Wild animals are not the easiest subjects to photograph; they’re shy, live in leafy environments and don’t take direction well. Also, all that tooth-and-claw action doesn’t happen very often: lions are more likely to be lazing in long grass and leopards napping up a tree. Africa’s big cats can sleep a staggering 18-20 hours a day, and when something does happen it’s over within seconds. You’ve got to be quick!
The right gear certainly helps. You’ll need a decent telephoto lens and a camera with good low light capability, not only because the best photo opportunities often happen at dawn or late in the evening but also because you’re generally using a long lens and fast shutter speed. However, even the best equipment doesn’t guarantee fantastic photos.
The golden hour: a great time to be out in the bush and for photography too - but you'll need a camera that's good in low light, especially when shooting with a long lens.
Whether you’re an absolute beginner or a seasoned pro, if you want those “this-could-be-in-National-Geographic!” pics then I’d highly recommend a photographic safari. As for the location, you couldn’t ask for better than the Kruger Park Private Reserves – one of the best places in Africa to see the Big 5.
Photographic Safari Vehicles
Lodges that offer photographic safaris have specially adapted game drive vehicles. The number of photographers per vehicle is usually limited to four, ensuring you have an unobstructed view at sightings and plenty of space for your equipment.
Photographic safari vehicles have low sides and camera mountings to stabilise your equipment - particularly useful when shooting with a longer lense as you don't want to end up with a blurry rhino! Some vehicles also have seats that can swivel, making it easier to position yourself and your camera, and custom built control arms which are great for trying different angles or panning your camera when animals are on the move.
A photographic vehicle at Simbavati; note the swivel chairs and built-in camera arms.
Game Drives Geared to Get That Shot
A maximum of four photographers on a game drive means individual attention and a focus on finding the wildlife that you want to see. You’ll have an experienced guide and tracker who’ll maneuver the vehicle into the best position possible, often predicting animal behaviour so you’re in the right spot at the right time – ready and waiting!
Another advantage of being together with other photographers is that there’s more flexibility. Often lodges are strict with their schedule and once guests have seen a lion they’re only too happy to head back for breakfast, whereas on a photographic safari you tend to spend a longer time with the animals, your guide giving you practical tips to help you get great shots.
Taking this photograph at eye level with these dark-maned lions added enormous visual impact to the image (photo: James Tyrrell, Londolozi photography guide).
Top Tips from Wildlife Photography Pros
But the greatest advantage of a Kruger photographic safari is that you’ll be on game drives with a professional wildlife photographer who not only knows the area and animal behaviour, but can also draw on his vast experience to give you tips and techniques to get you shooting like a pro!
Some photographic safari operators also offer more formalised feedback and lecture sessions during the harsh midday light. It all really depends whether photography is the sole focus of your holiday, or if lounging by the pool ranks right up there too. But that feedback really helps set you up for your next game drive so you can put into practice what you’ve learned and come back with pictures that capture the moment and draw viewers in.
Back at the lodge, learn how to get the most out of your images with editing tips and interesting crops (photo: Mike Sutherland, Londolozi photograph guide)
Top Lodges for a Kruger Photographic Safari
Famous for its leopard sightings, usually the most elusive of Africa’s big cats, Londolozi Private Reserve offers photographic safaris in customized vehicles with professional photographic guides who will not only give you advice out in the field but are also experts in post-processing and editing.
A full range of photographic equipment is available for hire during your safari (both Canon and Nikon bodies and lenses) and between game drives you’ll be given full access to the Londolozi Creative Hub where you can use Lightroom and Photoshop to tweak and edit, upload your photos to their blog, and use their canvas printer.
- Londolozi Varty Camp – the original Londolozi camp with chalets overlooking over the Sand River.
- Londolozi Tree Camp – a romantic safari retreat with elegant suites tucked between ebony trees.
- Private Granite Suites – an exclusive safari experience for just 6 guests in truly luxurious suites.
Simbavati is in a private Kruger reserve famous not only for Big 5 sightings but also for its pride of rare white lions. You can learn such a lot on Simbavati photographic safaris which include both pre- and post-game drive talks with tips on image editing and a review of your photographs by a professional wildlife photographer.
Once again the game drives take place in specially adapted vehicles, and you can bring your own equipment or hire it at the lodge. Also, since you’ll be spending a fair bit of time editing it’s best to travel with a notebook or tablet - and enough memory cards! I recommend taking twice the number you think you’ll need, as you don’t want to limit yourself or have to stress about storage capacity.
- Simbavati River Lodge – this welcoming lodge has 8 tented rooms and 3 thatched family chalets.
- Simbavati Photographic Safari – combine your big game safari in Simbavati with a few days in Cape Town, one of the world’s most photogenic cities!