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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Safaris In The Digital Age

Taking a dream trip to Africa to photograph the incredible array of wildlife there is more doable than you think

This Article Features Photo Zoom

It’s important to travel with a safari company that understands the needs of photographers.
“People are more interested in photography today because digital systems give better results that can be seen immediately,” says Dana Allen, a wildlife photographer, teacher and guide for Wilderness Safaris and other agencies. “Safari guests are enthralled by being in such a beautiful area, able to capture thousands of images of active, exotic wildlife, getting immediate feedback on their photography and improving their skills on a daily basis. By the end of a digital photo safari, even relatively new photographers are taking fantastic photographs!”

Allen, who was born in California, traveled all over the world and now lives with his family in Zimbabwe, has been guiding safaris throughout southern Africa for 20 years. But it’s only in the past six or so—as DSLRs have become ubiquitous—that he has seen a complete transformation in how he leads such tours, not only as a photography experience, but also as intense photography education. An articulate man of many words, vast experience and knowledge, extraordinary patience and boundless energy fueled by a cola addiction, Allen views every safari as a personal mission to expand his charges’ photographic skills as well as their understanding of their wildlife subjects and the environmental issues affecting the reserves. For his “students,” it’s a rich learning experience.

A baboon family reacts to something out of range of the camera near Mombo Camp in Botswana.
There’s no argument that the age of digital has changed just about every aspect of the photo safari for budding photographers and pros alike. You’re in the animals’ natural environment; they’re free-ranging while you’re confined, and masked by the shape and smell of the vehicle that carries you, invisible to them. You’re seeking them out and looking for opportunities to catch them displaying their natural behavior. There’s the thrill of danger and a feeling of exclusivity.

“Safari images convey a sense of the exceptionalism of the moment without actually putting yourself or your subject in danger,” says wildlife photographer and educator George Lepp. “This is one of the best things digital photography has brought to the safari, extending our reach right into an animal’s personal space without it knowing, and extending the period of time we can photograph successfully to encompass the early and late hours of the day when many animals are most active.”

Many of today’s DSLRs feature high-resolution capture rates of more than 10 frames per second in hundred-image sequences, fast recording to media, extraordinary low-light capture capability and big-screen LCDs—all qualities perfectly suited to problem-solving in the African landscape. Digital SLRs with expandable ISO and internal noise-reduction software are the tools that make it possible for skilled amateurs and pros alike to photograph a pack of wild dogs hunting after sundown, rosy-pink flamingos flying across a sunset sky and a baboon family in intimate, early-morning light.

Be An Ecotourist On Safari
Be a responsible ecotraveler, and you’ll be amazed at how luxurious and comfortable environmentally sound operations can be. Before you book a tour, research tour and camp operators to compare their commitments to locally sustainable conservation. For the best experience and to make the least impact, avoid the so-called ecotourist circuses that cluster big lodges and lots of visitors and vehicles in a small area. Choose a schedule that uses small lodges conscious of their footprints in reserves that prohibit hunting, provide fair employment and health care to local people, and feature the work of local artists and craftsmen in their décor and shops. If you aren’t certain how to evaluate these important characteristics of a tour company or resort, check out the superior environmental principles and programs of Wilderness Safaris at www.wilderness-safaris.com. You’ll learn a lot.


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