Tips for Beginner Photographers
After months of planning, you are finally here and ready for your safari. It could be your first time, or maybe you are a returning safari veteran. Either way, your goal is to bring home some incredible wildlife shots from the trip. We’ve compiled some non-technical tips that everyone can and should use to get the best results from their photographic safari. These are guaranteed to improve your photography and bring you home with some incredible shots!
1. Be ready!
Photographing wildlife can be challenging because you have no control of your subject. Action and photographic moments happen quickly, so you need to be ready. This means getting your camera out of the bag and even taking the lens cap off right when safari begins. When you are in the game drive vehicle, animals are often in the perfect pose looking at you as you approach. Generally, you only have a few seconds to snap this shot before they lose interest in you or move away. If you aren’t ready, you might miss the shot.
2. Bring your camera everywhere.
The opportunity for wildlife photography does not just happen during a game drive. Animals constantly move around the lodges, and are especially common to see from the decks of the rooms or common areas. You never know what is going to appear around the corner, so have your camera on you at all times to avoid missing out on a picture-perfect moment.
3. Tell your guide that you are interested in photography.
Vantage and position is critical to the composition of your photo, so it is important for your guide to know that they need to put you in the right spot. This means stopping in a place where the light is the best and there are few natural obstructions like grasses or branches in the way. You can also always ask your guide to reposition the vehicle if there is another angle you’d like to shoot from.
4. Pay attention to light.
Light can make or break a photo. The “golden hour” in the early morning and late afternoon is generally considered the best time to shoot wildlife photography. Not only are animals active at dawn and dusk, but this is the time of day when the light is warm and soft. Cloudy days are also good for midday photography because there aren’t harsh shadows from the overhead sun. In most circumstances, having light to your back and on the subject produces the best results. But also try experimenting with backlighting, especially during the golden hours, to get a more creative and artistic shot. If you can’t get the light right when shooting, converting an image to black and white in post-production is a good way to save the photo.
5. Make sure your subject is in focus.
There is nothing more frustrating than reviewing images from a beautiful sighting only to realize that your subject is not in focus. Unlike most other types of photography, with wildlife, you can never have the exact same sighting twice, so it’s important to get it right in the moment. Learn how the focus and focus points work on your camera. For most, you have a preselected focus point which focuses on the defined spot when you hold the shutter release button half way down, and then click to shoot. Check your manual to learn how to change the focus points. When shooting multiple frames, refocus on the subject, especially if the subject is moving, to make sure at least one image is tack sharp.
6. Know how to use manual focus on your camera.
Wildlife isn’t always out posing for you perfectly in the open. Your subject may be behind vegetation or in dense bush. In these situations, the automatic focus on your camera may focus on the obstruction instead of the animal, and regardless of the number of times you try to refocus, it will not pick up the animal. This can be extremely frustrating. If your camera has a manual focus function (typically a wheel around the lens) use it to get the correct focus on your subject.
7. Consider taking a video instead of photo in certain circumstances.
Sometimes conditions are not right in a sighting to make a beautiful photo, such as when the light is very harsh or there is too much vegetation obstructing a view. In these circumstances, video can be a much more forgiving way to capture the scene, especially if there is action or interesting behavior happening. Snap a few shots of the scene for memories, but then switch to video. If filming for an extended period of time, rest your hand or camera on a provided camera support cushion or the vehicle railing to keep the video as stable as possible. Camera shake increases the more zoom you use, so if you are filming on a camera or your phone, use only as much zoom as you need for the best quality video.
8. Shoot both close and wide-angle shots of the same scene.
Most wildlife photographers love a close up shot, and with good reason. Portraits are a beautiful way to show incredible detail of the face and body, and to capture expression and emotion. At Lion Sands, you’ll get so close to the animals that getting close-up shots, even without a big telephoto lens, is very achievable. But don’t forget to also snap a few of the animal in its habitat. The surrounding bush can tell more of story than a close-up alone and adds context to a photo.
9. Shoot multiple images.
Animals are constantly moving, and as a result, every photo is different. It is subtle, but changes in eye contact, ear position, and direction of the head, all contribute to the aesthetics of the shot. So take several shots of the same scene and later when reviewing, select the best one to showcase. There are exceptions, but you can’t go wrong with a shot of a head-on view of the face, eyes wide open and ears facing forward.
10. Charge your battery every day and have plenty of space on your SD card.
The only thing worse than a blurry or out of focus shot is no shot at all. It happens to the best of us, but don’t let it happen to you! Even if your battery is only down a bar or two, charge it every night. Also, make sure that your memory card has enough storage for at least 100 photos, or better yet, a thousand. This might sound excessive, but you never know what is going to happen on safari and you may be that lucky person who witnesses something extremely rare and unique in the wild which warrants a lot of memory to capture. The cost difference is marginal in getting a bigger SD card, so aim for 32GB or 64GB at least. You don’t want to be in that sighting and realize that your card is full or your battery is dead and you missed it.
Words By: Charlotte Arthun
Photo By: Mark Winckler