Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Photo Safari in Africa on September 24, 2019 Share Whether you’re an expert with all the gear or a beginner photographer, there’s a perfect camp for your photographic safari. From expert guides and world-class camera equipment to photographic hides for optimal viewing, the properties we work with offer spectacular experiences. Here, we share everything you need to know to make the most of photography on safari. Elephants at Mombo Camp © Crookes and Jackson Frequently Asked Questions We get a lot of great questions from our clients who are interested in making photography a central element of their safari experience. Here are a few common questions we’ll answer for you in this piece: What are the best times of year for photographers to visit Africa? How much time do you recommend we spend at each camp? Can Extraordinary Journeys help me find a specialist photographic guide to accompany my safari? Will the camps have specially-equipped photographic vehicles? How close will I get to the wildlife? Where can I get access to computers and editing software to use while on safari? What are the luggage allowances for camera equipment? Will the camps have charging areas for my batteries? Can I bring a drone? When to Visit Africa for a Photographic Safari (and What to Expect) Generally speaking, we advocate for a slow-travel approach whenever possible, especially on safari. The less time you spend in transit, the more time you’ll have to enjoy your destination, get to know the guides, and—best of all—encounter incredible wildlife. We recommend you spend at least three nights at each camp. The best time of year to safari really depends on where and when you travel in Africa. Usually, you’ll want to travel in the driest season when the safari experience is most dramatic, typically between June and October. If you can withstand the heat, we think October is the most dramatic time for photography in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In East Africa, photographers love timing their safaris with the Great Wildebeest Migration from June through October. We especially love East Africa from late September through December. There are fewer crowds, and even though it can be a bit damp at times, the rains only add to the drama. Another great time to visit East Africa is in January and February. That said, some photographers love the green season: dramatic skies, clouds to soften the light, fewer crowds, longer days, and less dust. The rainy season (or the “green season,” as it’s called) can be fantastic. © Rekero Camp Where to Go for Photography on Safari Learn from the Experts: Camps with Photographers In Residence Three of our all-time favorite camps with in-house photography experts are: Alex Walker’s Serian collection in Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti African Bush Camps at Bumi Hills Safari Lodge in Zimbabwe The Jackal & Hide from Natural Selections, located in the heart of the Okavango Delta Photo from Resident guide Adam Rabinowitz based at Somalisa© Adam Rabinowitz Get the VIP Treatment: Hire a Private Specialist Guide For an even more exclusive photography experience, consider hiring a specialist photographic guide. Here are three of our favorite options. Wild Studio with Great Plains Conservation — Botswana & Kenya Wild Studio was founded by world-renowned wildlife filmmakers and photographers, and the expertise of their guides matches that pedigree. Still, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced photographer, you’re welcome at Wild Studio. Your private guide will educate you on photographic techniques while also providing key insights and time-earned perspective on the area’s wildlife, their habitats, and the importance of preserving the ecosystem. And at the end of your safari, a storyboarding exercise helps you tell the story of your safari and help spread the message about conservation once you return home. Hide at Ol Donyo © Great Plains Tafika Camp — Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park A New Zealander by birth, Bryan Jackson visited Africa for the first time in the 1970s and never left. Now co-owner and Safari Manager of Remote Africa Safaris, Brian is based at Tafika Camp in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. He has been guiding in the Luangwa Valley for over 20 years and provides exceptional photographic expertise for specialized photographic safaris, thanks to his keen eye and decades spent honing his craft. Depending on the size of your group, the fee to hire Bryan Jackson is $400 to $700 per day and includes a private photographic vehicle. The Hide — Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park The Hide has an in-house photographer/videographer, Neil Fairlie, a native Zimbabwean and experienced wildlife documentary filmmaker. While Neil is based at The Hide, he’s also available to guests at Changa Safari Camp. Neil can guide tours for groups or individuals, beginners and professionals alike. The fee for groups of 1-4 travelers to hire Neil is $420 per day (for a full day), including a private vehicle and guide, in addition to Niel. Buffalos drinking water at The Hide © The Hide Leave Your Gear at Home: Camps that Provide Cameras for You Special Offer: Wilderness Safaris Wilderness Safaris has an incredible partnership with Olympus. If you stay at a Wilderness property in Botswana, Namibia, or Zimbabwe, you’ll have access to a limited number of camera sets to use throughout your safari itinerary. These sets are free of charge and available on a first-come, first-served basis for exclusive use by guests of Wilderness Safari-managed properties. The benefits are twofold: Travelers get access to world-class Olympus equipment and knowledgeable Wilderness guides The partnership supports a scholarship program for secondary and tertiary education through Wilderness’s non-profit partner, Children in the Wilderness. If this program is of interest to you, get in touch, so we can reserve a set of Olympus gear for you! Below are a few properties we recommend for travelers interested in taking advantage of the photography amenities on offer with Wilderness (note: Bisate is not part of the Wilderness-Olympus partnership). Okavango Delta, Botswana Mombo Camp & Little Mombo – Each room has a camera. Vumbura Plains – A few sets (camera with lenses) plus one pair of binoculars will be available in the main area. Bonus: Wilderness offers a slideshow for guests explaining the partnership with photographic tips and images. Linyanti, Botswana Kings Pool – A few sets (camera with lenses) plus one pair of binoculars will be available in the main area. Lessons will be on offer in the sunken hide during midday when the hide is most active. An alternative option is a photographic experience on the Queen Silvia barge. In the summer months, there will be a mobile hide for the carmine bee-eaters. Skeleton Coast, Namibia Serra Cafema, Hoanib, and Little Kulala – Cameras will be available in camp for guests to use in their own time, with a booklet available explaining how to use the camera, including some photographic tips and tricks. Pro-tip: for expert guidance at these camps, we recommend hiring a private guide. Sossusvlei Desert in Namibia © M. Van_Der_Byl Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda Bisate Lodge – A couple of camera sets will be available for guests to use on their gorilla treks. The camera will be pre-set in order to ensure that guests get the optimal photographic experience. Tips for photographing gorillas will also be provided. Beyond the Wilderness-Olympus partnership, several Great Plains Conservation camps cater to photographers and can provide a camera for you. Here are a few of our favorites: Zarafa Camp – Linyanti, Botswana Selinda Camp – Linyanti, Botswana Duba Plains Camp – Okavango Delta, Botswana Ol Donyo Lodge – Amboseli and Chyulu Hills National Parks, Kenya Mara Plains Camp – Maasai Mara, Kenya Mara Nyika Camp – Maasai Mara, Kenya All of Great Plains Conservation’s 5-star camps have a Canon 5d Mark III or IV with two sets of wide-angle lenses (including 100-400mm) per room for guest use. Guides can do a basic tutorial and can always position the vehicle to maximize the chances for great images. Learn Everything You Need to Know: Specialist Photo Camps If you want to learn how to use your camera to its fullest capabilities, a specialist photo camp might be perfect for you. Here are three of our favorites: Pangolin Chobe Hotel – Chobe National Park, Botswana For professional, passionate, knowledgeable photographic guides, look no further than Pangolin Chobe Hotel. You’re guaranteed a warm welcome and helpful attention to your photography, regardless of your skills or experience. Plus, incredible wildlife at Chobe make for a wonderfully immersive safari experience. Zimanga Private Game Reserve – KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa Zimanga offers state-of-the-art photographic hides, built in partnership with “The Invisible Wildlife Photographer,” Bence Mate. These hides provide visitors extraordinary opportunities to observe African wildlife. Additionally, Zimanga’s game drive vehicles have a limit of two passengers per row, ensuring ample space for your gear and maneuverability. Photograph in Comfort: Camps with Photographic Vehicles For the ultimate experience of comfort, amenities, and exceptional access to great photographic opportunities, a specially-designed photographic vehicle may be just what you’re looking for. Depending on the property, your vehicle may feature: Space for 3-4 photographers (and their equipment) Drop-down sides for photographers to lie down and get low-angle photographs Three 360º swivel seats, one per “row” – seats also lean right back if required Only front and back bars to hold up the roofless obstruction of view for photography Beanbags and foam camera rest (photographers advised to bring their own tripods) Vehicle kit with a fridge, charging points, roll-down sides for bad weather, etc. Lowered center console with raised lid for quick and easy access to lens changes Lowered snorkel for better forward views Radio aerial at the back of the vehicle for better forward views Specially-designed pop-off roof (choose whether you want it on or off!) Additional leg room Details on vehicles available through Asilia © Asilia Africa Several camps offer photographic safari vehicles. Here are our favorites. Asilia Africa has photography vehicles based in the Maasai Mara which service all their Mara Camps. They have one in the Central Serengeti for use at Dunia Camp and the new Namiri Plains, one in Northern Serengeti for Sayari Camp (and seasonal Asilia migration camps), and also one in Ruaha for use at Jabali Ridge and Kwihala Camp. Mombo Camp – Okavango Delta, Botswana Mashatu Lodge – Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana Ngala Safari Lodge – Timbavati Game Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa Phinda Vlei Lodge – KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa Phinda Zuka Lodge – KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa Phinda Homestead – KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa Get Up Close to the Action: Camps with Excellent Photographic Hides Ol Donyo Lodge (Amboseli and Chyulu Hills National Parks, Kenya) offers two photographic hides, one at ground level and one sunken container that faces the water hole in front of the lodge. Mashatu Lodge (Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana) offers four types of hides: An elephant-proof ground-level hide based at a waterhole, perfect for both beginner and professional photographers Semi-permanent hides that are regularly relocated to drying waterholes in the riverbeds characteristic of Mashatu. An infinity bird hide where you can photograph seed-eating birds at eye level A hide based at the white-fronted bee-eater colony Singita Pamushana (Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe) offers a hide near a waterhole that can comfortably accommodate six guests and their guides. The hide even includes an en-suite flush toilet! Linkwasha Camp (Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe) offers their Photo Hub experience at their sunken hide. This post-brunch event includes an informative slideshow and cameras available for guest use at tea time. Little Makalolo (Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe) offers a Photo Hub experience similar to Linkwasha’s, but the location is at their log pile hide. Chamilandu Bush Camp (South Luangwa National Park, Zambia) has a hide that looks over an oxbow lagoon behind the camp, the perfect location for spotting bathing elephants. Kaingo Camp (South Luangwa National Park, Zambia) offers photographic hides regularly used by National Geographic, the BBC, and the Discovery Channel for wildlife photo shoots and documentaries. Kaingo features both a hippo hide and an elephant hide. Chiawa Camp (Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia) offers two hides, one near the edge of the Zambezi and one near the camp’s water tank overflow. We especially love the option of a night safari in the second hide where guests can use an infrared spotlight and night-vision monoculars to view any nocturnal (or diurnal) wildlife stopping to drink nearby. Polish Your Work: Camps with Editing Tools If you want to head home with perfectly-edited photos ready for printing, several camps offer computers with a full suite of editing tools for guest use. If this sounds appealing to you, we recommend: Singita Ebony Lodge – Sabi Sands South Africa Singita Boulders Lodge – Sabi Sands, South Africa Singita Faru Faru – Serengeti National Park, Tanzania Singita Lebombo Lodge – Kruger National Park, South Africa Singita Kwitonda Lodge – Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda Singita Pamushana – Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe Studio lab at Singita Lebombo in South Africa’s Kruger National Park © Singita Keeping It Simple: Photographic Day Tours You don’t have to build your entire safari around photography to still enjoy some incredible moments behind your camera. For a lighter take on the full-fledged photographic safari, we recommend a day tour! You’ll get to take in amazing views of wildlife and learn to make better use of your camera while you’re at it. Here are two of our favorite tours: Chase the Sun Peninsula Tour in Cape Town This tour gives you a fantastic overview of Cape Town’s highlights, and the route is scheduled to take advantage of optimum lighting conditions in each stop! Photograph technicolor bathing boxes at Muizenberg Beach, quaint streets and brightly-colored fishing boats at Kalk Bay, jackass penguins at Boulder’s Beach, the iconic Cape Point, and the granite and sandstone cliff face stretching along Chapman’s Peak Drive. This eight-hour tour includes lunch and is limited to just 12 guests. Change Houses in Cape Town © Chase the Sun 3-Hour Photo Safari River Cruise Along the Chobe River For a half-day photographic excursion, we recommend this cruise along the Chobe. Opt for an early morning cruise (departure is usually around 6 a.m.) or an afternoon one (departure is about 3 p.m.). Either way, the itinerary is planned around optimum lighting conditions, so you’re sure to get some beautiful shots. The boat provides a unique vantage point. The cameras supplied for this tour are Canon 80D bodies fitted with 150-600mm Sigma telephoto lenses. If you’re a beginner photographer, the photo hosts on board will set you up and help you use the camera to its fullest potential. Special Mention Every camp featured in this piece offers something special and well-suited to photography-minded travelers. But if we had to choose a #1 favorite destination, it would be Tswalu in South Africa’s Southern Kalahari. The colors in this desert game reserve are stunning, and we love that they offer private vehicles. This is also a favorite destination of one of our expert photographer clients, JP Pollak. Check out his rave review here. What to Pack: Essential Gear We all love our iPhones, but we promise: Apple will fail you when on safari. For optimum results and an enjoyable experience, we recommend you pack the following: DSLR camera A long lens (an 18-200mm is the recommended minimum) or an all-in-one camera with 20x zoom Tripod, especially for after-dark shots Monopod, especially if you’ll be in a more open vehicle with fewer surfaces to support your camera A bean bag on which to rest your telephoto lens (pro-tip: you can bring the bag empty and fill it in camp with rice or dried beans) Charging gear: adapter, power strip (though most camps have these), and possibly an inverter for the truck (some have outputs) A sturdy dust-proof camera bag or case Lens cleaning equipment Extra batteries (2+) – you’ll be able to charge them in camp, but it’s best to have extras while out in the vehicle Extra memory cards Portable memory card back-up devices (no laptop required!) Binoculars Wide-angle lens (not essential, but great to have if you want some landscape shots or close-ups of interesting insects) A quality case keeps your gear clean, organized, and accessible ©David Anglin Photography What NOT to Pack Too Much Luggage We recommend that you pack simply and sensibly for your photographic safari, keeping extra suitcases to a minimum. And remember, several camps can provide camera equipment for you (see above). Pro-tip: While some photographers prefer to bring along a tripod (especially for long-exposure shots at night), it’s not an essential. Most camps have bean bags to help stabilize your camera in the vehicle. If you plan on bringing camera gear from home, airlines have several different ways to accommodate extra luggage, depending on the carrier. You may be asked to: Book a freight seat for an additional 20kg to 75kg, depending on carrier and route (some carriers charge the child rate, others charge 75% of the full fare) Book an XL seat which allows an extra 15kg (fees vary by route) Pay a weight-based fee for extra luggage Check your bags for transport in the luggage hold under the plane for an additional fee (though with fragile camera equipment, you may want to book a freight seat) Drones While we understand that drones are great for aerial shots and hard-to-reach places, they’re prohibited in most National Parks and strongly discouraged elsewhere. The general consensus is that while technically, you might be able to use a drone on safari, it’s best not to bother. Enjoy all you can from a safari vehicle, photographic hide, or hot air balloon (and there’s plenty to shoot from there!). The drone will be there waiting for you when you get home. A Few More Important Tips Practice Be sure to practice with your equipment before you arrive, especially if you’re buying a new camera and/or accessories. The last thing you want is to be fumbling with unfamiliar gear when you could be getting that amazing shot! Try Some New Techniques Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned expert, it never hurts to pick up a few new photographic tricks. We love these guides to photography on safari: Sabi Sabi’s Wildlife Photography Tips Singita’s Top 5 Wildlife Photography Tips from our Field Guides And be sure to check out our own ask-the-experts piece, featuring the photo safari advice of four Extraordinary Journeys clients. Shoot Throughout the Day Dawn and dusk are obviously the best times to photograph wildlife. The early mornings are worth it! But consider shooting after dark, too. Just remember a tripod for those long-exposure shots (think starry night skies in the deserts of Namibia). Put That Camera Down We know you’re here for the photos, but once in a while, it’s important to get out from behind the camera and just enjoy what’s unfolding before you. Remember Family & Friends If you’re traveling with loved ones, be sure to snap a few shots of them, too! No need to make everybody shuffle around in awkward group poses, either. Candids of your kids, spouse, or friends observing wildlife and marveling at the beautiful scenery might just be some of the best shots you take home. Practice Cultural Sensitivity As with any safari, the local people and cultures are as much a part of the experience as the wildlife. Be sensitive to the customs, social mores, and preferences of the people you encounter, especially when it comes to photographing them. Some groups may welcome your camera while others may find your candid shots offensive. When in doubt, ask your guide what is appropriate. They’ll help you avoid any awkward encounters. Sample Itineraries for Your Photographic Safari Does a photographic safari sound too good to pass up? Check out these two itineraries for inspiration for your own adventure! Kenya: Wildlife Photographers Safari at Ol Donyo Lodge and Mara Plains Camp, including a professional photographer guide and private vehicle Zimbabwe: Learn to Use Your Camera in Zimbabwe with Pro Guide Nyengedzayi Kazingizi who also has canoeing and boating licenses (for amazing shots from the water!) Kenya & Tanzania: Our Great Migration Photographic Safari provides the ultimate photographic experience, getting you up close to the action for the Great Wildebeest Migration with both a private vehicle and a specialist guide. And remember, we customize every journey for our clients; no two trips are ever the same. If this piece already has you thinking of other destinations and properties, contact us today to start planning your tailor-made safari! Plan Your Photographic Safari Today! Ready to start planning your own incredible African adventure? We make the process stress-free and enjoyable. Call or email us today to explore your best options for a safari holiday you’ll never forget! Then, start packing that suitcase because we’ve got all the details covered.