If you’re heading to Africa soon and are looking for photography tips for your African safari, you’ve come to the right place! For most people, photography is a huge part of an African safari, and while we all want to capture those epic National Geographic photos, it is important to understand that those types of shots can be pretty difficult to achieve.
I’ve put together a list of African safari photography tips to help you plan ahead and set you up to take the best photos on your safari. The list includes equipment to bring, camera settings, framing considerations, and more. I hope these African safari photography tips will help you to capture the photos of your dreams!
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1. Invest in Quality Camera Equipment
The first of my African safari photography tips is to invest in quality camera equipment.
There is always a huge discussion between mirrorless vs. DSLR cameras, and each has its pros and cons. I’m personally pro-mirrorless due to the lighter weight and how far the technology has come over the years, but you can’t go wrong with either.
The next decision is crop sensor vs. full-frame. As an owner of both, I would firmly recommend a full-frame camera. A full-frame camera provides a wider field of view and also tends to shoot better in low light, which is critical on a safari. Animals are often most active around dawn and dusk, so you’ll often be shooting in low light.
One other thing to consider is the camera’s frame rate, expressed in frames per second “fps.” I ended up shooting in burst mode pretty frequently for animals in motion, so it was amazing to be able to capture a lot of shots. For example, shooting in burst/ continuous mode meant capturing this epic shot of a lion yawning.
With that, I’d recommend a full-frame camera with good fps. I’m personally a Sony fan, so I opted for a Sony A7iii and would absolutely use the same camera again.
Now that you have a camera, your next step is selecting lenses. I’d recommend bringing along 3 main lenses:
Telephoto Lens: A telephoto lens is an absolute must-have for a safari. It should be at least 300mm, or you won’t be able to take those close up shots. For my Sony A7iii, I use the Sigma 100-400mm. It is significantly less expensive than its Sony counterpart, and I was very happy with the pictures.
Wide Angle Lens: While you’re on safari, make sure to bring along a wide angle lens to capture the epic landscapes. I use a Sony FE 12-24mm G Master. On most of my trips, I do a lot of landscape photography, so it made sense to splurge on a wide angle option.
Traditional Lens: For a traditional zoom lens, I’d recommend the Sony FE 24-70mm G Master II. This is a common walkaround lens and is great for most trips (city shots, etc.). On safari, I switched to this lens multiple times when the animals were so close to the vehicle that I couldn’t capture the shot with a telephoto lens.
2. Camera & Lens Rentals
Having the proper camera equipment will help to capture the best wildlife photos. However, purchasing a camera and lenses can definitely add up and if you don’t want to invest in a full setup, the good news is you can also rent cameras and lenses! You can rent a camera body and/or lenses in packages and separately.
If you choose to rent a camera or lens, make sure you schedule its arrival far enough in advance of your trip. It is so important to practice to get to know your camera before you go on safari.
3. Pack Camera Accessories
One of my African safari photography tips is to pack all of the necessary camera accessories. From extra storage to backup batteries to camera support, there are a few items that you definitely want to bring.
I was actually shocked by the amount of storage I needed for photos on this trip. I completely filled up a 256GB card and was well into my second by the end of my week-long safari. I’d recommend bringing along multiple 256GB memory cards (or larger) to ensure you have plenty of photo storage.
I’d also recommend bringing along a memory card holder case so you can safely transport your SD cards. This is the exact case I use and travel with – it take up very little space and keeps all of my memory cards safe.
Going along with the extra storage, you’ll definitely need some backup camera batteries. For my Sony a7iii, I bring two or three of these rechargeable batteries and this battery charger. Our days on safari were pretty long; on some days, we were out for 12 straight hours, so I heavily relied on my backup batteries.
Some safari vehicles will have charging ports (which were great), but I wouldn’t rely on your vehicle having them. Our vehicle was open air, so we also couldn’t charge if it was raining.
For your safari, you’ll also want to bring along some kind of camera support to help stabilize your camera. A camera bean bag is pretty common because it doesn’t take up much space. When you take small bush planes on safari, you’ll usually be limited on weight (30 or 40 pounds), so the bean bag is nice because it won’t take up too much of your baggage allocation.
However, if you have less of a limit on your baggage, I love my tripod. I have used this tripod for so many different things – waterfall photos, long exposure with the Northern lights, and beautiful blue hour shots. It is also perfect to stabilize your camera for safari shots. A tripod is a little unwieldy in a safari vehicle, but it is nice to have around camp.
4. Protect Your Camera Gear
One of my key African safari photography tips is to take very good care of your camera gear. Between the dust and the rain, there are all sorts of things that can mess up your shot.
For the dust: Bring a lens cleaning kit. Even though I changed my lenses very quickly, dust still got into all of the camera’s crevices, so I ended up using the air blower a lot. I didn’t want to touch the inner workings of the camera, so this was so helpful in keeping the camera dust-free. If you get dust in your sensor or on your lens, you’ll get those annoying black spots on your photos. I’d also recommend keeping your lens cap on when not using your camera. I kept my camera covered, but made sure it was easily accessible to quickly capture photos.
For the rain: The lens cleaning kit and keeping the lens caps on also protects well against light rain storms. It was also helpful to use a lens hood during storms if you still want to capture a few photos. I’d also recommend ensuring that your camera bag is waterproof or has a waterproof cover. We had an open-air vehicle for part of our safari and a couple of the rain storms were very heavy. If our bag hadn’t been waterproof, it would have been a huge problem.
5. Camera Settings
I wrote a whole post on the best camera settings for safari photography, but I’ll give you some of the highlights below.
Continuous Shooting: Wildlife moves a lot, so I shot a lot in burst mode/ continuous shooting. On the positive side, I was able to capture so many cool shots. On the down side, I ended up with thousands of photos to sort through…despite the annoyance, I would highly recommend shooting in continuous mode to capture those epic shots.
Pick the Correct Mode: I wouldn’t recommend shooting in Auto because your camera may not select the correct shutter speed, ISO, or aperture and you may miss “the shot.” If you’re a pro, Manual is your best bet. I’m not a pro, so I switched between Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. I’d recommend giving my article on camera settings a thorough read for all of the details.
6. Shoot RAW+ JPEG
Set your camera to shoot in RAW. This option will give you so much more latitude in processing and is one of the most important of my African safari photography tips. Sometimes I would only have a few seconds to snag a shot before the animal moved on, so I didn’t always have enough time to get the camera settings perfect. Fortunately, RAW files allowed me to fix most things during processing! One important point is that RAW photos do take up significantly more space on your memory card, so make sure to factor that into your decision when choosing SD cards.
I usually choose to shoot in RAW + JPEG so that if I can transfer a few JPEG files to my phone. This isn’t a huge deal, but I often like to immediately enjoy the pics and send to my family. JPEG may also be the right option for you if you don’t want to spend much time on editing!
7. Framing Your Shot
Framing your shot is one of the key African safari photography tips, and while there are no hard and fast rules, there are a few points to consider.
Rule of Thirds: The Rule of Thirds is a common photography guideline that breaks down an image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so that your image is split into nine pieces. You then position the key elements at the intersection of the gridlines to make the image feel balanced. However, remember that this is just a guide and that sometimes rules are meant to be broken. Oftentimes animals don’t cooperate with your photographic vision, so take what you can get!
Shoot High and Low: In a safari vehicle, it can be easy to always gravitate toward the same seat…and if you do, a lot of your shots will be from the same perspective. Make sure to switch up where you’re sitting and stand up, sit down, anything to get a unique perspective.
Zoom In & Out: It can be tempting to zoom in and take tons of close-up shots, but make sure you also zoom out and incorporate the landscape, as well. When I shoot, I’ll usually capture some close-up shots with my telephoto lens and some further-out shots, which I take with my telephoto lens, traditional lens, or wide angle lens – depending upon how far the safari vehicle is from the animals. I’d also recommend doing a major zoom on an animal’s face occasionally. I love when you can capture the emotion behind their eyes.
8. Capture the Small Stuff
Everyone going on a safari knows about the Big 5, and for a good reason. However, there are tons of smaller animals and birds that are so unique that are highly worth capturing on safari. I’ll give you a few of my favorites that I captured while on safari.
There are lots of colorful birds like the lilac-breasted roller and the kingfisher.
The serval and caracal are both cats, though clearly smaller than the lions. We watched both animals stalk their prey and we even saw the caracal spring through the grass to catch a bird!
The pangolin is a scaly mammal, and an animal that our guide told us was considered very lucky. Seeing a pangolin on a safari is very rare; our guide had been working for years and told us that this was only the second pangolin he has ever seen.
9. Photograph the Landscape
In addition to the smaller animals, make sure you take the time to photograph the landscape. It is so easy to only focus on animals, but chances are good that the surrounding landscape is very different than your hometown. I loved snapping shots of the Serengeti at sunrise and the unique trees.
10. Pick the Right Time & Location
Next up on the list of African safari photography tips is to pick the right time and location. To capture the best safari photos, you’ll want to do plenty of advance research. For example, my ultimate goal on our Tanzania safari was to capture the wildebeest river crossing – which tends to occur in late August through early September in the Northern Serengeti. However, if your goal is to see calving season, which means lots of baby wildebeest and zebras, you’d want to travel in February – March to the Southern Serengeti.
No matter the goal for your African safari, do plenty of advance research to ensure you’re booking your trip at the correct time and to the correct location.
11. Trust Your Guide & Communicate Expectations
One of my top African safari photography tips is to get to know your driver-guide. They know so much about the animals, their behaviors, and where to find them. If you are transparent and communicate your expectations, they will be an excellent resource.
On the last day of our safari, we had already seen all of the animals on our list, so we jokingly asked our guide to find us a lion on a rock (very specific!). Our guide was so familiar with the area that he knew of an area with rocks where a lion pride frequently visited. After a bit of driving around, he found us our lion on a rock!
Jokes aside, do communicate your priorities. Do you want to see sunrises over the Serengeti or do you prefer to sleep in? Do you want to take lots of photos or just experience the animals? (This may impact where the driver-guide parks the vehicle). Are there particular animals you want to see?
The other piece is trusting your guide. If your guide makes a decision seemingly out of the blue, there is probably a very good reason. We were driving to the river at sunrise one morning to watch a river crossing and all of a sudden, our driver-guide turned around and sped off in the opposite direction. The guides all communicate on the radio, and it turns out that there was a rhino sighting, which was incredibly rare!
12. Patience is Key
When on safari, it can be so tempting to drive from one animal to the next, always in pursuit of the next best thing. However, patience is key – it often pays off to stay in one location. We ended up waiting by the river for nearly five hours for a wildebeest river crossing; while it was a long wait, it was so worth it. While we waited, we got to see so many other things. We saw baby elephants, two male giraffes fighting over a female giraffe, and baby warthogs playing – things we never would have witnessed if we continued to drive around. Just remember that if your guide suggests you wait, it will very likely pay off.
13. Respect the Wildlife
As part of my African safari photography tips, one of the most important things is to respect the wildlife. Always follow your driver-guide’s rules, because they will try to keep both you and the animals safe.
Remember that you are a guest in the animals’ environment and to never interfere with the animals just to capture a better picture. Do not try to impact what you are seeing; for example, do not interfere in hunts, try and wake up animals, or influence their behaviors in any way. It may be tempting to encourage a particular action in pursuit of that perfect photo, but remember that you are only there to capture photos!
14. Practice Before You Go
One of the most important steps is to practice before you go. For me, safari photography was very different than my traditional landscape photography, so I spent the weeks leading up to the trip experimenting with my gear. I practiced in my backyard with my dog; I’d highly recommend practicing at sunrise, sunset, and other low light settings since this is typically when animals are the most active.
Have you been on a safari? What African safari photography tips would you recommend to travelers trying to capture beautiful wildlife shots?
For some more travel inspiration, check out some of the posts below!
Safari Tips for First-Timers: 20 Top Things to Know Before Going on Your First Safari
Safari Photo Settings: Best Camera Settings for Safari Photography
Safari Outfits: What to Wear on Safari for Women: 10 Cute Outfit Ideas
Tented Safari Camps: Top 13 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Tented Camps
Tanzania: Kikuletwa Hot Springs: 14+ Things to Know Before You Go
Tanzania Itinerary: Tanzania 7 Day Itinerary