[Infographic]: What to pack for a photographic safari

What kind of plug adaptors do I need for Africa? What kind of lenses are best for shooting wildlife? It’s time for your African photo safari and you’ve got questions! These handy infographics should help you with your camera bag checklist, and below you’ll find our top tips on preparing for a photographic safari, including a list of recommended camera gear. 

 

Photography Gear: Packing Your Camera Bag for Safari
Photography Gear: Packing Your Camera Bag for Safari

Weight Restrictions

The biggest challenge you’ll face going on a photo safari is what to pack in your equipment bag. I once met a photographer who had brought only one change of clothes in order to maximise his luggage allowance! This is not completely necessary but because most safari camps offer a laundry service you really don’t need to bring too many clothes along.

  • You can read more about what clothes to pack on an African safari. I find that a pair of sandals, walking shoes and a few changes of clothes that can be layered according to the weather are sufficient. Dress code, even at the poshest places, is reasonably casual - there is no need to pack a ball gown!
  • If you’re travelling on a light aircraft at any point on your safari there are strict weight limits that dictate a more circumspect approach to packing. Furthermore, on light aircrafts, all baggage must be soft-sided to fit in the hold below. There is also very limited space for hand luggage. Your agent or airline will be able to give you more specific weight regulations. 

 

Below is a list of camera equipment that I recommend for an African photographic safari. Altogether this gear weighs about 12 kilograms (26 pounds), which leaves me weight for a small duffel bag of clothes that can easily be squeezed into a light aircraft's very limited luggage compartment.

Types of Bags for a small aircraft

Tripod

A decent carbon-fibre tripod is essential for when you need to shoot safari landscapes, interiors, and long-exposure night scenes. I have a Manfrotto that is lightweight and the same length as my camera bag when compacted, which helps to carry and stow it in aircraft.

Remotes and intervalometers

Remote triggers or a combination intervalometer radio trigger allow you to use your camera from a distance where animals might be nervous of your presence, or to program a sequence for time-lapse photography. They are small enough not to cause any major packing issues and can be used to fantastic creative effect. 

What to Pack in Your Camera Bag: Tripod

Carbon-fibre tripod folded into a compact size for travel is ideal.

Camera bodies

I travel with a minimum of two camera bodies and usually have a lens fixed to each which I try not to remove in the field. In Africa’s wilderness, dust is your enemy! Removing a lens exposes the sensor to airborne particles that can cause spots on your images or worse, damage the sensor. I keep my zoom lens on one camera and a wide angle on the other, and only change lenses when I’m inside, away from the elements. 

Remember that dust is worst during the mid-year peak safari season when there hasn't been rain for months and the vegetation has dried up.

I also carry a pocket camera for incidental shooting of candid moments or in situations where I don’t need the larger cameras. Many of these point-and-shoot cameras have manual functions these days and can also shoot RAW images.

Lenses

I mostly use a 70-200mm f2.8 lens for wildlife photography. If I need more zoom, a 1.4 or 2x convertor suffices, at the loss of one f-stop, without having to carry a larger (or more expensive) lens. Generally, in safari areas, animals are habituated enough for vehicles to approach them close enough that this setup works, and for the weight and ease of packing, I find it perfect for my needs. For landscapes, interiors and creative photography, a wide-angle lens comes in handy - anything from 10-20mm is ideal.

Batteries, chargers & adaptors

Spare batteries are crucial and generally, I take as many as I can. There is no standard voltage or plug style across the African continent, making it important to double-check if your digital equipment is compatible with the local voltage and always pack a multi-point adaptor.

Remote mobile camps use solar-powered energy and/or a generator which may be switched off at certain times. It's always worth checking with your host on the best time to charge your gadgets.

This table that shows all the various plugs used in East and Southern Africa:

Photography Gear: Packing Your Camera Bag for Safari

Storage

Always take twice as many memory cards as you think you will need and, as a rule of thumb, you will probably end up using them! Depending on the length of your African safari trip and the technology you are prepared to invest in, there are a variety of options to consider for backing up your data. I use LaCie Rugged hard drives in conjunction with my MacBook Pro 13” laptop, which allows me to edit and process images while in the field. Otherwise, HyperDrive make a great backup drive with a screen to view images, or it links to an iPad with an inexpensive accessory for more editing options. 

Beanbag

A vital piece of kit that I always carry with me. Perfect to steady a camera on a vehicle or boat, I travel with it empty and fill it with whatever is available when I get to my destination - sand, rice, dry beans and even rolled-up fleeces, gloves and beanies have done the job! I use a saddle-shaped custom design that can hug most roll-bars and gunwales - ask your local camera dealer for a good manufacturer or get one made up.

Gorilla Grip

A gorilla pod is a smaller, lightweight flexible tripod that can be fixed to just about anything, which is ideal for setting up camera traps or GoPros in hard-to-reach places. These give you creative freedom to let your imagination run wild and put a camera in the most interesting places.

What to Pack in Your Camera Bag: Beanbag Mount
What to Pack in Your Camera Bag: Manual dust blower

A beanbag is perfect to steady a camera, while a dust blower is key to keeping everything clean.

Keeping clean

Keeping everything clean and dust-free is vital on safari. 'Dust Off' compressed air canisters are ideal but often airlines do not allow you to fly with them. I use a manual blower and a LensPen, which is great for brushing and polishing lenses. I also carry a small bottle of lens cleaning fluid and a microfiber cloth. 

GoPro

These little cameras don’t take up much space, and can be used in a variety of situations. I have shot wonderful video footage from one mounted on the skid of a helicopter, on a canoe (including going underwater) and have used it to capture moody time-lapse sequences of a cloudy sky. One tip in using a GoPro is to put it on the 'medium' setting as opposed to the 'wide' when filming or photographing anything further that a few metres away from the lens - I find the wide setting distorts the horizon which detracts from the image. As accessories, I carry a spare battery back, a screen back, and a clamp to attach it to roll bars and skids. For other attachments, I use my Gorilla Grip. 

Backpack

I manage to fit all of this in a Lowe Pro backpack that has a slot for my laptop and a waterproof rain cover. If I am going into extremely wet conditions, I have a dry bag that fits the entire backpack inside it. 

What to Pack in Your Camera Bag: Canon
What to Pack in Your Camera Bag: Storage

A smaller pocket camera is nice and convenient for candid moments. My camera bag fits in all of the gear mentioned, which weighs about 12kg (26lb). 

If you have any great space-saver tips or lightweight accessories to share, please leave a comment below. Otherwise enjoy your photo safari!

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Photography Gear: Packing Your Camera Bag for Safari

Go2Africa digital editor Angela on safari in Addo Elephant National Park - read about what to expect in this family-friendly reserve here.

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