Liz's Safari pages Photo tips
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Photo hints for safari

I'm assuming those who are reading this safari photo tips page are amateur or serious amateur photographers. If you're a professional, you will have other concerns, the main one being how to carry all your equipment in hand luggage on the plane.

Simple Digital Camera

Digital cameras are increasing in quality and decreasing in price all the time. You will be able to recharge your batteries in all lodges and most/all tented camps in Kenya/Tanzania, but you'll have to take note of when the generators are on. (They are often off between about 9 a.m. and about 3 p.m., and after 10 or 11p.m. Times vary a lot between lodges.)

If you don't know much about photography, seek advice, read magazine reviews or use the internet before making your choice.

Everything keeps changing so fast, it's hard to stay current with recommendations. The bottom line is, if you're getting a digital compact, get one with at least a x6 zoom.

For my Galápagos trip I bought a Nikon 5700, 5Mp with a x8 optical zoom. In 2004, it was the best 'bangs for bucks' around, excellent optics. Drawbacks: it's slow to get from from 'off' to 'on', and from 'standby' to 'useable', and in poor light it has perceptible shutter lag.These are the main problems to watch out for. Otherwise, choose on zoom length, maximum aperture (it's not always as bright as you'd probably expect)

I used a Canon 350D digital SLR on my most recent trips - Kenya and Uganda - and was very pleased with it, and was backing up onto an Epson P-2000 storage device. The P2000 worked well, but was very, very slow to view images and complicated to get the images onto the computer once I got home. I'm sure there must be an easier solution to the latter problem!

A laptop might be possible, but airline carry-on restrictions are a real problem.

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SLR Cameras

If you have an SLR, but want to travel light, I take over 80% of my safari photos with a 75 - 300mm zoom, and if you were to have only one lens, that's the one to take. A short zoom (28/35 - 70mm) can be useful for views or shots of your accommodation etc. A 400 or 500mm maximun length would be useful for tight portraits, for photographing birds, and for when you don't want to get too close.
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NB: The above applies to Kenya, the northern circuit of Tanzania and Murchison Falls NP in Uganda. For just about everywhere else you will need a 400mm, and maybe more. (For the Gorillas in Bwindi, a short zoom will suffice - really!) In Namibia, on a film SLR I used a 500 mm lens more than my 75 - 300mm in Hobatere and Etosha, and I'm still cropping a lot of slides.
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Anything else is down to your personal preference, and how much weight allowance your airline gives you - also consider storage. If possible, take a spare body. If you're on a group tour and something goes wrong, you won't be able to take it to get it fixed. Even if you're self-driving, it's not all that likely you will be able to get into Nairobi and get anything done 'while you wait'. It's also a good idea to take an extra of your most-used lens. Luckily, the week before my Namibia trip, I bought a second-hand 75-300 zoom lens as a spare, and I needed it!

Camera Supports

If you are on a group safari, which isn't a specialist, dedicated photographic safari run especially for photographers, think very seriously about whether you want to carry a tripod. If you're in minibus with other people, it would be pretty antisocial to set one up, and pretty cumbersome in the confines of the vehicle. You could of course use one in the lodge grounds, or with a telescope for birding.
In the minibus, you can use a beanbag (I often use a folded jumper), a G-clamp on the open hatch-ridge or a window-clamp on the window. (You will no doubt want to take some photos from the window, as it often gives a better angle.) In fact, my window clamp opens wide enough to fit onto the roof hatch also. In an ideal world you'd have several dotted around the vehicle, all fitted with quick-releases, as you never know where your next image will be best taken from, but that's only feasible on a private safari.
Also, you can brace your elbows against the roof-opening in a triangular shape, but this is quite uncomfortable in the lower windows.
You could possibly use a tripod in the night lodges, but you could find yourself getting in other peoples' way. In any case, in the photographic hides, you're best to brace your camera in the slit - which is made of stone, so a clamp is not possible. A mini-tripod might be useful, but I've never tried it - I rely on either a small beanbag or placing the camera on the stone bottom of the viewing slit, neither of which is really ideal. If you had a room with a balcony at Mountain Lodge, you could set up a tripod, but not all rooms have balconies.
Then of course, you could consider a monopod.

A suggested packing list for digital SLR users (serious amateur)

  • SLR body - preferably two.
    Short zoom and 75-300 zoom, with lens hoods
  • A 400 or 500mm lens,(optional) as fast as you can afford, but bear in mind airline weight restrictions. This is used/needed mostly for birds, so you might choose to leave this out.
  • Polarising filters for the lenses.
  • UV or skylight filters to protect the lenses when the polarisers aren't being used.
  • Lens brushes and cloths (e.g. Pentax microfibre.) For the dust, especially bad in Tsavo and Amboseli.
  • Spare batteries - plenty - and battery charger/s
  • Your back-up device of choice: I'm currently using a P2000.

Don't ask me how you're going to get it all into your hand-baggage allowance. Also, you could wear a camera and zoom lens around your neck, as this seems to be an 'allowable extra'. In July 2006, you had to fit everything you were carrying-on into one carry-on-sized bag. Use your 'emergency underwear' (in case your luggage goes missing) as 'padding'.

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