The wilder side of travel photography: 8 pro-tips to up your game

2018-03-23 15:40 - Gabi Zietsman
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You think it’s hard to get your dog to sit still for a photo – catching a photo of a wild animal mid-takeoff is another ballgame altogether.

But you don’t have to be a professional to get some good animal snaps on your bush holiday - just a bit of patience, a good zoom and your inside voice for when you swear.

If photos are the main purpose of your holiday, why not try out a photo safari? These are bush holidays led by photo guides that will help you get that perfect shot to spike your Instagram likes.

SEE: Botswana photo safari: Top tips to make the most of the experience

Here are 8 tips for taking photos of animals with little swearing involved:

1. If it looks like an animal will easily get spooked (like a bird), hold in the shutter to take a few photos after each other – you may just capture a cool moment as it takes off. But you must be fast, and make sure your shutter speed is high enough to avoid the blur.

Lilac-breasted roller in Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

2. Sleeping animals relaxing in the afternoon gives you a bit more time to compose your shot and wait for that big yawn or cute sleeping look. This will also give you the opportunity to zoom in on different parts of the animal – feet, eyes, ears, tail – for a more compressed shot with lots of detail.

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Spotted hyena in Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

3. Don’t try to focus too much on one animal in a herd. You can get really beautiful textured shots by shooting the herd as a whole, but try to keep one animal as your anchor point for the composition – could be one looking into a different direction, has any defining features that makes it stand out or even just gives you a look of “mind your own business”.

Herd of buffalo in Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania (Photo: Gabi Zietsman) 

4. Steady yourself by using your vehicle, especially if you’re shooting with a long lens, but make sure the vehicle is switched off - otherwise you’ll be rattling away trying to take a shot. You can balance the lens either on the seat or the window sill, but be on the lookout for any big cats that may want to play with your camera.

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White rhino in South African bushveld (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

5. Keep a lookout for the small things – it doesn’t have to be a big animal for the photo to look amazing. Reptiles like snakes, chameleons and tortoises can make for some cool macro shots, and never underestimate the weirdness of plants. Even the most boring-looking leaf can look spectacular if you get close enough.

Chameleon in SelouS Game Reserve (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

6. If you have to move fast to get a shot before the animal disappears into the bush – and you’re still getting used to your manual settings – just switch to auto rather than fumble with the aperture. It’s easier to try and tweak something in post on auto than have a blown-out shot of a lion cub or even no shot at all.

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Male lion in Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

7. If you’re one of those camera tech fundies that have a lens the size of your arm and you’re flying internationally to your photo safari destination, double check if you need a carnet form for the country you’re travelling to. A carnet is a document that allows you to temporarily export expensive goods that you plan to take back with you, like a camera, otherwise you have to pay import tax.

They don’t generally worry about cameras for personal use, but as soon as it starts to look too professional you may have to sweet talk some airport customs officials, which can be avoided with a carnet. And never, ever check-in your camera bag and lens – make sure you don’t exceed your carry-on allowance with extra bags and try to be as compact as possible.

White-backed vultures and marabou stork in Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

8. Remember to always be mindful of your surroundings – don’t get so absorbed in your camera’s viewfinder that you don’t see the elephant creeping up next to you. Always listen out for any warnings from your guide if on a game drive and never use your flash – not getting enough light on your photo is better than blinding a poor animal.

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African elephant in Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa (Photo: Gabi Zietsman) 

*Disclaimer: Traveller24's Gabi Zietsman was hosted by Azura Retreats in Selous Game Reserve and Amarula in Kapama Private Game Reserve.