Luxury safaris offer incredible photo opportunities to capture great wildlife shots with surprisingly close access to iconic and awe inspiring safari animals. Many safari goers hope to return home with great photos to commemorate their trip, wow their friends, and perhaps hang as art in their homes. But how do you go from vacation snap shot to great safari photo?
Here are 10 tips to get you there:
1. Your cell phone camera isn’t going to cut it for good wildlife photography. You need the right equipment for the job. For the best chances of capturing great wildlife shots and critical action, grab a Canon or Nikon DSLR (such as the Canon 5D Mark III or 80D or Nikon’s D810). You can also consider trying a mirrorless camera (such as the Sony A7r II) for a more compact, but slower, package with some significant compromises in the wildlife arena. Buy the best lenses you can and try to cover focal lengths from wide angle (about 24mm) to telephoto (at least 300mm), preferably with a wide maximum aperture such as f 4 or f2.8. Wider apertures allow you to shoot in low light and create pleasing effects for animal portraits. Pros use huge and expensive but amazing lenses like the Canon or 500mm or the Nikon 300mm or 500mm. A great option for enthusiasts is the cheaper, more versatile, and more portable Canon 100-400mm or its cousin, the Nikon 80-400mm. Some luxury lodges cater especially for photographers and have top-class wildlife lenses available to rent—that’s a great option because besides being expensive, wildlife lenses are a pain to carry on planes.
2. Whether you buy or rent your equipment, the most important tip for good photography is to understand your camera’s settings, their effect on your pictures, and how to change them quickly.
3. Always consider composition. The rule of thirds is your friend. Don’t compose with subjects or the horizon slap bang in the middle. Instead, break your frame into thirds horizontally and vertically, and place subjects near those lines.
4. Try to get the subject looking or moving towards the center of the frame, rather than towards an edge, to draw the eye into the photo. Eye contact with the camera is also great, but make sure the eyes themselves are the focus point, not the tip of the nose or the ears, for example.
5. Don’t zoom in too much. Show a bit of the environment around your subject, and make sure your framing doesn’t cut through body parts in awkward places. Be especially careful not to cut off horns, tails, ears, or wings—it always looks clumsy and amateurish.
6. Try breaking composition rules now and again for some interesting effects. Put a subject in the center; take a shot where the subject is facing away; try a wonky exposure; experiment with motion blur.
7. Don’t focus all your attention on the animals. Remember to take pictures including people, your vehicle, landscapes, the lodge, the food, and other experiences along the way.
8. Look beyond the big five. Everyone wants a nice picture of a lion or elephant, but keep your eyes open for smaller subjects too — insects, reptiles, flowers, etc.
9. Look for the best light. Don’t skip the early morning game drive, when the light is soft and beautiful. Afternoon is good too, and keep your camera out even when the sun gets really low.
10. Learn how to use your camera’s histogram to ensure your exposure is perfect and that you’re not losing detail in the highlights or shadows. If the exposure is not quite right, correct with exposure compensation or try a manual setting.
Wildlife photography is all about action, and encountering a good sighting depends mostly on luck, but also on putting in the time. You don’t want to miss a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity, so try to predict what you might see before you see it, and set your camera accordingly. This is especially important in the early morning when you’re groggy and your camera might still be on last night’s settings. Continuously check that your ISO, exposure, focus setup, mode, and shutter speed are ready for a chance encounter. You never know!
Images #2, #3, #5, #6, #7, #8 and #9 : Shutterstock
Javier Luque is a Co-Founder and Director of Your African Safari.