East Africa must be one of the destinations serious outdoor photographers have on their shortlist of places to visit. Nowhere else in the world is it possible to find such variety and concentrations of free-roaming creatures, not to mention the scenery.
Wildlife photography lagged behind wildlife painting as a form of illustration mainly because early cameras were too big to carry in the field. A turn-of the century picture shows an earnest photographer pursuing a rhino with a camera the size of a microwave oven. It weighed 7,168 grams (16 pounds). Exposure took minutes too long to capture an unrestrained creature on film.
By the middle of this century wildlife photography had changed dramatically. Faster film, telephoto lenses and motordrives gave photographers additional flexibility.
Safari-goers will find that the most suitable cameras are 35 min SLR (single lens reflex) models with interchangeable lenses.
Lenses area wildlife photographer’s most important accessories. A 600 mm telephoto lens is the practical, upper size limit for work in the field. But it cannot be handheld and tripods are very cumbersome when used in vehicles. Zoom lenses—in the 80 mm to 200 mm range—are more versatile and offer better value for money.
Telephoto lenses are prone to camera shake since they magnify image movement. Accurate focusing is also essential with long focal lenses. Shoulder supports help to reduce camera shake; so do sand or bean bags. These look like small pillows filled with dried beans or sand. Lay the bag down on the roof of your open safari vehicle and mould the lens on to it. Many safari companies provide these bags.
Recent years have seen the introduction of very fast colour film. The sharpness and grain of these films are perfectly acceptable even if pictures are blown up to A4 size. Films in Africa, when available, are expensive so visitors should bring more film than they expect to shoot.
On the equator, the best time to take pictures is before 10 a.m. and after 3.30 p.m. When it is overcast, midday hours can be acceptable.
During dry times of the year dust can be a serious hazard to your equipment. It is particularly important to protect the camera from wind-driven dust when loading and unloading film.
The majority of safari pictures are taken from the roof hatch of a vehicle, but taking all your pictures from there creates stereotyped images. Shooting from a lower angle out of a side window often results in more dramatic shots.
Timing, as they say, is everything. Most experienced wildlife photographers will tell you that when it comes to taking memorable pictures it all boils down to being in the right place at the right time. For that reason even old hands can be surpassed by a relative new come to the wildlife game.
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