I want to discuss in this post some essentials one should consider for photography on safari. We will look into choosing the optimal focal length and the camera system, give some tips on how to photograph on safari and finally what we need for an optimal workflow.
Optimal Focal Length and Camera System
There is definitely a plethora on photographic equipment available from a number of vendors, but what do we really need for good photography in this often harsh and unpredictable safari environment? Let me first get out of the way that almost any vendor today offers capable and great equipment (cameras and lenses) but the main question to answer is what we are finally looking for?
Independent if you are either amateur or serious enthusiast, the single and most important thing is the choice of the right lens. For safari this is a zoom that ranges from around 100 – 400mm focal length in full frame (FF) terms. This gives usually the right focal length range for photographing animals from a safari vehicle. As a second lens it makes sense to have a normal to wide angle zoom available for landscape, environmental and potential people photography that is in FF terms a range of 24 – 70mm.
Could you also use prime lenses? Of course you can, but always consider that prime lenses with a fixed focal length do not offer you the flexibility of quick adjustment of focal length as a zoom lens does. Additionally changing lenses in that often harsh safari environment where you can easily have lot of dust is not really recommended.
If you do not want to shoot with a FF system because of size, weight or prize considerations and prefer to use either APSC or micro-four-third (m43) sensor based systems, the resulting focal length range should be the same after taking the crop factor into account. Each system has its own merits and advantages but in general today all systems can deliver high-end image quality.
If we come to the choice of camera you can either get DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) or CSCs (Compact System Camera) also known as mirrorless cameras and again both are capable of delivering great results today. The big advantage of mirrorless is mainly that through the Electronic View Finder (EVF) you see the scene like in the final image that is a big advantage for photography and even more for cinematography.
Photography on Safari
One thing that does not change on safari is that photography means painting with light. You very often will get the best light in the early morning hours or before sunset and that in turn easily allows for stunning results. Also the animals are usually more active during these times as compared to the rest of the day.
When we have chosen the right focal length to get the optimal frame that is hopefully made easy by our zoom lens, the only thing we need to control is the moment when we take the photo and this is finally the result of exercise. So my advice is take you camera and lens out for shooting as often as possible and start even with boring subjects like birds in a park or gulls at a seashore in order to get practice. This allows you in the end to improve your reaction and also speed of adjusting your camera setup. Practice is again the secret sauce here.
By optimal workflow I mean that you should prefer shooting in RAW as compared to JPEG, because this allows much more freedom for optimizing the final result in post processing like Lightroom, but also have the right accessories like enough batteries and chargers for your camera.
You also should bring the specific power-plug converters for the country you are travelling to, some cleaning accessories for camera and lenses, a capable and robust carrying solution that allows easy access to your camera while protecting it when necessary against humidity and dust as well as the right computer to offload your photos from camera. I am usually offloading every day and if possible back up my work at the same time, as I do not want to loose any of my precious photos that could normally not be shot again.
I am looking forward to see you on one of our next safaris and help you achieve stunning results that will stay a lifetime memory for you. Visit for details our Specialist Safaris page.
Peter Tomsu for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa