Photographer’s focus: What makes a good wildlife photographer?

Chad Cocking


Almost every guest that comes on a safari these days has a camera of sorts in his or her possession. Some carry their cameras to capture the memories of their holiday in Africa, others bring them hoping to capture a once-in-a-lifetime shot of some extraordinary wildlife scene, and others bring them just because it seemed like the right thing to do!

Whatever your reason for lugging your camera halfway across the world, this series of blogs has been written in an attempt to assist you with getting the most out of your equipment in order to capture the wonders of Africa in a way that will hopefully make your friends jealous enough to plan their own trips here!

There are many books and blogs that have been written by professional wildlife photographers that allow one to better understand the art. This blog series serves to supplement these by making specific reference to the photographic conditions that you, as a guest, are likely to encounter here at Tanda Tula Safari Camp.

Many of these professional books begin by discussing what it takes to make a good wildlife photographer, and how to get those incredible images that we so often see floating around on social media these days. Although there is not one simple answer, the question of what makes a good wildlife photographer serves as an excellent point of departure, and as you will see, it takes a load more than simply having a good camera and big lens!

The truth is, these is no single element that will make you a good wildlife photographer, but rather, it is a combination of many different factors that all need to come together to collectively produce some outstanding wildlife images.

Good Knowledge of Your Photographic Equipment

If you have recently unpacked a new camera, you may or may not have noticed that little white book you tossed aside called the Instruction Manual and thought that it would only come in handy if ever you were struggling to fall asleep one evening. Well, think again! Between those two covers is just about everything you need to know about how that machine in your hands works (with all of its buttons and dials).

Knowing this will allow you to get the most out of your camera and will save you a lot of frustration when it comes to changing and choosing the correct settings whilst out on safari. When this becomes second nature, it allows you to focus on getting photos rather than fiddling around trying to make the camera work!

An equally important aspect of understanding one's camera, is also knowing what its limitations are, and being able to – when conditions are beyond the camera’s ability – put the camera down and just enjoy the sighting regardless of its photographic potential. Trying to take images in such conditions will simply lead to a great deal of frustration and detract from the chance to simply spend time enjoying watching the animals.

Good Quality Equipment

One would only be fooling themselves if they said that good camera equipment does not make taking good wildlife photographs easier; plain and simple, it does! This however should never be misinterpreted to mean that only good cameras take good photos, as this is definitely not the truth! Having an expensive camera is not automatically going to lead to taking great photos.

Whilst all cameras have their limitations, the better the equipment, the wider apart these limits become, and the old adage that you get what you pay for is particularly true of photographic equipment. All of this is of no use to you though, if you don’t understand the basics of photography.

Good Knowledge of Photographic Principles

Understanding the basic principles of photography will go a long way in allowing you to create the kind of images that you wish to produce. Although terms like aperture, spot metering, exposure compensation and ISO might seem a little daunting at first, the quicker that one gets to grips with understanding them, and understands how they impact your images, the sooner you will be able to take control of your photography. This series of blogs will deal with such photographic principles to allow you to get more out of your camera to attain better wildlife images.

Knowledge of Your Subject

Unlike landscapes and models, wild animals have minds - and wills - of their own, and from experience, seldom do exactly what we wish for them to do! That being said, having a fair idea of what an animal is likely to do next can greatly stack the odds in your favour in terms of anticipating a potential shot.

A leopard about to ascend a tree will usually glance up at it as it is approaching; if you see that look, get ready, as you might get a shot of the leopard springing up the tree trunk. Similarly, eagles will usually defecate just before they take to flight; wait for that moment and then get ready. This sometimes takes years of observation to pick up and understand, but that is where the experience of the guiding team at Tanda Tula can greatly assist you.


Any true photographer will tell you that patience, patience and more patience is the key to getting good wildlife images! And while patience is of immense importance, when one is visiting a game reserve for only several hours a day over the course of a few nights, sometimes we need a little more than patience to get that shot, which leads me onto the last element of what makes a good wildlife photographer...

... a fair amount of LUCK!

You can have the fanciest camera on the market (and have read its manual), have attended numerous photographic courses, spent years observing wild animals, and you may even be in a position to sit all day waiting for the right moment to click the shutter, but without that little element of luck that brings everything together, at the right moment, chances are you may not get the shot. So, whatever the case is, most great wildlife photographs will require some element of luck!!!

So, now that you know what it will take to get some good wildlife images next time you are on safari at Tanda Tula, we hope that you will keep on following this series of blogs as it guides you through gaining a greater understanding of wildlife photography. 

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