Capturing great photographs of animals on the move while on a photographic safari is surprisingly difficult. Here are a few fundamentals to improve your chances of capturing that one great shot.
The iconic images of African wildlife are typically of large, leopard-studded trees in rolling savannahs, sweeping vistas with wildebeest and zebra stretching to the horizon, silhouettes of baobabs and dramatic heart-wrenching depictions of animals battling it out against the elements in the continent’s harshest environments. Photographs of these scenes abound in the pages of magazines and coffee table books, and are spread thick and wide across the Internet. But there’s another part of Africa, a wild eden, which offers a different safari experience where fresh images can be found, even for experienced photographers and safari goers. That place is the Eastern Cape, in South Africa.
Everybody wants to snap one of those National Geographic-style images when they go on a photographic safari, an iconic picture that captures the moment and its subject perfectly. Apart from the fact that National Geographic photographers spend months in the field and you have a few days at most to attempt to lock down your perfect image, it is possible with some preparation and a good dose of luck, of course.
'Photography' essentially means ‘painting with light’. This is easy enough to understand - it is the process that occurs when light strikes a film or a sensor, producing an image that exhibits the interplay between light and shadow. What then, if you wish to take a photograph when there is no light or light that is so low that it's hard for your camera to discern? This is where photography gets interesting - and challenging! It's where photography becomes about exercising creative possibilities, not just taking the obvious shot.
Long Street is one of Cape Town’s most improbable and yet exciting streets, where prim Victorian architecture festooned with wrought-iron decorative ‘lace’ stands cheek-by-jowl with pumping nightclubs and some of the city’s oldest and most-revered places of worship. Starting near the harbour, it forms a rich backbone to the inner city and is truly the street that never sleeps: from office and court workers on weekdays to ultra-hip students and night owls who haunt the late-night restaurants on weekend, it has pep, zest and life in all its weird and wonderful incarnations.
In the early days of African safaris, the 'Big 5' sadly referred to the five most dangerous and challenging animals that a trophy hunter could hunt. Thankfully, photographic safaris have transformed the way people encounter wildlife. Today, we use our digital cameras to 'shoot' elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, taking nothing but their images for our trophies.
South Africa’s Western Cape welcomes spring in a colourful riot of blooming wild flowers. At the height of flower season, between August and September, the west coast abandons its normally somber semi-arid attire and dresses up for the homecoming queen’s welcome parade.
Africa is a continent of vast contrasts and varied landscapes, places where you can truly immerse yourself in timeless scenery of distant horizons and huge open spaces. It is one thing to enjoy a moment in an incredible landscape, and entirely another attempting to photograph it as you see it.
The biggest challenge photography enthusiasts face going on a photographic safari is what to pack in their equipment bag. We'd all like to take as much gear as possible, but the strict weight restrictions on light aircraft dictate a more circumspect approach to packing gear. I once met a safari photographer who had brought only one change of clothes in order to maximise his luggage allowance with camera gear! This is not completely necessary, especially if you make use of these packing tips learned on countless safaris.
There are many wonderful places to photograph birds in Africa. The Chobe River in Botswana offers out-of-this-world birding from the vantage of a customised photographic boat, creating minimal disturbance and putting you in prime position to capture fantastic images. Close by, the Okavango Delta has several birding highlights throughout the year. Falling water levels in October expose sandbanks that attract nesting African Skimmers, huge noisy heronries rise and fall, and the summer rains bring exotic migrant species into the area. Further south, the bird list at South Africa's Phinda Reserve is so large that some say it offers the best birding in Africa!