Planning a Safari

I have been privileged enough to live,work and photograph wildlife in some of Africa's greatest wildlife reserves,as well as travel extensively in East and Southern Africa.

Let me help you plan your Wildlife Photo Safari to Africa. First and foremost what do you want to see and photograph? Africa is filled with special places and amazing Wildlife and knowing where to go at what time of the year is key to a successful photographic trip. Below are a few iconic animals that most photographers wish to photograph, although the key animals are mentioned there is always lots of other Wildlife to photograph at the chosen locations.

The Big Cats - Lion, Leopard and Cheetah

South Africa has some of the best reserves for viewing and photographing the big cats, the Sabi Sands game reserve and the Timbavati game reserve are both great destinations to photograph both Lions and Leopards, you may also see a cheetah in these reserves but it is unlikely. Phinda Game reserve in South Africa is a good destination to Photograph Cheetah,the best time to visit these reserves is from April to October although they can be visited all year.To photograph all the big cats why not combine Sabi Sands and Phinda or The Timbavati and Phinda.
Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta and some of the best Game viewing in Africa with a wide variety of things to do and see !For great Lion viewing and to possibly see them hunting Buffalo then Duba Plains is the place to go in The Okavango Delta, to see and photograph Lion and Leopard then Chiefs Island and some of the privately operated concessions in the Delta need to be visited, Cheetahs can be found in Botswana but they are harder to find, A great combination in Botswana is to combine the Okavango Delta with the Chobe river.The best time to Visit Botswana is from April to October.
Tanzania has the Serengeti National Park and a few other Gems like Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater.Lion , Leopard and Cheetah can be seen in Tanzania but driving off the road to view them is not permitted which is limiting. The best time to visit Tanzania is from June to November.Combine Tanzania with a visit to the Mountain Gorillas or Amboseli.
Kenya's Masai Mara Game reserve is one of my favourite places, all the big cats can be found here and driving off road is permitted so the Photographic opportunities are amazing, the Masai Mara can be visited all year although the rainy season in April and May can put a dampner on things.Combine Kenya with a visit to the Mountain Gorillas or Amboseli.

Grey Matter - Elephants

Elephants can be found in all major reserves across Africa, although there are many local and seasonal movements you will be unlucky not to see an Elephant on your Safari. There are however a few places where the Elephant viewing is spectacular.
Botswana in the dry season along the Chobe River is a great place to see large concentrations of Elephants together coming to drink and swim in the river. Best time to see this is August to October.
Kenya has Amboseli, the Land of the Giants, a beautiful National park with a view of Kilimanjaro, here Elephants can be found in great numbers as well as some impressive big tuskers. Best time to visit is June to October.

The Greatest show on Earth ! - Wildebeest Migration

There are only 2 countries to see the so called "Greatest show on Earth" Tanzania and Kenya, the annual movement of about 1.6 Million Wildebeest in search of fresh grazing and water, to see this huge mass of animals is truly a spectacular sight.
Tanzania is where the migration spends most of its time, moving through the Serengeti National park, a great time to see and photograph the migration in Tanzania is when the Wildebeest calf in the Ndutu region of the Serengeti in February and March, the migration can also be seen in other regions of the Serenegti from April to July and November to January.
Kenya is where the amazing and spectacular river crossings take place, here the Wildebeest cross the Mara river in their never ending search for grazing, the best time to visit the Masai Mara to see the migration is from August to October.
The Migration is dynamic and they move and change their direction based on the rains and grazing and sometimes they are not where they normally would be.

Our closest relatives - The Great Apes, Gorillas and Chimps

One of the best experiences of my life was trekking the Gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, there is something magical sitting close to these gentle giants as they feed and the babies play, the Photography can be challenging in the forest but it is very rewarding.The Gorillas are viewed on foot and a fair level of fitness is required to walk and find them, some treks take less than an hour while others can be as much as 3 or 4 hours, you also need to be in good health otherwise park officials can turn you away if they suspect you are ill.
Rwanda has the Volcanoes National Park which is home to about 460 Gorillas and 7 different families that can be viewed.The Gorillas can be viewed all year although trekking in the rainy season during April and May can be more challenging.Combine this trip with Kenya or Tanzania.
Uganda has the Bwindi impenetrable forest that is home to about 380 Gorillas and 7 families that can be viewed.The Gorillas can be viewed all year although trekking in the rainy season during April and May can be more challenging.Chimpanzees can also be viewed in Uganda in Kibale Forest, a spectacular forest with a great variety of primates and birds.Combine this trip with Kenya or Tanzania.
Congo home to the Lesser know Lowland Gorillas in the Pristine and vast forests of the Congo basin, this is a unique and spectacular wildlife experience with Forest elephants and Buffalo that can be seen in the Forest Bais.
Tanzania has great Chimpanzee trekking on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Mahale mountains, a pristine destination with great photographic opportunities. The best time to visit is November to March.Combine this trip with a visit to the Serengeti or the Ngorongoro crater.

Magnificent Landscapes - Namibia

Namibia is home to some of the best scenery and Landscapes in Africa, you can easily spend 2 weeks in Namibia photographing landscapes and travelling to different locations such as the Quiver tree forest,the ghost town of Kolmanskop,the world famous Sossosvlei and Deadvlei,the Spitzkoppe mountains and then of course you cant visit Namibia without a visit to Etosha National park. The best time to visit Namibia is from May to October.

Our Feathered friends - Bird Photography

Photographing birds is challenging but some of the most fun I have had has been while photographing birds, long lenses are needed as well as a sturdy platform.
Botswana has the Chobe River that is great for bird photography, Fish Eagles, Storks, African Skimmers to name a few, staying on a Houseboat is a super way of utilising the river to its full potential for bird photography.Combine this trip with a trip to the Okavango Delta. The best time to visit is August to October.
South Africa has a province called Kwazulu Natal and here is a reserve called Zimanga, here there are 2 photographic hides where smaller species of birds can be photographed as they come to drink,Twinspots, Canaries,Barbets,Oxpeckers and many other species, a real gem and great for the birds!Combine this trip with a visit to Phinda or the Sabi Sands game reserve. The best time to visit is from June to October.

A few Things to Consider for your Safari

Before you leave home

Are you traveling with the right company
Will they look after your photographic needs? The worst possible scenario for a wildlife photographer is having to leave a sighting as the rest of non photographers in the group on the vehicle are tired or want to go and find something different, or they are figety and restless! Remember you have invested a lot in your Photo Safari and you want to get the best photographic opportunities out of it.

Planning and Knowledge
Do research on your subject and area of operation so you can familiarize yourself as much as possible with local conditions, the equipment you will need and what you can expect, be sure to know the luggage and weight restrictions on the International and local flights once at your destination, this will dictate how much and what equipment you can take with and if you need to make provisions for excess baggage.

Make sure you have the right cameras and lenses for your Photo safari, you don’t want to only have a wide angle lens when you really need a 600mm lens! Make sure you get the best possible equipment you can afford, alternatively rent the best possible equipment you can, stick with recognized brands.

Equipment knowledge
Make sure you have at least a basic understanding of your equipment and what it can do and the various functions available to you, the right time to try and figure out how to increase the shutter speed is definitely not just before the Cheetah chases its prey !

While on Safari

Put in the extra effort on your Photo Safari, get up early for the sunrise and the early morning light, there will be time to sleep later!

Take test images and make sure your settings in camera are correct, taking a bit of time to review a image is invaluable before shooting off a sequence and finding out later your exposure was wrong.

Dont give up too easily, persevere and wait for the right moment, it will happen but be ready for it and make sure your camera settings are correct.

Use a variety of lenses and focal lengths, do not get stuck in lens rut! Zoom in nice and tight but don’t forget to go wide as this will give you a great perspective of the subject in its environment.

Work from a stable and firm platform, make sure you have the correct support system for your cameras and lenses.

Never run out of storage cards or battery life, always make sure you have enough of both!

FEASCA – A acronym I use to help remember some steps to follow before taking a picture

F – Focus – without correct and sharp focus you will likely not have a useable image, are you using the correct number of focus points and focus tracking mode relevant to the situation.

E – Exposure – Expose correctly for your subject, use the correct metering mode for the situation, make sure you take the subject and background into consideration as this does affect the exposure.

A – Aperture – Are you shooting at the correct aperture, does your subject and the available light require a greater depth of field or should you be shooting on a wide open aperture.

S – Shutter speed – What kind of image do you want? Does it need a slow shutter speed to create motion blur or do you want to freeze the action, this is directly linked to the ISO you use as well as your aperture and the available light, take all these factors into consideration.

C – Composition – Think about where you place your subject in the frame to create the most visually pleasing image, the rule of thirds works well but it does not necessarily need to be followed.

A – Amputation – Many times in my photographic career I have deleted good images because the Subject is missing a leg, tail or wing tip! Make sure you are not amputating a part of the subject by accident.

Use the best possible software for editing, there are many options available on the market, you really don’t want to edit your once in a lifetime images on basic and cheap software! My choice of Editing software is a combination of Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CS 6.

Have fun on Safari! Why would we spend our time on wildlife photography if it wasn’t fun!