Africa is a nature photographers dream. Everywhere you turn there is a picture ready to be created.
The magnificent wildlife, spectacular birds, endless landscapes and vivid sunsets make you feel like this is where you belong. Also, there are the colorful tribal people who have been living in cooperation with nature since time immemorial.
Soon you will be in Africa to participate in the ultimate travel experience – an African safari.
Your experience will be recorded through your photographs. Tips for photographing wildlife
EQUIPMENT | CAMERAS | LENSES | FILTERS AND FLASHES | TRIPODS | CAMERA BAGS | PACKING | FILM
FILM PROCESSING | PROTECTING YOUR FILM | NOTES ON LUGGAGE | LABELING FILM | SECURITY OF EQUIPMENT | CUSTOMS IN AFRICA | SAFARI ETIQUETTE
If there is one major problem with making photographs while on safari, bar none, it is camera movement. The simplest solution comes from Ralph Clevenger, Brooks Institute of Photography faculty member and nature photographer, in the form of a rice bag. All you need to buy is an ordinary 5 pound bag of rice at the grocery store and carefully wrap it in 3″ gray duct tape (added puncture protection). This can be laid on practically any surface of the vehicle you are in to act as a steady bag.
1. To insure that when the bag is completely wrapped it will remain pliable to contour to your lens, we suggest the following procedure:
2. Tightly pack the rice to one end of the bag eliminating wrinkles in the plastic by rolling one end like a tub of toothpaste (it’s sometimes easier to secure this rolled end temporarily with a small piece of tape).
3. Wrap the duct tape carefully from the center to the end of the bag where the rice is tightly packed.
4. Remove the temporary tape and repeat the process on the other end.
The rice bag can be left with your driver/guide for future safari participants, and you won’t have to carry it home. A steady bag will also work.
Africa is a photographers paradise.
Everywhere you look there is a picture. If you bring a good camera, a quality lens, lots of film, and your rice bag, you will surely come back with a lot of “keepers.”
Africa is the vacation that never ends.
Your images will help turn the magic of Africa into a lifetime of memories for future travelers, and preserve Africa’s wildlife for future generations to enjoy.
Most wildlife photography is done with a 35mm SLR, while some shoot with a medium format camera.
No serious photographer should go on a photographic safari with only one camera body. When you consider the cost of an extra body, it is a small price to pay for the additional security in case your main camera should fail. If an extra body is not in your budget, at least bring a pocket size 35mm camera.
Use auto focus over manual focus. Canon and Nikon have the fastest auto focus system, which is important on safari when the action starts.
Digital cameras have been on the market for several years now. If you are considering getting a digital camera to photograph birds, get one that has the longest zoom length as possible. Teleconverters are available for these digital cameras as well. Digital camcorders are also an option. You can slowly play the movies, freeze a frame and print off that one image onto paper or display it on the web. (top)
Suggested lenses to take on safari:
15 mm f/2.8 (fish eye)
17-35 mm f/2.8 L
50 mm f/2.5 macro
70-200 mm f/2.8 L
300 mm f/2.8 L
We recommend that you bring the fastest and highest quality lenses available to you. If you use a tele-converter, it should only be one that is made specifically for the lens you are using and then it should only be used infrequently.
It is very important to protect your lenses with a filter. At minimum you should use a UV filter. I prefer an 81B over a UV filter which serves to warm up the colors. I bring an 81B and 81C for all my lenses.
You will also want to bring a flash unit. This is useful when using fill flash. For those wanting photographs of the accommodations while on safari, a flash may be useful for photography inside the rooms. For night photography and fill-flash at long distances, We recommend purchasing the Project-A-Flash which gives you 3 more stops of light. (top)
Limit yourself to a small tripod. A tripod will be useless on game drives (remember this is where the rice bag is essential). However, tripods can be very effective when photographing the accommodations, night shots around the camps and lodges, etc. Those traveling to Namibia may want a tripod in order to photograph the beautiful landscapes. If you do bring a tripod, we would suggest one that is lightweight, such as one made of plastic available from Tristar.
Personally, we find the Lowepro line the best quality made. The zippers of their bags are durable. The main criteria is to see which one will hold your equipment. The LowePro Commercial AW holds all of my gear comfortably. Rather go with the smaller Lowepro and carry your big lenses separately.
Another bag we find useful is the one that straps to your hip. This is great when walking with your camera. It will hold a body and 70-200 mm zoom lens easily.
Carry the following misc. items in your camera bag:
Passport, Wet & Dries (anti-bacterial wipes), Small flashlight, Pens, Notepad, Micro-cassette recorder and extra tapes, Small Camera, Extra Camera, AA and camera batteries, Labels for film , Lens cleaner and tissue, Small can of canned air, Sunglasses, Flash, Film, Model release forms and Business cards.
Travel with three bags: one bag for clothes, one camera bag and one small carry-on size bag.In the carry-on bag, which is not taken on game drives.
Keep: Extra film, Extra batteries, Zip lock bags for exposed film, Flash light, Macro lens, Canned air – large, Safari vest and Tripod.
When deciding on shooting with print film or slide film, here are some things to concider:
1. Slide film with processing is less expensive than prints.
2. Slides are easier to edit and store than negatives.
3. Slides show true color.
4. Black and white prints can easily be made from color slides or negatives.
5. Magazine editors and publishers prefer slides over negatives.
6. Slides are difficult to expose correctly
7. You have a larger margin for error in exposure with print film.
8. Slide film is more sensitive to age and heat.
9. Slides are much more expensive to print, but give more saturated colors.
10. Negative film holds more exposure information than slide film. (top)
The first decision of film selection is selecting a speed (ISO). Since most of your photography will be done in daylight, from the stable platform of a vehicle or with a flash, high-speed film is not necessary. Your skill level and speed of your lenses will be the determining factor regarding the film speed that will work for you. The safari that you go on is another factor. In southern Africa game viewing is done in open land cruisers and a platform for your camera is not always where you want it. So, you can use a faster speed film in southern Africa. It is recommended that you stick with films with an ISO rating of 50 to 200.
Kodak has a 200-speed film called E200. This is an amazing film which has characteristics unlike any film ever made. Lab tests have shown that this film can be pushed to two stops (ISO 800) and still have an acceptable image. This film is perfect for the serious amateur who doesn’t own expensive fast lenses or if you are in a low-lighted situation.. However its color saturation is not as rich as other films, but sharper than other 200 speed films. It is worth bringing a few rolls for those difficult times when the light is low.
Kodak makes another excellent film called E100S, E100SW, and 100VS. This is a 100-speed film with great pushing characteristics, however avoid pushing more than one stop. Kodak states it can handle more, but this is debatable. After one stop, you start gaining more contrast and inherit a blue/magenta color shift. The E100s has more saturated colors, the E100sw has a warming layer built into the emulsion equivalent to an 81A filter, and the E100VS is has a saturation characteristic equal to Fujichrome Velvia.
The film of choice for nature is Fujichrome Velvia ISO 50 (really it is ISO 40, so you must adjust your ISO on your camera or ask the lab to push every roll one-third stop.) It gives the tightest grain, best color saturation and the sharpest images out of any film on the market. It should only be used by someone who has tested it and knows its limitations. We recommend using only top of the line lenses with this film. It can’t be pushed more than 1/2 stop without gaining contrast and color shifts and is not for low light situations. We do not recommend shooting people with this film either. Skin tones go too warm. Fujichrome Provia ISO 100 is similar to Velvia and gives you one more stop. (top)
Other films like Sensia ISO 100 and Elite II ISO 100 are very similar to E100 and Provia. Sensia and Elite II are cheaper and very similar. Only a lab technician or a trained professional can notice the difference.
Before you trek off to Africa, you should test your film and determine its true ISO. When film is made, the batches made are not consistent. Some batches could be slightly slower or faster. The Velvia 50 you just bought could be as low as 25! The manufacturer is not the only variable. The shutter in your camera can also make a difference. A shutter speed of 1/250 could be as low as 1/200! The lab you bring your film to is also a variable. You should know what your adjusted film speed is before you go to Africa.
We do not recommend going with any other films other than those made by these two companies. My recommendation is that you test the different films and select the one that works for your ability and the type of camera system you have.
Now to the most common question. How much film should I bring? Remember, you have to edit all those rolls when you get home. It is recommended that you bring a minimum of three rolls of 36 exposures for each day you are on safari. On regular safaris, clients average 20 rolls on a two week African safari.
Kodak film in Africa will be expensive and may not be available at all locations. Therefore, if you are shooting Kodak film bring your film with you. Fuji film is available in South Africa at a reasonable price, but not recommended. Most high volume film users buy their film through mail order before leaving home. You can also buy film with processing included, which is another way to save money. (top)
You will be able to get print film processed in Africa’s main centers as well as any E-6 slides (Ektachrome, and Fujichrome). The cost is slightly less than in the U.S. and Europe but the quality is inconsistent. It recommended that you rather process your film at a professional lab back home..
PROTECTING YOUR FILM
Recently, there have been changes in airport security that haven’t been favorable to photographers. The best solution to this problem is having your film hand inspected, or putting it in your carryon. If you still do not trust the carryon machine, follow these steps: First you must take all the film out of its packaging and remove it from the canister. Place all the rolls in a zip-lock container so someone can easily inspect it. You can save the canisters if you want. Since you are at the mercy of the security officer, you should make it as easy as possible and your attitude should be at its best. Before you place your bag through the Machine, ask the attendant if your film will be safe. NEVER PUT YOUR FILM IN WITH YOUR CHECKED LUGGAGE AS IT WILL DEFFINATELY BE DESTROYED!
You can also purchase lead bags to put your film in. However lead bags attract attention from security officers and takes up much needed room in your camera bag. I do not recommend them.
Heat and sunlight are other factors that can ruin film. Never leave your film in direct heat.
NOTES ON LUGGAGE (top)
New safety precautions in the airline industry have brought about tougher guidelines about what you should check and what you should carry on. Most international flights allow two checked pieces and one carry-on. Carry-on’s should not be larger than 45” total area and 25 lbs. in weight. That is the size of large camera bag. What do you do about the 400 F/ 2.8? Call the airline before you travel and explain your situation. There could possibly be fee for an extra or overweight item. Camera equipment should never be checked.
It is very important that you bring labels so you can mark your rolls after they are exposed. Use the date to mark your film. So, if the date is March 25, 2002, then mark the film as 3/25 if you are on a safari that lasts over one month and, simply, 25 if you are there for less time. If you shoot more than one roll that day, the next roll would be marked 25A and so on. The next day would start with the number 26. When you return you need to mark your processing envelops so that you can then edit your slides in the order that you exposed them. Put your name – 25 on the envelope for the rolls that you take on that day. You should also consider keeping a log of your rolls. Then you will know if that great leopard shot was at Moremi or Chobe. It is also imperative that you mark film that you plan to process.
Zip-lock bags are a great invention! These are great for storing film and batteries and protecting them from dust. Bring some in different sizes.
SECURITY OF EQUIPMENT
Theft of camera gear has not been a problem in Africa in the past. There is not much of a market for expensive camera equipment, and film is so expensive that the people who would buy black market equipment couldn’t afford the film anyway.
Never check expensive equipment in your luggage. In both Africa and the First world, this is a sure way to never see that piece of equipment again.
As a precaution, write down the serial numbers of your cameras and lenses and register the equipment with your insurance.
We often have people ask about registering their equipment with customs on departure. This is only really necessary if ou are traveling to the Orient where you might purchase equipment. Customs personnel usually know that you will not have purchased equipment in Africa.
CUSTOMS IN AFRICA (top)
It is important that you look like a tourist when going through customs in Africa. You may be asked the purpose of your visit. Your purpose is to go on safari. If asked whether you are a professional photographer, the answer is no! To avoid any potential problems, do not put photographer or photojournalist on your entry cards supplied by immigration. African governments, in general, do not like photojournalists. The last thing you do not want to do is show up at customs with a big Zero aluminum case and professional photographer stenciled on the side.
1. Never take pictures of government officials, government buildings, radio stations, military bases, equipment or personnel, or police. This includes border crossings. If in doubt, ask your guide. This is a big one.
2. Do not take pictures of people without their permission. In Africa, the colorful tribal people have learned that they can sell their photograph to tourists. Let your guide help with the negotiations.
3. If you are on a group safari and are traveling with others, there will be a need for co-operation and compromise. For everyone to have a good time and to achieve harmony, you will need to get along with the other photographers in your safari vehicle
4. Communicate your photographic needs and goals with your guide.
5. Do not ask your driver or guide to break park rules. Their jobs would be placed in jeopardy.
6. Be on time for game drives. If you are not going on a game drive, it is polite to let someone in your van know, so they won’t be waiting for you. The rule on safari is that if someone does not show up at the designated time, it is assumed that they have chosen not to go out with the others.
7. Don’t view Africa entirely through a camera. This is a mistake that you can made from time-to time. Once you are more relaxed about the photographic aspect of your safari, your photography will improve.
8. Tomorrow will be a new day. No two game drives are alike. There is no way to predict how a day is supposed to turn out. This is one of the great things about a safari.
9. Listen to your guide’s advice. While you may want to stay out from 6 am to 6 pm every day, it is not practical to do so. Wildlife is inactive and in the shade during the day. Animals are most active and photogenic in the morning and late afternoon. (top)