Wildlife Safari Photography Tips
With just a few wildlife safari photography tips, even the most inexperienced photographer could produce wildlife photos worthy of the cover of National Geographic!
For most of us, the opportunity to photograph African wildlife in its natural habitat is a once in a lifetime experience.
With some planning and a little practice, capturing spectacular shots of jaw-dropping beasts and landscapes is achievable.
1 Be Prepared
Once all of your camera equipment is packed, there are a few bonus items that might improve your experience.
• Consider taking a small beanbag/wheat sack. Professional photographers understand the need for a steady hand and, therefore, use a tripod when using a telephoto lens. Moving quickly from one side of a safari vehicle to the other might make this awkward; instead, rely on the beanbag to prevent any shaking and blurred images.
• Fully-charge all batteries. Carry spare fully-charged batteries. Carry an in-car battery charger. Do you get the message? Who would want to run out of power at such a time?
• Pack a few memory cards. You will be amazed at just how many shots of each subject you take.
• Zip-loc bags are a godsend when the dust is swirling. Keep all of the smaller pieces of your photo gear protected.
• Back up all of your shots multiple times and store them separately. Imagine having one memory card that gets lost at baggage handling.
2 Trust in your Guide
Whether you’re photographing the glorious red mountainous region of Spitzkoppe or searching the lush green lands of the Etosha National Park, your guide will have been there many times before. He will understand the habitat, the wildlife, and will get you to the best location for that beautiful light you need.
Trust his judgement; there will be no-one more prepared with wildlife safari photography tips than him.
3 Lighting – Good Light is Paramount
All photographers know that an image without the correct lighting can be dull, uninteresting, and lifeless.
On Safari, the best natural light occurs at sunrise and sunset. Getting up at the crack of dawn is too late, you need to be up, out, and in position as dawn breaks to get the best shots.
As the animals awake from their slumber they are hungry and at their most active. Once midday comes around the heat overcomes them and they retreat to the shade for rest. In Namibia, the hour before sunset is known as The Golden Hour, although it sometimes lasts for two hours! This is where the sun gives a soft, warm light and your photographs will glow.
Full sun isn’t to be dismissed, some of the best pictures are available when subjects cast long shadows.
4 Patience – you will be rewarded
You may need to sit still for a long time on a photo safari, a very long time before you see any animals.
Relax and stay quiet, they will come eventually. Use this time to get great shots of the stunning scenery. Look skywards, things may be happening overhead.
Vultures and eagles feeding or nesting in trees is a stunning site to capture.
Can you imagine getting that shot of a leopard at rest in the branches of a tree?
5 Respect your Surroundings – Keep Quiet
Keep noise to a minimum and try to keep as still as possible. Any sudden jerky movements might spook the animals and the chance of the perfect shot will disappear.
Whilst you’re remaining quiet, your sense of hearing will become keener. Listening out for movement will alert you to the nearness of animals and give you a little extra time to prepare.
Remember, you are in their backyard, respect their privacy and space.
6 Do a Little Homework – Planning
Understanding your surroundings and the inhabitants will give you a greater knowledge of the images you may be able to capture. Your guide will be a great help in this instance.
Knowing about the relationships and behaviours of the beasts may give you an insight into gaining the best possible photograph.
7 Look Around – Use the Entire Habitat
The animals don’t always need to be the main focus of your pictures. You will have the opportunity to photograph entire environments, foregrounds and backgrounds. Distant cloud formations and dried up river beds make awesome pictures whilst telling a story. All of the best photography does that; lures in the viewer and leaves them questioning, where, why, how?
What may look like a lone tree can be the story of an animal’s life. It may be his home, where he chooses to rest, or where he gets his food from.
Remember these tip when you are in the animals natural environment on your bush walk.
8 Be Passionate – Use Varied Angles
Don’t try and get the image that everyone else tries to capture. Shoot what intrigues and fascinates you, this will shine through in every image.
Experiment with different angles, for instance, getting a low down camera angle of an oncoming lion will highlight his true magnificence.
Don’t be afraid to switch lenses from telephoto lenses to wide angle, and back again.
9 Be Open-Minded – Hunt for Inspiration
Be prepared to adjust your expectations, you may not see that herd of elephants you wanted to, but instead, a circling vulture overhead can get you a mind-blowing shot as he swoops to take his prey.
Look everywhere for inspiration and don’t be held back by the weather. Rainy season brings new growth and new life.
Safari game drives are a great way to explore for wildlife in their natural habitat
10 Plan Your Shot – Composition
Planning the layout of wildlife photography isn’t always easy. The subject will almost definitely not be willing, won’t sit in a certain position, or look in a particular direction.
It is all about seizing the moment.
The rule of thirds is often used in photography; an imaginary nine-block grid is drawn across the scene and elements are positioned upon these lines. This makes for a well-balanced image that attracts the viewer’s attention.
If there is time to set up the photograph, then this is a good rule of thumb.
Close-up shots are impressive, as are single animal shots taken from a distance. In this instance, capture something else in the image to balance out the view; a tree, mountain, or dune works well.
Shooting animals from a distance works best when you consider the entire landscape and make that a part of the picture. Imagine finding a waterhole with zebra, giraffes, flamingo, and hyena gathered. The options are endless and anyone with a camera and a long lens couldn’t fail to get some impressive pictures.
All of that being said, some photographers have taken spur of the moment, quick shots and captured breathtaking scenes.
If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Namibia with a trusty guide, seize the opportunity to crab your camera and document some amazing memories.
With many wildlife Safari photography tips under your belt, you could develop some spectacular images or pieces of fine art.
But… remember to enjoy the experience and not just through the lens of a camera. Put it down once in a while, some images are best stored in the memory.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you Take Good Pictures on Safari?
Including foreground objects such as the people in the vehicle. Bring along a remote shutter release, something that can be triggers fro a good distance away. Try night photography, that always works for me.
Is a 400mm Telephoto Lens Enough for a Safari?
A telephoto zoom lens is critical for safari photography. These focal lengths allow you to capture the action further away from the safari vehicle, but it’s important not get too close or far away. A 200-400mm or greater is a must on any game drive while on a wildlife holiday.
What Time of Day is Best for Wildlife Photography?
The best time of the day for wildlife photography is right before the sun comes up and just as it goes down. As photographers we often call this time of day “the golden hours,” not only do you get beautiful sunlight, but it is that special time for taking photos when wild animals are most active!