8 Secrets to Photographing an African Safari

By: 
Jeff Cable

If you are lucky enough to be going on a safari sometime in the near future, and want to take great photos, you might be wondering how best to capture this once-in-a-lifetime type of vacation.

 

I recently returned from my first African safari and want to share my best photography tips with you.

 

1.     Bring the right gear. 

One of the most-asked questions that I have received from photo enthusiasts is, “What lenses would I recommend taking on a safari?” I brought three lenses to use for the entire trip. I had the Canon 100-400mm lens for most of my wildlife photography. I used the Canon 24-70mm lens most other wide shots. I also brought my Canon 16-35mm lens for ultra wide shots, but did not use it very often. If you have two cameras, I would recommend bringing a main camera and a second as a backup. You do not want to make the very long trip only to have a camera break and no shots taken.

 

2.     Be aware of your surroundings.

When you are out on safari, you will likely be captivated by some amazing subject matter, right in front of your vehicle. But remember to look all around you, as many times there are other interesting things to photograph behind you or in a different direction.

 

 

3.     Shoot tight and wide.

If you take a long zoom lens with you, you may find yourself zooming in as tight as possible to get close to the wild animals. But remember to take wide photos, as well, since these show the animal in their environment. When taking photos in a zoo, it is not uncommon for people to crop in tight to avoid the man-made background. But if you are in the wild, you should show that to your viewers.

 

4.     Look for the best light and composition.

Like all other photography, good light is critical. Watch for the direction of the sunlight and ask your driver to put you in the right spot to make sure you are not photographing your subject in bad light. And compositionally, make sure that you have a clean foreground and background. People tend to focus on the subject and ignore potentially distracting objects around their subject.

 

5.     Wait for the better moments.

It is really exciting the first time you come across a giraffe, lion, or elephant (or any other animal), and your first instinct is to take photos. There is nothing wrong with this. Each time we encountered a new animal I would take some photos. But then, once I had my first set of photos, I would get more discerning. I would wait to see if the animal got into a better position, better light, or did something interesting. And then, the next time we would come across this animal, I would only take photos if those photos presented the animal in a different way or told a different story.

 

6.     Make sure to capture more than just the animals.

As I just mentioned, with all the amazing wildlife you see on your safari, it is easy to be fixated on those animals. But don’t forget that there are many other photos to be taken that don’t include wild animals. There are amazing landscapes, interesting people, and beautiful sunsets to capture, as well.

 

7.     Try photographing in a unique way.

As exciting as it is to capture a close-up shot of a male lion or a giant elephant, after many days on safari, seeing the same species many times, the situation begs for you to try something more creative. Once you have enough of your “safe shots,” try slowing the camera’s shutter and taking some motion pan photos. Or try to change the angle of the camera and/or your shooting position to give a different perspective.

 

 

8.     Have fun!

Most of all, have a great time. Take some time to put the camera down and truly experience the new environment, the different culture, and the slower way of life. And then when you get home, have fun sharing all your amazing photos with your friends. I did that by writing about each day of my trip and sharing the stories and photos with my friends and followers. This is a great way to preserve and relive all your wonderful adventures—wherever you may go.