Getting the most from a safari demands careful planning given today‚’s baggage restrictions
By Bob Krist
Technique Tips. The techniques used for wildlife photography here in Tanzania are pretty much the same as you’d expect. Long lens, fast shutter speed, wide aperture and nondistracting backgrounds are the order of the day. In the Ngorongoro as well as the Serengeti, you have large plains of grass and few trees, which means soft backgrounds with your longer lenses. While the fast shutter speed/wide aperture combo will stand you in good stead for a large majority of your shooting, don’t get too locked into it.
You can add a sense of motion by dropping the shutter speed and panning with moving animals. Whether it’s an impala bounding away from real or sensed danger or a thundering herd of wildebeest in their annual migration, panning with a slower shutter speed can add some energy to your photography.
I find, with the really long lenses and fast-moving animals, that a shutter speed of 1/60 or even 1/125 sec. captures a feeling of blur with just the right amount of sharpness. These are somewhat higher shutter speeds than you might usually use for this, but keep in mind you’re working with much longer lenses and much faster-moving subjects than you might usually be when trying to pan with a slow shutter speed.
Don’t forget to look for the reverse scenario, where the background is in motion but your subject is still. One of my favorite shots of the whole trip was of a crocodile sitting beneath a set of rapids in the Grumeti River in the Serengeti. He was stock-still with his mouth open, allowing the rushing water to filter through his jaws with the hope that some errant fish would swim right in! With my 80-400mm VR braced on a beanbag and a 1/4 sec. shutter speed, I was able to catch the croc razor sharp with a swoosh of moving water all around him.
Other Points. Other important points to consider when planning a safari is how many people per vehicle your operator allows. Four people per vehicle (plus your driver and/or guide) is ideal; there’s plenty of room for everyone to maneuver. Six or eight people per Land Rover isn’t uncommon, though, especially on the economy tours, and this makes it difficult to move and shoot as needed.
Although most drivers are trained to do this, don’t be afraid to ask yours to turn off the engine if you’re shooting. The vibration from those diesel engines are enough to cause camera shake even with VR- or IS-equipped lenses.
Take care with your air arrangements getting to Africa as well. London is a popular connecting point for flights to Africa. But remember, London’s Heathrow Airport has the strictest carry-on policies on the planet: one carry-on (and they mean one) of the dimensions of a small laptop briefcase, weighing no more than about 14 pounds!
This is completely unworkable for most photographers, and there’s nothing that can ruin a safari faster than having to check all your camera gear in the hold of the plane, so look for alternatives. For instance, I flew through Amsterdam, where the usual "one carry-on, one personal item" rule seemed to be fine, even though they too, officially, allow only one piece of cabin baggage. But if London is in your layover plans, be prepared to check your camera bag!
With some preparation and a little bit of luck, however, Tanzania will provide you with wonderful imagery and great memories—all you can ask from a wildlife safari.