Compact Safari Photography Guide

October 11, 2017

 Elephant from a Lake Manze camp car - photo by David Liebst in Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania


If you’re about to go on safari, you are probably thinking about taking a camera with - and if you aren’t, then you should be!  


Photography, either still or moving, is every traveller’s tool for turning an intangible experience into a tangible one. It is our way of taking a piece of our holiday home with us and preserving it so we can relive it again and again.


Nowhere else is photography so important as when you go on safari. You are about to go to some of the most dramatic and beautiful destinations in the world, and see some of the most amazing animals that call these remarkable places home. You are going to be surrounded by golden photo opportunities which many people only dream of, so even if photography is not a passion for you, you will want to consider taking a decent setup with you on your trip.


So here are four tips to help you get some great shots:


Camera Bodies:

You are going to want to look at a DSLR that allows you to change the lenses and not a fixed lens happy snappy. There are lots of really great DSLR brands out there, but for simplicity let’s look at the two most established, Canon and Nikon. The entry level cameras by these two manufacturers come in between 350-500 USD and will allow you complete control over aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Whatever body you decide on, make sure you spend lots of time playing with it, so you learn to use the camera.



The better your lens, the better your images are going to turn out. Cheap glass in front of the most expensive camera body will generally produce bad images, where excellent glass in front of a cheap camera body will usually produce excellent images! The next thing to consider is range, or the focal length of your camera. For wildlife, the longer a lens the better. For safari, I would suggest you need to take one lens that is no smaller than 300mm. Or possibly a good zoom lens. Each of the manufacturers I mentioned will produce a wide range of long lenses, but Sigma produce lenses for both of them, often delivering excellent quality glass for a fraction of the price.


 Malachite Kingfisher - photo by David Liebst


What to photograph?

Everything! Once you have that out of your system, start being selective with your images. Look at the light and see if it’s falling on your subject, or if it’s coming from behind. Ask the driver (within reason) to move a little so you can get a better angle, or be on the side where the light is better. In the middle of the day the light is very strong and harsh, so finding animals in the shade, with darker backgrounds behind them will help produce more dramatic images. In the early morning and late afternoon the light is heaven!


In the car: Game drives are the best way to see lots of game because you can cover a lot of distance. The thing about taking pictures from the car is that you are usually shooting down onto your subjects, unless they have long noses and flappy ears. This is usually not as flattering as it’s difficult to isolate the subject from the background. Try and get as low as you can in the vehicle to get a better angle, or just look out for situations where you can get a shot that is as close to level with the animal as possible. It’s also worth looking at getting a mono pod that you can use in the car when the light gets dim.


Walking: Here you can get very low, but the trouble is you may not see a lot of game. Animals are scared of people on foot and will typically run. This is where having a long lens is going to be the most useful. It’s also a great chance to get some pictures of the family enjoying their safari.


Hippos in the Rufiji River - photo by David Liebst


Boat Safari: This is birders’ heaven. The rivers in Africa are teeming with birdlife and it’s a fantastic way to fall in love with photography. You’ll also have great chances to capture the toothy crocodile and enormous hippo, not to mention incredible sunsets. When photographing birds in the boat (or by car) be careful not to point you lens up at a tree with the bright sky in the background. The Selous is one of the best places in Africa to go for boat safaris, almost every camp there offers them.


 Kingfisher skimming the water on Lake Manze - photo by David Liebst



There are lots of tips on composition, and it’s worth reading about the “rule of thirds” but rules in photography are made to be broken. You will have an image in your mind of what you think the picture should look like, so snap away and learn from each picture you take.


Guides and Drivers:

The guides and drivers you will meet live in these incredible parks and have met countless photographers. Don’t be afraid to ask them or the managers for tips and advice as they just may hold a wealth of knowledge.


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Flo Montgomery and David Liebst  |  I  for Safari check out