African Wildlife Photography
Wildlife presents some amazing photographic opportunities and truly unforgettable scenes. You won’t need world-class wildlife photographer status to capture fantastic photos. However, you will need the patience to be still. The patience to listen to the sounds of the bush, and the patience to wait for nature to play its part.
Many wildlife scenes invoke emotion. The challenge of African wildlife photography is to capture those emotions, as diverse as they may be and to look for ways to tell that story.
Some of the photos included in this article are taken within the confines of special animal sanctuaries where you have more time to plan your photograph and capture your subject whereas in the wild, the window of opportunity definitely diminishes. The caption under each of the images in this article includes the location where the image was taken.
Our wild, privately-owned Klaserie bush camp
As well as visiting the sanctuaries, we have been so fortunate to live by ourselves in a bush camp deep within Klaserie Private Game Reserve for 6 weeks. Klaserie forms a part of the Greater Kruger area. Immersing ourselves in bush life, learning bushcraft and being surrounded by these wild animals has given us both respect and a much better understanding of the habits of these wild animals.
There are no fences between us and the animals. Whether we are in camp or out on a game drive, we can at any time walk the bush – let me add though, only after careful scrutiny. It’s been a phenomenal experience!
We’ve written a separate article on An Australian Take on Life in the South African Bush which you might find interesting.
In this article, we share:
- Our favourite African wildlife photography shots
- Why we chose our particular cameras and lenses for African wildlife photography
- Wildlife photography camera settings we use on our cameras
White tiger cub (Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve)
Leopard catching the early morning rays on a termite mound (Klaserie)
African Wildlife Photos – Our Favourites
Overlanding Africa in a 4WD offers unbelievable opportunities to discover the beauty and rawness of Africa’s nature and its amazing wildlife.
Owning our own 4WD has allowed us the freedom to enjoy the journey at our own pace, taking the time to immerse ourselves in some great self-drive safaris and many a national park. And yes, our African wildlife photography has rewarded us with thousands upon thousands of magical moments.
(Want to know how you can own your 4wd in South Africa as a foreigner? Take a read of our article ‘4×4 South Africa – Top Considerations when Renting or Buying‘).
You can’t script wildlife. As mentioned before, the watching/waiting game is a skill you’ll want to master and an understanding of wildlife behavioural patterns can only work to your advantage. Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Wildlife is unpredictable, adding to the excitement, but also opening up opportunities for some rewarding African wildlife photography.
Read about Shelley’s conversation with a leopard at Klaserie Private Game Reserve.
It’s not all about stumbling around in the bush. We had some great tools being our detailed Tracks4Africa maps and atlas to show us the way when overlanding Africa. There are many great products that any adventurer should consider. Take a look in the Tracks4Africa shop.
Here are our favourite African wildlife images captured by us so far.
Three generations of elephant: The matriarch keeps a loving eye on her family. (Addo Elephant Sanctuary)
Leopard in the river reeds (Klaserie)
Symmetry: Although each Plains Zebra looks like it could be the reflection of the other, each one has its own unique patterned stripes. (Addo Elephant Sanctuary)
This male Malachite Sunbird blends perfectly within the branches of the orange-flowering ‘Lion’s Tail’ shrub. (Prince Albert backyard)
This Eland acts as sentinel whilst his companions rest in the long grass. (Addo Elephant Sanctuary)
Male Kudu with Oxpecker beside a termite mound (Klaserie)
These two White Rhinos emerged from the bush right under our noses, wet with freshly caked mud on the body and horn makes for a compelling photo. (Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve)
De-horned White Rhino near a river crossing (Klaserie)
This Pale Chanting Goshawk had the height advantage being perched on a tall Thornbush above the plains. Although we were kept well within his sights, he was focussed on spying his next meal. (Addo Elephant Sanctuary)
No doubt about it, Squirrel Monkeys are just the cutest. A professional poser? I think so. (Monkeyland)
Our first sighting of Pangolin (Klaserie)
This Black Leopard was cooly inquisitive at our presence. His jet-black coat adds to his air of mystery. (Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve)
Just a fleeting stop on a branch allowed the opportunity to capture a shot of this female Malachite Sunbird. It’s not the long, lower part of the beak that is protruding, but the tongue of the sunbird. (Prince Albert backyard)
This solitary Cape Buffalo wandered out of the bush and rolled around in the mud for a couple of minutes before deciding to stay put. (Addo Elephant Sanctuary)
Lioness on the Klaserie river bank (Klaserie)
Although this warthog displays some razor-sharp tusks, it’s all love and fun when her young one wants some attention. (Addo Elephant Sanctuary)
Hyena walking out of the river reeds (Klaserie)
Wild dogs feasting at a carcass at the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve.
Stunning plumage on this Malachite Kingfisher (Klaserie)
A picture of symmetry with the spiral horns on these 2 Scimitar-horned Oryx otherwise known as Sahara Oryx. (Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve)
A ‘Little Bee Eater’ with plenty to say (Klaserie)
This male Ostrich shows off its striking black coloured plumage. To court females during the mating season, the male ostrich’s beak and shins will turn red to attract the females. (Oudtshoorn Chandler Ostrich Farm)
A Lilac Breasted Roller in the wind (Klaserie)
Having a good zoom lens pays off to get good close up shots. (Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve)
An adolescent Capuchin Monkey seemingly bored whilst its mother makes the most of snack-time at Monkeyland Plettenberg Bay
A baby Plains Zebra keeps under safe protection whilst being inquisitive to the outside world. (Addo Elephant Sanctuary)
Impala caught in the late afternoon sun (Klaserie)
Click here to view our Photography Gallery
Shooting Wildlife Photography – What Camera Do We Need?
Now, with a plan for long term travel in Africa, we needed cameras that had faster and more accurate auto-focus, telephoto lenses to spy into distant landscapes and weatherproofing to handle whatever harsh weather conditions Mother Nature chose to throw at us. African wildlife photography would certainly require something special.
I did a good amount of research prior to buying our cameras and equipment. With so much choice, it certainly wasn’t a rushed decision, but we finally settled on expanding our Sony family with the inclusion of the Sony a7III, Sony RX10IV and the Sony a6100.
Our Sony gear minus the Sony a6100 as it was in for service
Why We Chose Sony Cameras For Our African Wildlife Photography
Sony cameras had attracted us from the start. We wanted equipment that would allow us to reliably capture fast-action and shoot in low light. The immediate plusses for us that Sony cameras offered were super-fast auto-focus capability (which would greatly increase our chances of capturing ‘keepers’ or in-focus sharp shots), the new Animal-Eye auto-focus feature (to automatically detect and track the animal’s eye) and the weather-proof construction. Below I touch on each of our cameras and the major selling points that attracted us to it that would enhance our African wildlife photography. (Note: we have no affiliation with Sony).
This versatile super-zoom bridge stabilised camera has a 24-600mm (full-frame equivalent) focal length with aperture wide-open at 2.4 up to a fast 4.0 at the long end. This camera shoots raw files at a staggering 24fps on silent with full autofocus tracking, punches out crisp 4K video and sports 315 phase-detection autofocus points covering 65% of its 20MP sensor. And … there’s no need to change any lenses.
A brilliant camera for wildlife photography and the only one Shelley uses, apart from an occasional shot with her iPhone X, (She doesn’t like to play around with lenses… unlike me!)
This full-frame stabilised camera boasts a 24MP sensor with a hybrid auto-focus system consisting of 693 phase-detection autofocus points + 425 contrast-detection autofocus points covering 93% of the sensor. The a7III shoots raw files on silent at a maximum of 10FPS and can buffer 89 raw files. The a7III makes shooting 4K video a breeze. This camera is so versatile.
This little pocket rocket has an APS-C sensor with 425 contrast and 425 phase-detection autofocus points covering 84% of the sensor. Shooting at a maximum of 11fps, it’s definitely no slouch. It has real-time tracking for Eye autofocus incorporating Animal Eye autofocus with a blistering claimed autofocus speed of 0.02s. The buffer can store a maximum of 31 raw files. The a6100 can capture 4K slow-motion video in a special video mode. Unfortunately, the Sony a6100 does not have internal stabilisation like the Sony RX10IV and Sony a7III.
Wildlife Photography: Our Camera Lenses
I decided to stick with mostly Sony lenses to ensure the fastest focus times and seamless functionality of Sony lenses with Sony cameras. I use both my full-frame lenses, the Sony 24-105mm and 70-300mm, interchangeably on the full-frame Sony a7III and the APS-C Sony a6100. I have recently purchased a Tamron 70-180 f/2.8 for better low light photography.
Below I briefly talk about what I use each lens for and the benefits of this for me. If you want detailed specs and information on each of the lens, I’ve added links to the Sony US site and for the Sigma lens, a link to a comprehensive article from DP (Digital Photography) Review.
a) Sony 24-105mm f/4 G OSS – this is my widest full-frame lens and used a lot for landscape shots. It has a constant f/4.0 with a handy 24-105mm focal range and is super sharp. It comes with a weather-resistant lens, fast and silent auto-focus is coupled with optical stabilisation. I shoot constant f/4.0 video.
b) Sony 200-600mm f/5.6 to 6.3 G OSS – this ultra-telephoto full-frame lens has internal focusing meaning that as you rotate the focus ring, there is nothing that moves or extends from the lens body. That in itself is a fantastic feature for avoiding dust in the lens body. The lens is lightweight, stabilised and focuses ultra-fast. The 200-600 spends most of its time on my Sony a7III, ready for a good portion of my wildlife photography!
c) Sony 70-300mm f/4.5 to 5.6 G OSS – this full-frame lens comes with stabilisation and fills the focal length gap not covered by the previous two lenses. It is super-sharp and has silent auto-focus. I use the 70-300 lens mostly with my Sony a6100 giving me an equivalent field of view of 105mm to 450mm.
Having the camera and lenses are just a part of the wildlife photographers arsenal. We travel quite light and so have included just the minimum but still essential gear. These are:
The bean bag has been such a handy accessory for us. On a self-drive safari, the camera bean bag sits on the window still and supports the camera and/or lens. Not only does the bean bag relieve the burden of holding your camera equipment but it also absorbs any vibrations that might be coming through the vehicle. The bean bags we bought were empty and we just filled it with rice, otherwise, you can buy a pre-filled camera bean bag. Look for bean bags that sit with flaps that extended down on each side of the window sill for better stability.
I would class this as an essential item. Lugging the sony camera mounted with Sony 200-600mm for hours starts to take its toll on the arms. The strap and anchor connectors are rated to 90kgs so definitely fit for purpose.
This multi-segmented neoprene set of covers keeps the lens essentially dust and dirt free. It’s worth protecting this expensive asset.
Shooting on fast continuous mode, then you” need a fast memory card to capture your images as fast as possible. This card will do the trick and on the Sony a7III, there is a dedicated slot for such a card.
We travel with two of these tripods and are small enough to be hand-carried on a plane or tucked away in your luggage. It can be adapted to different terrain with different footings. It is rated for a maximum 8kg payload which is perfect for the camera with Sony 200-600 lens.
Our Sony Camera Settings for Our Wildlife Photos
These are the ‘general camera settings’ for capturing wildlife that we have selected on all our cameras.
- AF-C: Autofocus continuous;
- Lock-on AF: Focus Area set to Lock-On AF: Wide for tracking moving subjects and Lock-on AF: Expandable Flexible Spot when there is only a little movement for tracking of the subjects;
- Hi (High) frame rate (With the Sony a7III I don’t select Continous Shooting: Hi+ as the subject is not displayed in real-time on either the EVF or the monitor; and if the F-value is F-8 or greater, then the focus is locked to the setting of the first shot);
- Multi Metering Mode (I adjust the Exposure Compensation and monitor the camera’s histogram to ensure I don’t blow out the highlights in the image);
- ISO Auto (100 to 6400): I let the camera choose the ISO but I try to keep the shutter speed as low as possible so the ISO doesn’t climb too much;
- Raw File Format.
Sony a7III menu
What Lens Do I Use for Wildlife Photography?
This will very much depend on how open the bush is. If there are a lot of big, open spaces then I bring out the thumper, Sony 200-600mm and stretch its legs. Otherwise, I find myself using the Sony 70-300mm mid-range telescopic lens when the bush is close to the vehicle and where game can be seen relatively close to the track. This gives me a nice compromise of shooting at 70mm focal length for the up-close shots all the way out to 300mm.
We’ve been able to see the difference between habituated game that is tolerant of the noise and activity from cars and people and that of non-habituated game experienced during our stay at Klaserie Private Game Reserve. Klaserie borders Kruger National Park without any fences to restrict game in between. At Klaserie the game is allowed to roam mostly undisturbed except for the odd landowner driving by.
It’s here that game have the opportunity to return to their natural wild state. This can make game unpredictable in its behaviour and so we’ve learnt to keep animals at a safe distance and respect them in their own environment. We’ve had some close elephant encounters during our night-time river crossings that put a bit of a scare into us. I’ve written about our trials and challenges during our first 2 weeks in the Klaserie Private Game Reserve and how our perspective has changed on life in the South African bush.
Giraffe with Oxpeckers in tow (Klaserie)
Spotlighting Wildlife on Night Game Drives
Spotlighting at night is fun. Unlike daytime games, night drives rely on the illumination from the headlights and spotlight therefore reducing your chances of spotting animals. Without being able to see much of the bush, it’s hard to get a feel for what’s around you.
We have experimented with different types of spotlights. If your goal is to spot and view wildlife (no photography included) then you could opt for an LED hand-held torch. Or, one of the runner’s head-mounted lamps that gives both good range and beam spread.
Red cellophane over the lens is an easy and effective solution (Klaserie)
If you want to photograph wildlife on a night game drive, then hitting the animal with the harsh white spotlight is not only startling to the animal but trying to get a decent photo that isn’t over-exposed by all the white light reflection is near pretty tough.
A good option is to use a filter over the light source. We invested in some red cellophane which we tied around the lamp body using a rubber band and tape. It’s a simple, effective and cheap solution that works well.
African Wildlife Photography Round-Up
Africa really is a mecca for wildlife photography and with such diversity and abundance on offer, you’re guaranteed to be enthralled, amazed and lusting for more. I hope you’ve enjoyed our images and reading a bit about our decision-making processes. If you see us on some back road in Africa, we’d love it if you said hi!
Do you have a preference for a particular camera and lens? A favourite wildlife photo or special moment? It would be great to hear about it so please drop us some words in the comments section below.
(If you’re a Sony a6000 shooter, as I used to be, then you may be interested in an article I’ve written on my challenges of capturing the blood moon eclipse with the Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 lens whilst we were in Norway.)
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