Whether or not you are a professional photographer it is difficult to go on safari without taking at least a few great photographs. The light is perfect for photography, the colours are seemingly endless, and somehow the animals have a way of getting under your skin and making you want to take them home and keep them.
Africa is a photographer’s paradise.
As a travel agent and professional photographer, I am often asked what equipment best serves a safari. My answer is always the same. A photograph taken with a basic camera that tells a story will far outshine a boring photograph taken with state of the art equipment.
What sort of equipment should I carry?
An SLR camera of any make is first prize. I recommend taking as few lenses as possible. Lenses can be awkward to change in dusty conditions and when a lion jumps out in front of you there is seldom time to fumble about with equipment.
Choose a lens that has a good focal range, such as 100-400mm, with the lowest aperture capabilities you can afford, such as f1.8. This will give you fantastic scope with very little effort.
Vibration reduction or image stabilization is always worth the extra money.
How do I tell a story with my images?
A photograph is only interesting when it offers the unexpected. Look for unusual connections between the animal and it’s surroundings. A large eagle on it’s own is just a bird. A tiny bird looking at the same large eagle creates a giant.
Use the light to your advantage. Shooting into the sun to create a backlit scene can have a mystical effect, especially in the early hours of the day when the light is soft and there is moisture in the air.
Zoom in. An elephant standing at a waterhole is just an elephant. Taking a close up of the last few drops of water falling from his trunk shows the fragile connection between water and life.
Backgrounds can be distracting. Remove the clutter to focus on your key subject, and make sure that there is only one focal point per image.
Use the animals’ perspective. Shoot at their eye level. A dung beetle shot from above is little more than a brown ball. A dung beetle shot from the ground is a tiny force against a large ball of poop!
What are the optimal camera settings for wildlife photography?
There is no hard and fast rule to camera settings, but experienced photographers use the same basic techniques that can easily be applied to any style of photography.
Aperture: a low aperture, such as f1.8, will blur the background and place the emphasis on your subject. The lower the number, the more the background will blur.
Shutter speed: a fast shutter speed, such as 1/500sec, will freeze motion. A slow shutter speed, such as 1/15sec, will create motion blur. The faster the shutter speed the greater the sense of action. Slower shutter speeds create mood and atmosphere.
ISO: a higher ISO, such as 1000, will saturate the colours and add dynamic range to your image, however higher ISO’s can also create noisy distractions. ISO 400 is a good balance.
What’s the best-kept secret?
Use your instinct. If a photo speaks to you, shoot it!
*Original blog post published for Robert Mark Safaris