While your safari may last only a few days or a few weeks, your pictures will stay with you forever. I took a walk in the wild with professional photographer Henk Venter and asked him about his top tips for photography in Africa.
All about Light
The biggest thing about shooting in Africa is the light. Compared with Europe especially, the light on safari in Africa is bright and harsh. Think about that pounding African sun, the heat and the dust. Rather than trying to get that special shot all day long, pick your photography outings according to the light. Soft light at dawn and dusk is the best as there are no extremes of either shadow or light. Fortunately for us, these are also the times of day when animals are the most active so it really is a no-brainer.
Top Tip #1: Sunset happens quickly. To increase your shooting time in the “blue hour” (twilight), Henk says that you can up your ISO or plate sensitivity. He stresses that animals are really active at this time and it is, therefore, the perfect time to try and get that perfect shot!
Out and About in Broad Daylight
Out and about in your safari vehicle, you are likely to come across animals sheltering in the cool shade of a tree. While this may look astounding to your naked eye, Henk recommends that you avoid shooting areas of high contrast. This is an ambitious shot for even the most seasoned photographer. The camera is likely to adjust for either the light area or the dark area resulting in an epic shot of a dark blob or overexposed vegetation. Be discerning. Take the opportunity to enjoy where you are and to soak up the scenery that surrounds you.
Top Tip #2: Be present! Don’t try and shoot everything. Henk says “remember that you are on safari, a magical experience that needs, first and foremost, to be enjoyed”. We’ve all said it “the photo just doesn’t do it justice”. So sit back and enjoy the ride!
Being on a guided safari tour you are likely to stop at designated look-out points. They usually have exceptional views of mountain passes, flowing vistas over vast savannahs or breath taking panoramas of precipitous gorges. Ironically Henk says that these are often not the best places to take photographs as there are no obvious focal points. To improve your shooting, include some of your travelling companions in the foreground. This creates a focal point and makes your picture more interesting to look at and turns it into a lasting memory.
Top Tip #3: Background is just as important as the subject. When looking through your viewfinder, take note of what’s behind your focal point. Try an include interesting looking objects like dead trees or distant mountain peaks.
Back to Basics, Composition
On a very basic level, Henk says that composition is vital. A good method is to work on the “rule of thirds”. On most digital cameras you can set a grid with two sets of parallel lines set vertically and horizontally. These lines divide your frame into thirds. Placing your focal point – lion, zebra or safari vehicle – onto any of the points of intersection gives you a composition that is easy on the eye and allows for plenty of foreground/background action.
Top Tip #4: For visually engaging shots, try this simple formula. Aim at your focal point, half click your shooter button and then move your camera to position it according to the rule of thirds. This gives you not only great composition but also interesting depth of field with some areas blurry while your subject is crisp and sharp.
Bigger is not always better. Henk says that large telephoto lenses are heavy, difficult to manoeuvre and sensitive to their environment. Be specific. Rather take one lens, for example on a walking safari, that allows you ease of movement. It is easier to get a great shot if you ae mobile.
Top Tip #5: Instead of breaking the bank on an expensive and unwieldy lens, rather focus on the experience. Spend that money paying for a safari package that is tailored to your needs and will get you up close and personal with your chosen subject.
Final words from South African photographer Henk Venter:
Remember, Africa is a hot and dusty place. We are talking dirt tracks and wild animals. Throw in the occasional thunderstorm or monsoon-type weather and it becomes clear that it is important to protect your sensitive equipment. Henk reckons its worthwhile investing in a top of the line case like Pelican’s Storm cases, that will keep your camera dry and free of dust. Know what you want to shoot and avoid trying to change lenses in inclement weather. Just take the basics and know, right from the start, that you are going to miss some shots.
“Just relax,” says Henk “and enjoy the adventure!”
Before you go: A few Items that Henk never leaves home without:
- Favourite lens
- Protective case
- Universal adaptor for charging batteries
- A spare battery pack or power bank
- Chocolate bar