WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY Africa is a nature photographers dream. Everywhere you turn there is a picture ready to be created. The magnificent wildlife, spectacular birds, endless landscapes and vivid sunsets make you feel like this is where you belong. Also, there are the colorful tribal people who have been living in cooperation with nature since time immemorial. Soon you will be in Africa to participate in the ultimate travel experience - an African safari. Your experience will be recorded through your photographs.

Tips for photographing wildlife

EQUIPMENT
If there is one major problem with making photographs while on safari, bar none, it is camera movement. The simplest solution comes from Russ Weston a seasoned safari guide and nature photographer, in the form of a rice bag. All you need to buy is an ordinary 2 kilogram bag of rice at the grocery store and carefully wrap it in 75mm gray duct tape (added puncture protection). This can be laid on practically any surface of the vehicle you are in to act as a steady bag.
It is also a survival food backup should you ever get stranded (See our Safari Survival Guide section later)

1. To insure that when the bag is completely wrapped it will remain pliable to contour to your lens, we suggest the following procedure:

2. Tightly pack the rice to one end of the bag eliminating wrinkles in the plastic by rolling one end like a tub of toothpaste (it’s sometimes easier to secure this rolled end temporarily with a small piece of tape).

3. Wrap the duct tape carefully from the center to the end of the bag where the rice is tightly packed.

4. Remove the temporary tape and repeat the process on the other end.

The rice bag can be left with your driver/guide for future safari participants, and you won’t have to carry it home. A steady bag will also work.

EQUIPMENT
If there is one major problem with making photographs while on safari, bar none, it is camera movement. The simplest solution comes from Russ Weston a seasoned safari guide and nature photographer, in the form of a rice bag. All you need to buy is an ordinary 2 kilogram bag of rice at the grocery store and carefully wrap it in 75mm gray duct tape (added puncture protection). This can be laid on practically any surface of the vehicle you are in to act as a steady bag.
It is also a survival food backup should you ever get stranded (See our Safari Survival Guide section later)

1. To insure that when the bag is completely wrapped it will remain pliable to contour to your lens, we suggest the following procedure:

2. Tightly pack the rice to one end of the bag eliminating wrinkles in the plastic by rolling one end like a tub of toothpaste (it’s sometimes easier to secure this rolled end temporarily with a small piece of tape).

3. Wrap the duct tape carefully from the center to the end of the bag where the rice is tightly packed.

4. Remove the temporary tape and repeat the process on the other end.

The rice bag can be left with your driver/guide for future safari participants, and you won’t have to carry it home. A steady bag will also work.

CAMERA

Most wildlife photography is done with a 35mm SLR, while some shoot with a medium format camera.

No serious photographer should go on a photographic safari with only one camera body. When you consider the cost of an extra body, it is a small price to pay for the additional security in case your main camera should fail. If an extra body is not in your budget, at least bring a pocket size 35mm camera.

Use auto focus over manual focus. Canon and Nikon have the fastest auto focus system, which is important on safari when the action starts.

Digital cameras have been on the market for several years now. If you are considering getting a digital camera to photograph birds, get one that has the longest zoom length as possible.

Teleconverters are available for these digital cameras as well. Digital camcorders are also an option. You can slowly play the movies, freeze a frame and print off that one image onto paper or display it on the web.

FILTERS

It is very important to protect your lenses with a filter. At minimum you should use a UV filter. I prefer an 81B over a UV filter which serves to warm up the colors. I bring an 81B and 81C for all my lenses.

LENSES

Suggested lenses to take on safari:

15 mm f/2.8 (fish eye)
17-35 mm f/2.8 L
50 mm f/2.5 macro
70-200 mm f/2.8 L
300 mm f/2.8 L
1.4x teleconverter
2x teleconverter

We recommend that you bring the fastest and highest quality lenses available to you. If you use a tele-converter, it should only be one that is made specifically for the lens you are using and then it should only be used infrequently.

FLASH

You will also want to bring a flash unit. This is useful when using fill flash. For those wanting photographs of the accommodations while on safari, a flash may be useful for photography inside the rooms. For night photography and fill-flash at long distances, We recommend purchasing the Project-A-Flash which gives you 3 more stops of light.

TRIPOD

Limit yourself to a small tripod. A tripod will be useless on game drives (remember this is where the rice bag is essential). However, tripods can be very effective when photographing the accommodations, night shots around the camps and lodges, etc. Those traveling to Namibia may want a tripod in order to photograph the beautiful landscapes. If you do bring a tripod, we would suggest one that is lightweight, such as one made of plastic available from Tristar.

CAMERA BAGS

Personally, we find the Lowepro line the best quality made. The zippers of their bags are durable. The main criteria is to see which one will hold your equipment. The LowePro Commercial AW holds all of my gear comfortably. Rather go with the smaller Lowepro and carry your big lenses separately.

Another bag we find useful is the one that straps to your hip. This is great when walking with your camera. It will hold a body and 70-200 mm zoom lens easily.

PACKING

Carry the following misc. items in your camera bag:

Passport, Wet & Dries (anti-bacterial wipes), Small flashlight, Pens, Notepad, Micro-cassette recorder and extra tapes, Small Camera, Extra Camera, AA and camera batteries, Labels for film , Lens cleaner and tissue, Small can of canned air, Sunglasses, Flash, Data Cards, Model release forms and Business cards.

Travel with three bags: one bag for clothes, one camera bag and one small carry-on size bag.In the carry-on bag, which is not taken on game drives.

Keep: Extra memory cards, Extra batteries, Zip lock bags for flash drives and data cards, Flash light, Macro lens, Canned air – large, Safari vest and Tripod.

NOTES ON LUGGAGE
New safety precautions in the airline industry have brought about tougher guidelines about what you should check and what you should carry on. Most international flights allow two checked pieces and one carry-on. Carry-on’s should not be larger than 1.1m  total area and 7 kg in weight. That is the size of large camera bag. What do you do about the 400 F/ 2.8 lens? Call the airline before you travel and explain your situation. There could possibly be fee for an extra or overweight item. Camera equipment should never be checked.

SECURITY OF EQUIPMENT
Theft of camera gear has not been a problem in Africa until recently. There has become a black market for expensive camera equipment especially with the cost of gear today, even selling it for a small margin of the value is a fortune to a poor thief.

Never check expensive equipment in your luggage. In both Africa and the First world, this is a sure way to never see that piece of equipment again.

As a precaution, write down the serial numbers of your cameras and lenses and register the equipment with your insurance.

We often have people ask about registering their equipment with customs on departure. This is only really necessary if you are traveling to the Orient where you might purchase equipment. Customs personnel usually know that you will not have purchased equipment in Africa.

CUSTOMS IN AFRICA
It is important that you look like a tourist when going through customs in Africa. You may be asked the purpose of your visit. Your purpose is to go on safari. If asked whether you are a professional photographer, the answer is no! To avoid any potential problems, do not put photographer or photojournalist on your entry cards supplied by immigration. African governments, in general, do not like photojournalists. The last thing you do not want to do is show up at customs with a big Zero aluminum case and professional photographer stenciled on the side.

SAFARI ETIQUETTE
Do’s and taboo’s about safaris.

1. Never take pictures of government officials, government buildings, radio stations, military bases, equipment or personnel, or police. This includes border crossings. If in doubt, ask your guide. This is a big one.

2. Do not take pictures of people without their permission. In Africa, the colorful tribal people have learned that they can sell their photograph to tourists. Let your guide help with the negotiations.

3. If you are on a group safari and are traveling with others, there will be a need for co-operation and compromise. For everyone to have a good time and to achieve harmony, you will need to get along with the other photographers in your safari vehicle

4. Communicate your photographic needs and goals with your guide.

5. Do not ask your driver or guide to break the rules and regulations. Their jobs would be placed in jeopardy.

6. Be on time for game drives. If you are not going on a game drive, it is polite to let someone in your van know, so they won’t be waiting for you. The rule on safari is that if someone does not show up at the designated time, it is assumed that they have chosen not to go out with the others.

7. Don’t view Africa entirely through a camera. This is a mistake that you can made from time-to time. Once you are more relaxed about the photographic aspect of your safari, your photography will improve.

8. Tomorrow will be a new day. No two game drives are alike. There is no way to predict how a day is supposed to turn out. This is one of the great things about a safari.

9. Listen to your guide’s advice. While you may want to stay out from 6 am to 6 pm every day, it is not practical to do so. Wildlife is inactive and in the shade during the day. Animals are most active and photogenic in the morning and late afternoon.