We all became pretty good in planning our holidays through the Internet, creating our own itineraries and doing the bookings for the accommodations and flights ourselves.
When it comes to Africa this approach can go wrong. Recently somebody wanted a second opinion on a self-created itinerary for a South Africa holiday and the plan looked like that:
2 days Kruger Park safari 1 day Garden Route incl. drive to Cape Town 4 days Cape Town 1 day Victoria Falls (Zambia) 1 day Sun City (about 2 hours drive from Johannesburg)
They put all highlights into a 10 days itinerary including all driving. And this is just not working. The drive from Johannesburg to Kruger Park is about 6 hours and the drive from the Garden Route to Cape Town takes even longer.
The distances in Africa are often underestimated and guests get disappointed when booking such an itinerary and ending up only driving instead of enjoying the sights.
Take a close look at the distances you are going to cover when you plan a safari, wildlife photography trip or an incentive. It might sound so easy with all you want to see in a short trip, but it might be only stress when actually travelling. How can you experience wildlife areas when you are only there for one day?
This question is often asked when guests inquire for safaris in South Africa and there is no standard answer to it. It depends what you would like to see and experience.
Wildlife sightings and therefore wildlife photography is the easiest in winter, which is June, July and August. It is not raining in winter and the bush is dry. The animals gather around waterholes and that makes it easier to find them. Also the grass is low in winter and the animals can be easier seen and photographed. The colors are earthy colors with beautiful brown and red tints. But there is a little but; it is cold in the morning and evening with comforting warm temperatures during the day.
Summer is the lush time of the year with high temperatures and all rich green colors. The grass is high and there is plenty of water. It is more difficult to find the animals and also to see them in the grass, but it is so lovely green. Especially when planning a winter escape, the South African summer is ideal. For the photography summer offers just different photo opportunities. The colors are bright and the light is often softer.
Photographers usually travel with heavy luggage and that can be a hassle with the airlines.
The photo equipment is expensive and no one wants it to be checked in and stolen on the way to the photographic safari destination or any other magnificent travel destination. Therefore we like to keep it with us in the hand luggage.
A few years ago the first struggle came with the strict new measurements of the cabin luggage allowance and more recently also the weight allowance for the hand luggage. It is getting more and more difficult to keep your gear with you and not to get involved in discussions at the check in counter.
Make sure you have read the allowances for the airline you are flying with before packing your bags. Put gear like tripods, cables and chargers rather in the check in luggage. They are no electronic items and less interesting for thieves and they save you space and weight in the hand luggage. Use dark colors for you cabin baggage. It looks smaller and lighter. Make also sure your cabin luggage looks compact and organized. A messy bulky bag is not helpful. Wear a jacket with big pockets where you can put a lens, if needed to reduce the weight of your bag. Having a backpack instead of a bag can also help when it is not too bulky and big.
Make sure there are not more than 6 people on the game drive vehicle. Otherwise you might end up on a middle seat like on the plane, a seat nobody wants to sit on and definitely not on safari.
If you attend a wildlife photography course and you want to make sure you learn what you need and want to learn, not more than 6 people should be in the group, rather less. If you are part of a bigger group, split the group into smaller groups with each small group having their own instructor.
With team buildings it depends what their purpose is, what the team wants to experience and also here, the experience can be customized for the best results.
Keep it in mind when you plan courses or similar activities. It makes a huge difference.
Every time you go out to photograph, you need to tune in to the place where you are in order to get the best results with your photography. That applies to the simple walk in the park next to your house, the place of a friend, the holiday in France, the photographic safari in Kenya and South Africa, the wildlife photography courses in Botswana, the teambuilding photographic safaris in Tanzania, the visit to the museum, the birthday party of your niece and so on.
The point is that only when you realize where you are, in other words when you are conscious where you are, you will be able to get the light right for your camera settings, you will see the beauty of the place and you will be able to capture its essence. If for some reason this is not the case, maybe because of a distraction or a jet lack or something other of this kind you will see it in your images. There will be some kind of “noise”, appearing e.g. as the image being too bright or too dark or the composition being hideous. When you notice that, take a step back, slow down and start feeling where you are. Then take your camera and start again. The images will show the difference.
When guests are going on photographic safari, team building photographic safari or wildlife photography course for the first time, they often hesitate to come out for themselves with regards to the photos they want to take. It can be intimidating to sit on the game vehicle for the first time with a ranger in command of driving and explaining and often a tracker in charge of finding the animals. And now you, the newbee wants to say stop, where the ranger didn’t show any sign that there would be anything interesting. But you should. Nobody sees what you see and it is not important that nobody else sees it. Its your photo, you saw something worth photographing and you want to capture it. And if the ranger doesn’t stop quickly enough to get the shot you saw, ask to reverse, that you still get your lovely photo.
The photo needs to appeal to you and when it appeals also to others, that is even nicer, but in the first place, it’s your photo.
Have always bottled water with you when you are out in the bush to avoid dehydration. It can sneak up on you and when you get the headache and stomach cramp it is already serious. Keep drinking water and you will enjoy fabulous game drives.
How do you experience being just in time before the boarding gate closes or quickly throwing your equipment in the bag before departure? Are these the circumstances you perform best? If you do, you will not feel stressed by it, but if you don’t you will most likely feel very stressed. How to avoid that?
Make a plan. Just like for any other occasion plan your photo shoot, holiday travel, photographic safaris, wildlife photography courses and team building photographic safaris. Make a to do list and set deadlines for each task. Keep some buffer time for unexpected difficulties and when traveling far make sure you have some time to rest before departure. Especially before long haul flights this is recommended.
Probably the core problem of getting stressed at the end is, that we think we still have time and then other things happen and we can’t do what we need to do. When you can do it today, do it. When you can prepare your photographic gear today instead of an hour before departure, do it today. That keeps you always ready for unforeseen events and you will not run out of time.
Never thought about it? But what will you do when you suddenly see something fabulous or breathtakingly beautiful? Searching your bag or pockets for the cell phone and missing the great moment?
These questions might sound silly for our daily journey to work and back, but they are not. On photographic safari, wildlife photography courses and team building photographic safari guests learn that you should always be ready to shoot and often they learn it the hard way. When returning to the lodge or camp from an evening game drive it is very tempting to pack your camera in your bag, because you can see already the lights of the camp, but suddenly there is a porcupine on the road and you have no camera ready. This is the moment you will remember forever, because you were desperate to see a porcupine and now its gone and you have no photo.
This is just the same with our travel to work every day or other situations we experience as ordinary and not worth to have a camera at hand. But what about the sunrise that suddenly paints the city purple or the great light in the park?
So, where is your camera? You got the point and just remember, a great photographic moment can appear anywhere, any time.
Automatically we have a look at the top search results and often we just go with them. But there is a lot to be considered when choosing a photographic safari. One main factor is the budget available for the trip, but be also conscious of the quality and what determines the quality of a safari.
If you want the real safari feeling you should not book a lodge that feels like a hotel. Choose a tented camp and there are great simple camps that offer just all you need for a reasonable price. Make sure you will have the game drives in 4x4 safari vehicles and a professional trained guide as the driver. Choose A-locations to avoid disappointment with the sightings. If you are determent to see leopards, go to places where you have the highest chance to see them, not to places where they are rarely seen.
And last but not least trust your feeling. Your intuition will not let you down and help you finding the right safari from all the offers available and probably all the information you get from all sorts of resources. Somehow you will just know what to do and it will be the right choice for your safari.
We probably all love these beautiful photographs with a flower or animal nicely in focus and the background blurred, with the background just being a nice color backdrop for the subject.
How can you get images like that and how do you do it when being on photographic safari? You can work with the f-stop, using a small f-stop number to have only lets say the flower in focus and the rest blurred out. But it is also possible to get the same effect by being very close to the subject when photographing it. A wide-angle lens will do very well with that.
During wildlife photography courses and team building photographic safaris we practice the being close version with subjects like flower when we are in the camp or have a picnic in the bush, but it is not working when you want to photograph animals, lets say birds. They will not let you get that close or it might be too dangerous doing that. In that case choosing a big distance results in the same effect. The telephoto lens in combination with a single focus point blurs out the background and your subject is in focus.
You don’t have to wait for a photographic safari to practice. Just look around where you live and find a flower and/or bird.
It is great to go somewhere and just shoot away spontaneously, yet there are situations you better do some preparations. That applies to travel photography and also to wildlife photography during photographic safaris. You usually have a certain amount of time to spend at several destinations and you want to photograph the best and be ready to capture great opportunities like a wildebeest crossing during the Great Migration in the Masai Mara.
Lets focus on the example photographic safaris. First of all research what is the best destination for what you want to photograph and what is the best time of the year for it. Then find out what is the best place to stay to have the game drives you are looking for with the best guides to find your animals. When this is set, prepare your gear. Research how close the animals most likely will be to make the right choice of lenses and how will the weather be at that time in this area to know what clothes to bring.
The best photographic safari experiences are game drives on open 4x4 jeeps. They give the ultimate feeling of the surroundings and for wildlife photography courses can’t be better moments than a leopard passing the vehicle just a few meters from you.
But you should mind the weather when using open vehicles. Be prepared, even if you expect sun. It can get very hot and if there is no roof, you will need a sunhat to avoid sunstroke. Expect changing conditions throughout the day. Dress in layers to respond to changing temperatures and have always a light rain/wind jacket to suit both, wind and rain.
When going on photographic safaris in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia be aware that it can be really cold in winter, at least in the morning and in the evening. You will need gloves and a warm hat while you are on the open vehicle exposed to the cold air.
During team building photo safaris at the Ngorongoro Crater we experienced often very surprised guests, because they didn’t think it can be that cold there. The Ngorongoro Crater rim is at an elevation of about 2,300 meters and in winter really challenging cold with the wind that comes with it, although the warm midday part makes one forget how it will be in the evening.
Be conscious of that when packing. The main rule is bringing something for all weather types and dress in layers. The essence of the weather is that it can change constantly during one day.
Enjoy the great experience an open vehicle offers and be prepared to feel comfortable throughout at all times.
“I was in Oxford, Mississippi for a few days and I was driving out to Holly Springs on a back road, stopping here and there. It was the time of year when the landscape wasn't yet green. I left the car and walked into the dead leaves off the road. It was one of those occasions when there was no picture there. It seemed like nothing, but of course there was something for someone out there. I started forcing myself to take pictures of the earth, where it had been eroded thirty or forty feet from the road. There were a few weeds. I began to realize that soon I was taking some pretty good pictures, so I went further into the woods and up a little hill, and got well into an entire roll of film.” (from a conversation of William Eggleston with Mark Holborn, afterward from The Democratic Forest)
This might sound familiar for wildlife photographers, being on a photographic safari or wildlife photography course lets say in the Masai Mara in Kenya, driving the entire morning over the Great Plains and seeing “nothing”. As Eggleston’s story tells, there is always something to photograph, one only needs to start seeing. And well, we are probably sometimes a bit spoilt, expecting the perfect light on incredible wildlife interaction right in front of us and yes, that happens, but there is so much more to see and photograph by just starting seeing. There is landscape, there are beetles, leaves, flowers, grass, soil, rocks, roads and so much more and not only in the bush, start looking out for it in your own garden and hometown. Do not wait for the obvious great shot, start seeing the great photograph in everything and a whole new world will open to a new dimension in photography. Sounds a bit vague? Try it and see the results. During our team building photo safaris we often experience the most amazing surprises when people who never thought of themselves of being able to express something in photos come up with the most beautiful results and they also might have thought at one stage, that this all sounds a bit vague.
When you plan your photographic safari or team building photo safari to Kenya, Tanzania South Africa or Botswana be wise when you choose lodges and game reserves and not that much in regards how luxury they are, but in regards to the game drives.
When we went recently with a wildlife photography course to the Masai Mara in Kenya, we learned that we couldn’t go to all parts of the Masai Mara during the game drives without paying again the park fee of USD 80 per person per day. We had paid already the park fee, but we found out that this gave us access only to a part of the park, witch can be very annoying when you want to see certain areas, but you would have to pay again. The people from the camp told us that there were intentions of the national reserve authorities to change that, but it would still apply to us. So check that before you go and make sure you go to the interesting areas.
Even more annoying is it when you see a leopard going hunting and you cannot follow with the vehicle, because the leopard is crossing over to a different game reserve. This can be the situation in the Sabi Sand in Kruger National Park in South Africa. The Sabi Sand are part of the Greater Kruger National Park, but are all privately hold game reserves, also called private game reserves. This is actually very good, because you will have better sightings and only three vehicles at a cat sighting, what you don’t have in the national park, but there is also a downside. The private game reserves differ greatly in size and the small game reserves do not have enough land to guarantee good game drives lets say for a three nights photographic safari. For that reason the landowners negotiate traversing rights on each others land. But these traversing rights come with rules like you are only allowed to be on the land until 9 am and then again in the afternoon. But when the leopard hunts and it is 9:15 you will not be allowed to follow. Even worse is when the neighbor does not allow traversing and you have to stop at the border, hearing the leopard kill, but not seeing anything. These situations can occur in the northern and western Sabi Sand and they are really very annoying. For that reason look at the size of the private game reserve when you book your photographic safari to make sure you do not have to encounter these “border conflicts”. Choose a game reserve with plenty of land and a maximum of 6 people on the game vehicle and you will have an amazing experience. Maps of game areas are available online and you can ask your agent to advice.