Below is a guest blog I wrote for Simply Luxury Holidays back in Sept 2013. This week I am flying back to South Africa to spend just over two weeks seeing more of this great country and people so it seems like a good time to post it.
The first time I visited South Africa I got off my plane after 14 hours of travel and got on a bus for a further 6 hour ride across the country. I could have been miserable at this point due to exhaustion. But it was magical.
That unreal feeling of stepping out of my life and into a movie like the Lion King was flooding over me. We drove through landscapes which evoked memories of your favourite National Geographic prints. There was a wonderful feeling of building awe at the excitement of what was to come. And I hadn’t even reached Kruger yet.
Who am I?
My name is Chris Law and I am a commercial photographer from Hampshire, England. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
I’ve been to South Africa three times now with five separate Safari trips and across that time I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks to make the best photos possible on these trips. I’d like to share them with you today.
Now these aren’t going to be the f/stops and shutter speeds you need. There are too many situations and too much variety for me to go into that. Suffice to say that it will be challenging: low-light, harsh light, big distances, things getting in your way and so much more. So before you go any further go ahead and bookmark this page about Photography Basics at ExposureGuide.com. Read it, learn it & practice it before you leave for your trip. You’ll need it.
Your camera won’t be running on automatic on this holiday!
So with that being said, here are my Top 5 Safari Photography Tips:
1. Do your research
Let me tell you about my brother. His name is Will and he loves to take trips and visit places. And almost more than visiting those places he loves planning what he is going to do and anticipating the moment. He makes sure there is always something interesting on the table for each day, he might not get round to it all, life may happen and something even better may come along, but he won’t be caught bored with nothing to do.
However, if you are on a guided tour of the park how much planning is there really? Well, I’ve learned that when it comes to applying this philosophy to going on safari that there is plenty of unforeseen stuff you might need to think through. Here are a few examples:
- What is the airlines baggage limit? Will you be able to bring all those lenses you want?
- Is it a group tour? Are people going to be okay with your 5KG 600mm lens getting in their way?
- Are there any amazing spots in the area you could ask your guide to take you to?
- Do you know the habits of the animals you really want to see so you can predict their behaviour?
2. Rent the kit you need
Safari is definitely one of those times where you want specialist kit. The kind of lenses best suited to wildlife photography run into the tens of thousands of pounds. You’ll want a wide-angle lens (24mm or less) for the beautiful landscapes and when the wildlife gets up close. You’ll want a super telephoto (300mm or more) for those giraffes right on the horizon. All fast glasses and image stabilised for the early mornings and late nights when the light gets golden and the wildlife is out. The type of lenses gear-heads drool over.
So rather than taking out a second mortgage, consider finding a lens rental company and renting a couple of pro lenses and bodies for less than it’d cost to buy even one mid-level lens. Sure, you won’t get to keep it all that lovely gear at the end of the day, but you will get to keep the photos of a lifetime.
3. Practice, practice, practice
Now you’ve decided what lenses to rent you need to know that these lenses are pretty tricky to use well. Some are heavy, some are long and unwieldy and many have unusual optical properties such a ultra-thin depth-of-field and heavy distortion.
So take some time to read up on best use practices and consider them for the lenses you plan to rent. And then rent them for a weekend or two before you go to get some practice in. Actual experience of use in the field can be very different from learning the theory. So make sure you aren’t learning all the complexities for the first time right as that first elephant is approaching.
4. Patience & perception
We’ve all heard actors say to never work with children or animals. The reason being is that you just can’t rely on them. And it’s the same on safari.
Patience is a virtue that you will be developing on safari no matter how good your guide is. It is a waiting game and you will be playing it. Whether you are driving around to try and find exactly where the pride has moved to overnight or have found them but they’ve decided to take a nap in the long grass, you will find there are many times when you aren’t capturing the moment but that doesn’t mean you can’t be setting one up.
As you move through that landscape, take that research you did on the animals and see where you think they might be. You cannot predict them exactly, but you can know enough to think about what they will be drawn to and how they move. Use this knowledge along with your photographic eye to set the stage. Find good light, find an interesting landscape, find layers of interest, and work out where your subject is likely to move through the scene. Perceive what might be so that you are ready to meet the opportune moment.
5. Don’t stress yourself out
Finally, remember that the amazing photos you’re going to bring home have meaning not just because they look great but because of the experience you had to get them. Don’t allow that experience to be overrun by stress if the photos aren’t working out just right.
So take some time to put the camera down and just take it in. Look with your eyes, not just with your lens, and enjoy the moment.
About the author:
Chris Law is a commercial photographer from Winchester in the United Kingdom. He specialises in head shots, environmental portraiture, food & architecture.
He loves to travel because it allows him to meet interesting new people while giving him access to amazing new experiences to enjoy & photograph.
You can see more of his work at www.chrislaw.co.uk