Safari Photography Guide

My safari photography guide is aimed at helping you with the sometimes daunting task of choosing the right camera gear to use on your African wildlife safari. The focus is on Canon camera bodies and Canon safari lenses. This is the brand I use during my own travels and tours. Living in Africa and travelling constantly I have found Canon to be very reliable and meets all my needs on safari.

Many travellers and photographers are inspired to travel after viewing stunning wildlife images on social media or television documentaries. Africa’s dramatic landscapes and the beauty of Africa’s people all hold the promise of an epic adventure. Careful planning is critical when embarking on a trip to any part of Africa. One of the most important things to plan well ahead of time is your list of safari photography equipment.

When planning your wildlife safari you need to decide if you are going to join a photo specific safari. These trips are smaller in number and the aim is to capture epic images and up your photography skills.

The other option is a more general vacation that mixes the wildlife, the people, the landscapes, but photography is a secondary element on the tour. If the latter is true, I’d suggest a main stream tour that will give you a bit of everything Africa has to offer including great photographic opportunities. This safari photography guide is aimed at those joining a general tour group in Southern Africa and who are not professional photographers.

Safari Photography Equipment List

The first thing we need to agree on though is that in most instances, mobile phones and iPads will not cut it in an African safari setting. The animals are often distant and light conditions in the early morning or late evenings are not the best. The best time for wildlife photography is often early morning or as the sun is setting, the so called golden hours. Remember your house cat? It sleeps during the day and is active in the early morning and evening. Thats the same as the African wildlife.

The camera and lens you choose will need to handle low light conditions. The camera and lens will also need a powerful zoom with some form of image stabilization. On safari you are often bumping around on rough terrain and image stabilization helps with the image quality.

Consider investing in a wide angle lens as these can help you capture the epic landscapes Africa has to offer. My personal everyday go to lens is a Canon 24-105mm F4L lens. I have found this is great to capture every day images as you explore in towns and cities. When I am on safari I almost always use my Canon EF 100-400mm MK2 lens as it covers most of what I will want to capture.

Do you need to spend a small fortune on camera equipment to capture really great images? No, personally I don’t think so. Technology is helping us take better photographs and the prices of cameras packed with features are fast becoming more accessible and within most peoples budgets.

Before I start discussing my photographic gear, I want to stress that my choice of equipment is my personal preference. I have spent many hours researching the cameras and lenses that I use when I am on tour. My safari photography equipment is easy to travel with, fits into small planes and is most importantly, reliable. There are various other brands that could create all the photographs you see on this page, but Canon is what I use.

Your own personal budget determines how much you are willing to spend on your camera gear. Spending lots of money on camera equipment also does not mean that you are going to take award winning photographs.  You can choose a budget friendly point and shoot or blow the budget completely. The choice is yours. To learn more about photography check out the 10 best FREE online photography courses.
Below are a variety of camera’s and lenses that will suite all budgets and skills levels. Click on the camera or lens for in depth details and actual user reviews on each camera or lens.

Safari Photography Travel Tips

You are finally ready for your African wildlife safari. What to pack all your photography gear into? I use Lowepro bags for my camera gear. They last forever, keep out the elements and protect your camera and lenses. Lowepro bags can be taken on planes as hand luggage and can be packed safely in over head stowage on most planes. 

On safari you will often encounter dust, dirt and rain. These elements can kill your camera and lenses. Bring Ziplock bags to wrap you equipment in to protect it from the weather. Dust is your biggest enemy and something will will encounter on safari.

Bring the correct plug adaptors. Southern Africa works on 220 Volts. Most modern photography gear, laptops and mobile phones are dual voltage. To get the correct type M adaptor click here.

Some hotels and lodges do have international adaptors in their rooms or you can borrow adaptors at the front desk. My advice is to take your own adaptors with you. You can never have to many adaptors to charge your equipment.

Bring at least one external hard drive to back up your photographs. You will take more photographs than you expect. Back up your photographs every night. Make sure that your hard drive can with stand the dust. LaCie hard drives can stand up to life on safari.

Essential Photography Tips For Beginners

  • Learn all the rules then break each and every one of them. Be creative.
  • Shoot in RAW & JPEG. RAW files are larger with more detail and better to use during the editing process.
  • Set your camera to burst mode when you are on safari as animals do the most unpredictable things. You can delete what you don’t want easily.
  • Focus on the eyes of the animal or bird you are photographing for sharper images. Our eyes are drawn towards the eyes in a photograph so you want them in focus. 
  • Learn how to get proper exposure. Some exposure issues can be corrected via software later but it’s better to get it right in camera before taking the photograph. The big 3 to perfect exposure are the following – Shutter speed, the amount of time your camera’s shutter is open and the amount of time your sensor is exposed to light. Faster speeds can freeze the motion, while slower speeds let in more light and can blur the motion. ISO, indicates how sensitive the sensor is too light. For low light scenarios, you’ll need to use higher ISO settings to capture light, such as 1000 or 1600 ISO. Higher settings generally introduce more grain or noise into the image. This is an important trick to remember on game drives when using your flash is not always viable or appropriate. A higher ISO will allow you to still capture images. Aperture Large aperture with a small F number means a SHALLOW depth of field. Small aperture with a larger F number means a greater depth of field. Depth of field is the acceptable sharpness within a photo that will appear in focus.
  • Always keep your camera ready. I have seen photographers miss shot’s because they had put their camera down or shut the camera down and then a bird pop’s up and is gone in a flash and you are not ready.
  • Prevent blurry images by matching focal length to shutter speed. A 100mm lens needs a 1/100 sec shutter speed or a 400mm lens needs a 1/400 sec shutter speed.
  • Look around you when you and keep both eyes open when taking photographs. You can monitor what is happening outside of your photograph and adjust accordingly and spot any danger coming your way in the bush.
  • Most African safari guides leave early in the morning to catch the GOLDEN HOUR that exists for around 90 minutes just after sunrise and just before sunset. This is the time to capture those soft beautiful golden photographs.
  • The Rule of Thirds – imagine four lines, two lying horizontally across the image and two vertical creating nine even squares. Some images will look best with the focal point in the centre square, but placing the subject off-centre at one of the intersecting points of the imaginary lines will often create a more aesthetically composed photograph. You can often turn these lines on in your camera settings and use them to help you compose your photographs.
  • Play with perspective. You can create very unique photographs when you change the perspective.
  • Watch what’s in the background of your photograph, a bad background can ruin a photograph. We have all seen the photograph of a person posing and a pole in the background coming out their head, not what we are looking for unless you want to practice removing items in photoshop.
  • We all make mistakes, learn from them. Mistakes help you to take better photographs.

Where Do I Buy My Camera Gear?

I use Adorama in New York City for my camera bodies and lenses. I have found Adorama have very competitive prices coupled with excellent service and camera knowledge. Adorama also offer real customer reviews on each piece of equipment which really helps with your research on what to buy. Adorama ships internationally, even to South Africa where I am based with no problems or delays.

My advice is to invest your time in learning how your camera works and PRACTICE. There are no correct or best settings for wildlife photography. It is important to get to grips with the basics of photography and understand the relationship between aperture and shutter speed.

This will enable you to freeze the action and avoid camera shake, as well as to manipulate the depth of field. Moving away from fully automatic settings can be daunting, but with time and practice, working with your camera settings becomes second nature. Remember, practice makes perfect.

Nothing is more frustrating than missing shots because you don’t know how to capture the shot with your new camera. My own personal photographic disaster, the battery going flat with no spare as a lion sat drinking on a river bank ten feet away. Only with time and practice will you get to capture amazing images. And don’t forget luck, the more time you spend on safari, the luckier you get!

I hope that you found this article insightful. I welcome feedback in the comments section below. My wish is that you found inspiration to up your photography game and take it to the next level. Do you need help planning a journey of a lifetime to Africa? Reach out and contact me about planning your trip to Africa. Please feel free to share this article below.

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