Shooting animals in a game reserve largely comes down to luck, though you can increase your chances of success.
Here’s a few tips based on my experience:
– You don’t need a really long lens. I shot with a 200mm lens most of the time and was easily satisfied with the result as the animals are used to the vehicle coming up close. Sure, I could have improved maybe 5% of my images by bringing in “a big gun” but that was outweighed by the inconvenience of lugging it around the country and the likelihood I would have concentrated too much on the “seen-em-all-before close-ups” and missed some more creative options that placed the animals in context of their environment, which, interestingly, proved to be some of my favourite images.
– Take a monopod with you for greater stability and improved sharpness if you are using a long lens.
– Constantly check and clean your lenses (If you’re using a long lens, you won’t even realise its covered with dust until its too late).
– Check your disc space – particularly before arriving at where the animals are likely to be (there’s nothing worse that running out of disc space or having to swap cards when you need them the most).
– If you are shooting head shots of an animal, always focus on the eye.
– Understand, there isn’t the same urgency in shooting the slow moving animals (ie elephants and rhinos) as there is in capturing the fast moving leopards and cheeetahs so you can afford to wait until the jeep stops before going berserk.
– Shoot at the lowest iso you can for quality but ensure your camera is set at a speed fast enough to freeze your subject. Most of the images I shot were at iso 500 at 5.6. And I manually set my camera to underexpose my subject by half a stop to avoid overexposing the highlights.
– Allow for three days shooting in the game park – the first to get a sense of what’s available and the conditions (and to get over the excitement of it all), the second to go after the particular animals you most want to shoot, and the third to “tidy up” on anything you may have missed. This also allows for one of the days not going quite according to plan and it will give you time to review your pictures at the end of each day and refine your technique and approach.
– Seriously weigh up the merit of paying extra to have a vehicle to yourself or sharing it with another photographer on one of the days as a jeep can take up to 10 passengers who’s interest may not be the same as yours.
And finally, remember you are shooting in an environment as close to nature as you can get. There are no guarantees you will see or photograph any of these animals. If you start baring this in mind – certainly based on my experience – your expectations will be well and truly exceeded.
For more tips on Travel Photography, click here.