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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Safari!


Preparing for and demystifying African safaris for American photographers

Labels: Locations
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African elephants, Chobe National Park, Botswana.

When it comes to exotic photographic destinations, most Americans have one place in mind: Africa. The cradle of man is a wildlife and landscape photographer's paradise. But as an exotic paradise half a world away, Africa can feel out of reach to the average photographer. It shouldn't. There's enough tourism infrastructure, much catering specifically to photographers, that an African safari can be as easy as any vacation. If you're considering your first photo safari, who better to learn from than acclaimed National Geographic photographer and veritable Africa expert Frans Lanting.


Leopard licking cub, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
Lanting can't even begin to count the number of visits he has made to Africa. "The number of countries," he says, "doesn't even fit on the fingers of two hands. Days of my life would add up to quite a number of years."

Lanting's goal is to demystify Africa for the average traveler (see the sidebar for his take on popular destinations), and his advice boils down to three primary considerations: Where will you visit, how will you get there, and when will you go?

Where To Begin
"People ask me about planning their first African trip all the time," Lanting explains. "Do you have a particular country in mind? Is there something that really intrigues you? Do you want to go really off the beaten track? Every country's got its own flavor. The easiest thing is to consider a country that really speaks to you. Maybe you've always wanted to see Victoria Falls or go to the Okavango Delta because you've read about it. I try to understand their tolerance for other people, their budget and how adventurous they are. Would they really want to have a once-in-a-lifetime unique experience with nobody else around, or would it be fine to go in a bigger group and to see other vehicles and share the glory of Africa with other folks? That's a big decision."

How To Get There
When contemplating an African safari, consider your place on the spectrum of travel styles. It spans everything from pampered luxury to do-it-yourself minimalism. The most important consideration is to determine the balance that's right for you. Considerations from outfitters to guides, vehicles to traveling companions, form the fundamental nature of your experience. It's also where budgetary requirements are most visible.

"Everything comes at a price," says Lanting. "If you want somebody to organize it all for you so that all you have to do is show up, that's one way to go. You can also just fly to Nairobi and pick up a rental car, buy a map and find your way to the parks and camp out. That's another extreme. I recommend surfing the Internet, reading some books, and you'll end up with different outfitters and different camp possibilities. That's where things get a little bit more nuanced.

"You can also try to organize it all yourself," he says. "For those who are on a real budget or who have real customized needs, in every country in Africa there are outfitters who cater to those needs. From the professional photographer who says I've got three weeks and I want to do this, I want to do that, and I want to do it by myself, to the budget end where countries like Kenya and Namibia have enough support services that you could fly in and pick up a rental car to drive yourself around.

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