LEARN FROM A PRO: SAFARI PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

Andrew Macdonald is a professional photographer who produces photo and video content for Time + Tide. His work spans wildlife, landscape and lodge photography. Originally hailing from Scotland, he has spent years working across the African continent. He is currently based in Scotland and frequently travels to the bush and beach to capture the magic of Time + Tide’s family of properties.

Time + Tide In-House Photographer, Andrew Macdonald

With photography gear there is a reason that certain gear is so much more expensive than others. It simply performs better and can take your photography to the next level. Expensive gear will, however, only take a photograph as good as the person behind the camera. The main thing about photography is that you enjoy the process and the places it takes you, regardless of how much money you have spent on equipment.

TIPS FOR GEAR

  • A good camera bag is a must. You have spent a lot of money on your gear and it’s important that you protect that investment. While out on safari, you will be on bumpy roads, climbing in and out of small planes and generally moving around a lot, so a padded camera bag helps keep gear safe.
  • A long telephoto lens is quite essential. I shoot with a 200 – 600mm lens and I have also used 100 – 400mm. I also carry a 1.4x teleconverter just to get that extra push when I need it.
  • Invest in a good cleaning kit, they are relatively cheap and it can get quite dusty in the bush. Be sure to use a lens pen and air blower to remove dust before using cleaning cloths to avoid scratching the lens.
  • Keep a few resealable plastic bags on hand for storing lenses, filters and other small gear when not in use. Your camera bag provides some protection, but dust is a nightmare for your gear. Extra precautions are always a good idea.
  • A lightweight tripod designed specifically for travelling can be very useful in low light conditions or for any filming you may want to do. They are also essential if you plan on capturing any night sky photography. The bush is one of the best places thanks to no light pollution.

Safari Photography

TIPS FOR USING YOUR CAMERA

  • In most situations, keep your aperture (aka f-number or f-stop) as open as possible, meaning as low a number as your lens allows. This will let as much light as possible into the lens and give you a faster shutter speed to freeze faster movements by animals. It will also give you a faster shutter speed in low light.
  • Aperture impacts an image’s depth of focus. A low aperture means the animal will be sharp, but the background will be more blurred.  If you are shooting a wider shot of an animal and also wish to have some focus on the landscape, increase the aperture to 7 or 8 to have more of the overall image in focus. Just remember your shutter speed may be slower so you will need to increase your ISO.
  • The ISO determines how sensitive the sensor is to the light entering the camera. Your ISO should always be as low as possible. The higher the number, the more ‘noise’ or grain will be visible in the image. However, in lower light you will need to increase your ISO in order to gain the faster shutter speed generally needed to capture motion.
  • I shoot mainly in manual mode and I keep my aperture as open as possible, I can then easily adjust my shutter speed to suit what my subject is doing. If a leopard is sitting I can drop to 1/500 and if the leopard starts to move or run I can quickly adjust to 1/1000+ to freeze motion. My ISO is set on auto to adjust to these changes.
  • This is where gear investment comes into play. A more expensive lens will allow for a lower aperture and a more expensive body with a better sensor allows for the best quality images shot with a higher ISO.

TIPS FOR CAPTURING YOUR SAFARI

  • Respect the animals, always. A good guide will recognise when an animal is not happy with your presence. Never push an animal.
  • Shoot the majority of your images in the soft golden light that occurs an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. Although, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t photograph during other times of day. Challenge yourself to find nice images outside of the golden hours. Search for interesting compositions, new angles or embrace harsher light and make that a deliberate aesthetic choice.
  • Have patience. Sometimes I have sat beside lions for over four hours just waiting for that golden hour light.

  • Get up early, very early. Ideally you want to have found your subject well before sunrise so that you are ready for the best light.
  • Think about your composition while framing your images. In most instances, it works much better to have your subject slightly off centre. The Rule of Thirds is very handy for all types of photography. Your camera may have a setting that shows markings for the thirds in your viewfinder to assist in your composition.
  • Having two or more subjects in an image can also make a big difference, whether they are the same or different species. This adds a dynamic quality that draws viewers in.

  • When capturing a group of animals, always keep an eye on what’s going on around you. Stay aware of what is happening out of frame. You might miss a beautiful image if you fixate on one animal.
  • If and when possible try to shoot at a different level. If you can get your camera as close to the ground as possible, the different perspective will give your wildlife photography a lot more drama and engage the viewer more, making them feel like they’re a part of the scene as it unfolds.

  • Knowing animal behaviour or having a guide that does will allow you to better predict what the animals will do so you can position the vehicle accordingly.
  • Try to capture emotional moments or moments of connection between animals. We relate best to images where we can see bits of ourselves. This could be two lions greeting, a touching moment between two elephants, a mother and baby interacting or impalas grooming each other.

  • Practice! The more you shoot the more you will realise what NOT to shoot in the future. You will find yourself deleting hundreds if not thousands of images with animals sleeping, doing nothing, in poor light etc. You have to go through this stage to understand what makes the best photographs. Spend time practicing with your gear before your safari. Head to a local wildlife sanctuary and practice using your camera, so you can efficiently change settings on the fly. Identify the best moments to capture and understand how different conditions impact which settings are best.

  • Most of all, make sure you view and appreciate the wildlife with your own eyes, not just through your viewfinder, especially if it’s your first safari. Put your camera away, sit, listen and take it all in.

Whether you’re a budding safari photographer, or a seasoned pro, we hope that with the help of our expert in-house photographer, Andrew, you have left with some useful tips for your next safari adventure. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more inspiring wildlife photography moments.

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Destinations

Zambia

Zambia is Africa's best kept secret, with its vast landscapes, diverse wildlife and welcoming culture. Trace the steps of early conservationists while experiencing walking safaris in the South Luangwa. Come face to face with giants as you glide quietly in a canoe along the reeds in the Lower Zambezi. Feel the rumble of a distant thunderstorm on Liuwa Plain’s horizon as you marvel at the sight of gathering wildebeest amongst a flush of colourful wildflowers.

Zambia

South Luangwa

Just a one hour flight from Lusaka, the South Luangwa is known for its big cat sightings and often referred to as the Valley of the Leopard. It is in the South Luangwa that the legendary Norman Carr pioneered the walking safari and conservation-based tourism in Africa. Zambia's outstanding reputation of guiding is ever prevalent in our team with some of our guides having trained with Norman himself.  Our guides offer guests a raw, authentic safari experience and don't let the finer details in these vast spaces pass you by. 

Zambia

Liuwa Plain

Time + Tide is the only permanent lodge in the Liuwa Plain. Its vast wilderness of over 3600 km2 has been protected for over 100 years, yet it is one of Africa's best kept secrets. As the African rains arrive in the north, the plains turn to a watery wonderland bringing with it a movement of wildebeest as they journey south to calve near the lodge.  Liuwa Plain is known for its apex predators of lion prides and large hyena clans as well as endangered and rare bird species that thrive in this region. It is a land unchanged by time.

Zambia

Lower Zambezi

Nestled between the imposing mountain escarpment to the north and the mighty Zambezi River to the south, the Lower Zambezi Valley has a variety of activities that few, if any, other destinations can offer. It has been described by guests as their "happy place" because of its beautiful scenery, peaceful riverside woodlands and abundant wildlife. The Lower Zambezi is just a short 30 minute flight from Lusaka and offers guests the thrill of tiger-fishing to peaceful wildlife sightings on the banks of the river while canoeing or boating. Our guides strive to make each guest feel like they are part of the landscape and not a mere spectator.

This is the most magical place you're ever likely to experience. Nestled under a grove of imposing Albida trees, it is clearly favoured by the many elephant who graze on the Albida pods. Their presence adds an incredibly special energy to the camp. 
Karen, Guest at Time + Tide Chongwe Camp
The lodge is stunning and all the staff are utterly wonderful. The views from the lodge are outstanding, lovely Liuwa wilderness. My bedroom was incredibly comfortable, very stylish, hitting a difficult combination of minimalist yet luxury. Incredibly comfortable bed and many relaxing areas to rest. 
Mandi, Guest at Time + Tide King Lewanika
Our family had the most joyful time at Chongwe, really everything was perfect and every detail taken care of. The team ensured we had the best time at every activity (even tiger fishing!). We felt privileged to spend a few days here and look forward to returning.
Dawn, Guest at Time + Tide Chongwe
We love safaris and this was an excellent camp with a real authentic bush feel, which we always enjoy. The service was excellent and the team are so attentive. Really superb guiding which made for a tremendous experience.
Cate, Guest at Time + Tide Mchenja
Chinzombo is a stunning lodge in a beautiful location of the South Luangwa. The rooms are luxurious and spacious, with a deck and plunge pool overlooking the Luangwa River. There is always an abundance of wildlife around the rooms, we had a banded mongoose, bushbuck, elephants and hippo's - just to name a few.
Michael, Guest at Time + Tide Chinzombo