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Wild Life Photography Tips - South Africa

by: Gerald Crawford

It's important to know the behavior of the animals you're trying to photograph. By understanding their behavior you will have a better chance of finding them and you will be able to predict their actions.

By reading up on animal behavior you will learn the different kinds of terrain the various animals prefer. You can combine that knowledge with that of your qualified guide to plan the best African game drives and bush walks, where you will have the opportunity to take some amazing photo's.

Security is very important, so make sure that you don't put yourself in danger. Also never interfere with the natural behavior of the animals in order to take a better photo!

Some part of all trips will involve meeting people from local tribes and with cultural backgrounds different from ours. Please be courteous when taking pictures. It is always a good idea to build rapport with your subjects first and then ask them if it is OK to take their picture. Tribal folk can be very suspicious of cameras and vocal and demonstrative with people who shoot first and make friends after.

The following tips should help you to take memorable photos while on your African safari:

When taking close-up pictures, focus on the animal's eyes. This guarantees that most of the animal's face will be in focus. Be prepared and ready with your camera at all times, as animals may suddenly appear and disappear just as quickly.

Range your subject. For example, when taking photos of an Elephant, take a portrait shot; include one more with the general habitat in context to the subject, then another with close-up detail, such as horns and face.

Utilise low contrast film when the sun is intense and high contrast film when it is overcast or dull. Take different pictures in vertical and horizontal approaches. Take photographs from different levels when you are on a game viewing activity. Pictures taken at the animal's eye-level will appear more sensational.

Do not centre all your shots; leave room in your subject for the animal to move into. This will prevent lifeless composition and give an imitate portrayal of your subject. A good starting point for wildlife photography is a lens with a 300 mm in focal length. Bird photography will require a 500 mm lens. When the subject is in motion, use a shutter speed of at least 1/125, except if you are using a panning method. Birds in flight necessitate speeds of 1/500 or more. Why not share some of your best images of Africa with us.

Film Requirements:

You will find incredible photographic opportunities on your safari. There are no limitations on the amount of film you can bring to any of the countries of Southern Africa, so bring plenty! Film is expensive and can be hard to find once in Africa. If you are interested in A PHOTOFRAPHIC JOURNAL of your safari, bring at least 1 roll (36 exposures) per day; it doesn't hurt to bring more.

We recommend Kodachrome 64 (slide film) or Fujichrome 100 for most daylight shots in open territory. With longer lenses, which admit less light, or for low light situations around dawn and dusk, 400 ASA (or higher) are also recommended. A flash unit is a useful addition when taking pictures of dark subjects in low light conditions, or evening camp fire scenes. Stow your film in a lead foil bag to protect it from heat, moisture and airport X-ray machines. There are two types available, one rated up to 400 ASA and one to 3200 ASA. The 3200 ASA bag is virtually impenetrable to X-rays and is worth the extra cost.


A 200 or 300 mm lens (or 80-300 zoom) is good for most wildlife photography from vehicles or boats. A 400-500 mm lens will work well in many situations, especially if you are a keen bird photographer.

A standard 50 mm or wide angle lens is good for scenery and people shots. If you are an avid photographer you may want to bring two SLR camera bodies (of the same type) so you will not have to constantly change lenses. With two cameras you will spend more time looking at the wildlife and composing shots than fumbling in your camera bag, getting dust in your one camera body, and missing the action!

If you have any questions or comments please e-mail me on gerald@12234455.co.za or call me on +27-0720390184.

About The Author

Gerald Crawford: born in South Africa, studied electronics, telecommunication, eco-travel and african travel concepts. He taught responsible tourism in South Africa and the United Kingdom. If you have any questions or comments please e-mail me on. E-mail Address: gerald@12234455.co.za Website Address: http://www.12234455.co.za

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