African Photographic Safari, Part 2: 9 Recommendations for Your Photo Gear

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African Photographic Safari, Part 2: 9 Recommendations for Your Photo Gear

Welcome to Part 2 of this three-part series on information for African photographic safaris. In Part 1, we discussed choosing a safari and the preparation for that trip. Here, in Part 2, we will look at how to prepare for the safari, photographically.

Depending upon where you are visiting, your needs may vary. Your safari company will give you advice on what you will need for imaging, but do not be shy about inquiring—after all, you are likely going on a photo safari to get great photos.

Above photograph: Lion of Ndutu (Ngorongoro Conservation Area) I call Two Bit
Canon EOS 5D Mark III; EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; manual exposure, 1/1000 sec at f/5.6; ISO 250; 0 EV

1. Cameras

Bring at least two camera bodies. Safari travel is tough on cameras and switching lenses in the field is beyond dusty and difficult—or if your primary camera becomes damaged or stops working, you will have a backup.

Photographs © Linda LeNoir

Greater Kestrel of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Canon EOS 5D Mark III; EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM + 1.4X iii lens and extender; manual exposure, 1/1250 sec at f/7.1; ISO 200; 0 EV

2. Rain and Dust Protection

Bring some form of rain and dust covers for your cameras and lenses. Even if you travel in the dry season, you may happen upon a short rain storm that will not last long but, in an open vehicle, you are in trouble. Even if your vehicle has a roof, it often takes time to get it set up. I usually travel with a couple of old pillowcases to cover my camera and lens while riding in the vehicle. It really helps with the dust and is much easier than putting the cameras away in my bag between shots.

Lone Zebra of Amboseli National Park, Kenya

Canon EOS 1D X; EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; manual exposure, 1/400 sec at f.3.8; ISO 100; 0 EV

3. Lenses

Generally, when packing lenses, a wide-angle, telephoto, and super-telephoto (minimum 400mm) will be sufficient. A 1.4x or 2x teleconverter is an option you may want to consider. If you do not own a super-telephoto lens, consider renting one. The safari company may have one for you to rent. Trust me, you will want a super-telephoto. If you do not not have one, you will regret it. In Africa, I shoot more than 90% of my images with a 400mm with and without a 1.4 extender. I also use my 70-200mm and 16-35mm but, if I had to take only one lens, it would be the 400mm. This is more important if you are visiting Eastern Africa, where vehicles are usually required to stay on the road—often at a distance from your subjects. In Southern Africa, you might get away with a 200mm or 300mm lens, because the vehicles may be able to get closer to the action, but check with your safari company to see if they travel off road.

Meeting of the minds. Elephants of Tsavo West National Park, Kenya

Canon EOS 5D Mark III; EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM; manual exposure, 1/2500 sec at f/5.6; ISO 500; 0 EV

4. Memory Cards and Storage

Bring lots of storage. One workflow/storage option is to keep the cards safe and not upload them or clear them until you return. Most photographers want their cards reusable and their pictures safe and stored somewhere else. You have many options: memory card readers, external hard drives, laptops, etc. It is a personal choice, but keep in mind, if you have all this electronic equipment, you will need electricity, and perhaps even Wi-Fi. Do not forget power converters for each country to which you will be traveling. Most tents only have one or two plugs for charging, so you may want to consider a power strip or inquire about charging in the main tent or lounge areas. Some camps run on solar power and generators, but power might not be consistent or available. Keep that in mind when planning your workflow.

The Trophy. Hyena of Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya carries off the coveted prize head of a wildebeest killed early by a group of lionesses. 

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV; EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; manual exposure, 1/2500 sec at f/6.3; ISO 400; 0 EV

5. Batteries

You will be taking pictures all day long. While your safari vehicle will probably have a charger, not everyone can use it at once. Additionally, if your lodging is running on generators, you may not have enough time to recharge your batteries. Take more fully charged batteries than you think you might need, and then throw in a couple more. Know your recharging options. Lastly, check with your airline regarding extra batteries; most have rules on how many spares you can bring on the aircraft.

Rufous-Crowned Roller of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park

Canon EOS 5D Mark III; EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; manual exposure, 1/1600 sec at f/2.8; ISO 640; O EV

6. Filters

Polarizer, neutral density, and haze filters are helpful, but only if you are accustomed to using them. The light is beautiful throughout Africa and I prefer to capture it as it is and make any changes necessary later, in editing.

Egyptian Grey Mongoose licks his chops after a tasty meal. Ndutu (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania). He ate in a bush nearby and then came out and did a belly flop with satisfaction.

Canon EOS 1D X; EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; manual exposure; 1/640 sec at f/4.5; ISO 800; 0 EV

7. Flash

Flash is usually not allowed because it disturbs, blinds, and is harmful to the animals.

Serval cat at Ndutu (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania)

Canon EOS 1D X; EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; manual exposure; 1/250 sec at f/5.6; ISO 1250; 0 EV

8. Camera and Lens-Cleaning Kit

Have a kit for blowing dust off and keeping your gear clean in the rugged environments. Make sure you have a screwdriver or multi-tool (do not try to carry that on a plane). The constant vibration of the vehicle and bumpiness can and does loosen screws on your gear.

The Little Prince of Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. Lion cub checking out the Ewaso Ng’iro River

Canon EOS 1D X; EF 400 mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; manual exposure; 1/2500 sec at f/2.8; ISO 400; 0 EV

9. Stabilizing Equipment

For stabilizing cameras, Eastern African guides use beanbags almost exclusively and will likely provide them for you. I would not waste my time with a tripod because you are not permitted outside of the vehicles while on safari. If you have a favorite beanbag, then by all means bring it (empty). The camps are happy to fill them up for you upon arrival—just let your safari company know and they will arrange it ahead of time with the camp(s). A large tripod plate or panning plate works pretty well with beanbags when placed under the lens’s tripod foot. There is a learning curve, but your safari company may provide them. Again, do not be shy about asking.

Southern African tours operate primarily with open vehicles without sides or tops. These vehicles are great for viewing, but stabilizing a big lens or hand-holding even a medium telephoto lens can get tiring. Monopods and tripods offer their own issues with setup and with other photographers in a safari vehicle. Photographic safari companies have made great strides in accommodating photographers, providing clamps, panning plates etc. If you know in advance you will be doing some walking safaris, a monopod would make sense. Make sure to ask for detailed information from your safari company and see what they recommend or what they are going to provide.

For more advice on the topic of African Safaris, click for Part 1 and Part 3 of this three-part series with Linda LeNoir.

For more wildlife-related news and tips, be sure to check out the rest of Wildlife Week on B&H Explora!


The most interesting leopard in the world at Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, and what a beauty at the end of the day. The light was extraordinary.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III; EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM lens; manual exposure, 1/400 sec at f/5.6; ISO 500; 0 EV

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