Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Preparing for and demystifying African safaris for American photographers

Labels: Locations
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Giraffes at sunset, Okavango Delta, Botswana.
When To Go
With the destination and approach in mind, the last piece of the puzzle is nailing down the best time to visit. Lanting strongly suggests that by far the best photographic experience will be had if you go against the flow.

"Avoid high season at all costs," he says. "Not only is it going to be much more expensive, it's going to be much more crowded. June, July and August in Africa, you're not just dealing with American visitors, but the European visitors for whom Africa is a lot closer and cheaper as well. It's amazing what a difference it makes if you avoid those months."

Adds Lanting, "The big rhythm in Africa isn't the four temperate seasons we have here, but whether it's wet or dry and where you are vis-à-vis whether the rains have just happened or whether you're going into the rainy or dry season. At the beginning or the end of the rainy season, you're going to get a totally different experience. It will be more adventurous because there will be mud and unexpected rain episodes, but it's going to be a lot more exciting.

Elephants and impalas at a waterhole, Chobe National Park, Botswana.
"Then there are specific phenomena," Lanting says. "The wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara, which so many people want to see for themselves, that coincides with the high tourist season. Yeah, there will be a lot of wildebeests, but there will be a lot of vehicles, too. On a good day—or you could call it a bad day—there can be 100 vehicles parked at a river crossing. A phenomenon that everybody has heard about has every photographer showing up thinking that they're going to get the shot that has never been done before—which, of course, isn't going to happen when there are so many other vehicles, people are screaming, and they're interfering with the movement of animals. It's a zoo, but it's a human zoo. There are other times of the year when you could go to the Masai Mara and you would see five percent of the vehicles. That's a huge difference."

Safari Equipment
You're in Africa, in an ideal vehicle on an off-season day, ready to shoot. Typical excursions are early in the morning and late in the afternoon when animals tend to be most active, and the light is better, too. Did you bring the best gear?

"If you're casual, really casual," says Lanting, "you can get away with a consumer SLR with a single zoom lens that gets you into the equivalent of a 200mm range because you can shoot animals in landscapes. If you're a serious amateur, you want to go with the longest zoom lens you can lay your hands on. That can be a 200-400mm Nikkor or equivalent Canon lens, or any of the Tokinas and Sigmas that go between 100mm and 500mm. Extend your range by bringing teleconverters, and bring one wide-angle zoom. If you're really serious, you bring a midrange zoom, like a 70-200mm, as well. You don't need a flash, and you don't need a tripod. What you do want to bring is beanbags and perhaps a clamp or a window mount so that you're equipped to deal with any vehicle situation.

"The best way to be out there is to have all your gear in a photo pack that you can put on the seat next to you," says Lanting. "And maybe you have one long lens in a special long lens bag. A monopod isn't a bad idea because you can use that by bracing it outside of the vehicle and then you have a very steady platform that's independent of the wiggling caused by people inside your vehicle. A number of companies make specialized gear for safaris, too. Really Right Stuff makes really good brackets."


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