How To Go On a Photo Safari

In Articles, Sports & Hobbies, Technical by Dale Morris1 Comment

Sometimes, being part of a group safari can be a little frustrating for the photography enthusiast due to the likelihood  that the other clients with whom you share a vehicle may not share your zeal for the perfect shot.

As such, your insistence that that car linger for ‘just one more hour’ outside something as relatively dull as a hornbill nest, could really end up p*****g people off.

Leaping from one side of the vehicle to the next, knocking guests around with your big lenses, and consistently ‘hogging’ the best vantage point is bound to irritate those who have come to Africa for a tranquil and traditional big five safari.

I’ve heard photographers being called some awful names before.

I don’t blame people for getting annoyed, not at all, and as such, I try my very best to be innocuous and inconspicuous whenever I’m sharing a vehicle or guide. Unfortunately, I often find myself biting my lip in aggravated silence as one by one, a whole smorgasbord of  wonderful photo ops’ scrolls on by.

My soundless inner voice screams at the driver “Barbet, two o’clock! Backlit baobab tree! Dung beetle to the left! Oh my God, lovely light on that Impala. Fantastic elephant’s bum right ahead” and all that. But do we stop? No we don’t. After all, the guide has just heard a lion roar somewhere off to the east.

Deep breath. Deep sigh. Count to ten. Repeat the mantra “Lions are nice. Lions are nice. Lions make very nice pictures.” And indeed they do! But as every keen snapper knows,  the big five are not the bee all and end all of a photographer’s safari.

So, should you, like me, be serious about your wildlife photography, you would probably enjoy and benefit from booking yourself onto a specialized wildlife photography workshop? There’s literally hundreds out there to choose from, most of which are led by well known and well published professional photographers.

Last year, I was invited by the Robin Pope Safari Company to Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park in order to join such a workshop; a six day intensive shutterbug expedition led by eminent photographer David Rogers (a man with several coffee table books behind his name).

Upon arriving and meeting the other guests it was immediately obvious that this was going to be a very different experience from the usual up market game viewing holidays I had previously enjoyed in the area. For starters, everyone present was weighted down with lenses, camera bodies, tripods and flash guns, whilst the chatter and banter was all about photos, photography and photographers.

No one was a professional (except of course for David and perhaps myself) but each and every one of them had a passion for wildlife photography which they hoped to build upon courtesy of the course.

Out Into The Studio

During the first of what was to become many forays into the bush, we failed to find any really photogenic big animals, so  David stopped the vehicle and encouraged us all to get out and start looking for alternative images.

That’s one of the first things I noticed which was different about this trip from most typical safaris. We frequently alighted from the vehicle, under the watchful eye of  an armed escort, in order to experiment with different angles.

“Lets start looking for insects and plants and textures and the like” said David as we stood around the Landcruiser.
And so, that’s exactly what we did, and within moments of switching our scan focus from big animals to little details, we began finding all manner of wonderful subjects to take photos of..
“Come take a look at this magnificent Locust ” shouted one of the ladies in the group
“It really is the most beautiful of creatures”

As we gathered around the insect, David offered us a few pearls of photographic wisdom relevant to the topic at hand.
“Macro photography is quite a specialized field” he told us as we arranged our flashes and put on our best close up lenses.
“So be aware that you will likely need to use a high f-stop setting to maximize your depth of field which will probably necessitate the use of  either a reflector or a off camera flash unit”

We were there for almost an hour and we left with a selection of images that everyone was proud of.

“I didn’t image I would travel to Africa to look at insects” said one chap as we got back onto the vehicle “But its quite amazing what you can find when you start focusing in on the little things”

Later that afternoon we parked off alongside a herd of Impala and zebra for a ‘pan and blur’ session in an effort to snap some nice abstract images of animals on the move.

“Don’t forget to set your camera to a relatively slow shutter speed and then track the actual movement of the zebra” advised Dave. Easier said than done;  but our artistic endeavors resulted in a variable selection of images, some of which were very pleasing.
“Keep practicing with this technique” David told us as we headed back to the lodge later that evening “And eventually, you are sure to get some startling results”

After a sunset photo session from the deck of the Mfuwe camp river side bar, we retired to the social area where David showed us the basics of using various photo editing software such as Light room and Photoshop. We also reviewed some of our own images and discussed various techniques which would help us take better photos in the future. Its was a great feeling, feeding from each other’s enthusiasm for photography and banding ideas off one another.

Throughout the rest of the ‘holiday’ we followed a loose sort of curriculum ‘Wide angles; elephants; slow shutter speed; low light; textures; water etc etc’ but we adjusted our schedules to fit the opportunities as they arose. If the light was good at a hornbill nest, then we would, if necessary, stay for an hour or two there (and because we all had the same mind set, there was no risk of anyone getting bored)

We even spent some time with common old lions. Imagine that!

At the end of the trip, most, if not all of us came away with oodles of additional eagerness for photography and a great many folders stuffed with excellent pictures too. Everybody was happy and surprised by what they had achieved.

Above all though we all had experienced a superb ‘working holiday’ of sorts where the quest for better photos had put us into situations that  required us to contemplate and to patiently watch and observe.
As a result, the overall experience was a very profound and deeply involved African Safari . And if you ask me, that’s certainly something worth taking a picture of.

Search the internet using the words “photographic safari” and you will find thousands of options all over the Africa Continent.

There are specialized trips which focus on something in particular (Gorillas for example, or the Himba people of Namibia) and there are general Safaris which will cover anything and everything imaginable.
Pay particular attention to who the guide is and then check his or her own web page. If you are not impressed by their portfolios, then don’t book with them. There’s no point putting yourself into the hands of someone who cant really take pictures themselves.

Robin Pope run specialist photo workshops in South Luangwa three times a year
The author is a guide with


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