Safari Wildlife Photography Top Four Tips
I've been practising wildlife photography on safari for over twenty years now in places like the Kruger National Park, Chobe, Okavango Delta, and Hwange game reserves and these four tips have been indispensable in making sure that I get some decent wildlife photographs.
1. The Right Equipment
I believe that you can't beat the quality of film but that digital offers wildlife photography practitioners more options at a better cost so for the purposes of a safari trip a digital camera is your best bet.
It should have some of the following characteristics to qualify as a good safari camera.
There should be little or no lag between the time you depress the shutter release button and the photo is taken. Some of the compact digitals on the market today suffer from this affliction and it's not ideal when you come across fast moving wildlife subjects.
It should be ready to take photographs at a moments notice because that is sometimes all the time you have before an animal disappears into the undergrowth. No long power up cycle.
Due to the fact that most of your nocturnal wildlife sightings on safari will occur during early morning and dusk it needs to be able to function well in low light conditions as well as bright sunlight during the day for the diurnal animals.
Lenses should have a focal length of at least 70mm for adequate wildlife photography and an image stabiliser is not essential but a great help in eliminating blur.
Another piece of equipment that is essential however is a deadrest in the form of a beanbag or a window mounted tripod that you can rest the camera on to help stabilise the long lenses. Handholding a long lens will often lead to blurring and the dead rest will prevent this. A tripod or monopod is impractical because you will be taking photos from the safari vehicle for most of the time.
2. The Best Wildlife Photography Areas
You can have all the right equipment and the best wildlife photography talent in the world but it won't mean much if you can't find any wildlife to take pictures of.
Some areas in Africa are better in terms of safari photography than others. The top five for getting excellent overall wildlife picture opportunities are:
Kenya - Masai Mara
3. Patience and Luck
Everything comes to him who waits is a very relevant saying for wildlife photography. Patience will help you get better photographs because you will be able to take pictures of animal behaviour that you would otherwise have missed.
The role of luck mustn't be underestimated either. There is no guarantee of what you will encounter in a game reserve and whatever you do get to see and photograph is a matter of a little bit of planning and a lot of good fortune.
4. Light and Composition
Because you are at the mercy of the elements in wildlife photography, you don't have too much control over the light. Flash is of no use when the animal is at a distance and you can't wait for better light conditions because the subject could move off at any moment so you need to make the best of what you have.
And due to the habits of nocturnal species you will find yourself taking lots of pictures in low light conditions at dawn and dusk which is why a fast lens and a dead rest is essential. Using bracketing (changing the exposure by one stop up and down) will also help get the optimal exposure in the available light.
What you do have some control over is the position of the safari vehicle which can be moved to change the aspect of light that is falling on the animal somewhat but even that is sometimes not possible because in most reserves you are not allowed to go off-road and moving might scare the subject away.
Composition is something you do have more control of however and you can apply the rule of thirds and framing using the available vegetation just as well as in any other form of photography.
Be especially careful using the autofocus on your camera because it will cheerfully focus on a twig or tuft of grass close to your animal subject and spoil your composition.
You will also need to make your compositional decisions quickly as wildlife often doesn't hang about long waiting for you to make your mind up so it pays to have a solid foundation in the basics.
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