Safari Photography Guide by Kevin Dooley
Safari Photography Guide. A helpful guide to safari photography, and camera equipment, including lens and support info. Join Idube photo Safaris on one of our photography workshops, learn new and exciting photographic techniques.
We have a lot of different levels of photographers on our safaris, everything from professionals to non photographers who just want a record of their safari. Idube photo Safaris does conduct several photography workshops a year that are oriented towards photographers with some photographic knowledge and various levels of equipment. This safari photography guide is more for our photography workshops although it can be helpful for any of our safari attendees.
Kevin Dooley is a full time professional photographer with over 30 years of studio and nature photography experience. Kevin has been involved with Safaris for over 20 years and is a qualified FGASA African nature guide. Kevin and his wife Tricia spend on average of two to three months a year in Southern Africa conducting safaris.
Please note that a lot of information will be added to this safari photography guide in the future. However I am posting it now and will be adding a lot of helpful info as I have the time to add it.
Cameras on Safari
Point and shoot cameras.
Please take into consideration that you should have a camera that is able to do both still photography and video. A lens that zooms to at least 5X, a minimum megapixel of 12 megapixels, and at least 720 video. These requirements are not required however it is worth getting a good camera for a trip of this magnitude. Expect to take 3 to 4 thousand images on your safari, taking along several memory cards to account for the amount of photographs and video you will take. It is better to get higher gigabyte memory cards such as 32GB or 64GB to cut down on the number of cards you have to carry and the frequency of having to change the cards in your camera. The speed in which your card writes or records the image will make a difference in how many images you can take at one time, known as the image buffer. A good speed would be at least 40MB/s. Pleas have a case to keep and secure both your used and unused memory cards. It is also a good idea to have an extra battery for your camera. Please note that if your battery charger does not have the ability to charge with 220 voltage you will need to bring a 220 to 120 converter. if you call me I can give you some suggestions of my personal favorite point and shoot cameras.
DSLR Cameras. (Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera)
With the many options available in DSLR's, and most of you already having your favorite brand, I can only add a few pointers for those who are buying a DSLR for the first time, or for a safari. You will have many options in this department, however a few important things to take into consideration are the sensor size, the megapixel count, the image quality at high ISO settings, the buffer speed, and of course your budget. The camera sensor size can be a big deciding factor in selecting your camera for a safari. The important thing to remember when it comes to sensor size and your camera is that a full size sensor will use the lens as it is labeled. If you use a 600mm lens with a full frame sensor your lens will be a true 600 lens, however if you use a 600mm lens with a crop sensor, your lens will be magnified by the degree of cropping in the sensor. The smaller the sensor the more zoom you will get from your lens, this can work to your advantage when photographing wildlife, especially if you do not have a budget for super telephoto lenses. In most cases you can expect slightly better image quality and more depth of field with a full frame sensor as they have larger pixels with better light gathering abilities. As technology advances there is less and less image quality differences between full frame and crop frame sensors. Photography on safari often takes place during the golden hours, early morning and late afternoon into the evening. The ability for your camera to shoot at high ISO settings is very important. The higher ISO quality your camera is capable of shooting at will reduce the digital noise in your images. It is not uncommon for us to be using ISO speeds of over 1600 while on Safari.
Lenses for Photographing Wildlife
Although we do often get very close to many of the wildlife sightings while on safari, a good quality zoom lens will be a huge advantage, especially if you enjoy up close portrait type images. I would suggest you bring a medium telephoto zoom such as a 100 to 400, a wide angle zoom, such as 24-70, and a macro for insects, flowers and small reptiles. A 1.4 teleconverter is also a nice addition.
Camera Support for Safari Vehicles
Support for your camera while on safari is very important, and can have a huge result in the ease and comfort of your safari photography. I have used many types of support for cameras while on safari and I am very partial to using bean bags. The ease of moving a bean bag from one place to another is a huge asset. Bean bags will fit over most arm rests, piping, and doors on safari vehicles. They are easy to pack when empty, and most ball heads and gimbal heads will attach to bean bags with the correct connecting screw. The only disadvantage is that you will need to make sure you have access to fillers such as beans, rice or some other source. We do have the Apex Bean Bag available for sale. Tripods and monopods can be used in safari vehicles with some degree of difficulty, but monopods are a better choice. Bean bags will give you a more secure option. I personally use gimbal heads on my bean bags because of the ease and speed of camera adjustment. We do rent gimbal heads and have a few available on a first come first serve basis. Rental Page Link. Tripods are a nice addition to use on landscape and night photography both of which we will most likely be doing. Some of our safaris do use bush planes and we are limited to weight restrictions. If you have access to a carbon fiber or extreme lightweight tripod I would suggest bringing it in addition to a bean bag.
Lens protection and Rain protection for your Camera gear while on Safari.
Safaris can be tough on gear, I strongly recommend some type of lens protection such as Lens coat or something similar. Lens coat also sells very good rain gear for cameras. You can find several different and good types of camera and lens protection and rain gear online.
Teleconverters for photographing wildlife
Teleconverters are attached to your lens and extend your lenses focal length by 1.4 or by 2 times. Teleconverters are sometimes called extenders or lens multipliers and can be more cost effective than a new lens however there are both pros and cons to using them. I personally have had good results with 1.4 teleconverters and not such good results with 2x converters.
Cost – In comparison to the cost of buying a quality telephoto lens, a teleconverter will normally be a fraction of the cost.
Size – Teleconverters will take up much less space in your gear bag. This can be very important when bush planes are being used.
Weight –A teleconverter is a fraction of the weight of a large telephoto lens.
Minimum Focus Distance – Using a teleconverter means you normally keep the minimum focus length of your lens.
Lens Speed – Your maximum aperture will be decreased by 1 stop on a 1.4 converter and 2 stops on a 2X converter. an f5.6 lens will become an f8 lens with a 1.4 converter and an f11 lens with a 2X converter.
Focusing Speed – Teleconverters will slow down the speed at which your camera will focus. This will vary from lens to lens but is more prevalent in lower light. Some DSLRs and some lenses will not be able to use Auto focusing at all with a teleconverter.
Image Quality – Teleconverters will extend your focal length as well as any defects that exist within your lens such as chromatic aberrations, they will also increase the effects of sun flair and atmospheric conditions. To get the best results from teleconverters invest in a good brand, make sure your lens is clean and free of fingerprints, stick with the 1.4 over the 2x, and make sure you have a good camera support system.
Flash photography for wildlife
Using Flash on Safari.
Having a flash unit while on safari is a great addition to your camera kit, in addition to wildlife photography you will have many opportunities to use your flash around camp, over dinner, images of the new people you meet, as well as macro photography and light painting in nighttime scenics. For those who want to bring along a second flash and a remote trigger, you may have and enjoy opportunities to use them.
Flash and Wildlife Photography
Using a flash when photographing wildlife can be very distracting to both the wildlife and the other safari guests. I suggest if you do use a flash, use it in only very rear and infrequent occasions. In the evening hours, as darkness starts to take over, most animals go through a period of change where the eyes start to transform from daylight vision into nighttime vision. This transition normally takes approxmitlly 15 to 20 minutes, this is a very important time for both the predators and the prey to develop their nighttime servival techniques and abilities. If we expose an animal to untatural light during this important time, it can cause an unatural advantage or disadvantage to these animals, causing temporary partial blindness, giving the unaffected animal a definite advantage over the the animal that has been temporality partially blinded. In some situations where as an example an Impala would have escaped a predator attack, if the impala can not see properly it will have a definite disadvantage and be unnaturally taken down. In the situation where a lion might normally take down an impala, if the lion is blinded by a flash, the impala will escape and the lion will not eat, although both the lion and the impala will both have days of success and escape in a natural environment, we can change the natural flow of things by disturbing the eyesight of the pray or the predator.
Mounting your flash on a telephoto lens.
Many companies make attachments that will connect to your Gimbal style ball head or camera that will aid in the proper placement and attachment of your flash. Just as in portrait photography, the distence in the placement of your flash from your lens will have an effect on red eye, especially considering the size and composite of many of the wildlife species. It is of great importance to separate the lens and the flash by at least 6 inches. Another consideration is to make sure that the flash clears the circumference of the lens shade of your telephoto lenses. Some of the 300 and 600mm lenses can be very large in diamitor which can cause some shading if the flash beam does not clear it.
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