Five Ways to Improve Your Wildlife Photography for an African Safari

Although there are many ways to improve your nature photography skills, such as reading books on wildlife photography or interviewing wildlife photographers, the best way is the one that you are most familiar with. We will focus here on three specific methods that you can use to improve your Africa safari photography.

We emphasize the word specifically because we have witnessed people go on safari in Africa only to be disappointed when they couldn’t find a leopard, despite being skilled at photographing bears in Yellowstone. Every continent has its own animals, with their unique habits and habitats. We must be able to get great shots of these animals.

This applies to all parks in Africa. Just because a photographer is able to find the big-five animals in Etosha or Serengeti, it does not mean that they can simply arrive at the Kruger Park or Pilanesberg and get the same results. They must first do their research.

These are the three methods that have helped us improve our wildlife photography the most time.

1. Read your Camera Manual!

We cannot stress enough how important it is to read your camera manual in order to improve your wildlife photography. This may seem obvious, but we were approached by a woman in Etosha as a leopard arrived at the Halali waterhole. She asked us to teach her how to use our camera!

You will receive a quick-start guide and a manual when you buy your new camera. The quick-start guide is important. Don’t go through the entire manual. You can break down the manual into smaller pieces.

Even if you have an older Nikon or Canon camera, it doesn’t necessarily mean the new one will work the same! Different models can have different buttons at different locations and different functions.

You can skip the manual sections that you are familiar with and focus on the most important information. The rest of the manuals you can refer to later. It is important that you always have your manuals on you. If you encounter a problem while out on safari, how can you solve it?

If you’re like us, you will have many manuals for different cameras bodies, flashes, and accessories. These manuals can take up space, so download them as PDFs and bring your laptop. You can search the internet by typing “manual download pdf” along with your make/model. There will be many sites to choose from.

2. Understanding the basics of photography

It is important to know how to set your camera’s ISO and aperture correctly. These three elements are combined to create a well-exposed photo.

You should also know where your subject should be placed in the frame before you capture the image. This is called composition.

Finally, you need to be familiar with light and how it moves. You should be able to distinguish between the effects of front, side, and backlight on your photos. This will help you to determine where to position yourself to photograph your subjects in order to maximize the light direction.

These images are freely available online or in general photography books.

3. You will learn about specific animal behaviours that are unique to the park you’ll be visiting

Spend some time researching the behaviour of the animals you are interested in photographing or those you already know to be present at the parks you plan on visiting. This will help you to understand basic behaviour signals that can lead to interesting behaviour.

A lion may yawn just before it sticks its tongue out. Every giraffe, after it finishes drinking, raises its head quickly and sprays water on it. This makes for some very attractive photographs. If herbivores are stiff or staring in the same direction, it could be an indication that there is a predator nearby.

You need to anticipate the behaviour of the animal and be able to wait patiently until the moment is right to begin shooting.

Books like Richard Estes’ The Behavior Guide to African Mammals and The Safari Companion are a good place to start.

4. Take part in Photo Workshops

Next, you can improve your wildlife photography by going on a photo workshop or taking a tour of the national park you love and plan to return to a few times more. Many professional wildlife photographers are available to offer these photo tours. You will experience a steep learning curve on a 10-day African safari photography tour.

However, these workshops can be quite expensive. Prices range from US$3000,00 to US$12 000,000.00 per person, depending on the length and destination. These prices do not include tips or drinks.

Spend the money if you can. You cannot beat hands-on tuition in wildlife photography, especially with professional safari outfits who understand animals and photography.

The quality tours allow only 3-4 photographers per vehicle. This allows you to shoot from either the sunroof or sideways. On the other hand, the less expensive tours can pack people in like sardines.

5. Invest in Photography Site Guides or Park Guides

A dedicated photo site or park guide is the best alternative to a workshop if it is too costly for you.

It is common for people to arrive at new destinations and spend several days learning about animal hotspots. By then, it’s time to move on to the next camp. Remember that half of the battle is won by finding the animals.

Consider a tennis match. If you can hold your serve, you’re halfway to winning. The same goes for wildlife photography. If you can’t find them, you don’t have anything to photograph. To get great photographs, you only need to learn what you can about light direction, exposure and animal behaviour.

You will learn how to navigate each park’s site guides so you can start taking photos right away. The site guides include information about shooting strategies, lighting directions, where to go at what times, what equipment is best, and how to get the best shots.

You can print the site guides or download them to your laptop or Kindle, so you can have them with you while on your trip.

Site guides typically cost between US$20,00 to US$50,00. This is a small price for the detailed and accurate information you receive. Arthur Morris, the world’s best bird photographer, sells site guides for his favourite bird spots. Smart photographers understand the value of site guides and are able to sell thousands of them.

Yes, there are those who will not pay a small amount for a site guide. They will spend thousands on travel, camera gear and accommodation, but they won’t spend even a few dollars to get such valuable information. Arthur refers to it as “Site Guide Resistance”.

They often end up spending a week on safari and regret that they didn’t capture as many opportunities to photograph if they had bought the site guide. Every purchase requires a return on investment (ROI). The ROI of an African photo safari is your photos when you return home.

There are many options available to you to get the best wildlife photography tuition that suits your budget and needs. However, you must prepare at home. You cannot expect to go on safari without knowing how to use your camera gear, animal behaviour, and the basics of exposure and composition.

These are the basics. Then, decide if a photo workshop is right for you or purchase a park guide.