This is a question I often get... What are your tips to get the most out of a photo safari... Well, here are 15 of them!
Find a good travel agent that will offer you a good local receptive agency. For example, in Tanzania, some local agencies will limit the amount of gasoline given to you ... This means that your guide, without telling you, will limit travel, and will pass over interesting places not to spend too much fuel. My Montreal agency is https://www.espaceselect.com/. The owner, Vincent Bolduc, is a great guy who has travelled all over Africa and who specialises in custom made trips. He probably sells more photo safaris than anyone in Montreal. Tell him I sent you!
Work with an experienced guide and / or photographer. For example, in Tanzania, the best guides are trained in renowned institutions such as the College of African Wildlife Management, Mweka (CAWM). These guides know the savannah, wildlife and will be happy to answer any questions you may have. And they all have unbelievable eyes that will help you find a leopard at 300 yards... In the tree, yes, yes, look, it’s there!
Dust is your enemy and that of your equipment. With the open roof of the vehicle and driving on dirt roads, dust becomes a problem. I recommend you bring a light scarf to cover your mouth and nose. And make sure you cover your equipment against this dusts that will finds its way onto your lenses and sensor. My trick is s to place each camera in a large nylon bag, the kind used to store sleeping bags. They protect well, even a camera with a long lens, and they offer an easy access to your equipment.
Try to stay as close to the park as possible or even in the park where possible. A lot of parks are accessible to outside visitors after and before sunset and sunrise. But if you stay in the park you can be close to the animals at the first gleams, which will give you beautiful images. And the closer you are, the easier it will be to go for a siesta or relax in mid-day, while the light is less beautiful.
A safari is a rather expensive trip... Do not skimp on the photographic equipment, otherwise you will regret it... For example, if you can, bring two camera bodies to avoid having a week without photos if your only camera breaks. And bring the widest possible focal range ... from wide angle (for landscapes) to the longest possible focal length (for animal portraits). And if you do not have access to a long lens, I recommend you rent one at your favorite retailer. My equipment of choice is the following. I bring 3 camera bodies. My Canon 5D Mark III will have a small lens like the Canon EF 24-105 mm f/4L IS II USM. This is perfect for landscapes or to take an animal in its environment. My 1DX Mark II is fitted with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. This is my go to kit for animals that are closer or for action shots with its 14 frames per second. And finally I use the Canon 7D Mark II which offers a crop factor of 1.5 (meaning it will magnify your lens by +50%) with my Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM, which offers the equivalent of 750mm for closeup wildlife portraits. I also bring two Canon extenders (the EF 1.4X III and EF 2X III), so when needed I can get more reach with my long lens. I will often use it for smaller animals like birds.
Forget your tripod or monopod. It is impossible to enjoy it in the vehicle. Go for the beanbag (a bag filled with rice or beans). You place it on the roof of the vehicle and put down your longest lens, giving you the best stability to get the sharpest images possible. And when shooting, to avoid vibration, ask your guide to turn off the vehicle.
Go for the eyes. Where possible, try to photograph at eye level of the animals. You will find that it is often the best angle of view to create a beautiful image. It will help you isolate the animal from it's often busy background. And looking at the photo you will feel a better connection with the animal, especially if it's looking directly at the lens (at you!)
Tell the whole story. Close-ups, yes, but try present the animal in its environment too. A lion drinking in the brook, the leopard in his tree, the zebras in the magnificent plain are images as strong as the animal's intimate gaze, in close-up.
Patience! A dormant cheetah will possibly be hunting in 15 minutes ... Give nature the chance to show you her most beautiful scenes.
The Big 5 yes, but the rest too! Yes the level of excitement is great when you meet the presence of a big male lion proudly standing on a rock in the middle of the savannah ... But a colony of baboon offers just as many beautiful images!
Bring lots of memory. Make sure you have lots of memory cards to be able to get those hundreds of photos you will take on a daily basis. I also recommend you download your photos on a computer every day, and back them up on a separate hard disc that you keep in a different back during the trip. So if you experience technical problems or loose your computer, you award-winning images will be safe!
Be prepared to react! Animals can be very active… Make sure your camera is always ready for a quick shooting. To freeze the action set up your camera with the fastest shutter speed possible (1 \ 1000 seconds or more). Several photographers will use the Aperture Priority mode adjust to the largest possible aperture, which will give you the fastest shutter speed available. Personally I use both this approach and the manual mode.
Understand animal behaviors. The better you understand their behaviors, the better you will be able to anticipate the situations that will allow you to make better pictures.
Do not be blinded by your camera... Photographers who keep their eye continuously glued to the camera cannot enjoy the beauty of the landscape and see the situations develop …
Respect wildlife and its habitat. Viewing wildlife in nature is a privilege and we should make sure that generations to come have the same opportunity we do. Here are a few tips about wildlife viewing-photographing etiquette… View wildlife from appropriate distances, stay clear of nests and dens, no yelling, calling or whistling at the animals, limit the time of your stay not to stress animals, never feed wild animals and of course, respect the rights of other viewers-photographers in the field…