PHOTOGRAPHY ON SAFARI.
Most safaris are a once-in-a trip. You want to ensure that your photographs are the very best and do justice to the beauty of the land, the excitement of the trip, and the magnificence of the wildlife. Here are some useful pointers that will help.
Film. Don’t take a chance on running short. Even if you’re likely to find so many exciting subjects you can easily run out before the trip’s end. Double the amount of film you normally bring on a trip. Though film can sometimes be purchased at lodges and safari camps, it’s best to buy any additional film in Nairobi. Print film, such as Fujicolor or Kodakcolor, of ISO speed 100 or 200 is most useful. For dawn or dusk photographs (often this is when certain wildlife is active), bring some additional rolls of 400 speed or higher. If you shoot slide film, 100 speed is a good choice for most shooting, with some additional rolls of 200 speed for or dusk photography. In addition, bring some higher speed – 400 or higher – for darker lighting situations. Keep in mind that slides film is not as forgiving of exposure errors as is print film. You need to be careful in using the camera’s metering system. And for those very special shots, you may want to bracket exposures – that is, make one exposure at the meter’s recommendation, then another that is ½ f-stop underexposed and a third’s that is ½ f-stop overexposed. If you do much bracketing, you’ll need lots of slide film- much more than when shooting print film. A final point about film: do not bring any films you haven’t used before. It’s not a good time to be tasting out new emulsions!
Cameras. If you are a serious photographer, you probably have several lenses and may be two camera bodies. Two camera bodies are very helpful – they can save precious time in changing lenses; also, it’s often convenient to have one camera body loaded with medium speed film, another with high-speed film. Any extra camera body is also good insurance against camera malfunction. Put fresh batteries in all cameras and motor drives before leaving on safari. Bring a full set of batteries for each camera/ motor drive. Finding batteries can sometimes be a problem once you’re on safari.
Motor Drives. While not an absolute necessity, motor drives or motor winders can make things easier when photographing wildlife action. Of course, many new cameras have motor drives built into them, but if you have an older model you may want to add a motor drive.
Lenses. Do not assume that you’ll e using telephoto lenses exclusively. Bring whatever lenses you like to use, from wide angle to medium telephoto. Zoom lenses are an excellent choice to cover a wide range of focal lengths, and these are especially useful for photographing scenic or activities and people in safari camps and lodges. For good wildlife photography, preferred focal lengths are 300mm and 500mm. If you are buying a telephoto lens just for this trip, a good choice would be a 400mm and a 1.4X or 2X focal length extender. With the 1.4 extender, the 400 becomes a 560mm and with 2X the combination gives 800mm. If your equipment is more limited or if you don’t expect to do much wildlife photography in the future, you might try using a focal length extender with your zoom lens. A 70- 210mm zoom becomes a 140- 420mm with a 2X extender.
Camera Support. In a safari vehicle a beanbag is the best camera/ lens support. It is so stable, in fact, that sometimes you can get away using slower shutter speeds than you’d ever consider with a long telephoto lens. It should be made of heavy enough cloth to withstand being tossed around, stepped on, snagged on door edges, and so on. Be sure that’s it’s large enough; useful dimensions: about 12 inches long, about 9 inches wide and about 4 to 5 inches thick when filled with beans or corn. If you make your own, leave an opening that can be closed with a zipper or Velcro or bring a needle and thread to sew it shut after adding beans or corn bought at a market in Nairobi or on the road. When using telephoto lenses, it’s vital to have good support because these long lenses magnify every slight movement, creating possible blurring of the image. If you don’t have a beanbag, some clothing rolled up makes for a reasonable substitute. A sweater for example, rolled up and stuffed into a T-shirt can offer good support to rest camera and lens on.
Dust and Heat. It’s a good idea to carry a small lens brush and each time you open the camera to load film, run the brush carefully over the film pressure plate and the general area where film is transported. One tiny speck of dust can scratch and ruin a whole roll of film. You’ll encounter a lot of dust on safari. Carry a supply of plastic bags in which to keep your camera, lenses and film. Don’t try to load or unload film or change lenses while the vehicle is moving – you are likely to get dust inside the camera or lens. Heat is deadly to film, especially exposed film, causing unwanted shifts in color balance. Wherever possible keep your camera and film supply out of direct sunlight. When not in use, stow them in camera bags under a seat, away from bright sun. It’s usually best to leave your exposed film in the coolness of a safari tent or lodge during the day while you’re out on safari.
Sunrise and Sunset Photos. East Africa has the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets of nearly any place on earth. To capture the grandeur of these events, here are a few tips.
- Use a telephoto or zoom lens to it’s longest focal length. This makes the sun larger in size for a more dramatic shot.
- Take advantage of any landscape elements for dramatic silhouettes. A graceful acacia tree or any possible wildlife will enhance the composition of your picture.
- Don’t set your exposure for the sun itself. The resultant will probably be far too dark. Instead, aim the camera away from the sun, to the right or left, and meter off the sky. Then lock the exposure setting, and recompose picture with the sun where you want it in the frame. You may also want to bracket a few exposures; that is, make shots slightly overexposed. This is often necessary to fine tune exposure when shooting slide film.
General Techniques. Patience is the key to good wildlife photography. Many of the animals in game parks and reserves are used to vehicles and people, allowing close approach at times. However, even the most tolerant usually react nervously at the first approach of a vehicle. By switching off the engine and sitting for a while, most animals relax and return to normal activity, allowing better photographic opportunities. Try to pick your best angle for lighting when you’re first approaching an animal, then stop at the most favorable spot. Repeated starting of engines and movement of vehicles to jockey for better position causes even the most tolerant animals to eventually leave. Early morning and late afternoon provide the best lighting for most subjects. Direct overhead lighting in midday is too harsh and contrasty. A polarizing filter is very useful for scenics, darkening and intensifying the color of the sky. The maximum effect is achieved when shooting at an angle of 90 degrees to the azimuth of the sun; the effect is minimal when shooting towards or 180 degrees away from the sun. Be sure to remove polarizing filters when shooting wildlife. The polarizer will have almost no effect on most subjects and, more importantly, such filters soak up almost 1 ½ f- stop of light. You may need that extra amount of light gathering, especially when using fast shutter speed to capture moving animals. And finally, the cardinal rule of good photographers: The Welfare of the animals always comes first! Never approach too closely an animal stalking or hunting. When approached any predators that are feeding, move slowly and as quietly as possible. If an animal is frightened away from its kill, another predator or scavenger may come along and steal it. This is especially true of cheetahs and the very health of the animal and its young may be jeopardized. If the animal behaves nervously and is about to flee, back off.