Taking Aim: How to Shoot on Photo Safari

Cameras and Lenses
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There's no doubt that a safari is an extraordinary adventure. For the photographer, it can also be a lot of work. You're up early and out late in the field to catch the light, burdened with cameras and long lenses. What preparations should you make to maximize your comfort?

When it come to clothing, think comfortable—and practical. The roads are dusty beyond belief, and "formal" at most game lodges means a clean shirt at best.

Jeans or khakis, a long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt and windbreaker (it can get cool at night since most East African parks are at fairly high elevations), and a good hat—that's about all you need. Add toiletries, sun block, and a pair of small binoculars.

Cameras
Don't take anything, camera or lens, that you have not tested out at home first. Make sure it's all working—and make sure you know how to work it. The Serengeti is no place to learn what all those buttons really do. Run several rolls through the camera, practice loading and rewinding film, and test that new lens.

Don't even think of going to Africa with only one camera. Bring at least two bodies, preferably with motor drives, and a third body for backup wouldn't hurt. You'll probably be happiest with one standard body, and one autofocus.

If your one and only camera quits, you have no options. For practical purposes, there will be no possibility of camera repair on your safari. Take lots of batteries for the camera and motor drives. Such things will just not be availablein safari company.

Lenses
You won't need many short focal lengths. A medium wide-angle or a normal lens in the 35-50mm range will do—particularly if you have a popular camera and can borrow a true wide-angle for one or two shots. Otherwise, slip a small 28mm in your bag.

Absolutely bring a zoom in the 80-200mm or 70-210mm range. Zooms are great for safaris as you'll be doing almost all your shooting from the vehicles, and the ability to crop in the camera is paramount.


Bring any big lenses you have. If you double up on any focal lengths, make it the long ones. The most useful lens is a reasonably fast 400mm, f3.5 or f4. A 300mm is worth bringing as well.

A 200-400mm zoom, such as the f4 Nikon can be ideal, particularly if it has constant aperture throughout the zoom range. A 500mm lens is as big as you'll ever want, but avoid a mirror lens such as a 500mm f8—it's just too slow.

By all means bring a 1.4x teleconverter. This will take your 300mm to 420mm, offering great versatility. A 2x converter sacrifices too much light and image quality.

Published: 27 Jul 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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