Improvements in post-processing can then be appreciated to embellish your photos.
It will require a lot of patience when you come back, in terms of sorting and post-processing, but it’s worth it in any case.
It’s one of the key words on safari, so you’re gonna have to be patient. This isn’t a zoo. You’ll probably just drive around for hours, not seeing anything, watching for any movement And then at some point, your guide will stop because he spotted something in the distance. Finally, it’s a beautiful herd of lions playing, and you will be amazed at the sight.
When you’ve finally found the long-awaited show, don’t rush to your camera. This group of lions may be there for hours. Then you’ll have plenty of time to capture the beautiful moments.
Why am I also talking about observation? Because in the end, your guide won’t be able to keep an eye on everything. It’s possible that you’ll be able to spot something in the distance too. Then let your whole group enjoy it. Furthermore, I am also talking about observing the behavior of the animals. Try to anticipate their behavior, ask the guide questions if necessary, to consider the type of photo you are going to take.
Don’t always wait for your driver to place you in the right place to take pictures. It is possible that your guide may have some knowledge of photography, but this will not always be the case.
It would therefore be wise to discuss this with him at the beginning of the safari, to let him know your “photo expectations”. During the safari, don’t hesitate to ask to move the vehicle to get a better view, a better light, or to take a picture against the light.
When I talk about watching your shutter speed, this is from a technical point of view and not from the point of view of haste. During your safari, you may have to deal with scenes of hunting, or playing..
In these cases, you will have to pay attention to the shutter speed. If you take pictures with low shutter speed, you will not capture the scene correctly, and the subject will be blurred. This is even truer if you shoot with a long focal length.
A small technical memo to help is to tell yourself never to shoot with a shutter speed lower than the focal length you are shooting at. Example with a 400 mm, at least 1/400. It’s a simple rule. I would even advise you to double this rule, if your camera equipment allows you to do so for safety reasons. At 400 mm, a minimum speed of 1/1000th.
Of course, depending on your lenses and the brightness of the scene, this will be more or less possible. In this case, you can use the beanbag or a monopod to stabilize the camera and avoid blurred movements.
Note that some bodies will allow you to set a low speed limit (example 1/300), which can be interesting in photography, coupled with an automatic ISO.
Here again, this is one of the photo tips I would recommend. Keep the burst mode activated. You’re going to have a lot of rubbish to sort through anyway, but it would be a real shame if you can’t choose a picture of a specific scene because you are only taking one picture a time.
So don’t be afraid to shoot in burst mode, especially for action and scenes with motion. This advice is a bit less true obviously for a lion sleeping in the savannah!
The last tips for a successful safari: always be prepared! And yes, in the space of 10 seconds, you can miss the photo of the century. Indeed, it will not take much to miss a moment, a scene, a precise gesture of an animal.
Taking a lion lying down in the savannah is not complicated, but capturing a great scene like a lion roaring or running after a prey will require you to always be ready and wait for the right moment to take your pictures.
I hope that this article on photography tips for a successful safari will give you a better idea of what you need to know to prepare your safari. One of the last tips I can give, one of the most important in the end.
For you part, have you ever been on a safari? Do you have as good a memory of it as I have? Where was it? Don’t forget one thing on safari, it’s to save your photos.
I hope this article has helped you. And remember, if you enjoyed sharing it with others, don’t forget!