Photographic Safari? This is what you need

By Luke Street

This week I have decided to put together a list of what I keep in my photography bag and what I recommend you bring with you on your next safari in order to make the most out of your photographic experience at Tanda Tula.

So often we have guests that have bought a camera specifically for their African safari. This article is to try and help you make informed decisions on what you may or may not need in order to maximise your time spent in the bush, as far as photography is concerned.

Let me start off by saying that the best camera is the one that you have with you when the photographic opportunity presents itself. Whether it be a smartphone in your pocket, a point shoot or a fully fledged DSLR - all that matters is that you get the image! I will use this platform to give you a couple of recommendations as far as wildlife and nature photography is concerned.

Photography is a very expensive hobby and so not everyone wants to spend huge amounts of money on getting the best gear, especially if it's a first time safari. However, when looking for the perfect camera for you (with the outdoors in mind) please consider the below points.

  • A camera with a decent ‘fps’ or 'frames per second' is going to go a long way in helping you capture things like birds in flight or animals on the move. Something around the 5fps range should be just fine for this.
  • Auto focus systems have come a long over the last few years and having a good focusing system built into the camera will make sure that you will almost always have clear, crisp shots. The camera is able to maintain focus even if the subject is moving around, or if you, the photographer, are jiggling about on the vehicle. Something to look out for in this department is the inclusion of what is called ‘cross type focusing points’. A system with these types of points will prove to be far more accurate than those without.
  • Something which helps us outdoor photographers immensely is having a camera with good ISO performance. Having a camera that is good at high ISO will allow you to use much faster shutter speeds, something which is very important in maintaining clarity and freezing movement without blur.

At present I will go out on drive with two camera bodies set up to achieve different things. Although this is a more expensive approach, it really is highly recommended. It allows one the opportunity to photograph the same scene in very different ways. For this reason, I have a setup with zoom in mind and another setup with wide angle in mind. Of course, this also makes it easier to capture landscapes and open scenes as we come across them. However, I realise that this is really something only professional photographers would go to the extreme of doing, so one camera body is absolutely perfect for starting out.

A last note concerning cameras, particularly for DSLR or mirrorless systems, is that of full frame versus APS-C (crop frame) cameras. Crop frame cameras are generally smaller and lighter and has an added benefit of allowing one to zoom in closer to the tune of between x1.3 and x2.0. This allows you to get closer to the action. However, full frame cameras will generally have better low light performance as well as better image quality.

At the end of the day the most important thing you can do for your photography is to invest in good lenses or glass. Pairing a great camera body with a terrible lens is far worse than pairing a mediocre camera body with a great lens. With this in mind, my recommendations for capturing wildlife and nature in general would be:

  • Having a decent zoom lens. A lens with total zoom range of around 300-400mm should serve you just fine. This is often enough zoom to get you close to the action.
  • A good secondary lens should be something a bit wider. Consider a lens with a minimum zoom range of between 14mm and 18mm. This will allow you to capture landscape and general scenes effectively.

Lenses can be incredibly expensive devices to buy, so shop around carefully before making a decision. You can find great lenses from third party manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma for a fraction of the cost of original lenses from the likes of Nikon, Canon and Sony. For those wanting more reach and more detail in their images have a look at something like the Tamron 150-600mm f/6.3 lens. This is an incredible lens and you can find them brand new for around $800 or second hand for even less! Please also remember that you can easily change lenses in the field (as long as you are careful not to get any dust inside your camera while you do so) so it is definitely not paramount that you have a secondary camera body!

Now that you have a good idea of what to look for as far as cameras and lenses go, let’s take a look at some of the extras that come highly recommended. After all, you would not want to be in a situation where you have a stunning leopard in a tree at golden hour and suddenly you realise your battery is dead!

Below is a list of extras that I carry in my camera bag at all times:

  • Extras batteries (one or two should be fine). Always try stick with batteries produced by the actual camera manufacturer – they are just better!
  • A monopod or a tripod can help tremendously. Especially when you are using a big zoom lens! We do supply stabilising bean bags at Tanda Tula Safari Camp if you require one, as do most other safari lodges.
  • A decent camera bag. This not only helps you travel with your gear safely, but it also helps you keep all your goodies together on the back of the safari vehicle.
  • Make sure you always have enough storage! Keep some extra SD cards, they are relatively inexpensive.
  • On occasion we get the chance to photograph wildlife at night, so for these situations a small torch can help, rather than fumbling around in the dark to find something in your bag.

I hope this brief article will help you to make an informed decision before you set out to your local camera store or buy something online. Until next time, happy snapping!

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