If there’s one thing you'll want as a keepsake after a breathtaking luxury safari, it’s breathtaking wildlife photos to remember your trip: lions resting with their cubs, elusive leopards on the prowl or baby elephants splashing in the river. A pair of good binoculars and a high-quality camera are indispensable, but there’s a lot more to getting great shots than just having the right tools. That’s where Amanda Ritchie comes in.
Ritchie is the photographic studio manager at Londolozi, a nearly 40,000-acre private reserve bordering Kruger National Park, in Sabi Sand, South Africa. She welcomes guests from around the world who come to Londolozi specifically for its world-renowned “Photographic Safari” experiences.
Ritchie, who is an expert photographer with a background in advertising, lends her expertise and artistic eye to each visitor, helping to bring them closer to nature and their wildlife photos into sharper focus — because even if the ranger positions the vehicle to get the best angle, you still need the right equipment and the knowledge of how to use it.
In our three-part series, Ritchie helps us explore various facets of safari photography. Here she discusses five essential pieces of gear for every safari-goer.
The beauty of photography is that it allows anyone to be an artist, no matter their budget or skill level. For the best results, I would recommend everyone on safari take along a DSLR camera, with a full-frame body and telephoto lens. By investing in quality gear, you’ll be able to shoot all the action in the changing light of the African wilderness. However, if your budget doesn’t allow for a full-frame DSLR camera and top-of-the-range lens, bringing the best gear you can afford allows you to experience the magic of the bush just as well.
When it comes to priorities, I would say it is better to invest in a great lens than a great body: The lens will determine the quality of your photograph while the body will determine how much functionality you get while photographing. I also suggest getting one camera body per lens so you don’t have to change the lenses out in the field. Every time you remove or change the lens from the body, dust particles get inside and dirty both the sensor and the lens.
Here are my camera body suggestions for a variety of budgets:
For wildlife photography, it is important to have a telephoto lens that allows you to zoom. Anything from 70mm to 500mm will work well.
If you would prefer to travel light but still enjoy all the benefits of shooting with top-quality gear, without having to invest in a host of gear, consider renting your photographic gear from Londolozi or your safari outfitter. Here are five reasons to rent your photographic gear.
While it’s every wildlife photographer’s dream to get the tight shots of the big five, it’s also well worth packing a wide-angle lens to capture the African landscapes and vast night skies filled with stars.
Your style of photography will change when using a wide-angled lens during the day, as your subject will appear smaller and less detailed, but this will also allow you to accentuate the near-far relationship of scenes on safari.
When the sun sets and night blankets the sky, your wide-angled lens will prove invaluable in capturing the many constellations you will see for the first time on safari.
A more affordable option would be a Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for either Canon ($849) and Nikon ($849), which produce phenomenal results, especially for night photography and wide-angle landscapes.
One of the most challenging things for photographers is to keep the camera steady in order to produce a crystal-clear shot. There is nothing more frustrating, or heartbreaking, than composing the perfect shot, with the perfect light, only for it to come out blurred from camera shake. Luckily, a few great pieces of gear are available to help—all for rent at the Londolozi Photographic Studio:
The humble bean bag
This is probably our favorite piece of gear when it comes to stabilizing a camera on the vehicle, purely due to its versatility. The beanbag is, literally, a material bag filled with beans. It can be quite heavy to lug around, but it comes into its own when placed in a precarious position on the vehicle to try to capture nature as it happens.
The trusty tripod
The tripod is probably the first piece of gear photographers think of when attempting a clear shot. Available in all shapes and sizes, tripods will hold their place when stabilizing a camera, especially one with a larger lens. For some reason, they tend to slow you down—in a good way—and make you consider the shot, composition and lighting more deliberately. Whether you are capturing a star trail, emphasizing the flow of water by leaving your shutter open or catching a dramatic bushveld storm, there simply is no substitute when you want to get a little more creative with your shots.
The sturdy monopod
Using a monopod (an adjustable arm that attaches to the camera or lens, just as a tripod does) allows you to steady your shot on the ground or floor of the vehicle while still giving you the freedom and space to move with the animals as they move.
No matter your choice, it is always a good idea to get into the habit of taking along some form of image stabilization gear.
Digital cameras offer the ability to store thousands of precious vacation images all in one place. Ensure that you pack enough memory cards for your safari so you can keep your finger on the shutter button, capturing everything without feeling the need to hold back in order to save space on your memory cards.
It is also handy to bring along an external hard drive to back up all of your photos in case of loss or damage during your travels home.
As is the nature of being out in the wilderness, dust, dirt and moisture tend to be more prevalent on safari than on other vacations. To keep your photography gear in top form, bring along a cleaning kit (microfiber cloth, air blower and lens pen) so you can polish your lenses at the end of every day and avoid your best shots coming out with dust spots or unnecessary lens flairs.