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The Best African Photo Safari for You
It’s easy to gaze at wildlife photos and dream of Africa. But gaze at your own wildlife photos and you no longer dream. You remember. And that’s something that will stay with you for a lifetime. An African photo safari is more than beautiful images to frame and impress friends. With each image you’re transported back to Africa and that time in the wild. Not just the setting but the feeling and atmosphere that each moment evoked. Sounds, smells, goosebumps on the arms, and the radiant, almost childlike joy the continent inspired in you.
All photos tell a story. The best safari photos have parallel storylines, one of your own journey, the other of wilderness and wildlife that may not be with us for much longer. These are important and powerful stories. Everyone wants to leave Africa with the best stories, and everyone wants their photos to emanate the most powerful narrative. In this article you can read about great photo ideas for South Africa, Botswana and Tanzania.
Go on safari and you are guaranteed to get photos of unique animals. Even if it’s a selfie on a smartphone or archaic 90s digital camera, there will be a story of your connection to the wildlife. Our how to guide will help you take the best African safari photos.
If you’re enthusiastic about photography, or passionate about these storylines, we highly recommend a private safari for the best photography safari. Not only will you get much closer to the action; there’s a creative canvas that excites everyone who likes to travel with their camera. Scroll to end of this article for guidance on planning the best photo safari tour for you.
More Than Beautiful Images: An African Photo Safari
No two safaris are the same and that’s reflected in the photos you take. One day you’re transfixed by the blood-smattered whiskers of a lion eating his dinner; the next day you take 60 shots of a single rhino. Around an evening fire you scroll through the photos. They’re all there – hyena, springbok, eland, giraffe, buffalo, warthog, baboon – images that remind you of what’s happened over the last few days. It may seem absurd that you would forget about the animals you have seen, but every day on safari you witness dozens of species and many thousands of animals. When so many moments are extraordinary it’s difficult to keep track.
Guides are always keen for you to get good images. They’ll stop and wait until you’ve got a shot of the scene, sometimes driving around for a better angle. When you’re so close to wildlife it’s difficult to take a bad photo, even if you have a simple camera and know nothing about taking photos. The possibilities are magnified when you’re more serious about photography. An African photo safari tour creates the images that adorn magazine covers and fill galleries, the magical images that, when printed, need hanging on a large blank wall to be properly showcased. Africa is the dream for an enthusiastic photographer and everyone leaves with a distinct set of images.
There is a language out there – the language of the wild. We have yet to become fluent in the language – and music – of the wild.
-Boyd Norton, award-winning wildlife photographer.
From Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning
Safari Photography Takes You Back to the Wilderness
Thousands of wildebeest filling the frame. A swinging elephant trunk captured from below. Hippos yawning in unison. There is nowhere like Africa for taking unique photos. Even with the simplest smartphone the shots come out surreal, revealing your intimacy with the wilderness. And while there’s so much more to safari than taking photos of famous animals, the photo reel is part of a lifelong memory.
A moonlight glow makes silhouettes of baobab trees. These are scattered across the frame, in varying shapes and sizes. The waterhole is quiet for now. But you wait, tucked away in a special photography hide. Zebra come to drink, a good chance to adjust and exact the settings before the rhinos arrive. Every evening the horned icons come here. With an African photo safari you just need to be patient.
African Photo Safaris Are More Than Photos
Three hours later you recollect the photo shoot on a private verandah. With every look at the images your body recalls goosebumps and tingles, plus other sensations that accompanied the rhinos arrival. Yes, the photos are inspiring, everything you were hoping for; you can already imagine them impressing guests once they’re up on your wall. But the photos also have a power to take you back to that waterhole, to the time when you came eye to eye with a critically endangered species that numbers only 2500 in the wild. And that’s what makes an African photo safari so special – the photos you took are more than beautiful proof, they are a legacy that will live beyond you.
All photographers have similar stories after traveling in Africa on a private safari. The animals and settings are different for everyone of course, as no two sets of photos are ever the same. The journey always produces postcard images that wow everyone you know, some technically perfect, others a simple shot of a remarkable scene. But the photos you come to love the most are those that retain the capacity to transport. They take you back to a diminishing world on a faraway land, and have the ability to transport others to that special place you once experienced.
Photography Safari in Africa
Every safari tells a story. Family togetherness around a Kalahari waterhole; a place just for two on a vast Tanzanian plain; tracking migratory herds and making your own journey into the wild. It’s always a story of you and your connection with an untrammeled place, a narrative that’s centered upon nature’s greatest theater. Whether selfies with an elephant backdrop or shots taken with the latest Canon 5D, your photos will have a storyline. They piece together the memories and magical scenes that Africa provides, effortlessly reconnecting you with rare, wildlife-rich places.
With a private safari the storyline becomes more professional. The best African photo safaris create a documentary of life, narrating secrets and surreal tales of our vanishing wildernesses. It may only be through the images that you’re able to convey the experience to others at home. 50 years from now there may only be photos left. And a generation or two on from now, your photos will have a legacy for both Africa and your own family.
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How To: Take the Best African Safari Photos
Africa Always Creates New Angles
Africa is the best place on the planet for photography. We may come from a position of bias and we’re happy to be argued down. However, nowhere else we’ve traveled offers a comparable creative canvas, nor such opportunity to convey feeling and atmosphere.
Visit a well-known travel attraction and the photos are invariably the same. There may be some playing with composition and filters, but how do you find a new angle, even on something unfinished like Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia? There are offbeat destinations and hidden places to excite the camera, but only in Africa are they fully unscripted. Add wildlife to the wilderness and no moment is ever the same. And it is this ephemeral brilliance that means no two people on safari will ever capture the same photos.
Every African photo safari is different. You can photograph something new, every single moment. You can create your own stories through the photos you take. Through safari you naturally become one with your subject matter, so the angles and stories emerge without pause. Of course it’s impressive to snapshot lions, elephants, rhinos and all those beautiful landscapes for which Africa is known. But the best safari photography is so much more than that, for when you start with a blank canvas the end result is remarkable.
Developing Your Photography Skills in Africa
Returning to Gaudi and his Barcelona masterpiece. People crowd the scene, uninterrupted angles are difficult to find, and it’s hard to be confident when you’ve already seen the photo you are taking, just done by a professional. Out on the African wilderness there’s space to experiment, freedom to try something new. Lions watch you, sleeping with one eye open. You may wait there for 30 minutes on an African photo safari, trying new compositions and settings, with nothing else impeding the scene. As soon as you move there’s something new to photograph. After 50 photos of La Sagrada Familia the camera gets put away. After 50 photos of lions you move on to more of Africa, hundreds upon hundreds of shutter clicks a single drive.
Naturally, the more photos you take the better you become, especially when every scene is so distinct. Private guides will tailor the experience towards your photos, subtly changing the angle, quietly getting you in the best position, predicting which way the animals will move and ensuring you are there to capture them. With a private African photo safari the creative canvas is limitless, because every moment of the experience is customized to your interests and storylines. And in such an environment, the photographs always look professional.
Equipment and Camera Required for an African Photo Safari
It doesn’t matter your skill level when arriving in Africa. You will improve your photography. Even without owning professional equipment, a private African photo safari places you in prime position for taking professional photos. You don’t need a Canon 5D Mark IV or a Nikon D5 XQD, nor a collection of telescope-sized lens. However, we’d recommend a DSLR camera and it is worth investing; after all, you’re traveling halfway around the world with the purpose of photographing animals. Return from Africa and you’ll be enthused and inspired to use your camera more often.
Photo Safari Africa: Lens Choice
The classic preconception is that you need a fast telephoto lens with a reach of 400mm, plus something with serious stability in order to photographs animals from a distance. This is true in a national park as the animals are further away. In a private reserve you can drive off the trail, so you are much closer to the subject. A 70-200mm is more than adequate and much easier to stabilize than a longer lens. A 120-300mm is another popular and flexible lens to travel with while a standard 18 – 55mm or 18 – 70mm will also get plenty of use.
Photography Safari: Tripod vs Monopod vs Beanbag Support
You might consider adding a 2x tele-converter to your kit and definitely pack a collection of memory cards – you will take thousands of photos. Standard tripods are bulky, inconvenient in a safari vehicle and heavy to take on a walk. On a Tanzania photo safari a beanbag support is ideal as you’ll stand on your seat and shoot from the top of the vehicle. Safari vehicles are lower in Southern Africa. For a South Africa photo safari the best is a monopod which can be clamped to the side bars; consider something like a Wimberley Head.
In many Botswana private concessions you can rent photography equipment for the safari. A lot of the good Botswana safari tours don’t require you to own top-level gear. Come with a camera and we can arrange access to different lenses and supports, allowing you to experiment further without first investing in a professional-level set up.
Guide to Planning the Top African Photo Safari
A luxury safari will produce superb memories and a selection of exotic photographs. But if you’re serious about photography then we highly recommend a private African photo safari. This will provide the customization and freedom that’s necessary for capturing professional-standard photos. With a private safari everything is individualized, which means everything can be customized to the photos you want to take. Waiting patiently in special hides, having time to adjust settings and reframe the shot, tips from the guides and angles that enhance composition. You can get closer, see more, document movement, and achieve what all photography is about – being one with the subject and setting.
With a private African photo safari the wilderness becomes your creative canvas. A midnight drive seeking moonlit scenes, like an elephant herd scattered by the water. Taking the tripod onto an open plain, then staying silent as zebra canter past. Going in search of a specific scene, whether that’s cats on a hunt or a rare and elusive bird. Of course you don’t just get photos. Such experiences invariably produce a new angle on Africa’s landscapes, one that you feel as well as photograph. And it’s amazing how the photos you take can transport you back to the moment, many many years later.
We had a trip beyond our expectations and imagination…My first foray into wildlife photography was an exciting and inspiring experience.
Get Closer and See More With a Private Safari
Safari isn’t just experienced through the viewfinder of a DSLR. While your eye may focus on the composition, smells and sounds fill the atmosphere as a buffalo herd marches past. When you wait for a hippo to yawn there’s a wonderful feeling of being out in the wild. And as you enjoy a customized private safari you get closer and closer to the action. It’s not just eye to eye, lens to trunk. Soon you’re surrounded by wildlife, making the story your own.
So how close can you get on a private African photo safari? In private concessions the photo can be taken from virtually anywhere (in national parks you’re limited to the existing trails). By predicting movement the guide places you on the path your wildlife subjects will take. Utilizing their inside knowledge, guides take you to waterholes and hideouts favored by particular animals.
You wait beneath the moonlight for bashful rhinos to emerge, ready to photograph a scene that few people have ever witnessed. Even if you spent the whole time with your eye on the viewfinder, the body will still remember a rhino getting close or a leopard walking past.
The Best Photo Safaris in Africa Requires Patience
Tucked away besides the waterhole, you must remain silent and patient. The evocative showreel of photos doesn’t always come easily, especially when you are in search of the inimitable. Patience is something that only a private safari can afford. Not everybody wants to wait an hour for the chance of an award-winning photo that will impress more than just friends. Not everyone has the same passion for photography as you do. On typical safari activities you will be in a small group, between four and eight people depending on the lodge. The guide must balance diverse interests and the activity usually has an eclectic feel, mixing what everybody wants.
With a private African photo safari the program revolves around you. And in a private concession, that program is almost as limitless as the blank photographic canvas. A midnight drive searching for a rare nocturnal hunter; walking to a viewpoint for sunset panoramas; spending two hours in a photography hide then tracking a leopard with cubs for half the afternoon. Programs can also be varied, so you can stay out taking photos as those you travel with take some downtime at the camp. It’s not just where the guides are able to take you, it’s the time they can give you that makes photos come alive.
Customizing the Experience and Your Safari Photography
Buffalo are on the move, dust adding mystique to the composition. They’re running from lions, but suddenly they turn and decide attack is the best form of defense. Everything happens quickly during the showdown, a hundred photos taken in a few moments. Then calm. A dozen other safari vehicles have shown up, guides radioing other guides until the panorama is dominated by Toyota Landcruisers that put the lions off a kill. This is what can happen in a national park: unwanted noise. This wouldn’t happen in a private concession though; intimate wildlife encounters are the luxury experience which is why we focus on private concession safari.
Now picture the lions and buffalo in a private concession on a private African photo safari. Your guide radios the others; nobody else will arrive on the scene until you’ve got your photos. Not only that, the guide manoeuvres you into a prime position, the sun coming from behind, the battle playing out below. While you focus on blood-smattered manes and buffalos in the dust, so much is going on behinds the scenes, guides and staff making adjustments so your photography thrives.
Learning From the Guides
Private African photo safaris are always tailored around you. We can make sure you’re led by a lodge or camp’s most experienced photographic guide. They won’t necessarily be a professional photographer, but their knowledge is invaluable, especially in getting you into the right position. There may be more advice as well, simply tips consistent to the setting. Managing color to prevent ochre dust getting overexposed; arranging presets when regularly moving between woodland and grassland; shutter speed settings for that lovely blur of cantering zebra; counteracting harsh light bouncing back off a glassy river surface.
Expert photography guides add a new dimension to the experience. We can create an African photo safari program that’s led by a professional wildlife photographer, using locations that are tailored to your own interests as a photographer. Tracking predators across Botswana with a National Geographic photographer, documenting conservation processes in a South African reserve, following the great wildebeest migration across the Mara River. Or simply brushing the dust off your DSLR and learning how to take photos with the best.
Unique Activities for Wildlife Photography
Back again to the rhinos, the baobabs and that scene bathed by moonlight. There aren’t many private concessions with dedicated photography hides. The serene setting doesn’t interrupt animal movement, so bashful animals can be captured from a much closer perspective. From the same hide, looking up at an elephant provides a stunning impression of power, a wildlife photo reminiscent of a Platon portrait.
Hides are one element of a potential program. Game drives are a mainstay but with a private program they can take place 24 hours a day. Think leaving before dawn to maximize the hours of good morning light and taking the time to capture the transition from day to dusk to night. With a walking safari a guide carries your monopod and additional lenses, so you can set up on a clearing and wait patiently for the herds to wander past. Throughout the day there will be viewpoints and waterholes, places that the guides have found to continually excite photographers. Even after two days you’ll be spoiled for choice over which images make it into frames and onto your reception room wall.
Plan My Photography Safari
Over the last 25 years we’ve organized African photo safaris for all kinds of photographers, but mostly for people like ourselves, people who love to take photos and are passionate about the stories their photos can create. We are not professional photographers, far from it. We just love looking at our photos and remembering those moments in the wild. And we know the professionals who can help take your photos to the next level.