Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Preparing for and demystifying African safaris for American photographers

Labels: Locations
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Zebras and wildebeests, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania.
"What's your tolerance for uncertainty?" Lanting asks. "If you've never been to Africa before and you would arrive with a serious amount of camera gear, you really want to think twice before you take it on yourself. Are you prepared to drive and figure out exactly where to go? On location the reality is that you're mostly practicing photography from a vehicle, to drive and shoot at the same time—that's a lot of balls up in the air. So if you're a do-it-yourselfer, you might want to team up with somebody else of like interests, find a partner or go with a couple of friends.

"In the end, you get what you pay for," he says. "If a safari is expensive, it's usually because you end up staying in very nice camps and the guides are really high quality, the vehicles are high quality, and they cater to a different kind of client. If you look at the cheapest packages in Kenya, you'll end up in a minibus with eight other screaming people."

Guides And Companions
"The crucial factor that makes a difference in the experience," Lanting says, "is who you end up with—who will be your guide, who will be your driver. That often ends up being the same person. If you book yourself into a camp or a lodge and people from those camps or lodges take you out, you're going to be in their hands. And there's an amazing amount of expertise out there. Local people who have been doing it for decades, who have taken out many photographers before, who can get you into the right position—they know the behavior of the animals so you can focus on photography."

Sable antelopes, Okavango Delta, Botswana.
It's not just guides and drivers who impact your experience. Those "eight screaming people" he mentions may be a real burden. You're at the mercy of the group, and if the group isn't interested in waiting for a shot, you may find yourself quickly frustrated.

"I would urge people to think about their tolerance for other companions," Lanting says. "If you're a serious photographer, you want to choose the people you go to Africa with instead of taking potluck. Consider putting a small group together of like-minded friends or family and go to an outfitter and let them choose the best trip for you. Not knowing who you'll be in a vehicle with can be an unwelcome surprise. And ideally you want to be in a vehicle with one or two other photographers, at the most. If there are any other partners or spouses who are not photographers, they should be of the patient kind who enjoy sitting there looking through binoculars. The more people, the more the vehicle shakes; if you end up working with long lenses from rooftops or window mounts, that makes a big difference. You need to be sympathetic with your fellow travelers, and you need to have overlapping goals. That translates to how early your fellow travelers want to get up and how long they want to stay out, as well."

If you're in an open vehicle, it's great to be able to shoot in all directions, but you're also going to get fried by the sun. The ideal vehicle has a canopy or roof with hatches to allow easy access to shoot in any direction. Online research will help you determine not only the types of vehicles an outfitter uses, but whether the service is geared toward serious photographers or vacationers.

"You really want to check out their vehicles to get a sense of whether you would end up in an open vehicle," says Lanting. "Is it a minibus, or an enclosed Land Rover, or is it an open vehicle? Depending on that, you need to prepare yourself with gear—the kinds of devices you want to bring along include clamps, beanbags, monopods, window mounts, all of those things. They're all really vehicle-specific."


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