Wildlife photography for beginners (Tips for Safari)

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

If you are planning your next Photo Safari (or Safari in general) and want to take incredible wildlife pictures you’re in the right place. My aim is to try share some of my experience and knowledge I’ve gained from being a professional wildlife photographer. I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively throughout Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique) and work with some of the best safari lodges and wildlife photographers in the world.

The Steps to Snapping a great wildlife image.

1) The right place to Safari. This is obvious, however when it comes to wildlife photography this is probably the biggest factor in getting a great image and here is why. Different countries, game reserves within countries and even different lodges have different landscapes, rules, and populations of animals. One of the biggest factors in wildlife photography is if you will even see the wild animal, you’re after. The next complexity is how close you will get to a lion if you see one. The main question you need to ask before you book your safari is “Does your lodge Off-Road?” Off-road means that the game viewing vehicle is allowed to leave the dirt road and get within a safe distance to the animal. This is a huge factor. If the lion is 200yards away, you are not going to get a good viewing or image of it.

2) The right time for Safari. Africa is seasonal and wild animals follow the seasons. It’s important to understand what you want to see. Spring brings with it babies and an abundance of Kills. However, you will probably experience more rain, and denser bush which makes spotting wild animals harder. To be honest I enjoy all seasons, they each bring their own magic. Keep in mind that animals also migrate so certain regions may have more animals over a certain time of year.

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Choose a lodge that offers 'Off-Road' Safari that means you will get much closer to wildlife.

3) A good guide on Safari (and tracker) makes all the difference. During safari you are at the mercy of what you see, a good guide understands animal behaviour, where they will be, what they will do and how to find them. The better that guide and tracker the more chance you have of having your vehicle in the right place with the right light to get an incredible picture.

Guide Tracking rhino with sand footprints at Ulusaba (Virgin Limited edition), Sabi Sabi, Kruger National Park, South Africa

4) Which Country or Game Reserve you choose for Safari Matters. Different countries or even reserves within countries attract different animals based on habitat. For instance, Sabi Sabi (Kruger National Park, South Africa) is known for lions and leopards, and you will have a high possibility of seeing them, whereas Mana Pools (Zimbabwe) you still might see lions, but you will have a better chance of seeing wild dogs compared to Sabi Sabi. Each region attracts a higher density of certain wild animals. Most good reserves have all the big 5 plus wild dogs, however density and likelihood of seeing each animal varies from reserve to reserve.

5) Patience and Time with Wildlife makes for great moments, the wild moves at its own pace. I want to say the ultimate wildlife sighting is luck, but its more than that. It’s about making sure you are in the right place when the magic happens.

6) Wildlife Photography Camera Skills, with wildlife photography rare moments happen. When they do, they happen fast. Knowing which lens and settings to use make all the difference, being able to anticipate those moments make all the difference.

7) Wildlife Photography Gear (Camera and lens). There are no two ways around it, gear is important with wildlife photography. Cameras make a huge difference. Dynamic range, megapixels and especially autofocus with moving subjects does count. Lenses are vital, even more so than the camera if I’m honest.

To summarise, on Safari unlike other forms of photography you don’t have much option to move, unless you are on foot (that’s another article). You are limited to your seat on the safari vehicle, and you can move the camera at most an arm length away from you. That is what makes the points above so important. All you can do is plan to be in the right spot at the right time, have the right gear and capture that once in a lifetime moment.

Until the next time. Thanks for reading

Craig Howes

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