Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ten Tips For A Perfect Photo Safari

After years of photo safaris, I thought it might be helpful to organize a list of ten safari tips that can help make the difference between an okay safari and an excellent safari. I have been on everything from terrible safaris to some of the most amazing experiences I have experienced in my entire life!

  1. Research, research, research. The internet is an amazing tool. You will need to know what you want to see and what your budget is. If you have the time, an internet connection, some persistence and a little work ethic, the internet will help you find the rest. For example, when I went to South Africa I started by doing a search for the best place in Africa to see the big cats. The results came back as Sabi Sands in South Africa. From there, I went to and read up on every safari company in the Sabi Sands (there are at least a hundred of them not including the adjacent Kruger National Park!)That didn't take long to research. Just eight months:). For a trip that took me 18 months to save up for, I figured eight months of researching every day after work was a small price to pay to for the perfect safari for me and vacation for my family. Trip advisor is an incredible tool. People who have been to hotels and resorts comment on their experiences. Not everyone is going to have comments that you agree with. You won't value the same things that other people value and you will notice the odd kook who is clearly impossible to please, but if there are 50 comments you will usually find a common theme. There are also safari travel consultants on trip advisor who have been to all of the safari resorts who can help answer your questions on which safari resort to visit that will best suit your needs.
  2. Whether you are an amatuer or professional photographer, you may want to consider paying the extra money for the private land rover and guides especially when travel all the way across the world!. When we were in Africa I made sure to book our own land rover in advance, so we didn't have some kid in the front who can't sit still or wants to go home early. Several years ago we were in BC photographing grizzly bears from a boat in the estuary. There was a lady in the boat who insisted that we go home early because we were too close to the bears. The boat we were in had a motor on it and we were in absolutely no danger, but of course we had to leave early without the pictures we came for. Bye bye pictures, time, money, etc. What a waste of everything thanks to some fool that shouldn't have been on that boat to begin with. I don't know what she thought a "grizzly bear safari" involved, but she sure wasn't impressed when she saw grizzly bears!
  3. Photo safaris with other photography professionals can be a great experience. The upside is everyone wants to see the wildlife, there are other people there who share the same passion as you, there are other people to talk "shop" to and you may pick up some great photography ideas from them. The trip also tends to have a great "vibe" as everyone is really excited when the wildlife shows up. The downside though can be huge. Somehow in every group, there will be one or two photographers who will walk out in front of your lens to get their picture, while you end up getting a great shot of his bald spot on the back of his head. If you are thinking this doesn't happen, don't kid yourself. There is always one jackass who won't think twice about this sort of thing. Some photographers can get awfully jealous. Not only do they want to get the best picture, but they certainly don't want you to get anything that they don't have. That downside has caused such grief that now I rarely photograph with other photographers. I know a few who I love going on safari with. If they get a nice shot, I am the first to congratulate them and ask to see their image. At the same time, they are happy for me when I get a good shot. When we go on separate safaris, we send one another our best shots. I love getting an email from a fellow photographer showing off his best images in low resolution. Seeing someone elses work motivates and inspires me while giving me the warm fuzzy "I'm proud of you" type emotions.
  4. Always book an additional day or two more than you think you will need. Mother Nature and or wildlife don't always cooperate, so it is wise to book in a rain day or two on every safari.
  5. Dress appropriately and carry extra clothing when possible. Be prepared for the elements. It is pretty hard to hold a camera still when you are shivering or take good pictures on day two when you have sunstroke from day one. Always bring a rain bag for your camera. Just because it's raining, it doesn't mean your pictures won't be spectacular, but you sure won't want to continue photographing if you are concerned about ruining your camera. has great camera rain gear. Worst case scenario, bring a garbage bag.
  6. When traveling across the world, give yourself a day or two as a buffer before you go on safari. Safaris can be very expensive. You likely won't get the images you were hoping for if you can't concentrate because you can hardly keep your eyes open because of the jetlag.
  7. Download and back up regularly and keep extra back ups. memory cards can become corrupt, external hard drives can malfunction. When we are on safari, after every drive, I back all my images up to one hard drive, then I back up that hard drive to a second hard drive. If I have time, I do a quick scan and back up the best images on my laptop. I bring extra memory cards and on the way back home, I carry one hard drive on my person and one in my camera bag. I went on safari once and my safari companion refused to back up her memory cards. Unfortunately, two memory cards went missing and somehow didn't make the flight back home. She was pretty devastated to say the least!
  8. Never lose sight of your camera gear. If you can't fit it on the plane as a carry on, you can carry it with you until the end of the ramp before you board the plane. Have a steward tag it so you can pick it up at the other end. This way you watch your equipment as it is stored under the plane and you can watch them unload it when you land. Your equipment is carefully stored with wheelchairs, strollers and other personal items that people need right up until they actually board the plane. Of course, too, this way your camera equipment can't accidentally end up on another airline somehow.
  9. Camera bags- Go to a company like They have bags that are specifically designed to fit in the overhead compartments of an airplane. They will fit exactly in those compartments. They are perfect for traveling. They have a combination lock to prevent anyone from breaking into your bag. They even have a cable with a lock in a zippered pocket. I use the cable to lock to my chair when I have long layovers in case I fall asleep by accident while waiting for my next flight.
  10. Remember your R and D ...which of course stands for rip off and duplicate:). You can get a lot of information on photographers websites (including mine) regarding what equipment they are using, where they go on safari, etc. Why learn the hard way when you can learn from someone else's experiences.

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