There are some occasions in which we can really feel our connection to Nature, and a game drive or safari is such an occasion. If you have never been to a reserve or national park to see the animals up close, you should consider going there. It’s one of the best experiences you could do anywhere. Seeing the animals in their natural environment is so much different from going to the zoo. Here you are just a guest, it’s the wildlife’s home. This makes it a very special experience.
Photographing wildlife is not so easy, but lots of fun. To help you prepare for an African safari, here are a few tips and tricks that can make sure you come back with beautiful photos.
Do your research
Bring both a long lens and a wide angle zoom lens
Get as low as possible
Composition guidelines are still valid
Leave space in front of the animal
Mind your background
1. Do your research
Once you have decided your destination, find out what animals you can find in the parks or reserves you plan to visit. What is the best season to find certain animals? Do they migrate? How is the vegetation?
Usually the dry season is considered the easiest time of the year, because the vegetation is less thick, so the animals are easier to spot. In parks like Etosha in Namibia the dry season also keeps the animals closer to the (artificial) waterholes, so you can easily find them.
The wet season on the other hand is the time when many baby animals are born, so if you want to see these, the wet season might be better.
2. Bring both a long lens and a wide angle zoom lens
The equipment is always the tricky part. What lenses should I bring? It depends very much on the size of the animals you want to photograph and how close you can get to them. In national parks you are not allowed to get off the road, so wildlife can be further away. In this case I would use at least a focal length of 400 mm.
In private game reserves the rangers sometimes can drive off road and might follow an animal to get closer. In this case a 300 mm lens is probably enough for larger animals.
For birds you will need a longer lens still, more something in the range of 600 mm.
Don’t forget to bring a wide angle lens though. If you can get close enough, this will give an interesting perspective. It will also help you to show a bit of the environment the animal is living in.
3. Get as low as possible
Wildlife photography is a bit like photographing children, you want to get to their level. So when photographing wildlife get as low as possible. This is even valid for big animals like elephants or giraffes. You can really show their size if you are close to the ground. In general try to get at least at eye level. This might not be easy when you’re in a vehicle, but you get the idea.
4. Composition guidelines are still valid
This tip might seem obvious, but with the excitement of seeing animals in the wild, we sometimes forget that the composition of our photos is important. Use the rule of thirds when you show some of the habitat of the animals you encounter. When the animals are in a group try and single out a few of them and use the rule of odds.
5. Leave space in front of the animal
When an animal is walking, flying or even just looking in a direction, leave some space in that direction in your photo. This creates some breathing space and makes you wonder where it’s going, what is it that it’s looking at so intensely?
6. Mind your background
This is often not easy, since wild animals (or animals in general?) are not posing for you. And you are often not free to move around them, but have to stay in the vehicle. Still, the background of a photo is very important and should not distract from the animal you are taking a photo of. Using a wide aperture will not only blur your background and make the animal stand out, but will allow to use the fastest shutter speed possible. This will help to reduce blur due to camera movement, which with long focal lengths becomes more difficult to avoid.
7. Be patient
National parks and reserves are not zoos. You will need to look for the animals and some animals can be very elusive and therefore hard to spot. To me this is both the beautiful and the frustrating part of wildlife photography. You never know which animals you will see and what they will do. Once you have found an animal, take your time and stay with it for a while. With time you will see how it behaves and you will be able to predict (more or less) what it might do. You can use this knowledge to make better and more interesting photos. Animals will also behave more naturally once they got used to your presence.
And if you don’t find that leopard you so much want to see, there are so many other animals, like antelopes or birds. The whole ecosystem needs to function to allow the leopard to thrive, so paying attention to its preys or the trees on which it might rest can be a great alternative.
These are some tips to get started. Half of our tour in Namibia is dedicated to wildlife photography, so if you want to learn more, this could be the tour for you. Our tailor made tour in Cape Town could be extended to include wildlife photography, maybe in the Karoo. Since this tour is tailor made, you choose!
If you want to know more about wildlife photography or have any questions, please let us know in the comments. We would love to help you improve your photo skills.
David Kooijman is a professional photographer born in The Netherlands and living between Italy and South Africa. He is passionate about Nature in general and African Nature in particular. Photography is his road chosen to inspire in people a passion for Nature.
Since he was a child David took photos, but since he discovered post processing with the advent of digital photography, his creativity and art has soared.
Uncontaminated Nature pulls him like a magnet and has taken him on far away journeys to experience it first hand. David always comes back from his expeditions with photographs that show the beauty of the places he visited. The light reflected from the images of landscapes fills the eyes and nurture the heart of those who watch them.
Photography for David is a way to be closer to Nature and to respect it. Looking at a sunrise through the lens and to be caressed by the first rays of sunlight makes you feel a serenity deep inside. David sees in Nature the perfect equilibrium of the forces in play, the place where all things and beings have a reason to be. In other words, the perfection of the Universe.
During his tours and through the sharing of his competences and his experience, David is committed to offer to the participants the opportunity to be closer to Nature and photography. In this way people can become aware and respect the natural places in order to preserve their beauty for future generations.