35 Essential Safari Photography Tips for Amazing Photos

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These safari photography tips will set you up for success and help you to take the best possible photos.

Just the mention of the word ‘safari’ immediately conjures images of wild adventure in foreign lands and the thrill of searching for, and photographing, wild animals in their own domain.

We’ve travelled extensively through Southern Africa, so have had plenty of practice capturing wild animals on camera. Often there is just the barest moment to capture a scene, and both you and your photography equipment need to be ready.

These tips will help ensure your safari photography is on point.

two black rhinos fight with their long horns
Black rhino altercation, Karma Rhino Sanctuary, Botswana ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/1000, 600mm, f/10)

A safari can be undertaken in many places, but the most widely recognised is an African safari experience. We have been road-tripping in Africa, on and off for the past few years, in our own Hilux 4×4 bush camper, so we certainly know a thing or two about safari photography in Southern Africa.

Learning from these experiences, I’m able to share these African safari photography tips.

lions lying around a dead buffalo during a meal
Lions feasting at a buffalo kill ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/1000, 268mm, f/8)

Planning a Trip to Southern Africa?

35 Essential Safari Photography Tips

I’ve broken these photography tips down into sections to make it easier to navigate. Jump to any particular section by clicking on the link.

1. Decide on Your Safari Location

Firstly, even before any safari planning is started, you’ll want to decide where you want to go.

We mark up all the locations we want to visit on a special off-road paper map from Tracks4Africa. This allows us a bird’s eye view of our plans. 

using a colopured marker to show the driving route on a map
Route planning like this gives perspective on the driving distances ©Lifejourney4two
Tracks4Africa Paper Maps

The next natural question is, have we bitten off more than we can chew?

I mean, have you allowed enough time to see all these places? Ideally, it’s better not to rush against the clock from one location to another, but sometimes schedules are tight, and this is just unavoidable.

However, more time in a place equates to more opportunities for great safari photos.

Sometimes there are days when the wildlife just isn’t to be seen. Often this coincides with times when it’s raining or storms.

Now, if you’ve factored in extra time, the delay won’t worry you too much, you’ll be able to have another chance at spotting wildlife.  

Camping in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier park with lightning in the sky
Storms in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Botswana ©Lifejourney4two
(Tamron 28-75mm, 10s, 31mm, f/4.0)

2. Planning Your Visit

Once your safari locations are known, it’s time to plan your road trip or your safari itinerary.

There are a few things you’ll need to give thought to before you go on safari:

The Time of Year to Plan Your Safari

If you’re looking for specific wildlife sightings then you’ll need to plan the best time of year to arrive for this.

As an example, we planned our arrival time for the zebra migration at Nxai Pan National Park, as part of our Botswana camping safari trip.

Embarking on a summer itinerary in Botswana also meant we could see many of the migratory birds that flock there in the warmer months. Such as the vibrant Southern Carmine Bee-eaters that gave us a magnificent show in Savuti, Chobe National Park.

So bottom line, getting the timing right is essential.

We are often asked about our favourite safari parks. You really can’t beat Botswana’s unfenced parks and reserves where game is free to wander through the camps.

It’s also worth mentioning that for abundant and diverse wildlife sightings, then Kruger National Park, South Africa must be on your list.

two beautiful small orange and blue birds stand on a log
Southern carmine bee-eaters in Botswana ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/2000, 600mm, f/8.0)

Ensure You Can Reach Your Destination

When planning your safari photography trip, make sure the places you plan to go are accessible given the time of year you visit.

In Africa, the wet season means flooding and the closure of many tracks and roads, for months on end. This means that reaching those remote campsites may be a mix of driving and flying.

Plan Your Means of Travel

You may be planning to self-drive or alternatively join an overland tour ie. private safari, where you get to sit back and let someone else clock up the kilometres at the wheel.

There are also different types of safari vehicles; some are fully enclosed with air-conditioning, some partially enclosed to give the viewer a more secure feeling and the regular open type vehicle. Ask at your accommodation what options are on offer.

   Find Your Accommodation Well in Advance

Source the accommodation you want well in advance, especially if you are visiting a popular location. This could be campsites or luxury accommodations at safari lodges. Spots fill up fast.

camping in the okavango delta Xakanaxa-campsite,-moremi
Camping in the Okavango Delta – campsite bookings are necessary ©Lifejourney4two
(Tamron 28-75mm, 1/50, 28mm, f/9.0)

Choosing the Right Safari Photography Equipment

Safari photography is mainly about photographing wildlife; the big and the small.

A safari presents unique challenges, such as unpredictable wildlife behaviour and varying lighting conditions which demand specialised gear. Opting for the appropriate camera body with features like high-speed auto-focus, burst mode, and weather sealing ensures that fleeting wildlife encounters are captured with precision and clarity.

Equally important is selecting the right lenses as the varying distances involved require versatility.

multi-coloured translucent small lizard stands in the sand
The web-footed Namib sand gecko we saw on our Living Desert Tour safari in Namibia ©Lifejourney4two (Sony 90mm, 1/250, 90mm, f/14)

3. Camera and Lens Combinations

Choosing a camera for a safari might seem like a daunting task but I breakdown some options below to give you a better idea of what you might need for the safari pictures you want to take.

There are two options you can consider.

Option 1: Bridge Camera

The bridge camera is a lightweight, versatile camera with an integrated zoom lens (not an interchangeable lens).

For many years my wife, Shelley, used the lightweight bridge Sony RX10IV camera for wildlife photography.

This is a great all-in-one camera for the person who doesn’t want to carry around separate lenses.

The Sony RX10IV is an affordable camera with an equivalent zoom of 24mm to 600mm, it shoots at a maximum of 24 frames per second with full auto-focus utilising a 20 MP sensor.

It’s a real performer. 

Sony RX10IV camera
Our faithful Sony RX10IV ©Lifejourney4two

Option 2: Camera With Interchangeable Lens

The second option will require you to choose a camera body and also the lens or lenses to attach. This option gives the user the most flexibility to choose exactly what they want. Meaning that you can choose to have that expensive 600mm lens with a fantastic action camera of your choice.

4. Choosing the Right Camera

When shooting wildlife, you’ll want to use a camera that can shoot in burst mode at relatively high frame rates, to capture the action sequences.

More frames per second equals more opportunities for that one-in-a-million shot, capturing that perfect moment in time. 

Tawny-Eagle-looking-at-a wasp
A tawny eagle eyeing off a wasp ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/500, 600mm, f/6.3)

I’d recommend an action camera have a minimum frame rate of 8 frames per second (fps) or is able to capture at least 8 images per second. You’ll need it, especially when shooting birds-in-flight (BIF).

Our Sony a9s are action cameras and can blast away at a maximum of 20 fps on a silent, electronic shutter with black-out-free shooting (uninterrupted viewing of the subject when shooting). Shooting on a silent shutter will not disturb the wildlife.

This camera is perfect for action safari photography.

Along with the frame rate, the camera’s auto-focus system is also important. More auto-focus points on the camera sensor equate to more opportunities for the camera to grab focus on a subject. 

The image below of the Southern carmine bee-eater was taken out of my driver’s side window in Savuti, Botswana.

There’s a bit of a story to this one and you can see the video here.

A Southern-Carmine-Bee-eater bird flies over a field and close to the camera
Southern carmine bee-eater shot at a range of about 2m ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 70-300mm, 1/2000, 70mm, f/5.6)

I was driving on a dry floodplain track holding the Sony a9 with a 70-300mm lens in one hand, with the other on the steering wheel, shooting the southern carmine bee-eaters.

This particular bee-eater was one of a few that joined us.

They drifted away from the window and then came back, sped up and slowed down. I had to use a wide auto-focus area or I would have had little chance of grabbing any shots.

It was a magical experience.

On our Sony a9, when a wide auto-focus area (AF) is selected I have 693 AF points covering 93% of the sensor available to capture focus. It’s a fabulous action camera for safari photography.

5. Choosing the Right Lens

Wildlife, for the most part, is not habituated or accustomed to human closeness. This means wild animals will feel comfortable keeping a good distance from you. So, to get the best photos up close, you’ll need a camera with a zoom and telephoto lens. 

These types of lenses will get you right up to the action without physically being close. This is great because you don’t have to be too worried about scaring the wildlife away with your presence.

I travel with a Sony 200-600mm and a Sony 70-300mm lens on their respective Sony a9 cameras. This way, I have a range of focal lengths covered and it provides me with more safari photography opportunities.

Shelley also has two Sony a9s with a Sony 100-400mm lens on one, and the Sony 24-105mm lens on the other.

Between us, we are ready to shoot action or landscapes with any lens combination at a moment’s notice.

And speaking of being prepared, don’t miss out on our specially curated safari and travel gifts — perfect for enhancing your safari experience or gifting to your fellow adventurers. The little things can make a big difference on such a wild journey!

man holding a camera and long lens on a boat
Shooting with the Sony a9 and Sony 200-600mm on a river boat safari ©Lifejourney4two

If you like photographing wild birds, I recommend choosing a lens with the longest focal length, ideally a 600mm focal length.

Lenses don’t come cheap when new, but you can always consider buying second-hand or consider hiring a lens.

A long lens (e.g. 600mm focal length) will be able to zoom in on the subject and fill the frame. Using a shorter lens means you won’t zoom in as close and will then need to crop the final image to have an equivalent view. Less pixel information means less detail.

Why choose a zoom lens over a prime lens?

Being able to adjust the lens focal range on a zoom lens when composing an image gives the flexibility to either include or avoid certain elements within the frame.

This is especially helpful when you want the image to tell a story in your pictures on safari.

In the below image, I was using a 70-300mm lens, and even though I could have zoomed in to the meerkat’s cute face, I wanted to include a bit of the landscape so the image could tell the story.

A super-cute meerkat we ‘met’ in Namibia at Kanaan Retreat ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 70-300mm, 1/1000, 70mm, f/9)

When on a guided safari, the driver will position the vehicle where he thinks you have a good view of the wildlife. This often is not the best spot from a photographer’s perspective.

The sun’s position could be wrong, the subject may be partially obstructed, or the composition is challenging. You have to work with what you have, but using a zoom lens and not prime will give you more options to get what you want.

Important Camera Settings

You don’t have to be an expert with a camera to be able to pull off some amazing shots, but it does help to have a basic understanding of the key camera settings to set you up for a win.

Below are some pointers/tips for taking sharp, in-focus safari photos.

6. Shoot in Burst or Continuous Mode

The burst or continuous mode setting governs the frame rate at which the camera shoots. Normally, there are 3-speed settings (Low, Medium, and High). Shooting on High provides the most opportunities to capture a scene and is especially needed when shooting fast-action wildlife.

My Sony a9 is set to ‘high’ continuous burst mode for fast action, giving me 20 fps (frames per second compressed files) using the electronic shutter.

I’ll reduce this for slower-moving targets to 10fps (medium setting) or 5fps (low setting).

7. Auto-Focus Capability

The camera you choose should have excellent auto-focus tracking performance, giving the best possible chance of locking onto the subject. To benchmark our camera against what you may be considering, my Sony a9 action camera has 693 auto-focus points covering 93% of the sensor.

The image below was taken with the Auto Focus area setting at wide. Sometimes, you only have time to point and shoot and trust that the camera will take care of the rest… it did.

lion smelling camping gear in the desert
Lion in our camp at Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Botswana ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 70-300mm, 1/1000, 300mm, f/11)

8. Use a Fast Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is adjustable, and depending on the speed of the subject, I will adjust my shutter speed to suit.

Setting a fast shutter speed will help to avoid the blur of a moving subject in an image. It will also help reduce camera shake whilst the shot is being taken.

For a fast-moving subject when using my Sony 200-600 lens, I’ll have the shutter speed set at 1/2000s or 1/4000s for bright, daylight shooting. For a slower-moving subject, I’ll lower this setting to 1/1000s.

9. Auto ISO

The ISO setting is a camera setting adjustment that allows you to introduce brightness into the image by increasing it or reducing light by lowering it. 

Increased ISO is used to boost the shutter speed to avoid blurring of a subject. This could be used for fast-moving subjects or for low-light environments such as sunrise and sunset when hand-holding the camera. I typically use the maximum ISO values between ISO 6400 to ISO 25,600.

The identical images below were shot hand-held at a shutter speed of 1/15s, wide open at f/2.8 with ISO 25,600. The left image has been de-noised with Adobe Lightroom Classic, and the right image has no de-noising.

The left image is a lot cleaner in the darker areas. The trade-off of raising the ISO is the introduction of graininess or noise to the image.

Also, the slow shutter speed captured the motion blur of the centre giraffe.

night-time shot at waterhole of giraffe and rhino with no de-noising of the image
De-noising using Lightroom
night-time shot at waterhole of giraffe and rhino using LR de-noising
No de-noising used

Don’t concern yourself too much about the extra noise. Some great professional de-noising programs are available that don’t cost the earth and provide excellent results.

Personally, I have had great results using the DxO PureRaw de-noising program. Also, the latest version of Lightroom Classic is really good, receiving great acclaim for its de-noising algorithms. 

You can try DxO PureRaw for yourself with this 30-day free trial without any upfront financial commitment.

10. Auto-Focus or Manual Focus

The size of the auto-focus area can be selected on a camera. For erratic subjects such as flying birds, the wide auto-focus setting works well, whereas a stationary bird perched on a branch would benefit from the use of spot focus.

Why use different focus areas? Sometimes, the auto-focus system will select what it thinks is the correct subject you want to focus on. It’s not always right.

Selecting a small focus area enables the user to target a specific spot for the AF (auto-focus) to lock onto. But even reducing the AF area is sometimes not enough. Now what?

A typical example on safari is where the camera locks focus on the front leaves of a bush instead of the bird further inside the bush.

In this scenario, the auto-focus needs to be overridden. Selecting manual focus and using the manual focus ring enables the focal plane to be pushed back towards the bird. 

Some of the newer cameras have integrated animal and bird-eye auto-focus. Selecting this can save a lot of the time-consuming manual focus work, but just be mindful that Eye-AF doesn’t nail focus every time.

Sometimes, a busy background or even an animal’s skin markings is enough to confuse the camera’s Eye-AF. I had this occur when photographing wild dogs.

A hooded vulture in flight, Namibia ©Lifejourney4two

11. Camera Stabilisation

An important setting on the camera is to activate the camera stabilisation. This helps considerably in countering the slight wobbles introduced when hand-holding the camera.

Activating this alone is not enough to counter blur in images. You’ll also need to ensure a fast enough shutter speed.

A rule of thumb for acceptable shutter speed is 1/focal length when hand-holding. When shooting at 600mm, I’ll try for at least a 1/600-second exposure. I’ll reduce this shutter speed when using a stable platform such as a monopod or tripod.

Camera stabilisation is especially important when the attached lens does not have any image stabilisation itself and, therefore, must rely on the camera to provide this.

12. Capturing Images in Raw Mode 

An option in the camera will be to store the images as Raw or Jpg or Raw plus Jpg. Just make sure you choose to shoot in Raw. 

Why Raw?

The Raw file is stored in the camera as an unprocessed, high-quality file that contains a lot more image information or detail than the smaller compressed jpg file. Raw files also contain a much greater colour spectrum and dynamic range than jpg files.

An 8-bit jpg file contains 16.8 million colours, whereas a 12-bit raw file has a huge 68.7 billion colours. This is really helpful when processing the image at a later time when a lot of the bright highlight and dark shadow image detail in a jpg file would otherwise be lost.

Elephant in the Chobe River, Botswana ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/1000, 600mm, f/9.0)

  Important Lens Settings

 13. Image Stabilisation on the Lens

A lens may or may not have built-in stabilisation with a switch on the lens barrel to turn it on or off. My recommendation is to keep the image stabilisation turned ON.

As mentioned previously, this works with camera stabilisation for a combined effect in helping to reduce those hand-holding wobbles.

A top safari photography tip is to be patient at waterholes, and the action will surely follow ©Lifejourney4two (Sony 200-600mm, 1/2000, 382mm, f/13)

14. Auto-Focus (AF) and Manual-Focus (MF)

If an AF/MF switch is on the lens, the AF should be selected. Otherwise, the camera will not auto-focus.

Personally, I always leave the lens AF switch to On.

If I need to focus quickly manually, I toggle a camera custom key for AF/MF. Trying to locate the AF/MF switch on a lens barrel is time-wasting, and this is a much quicker option.

In the image below, the AF focused on the grass in front, so I chose MF to push the focus to the lion.

lioness_focussing with intent in the grass
Lioness focussing with intent ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/1000, 600mm, f/8)

15. Focal Range Switch

The different focal range settings tell the camera to look to focus between particular distances from the lens. The purpose is to limit the focal search to that range.

I’ve always found that opening up the focal range to its maximum (the Full setting) has worked well for me, as I would sometimes forget what setting I had the switch set to.

The selectable focal ranges for my Sony 200-600mm lens are ∞ 10m, 2.4m to 10m and Full.

Our 4x4 hilux with tent popped up on top in the sandy gorge in namibia
Self-drive safari – wild camping in the Huab River, Namibia ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 24-105mm, 1/250, 39mm, f/11)

 Camera Accessories and Extra Items 

Depending on the type of safari you intend to join (game drive, riverboat cruise or hiking safari), accessories play quite an important part. I run through the most important you shouldn’t be without.

16. Camera Batteries 

There are always a few different brands of camera batteries to choose from with different pricing.  I’ve found that sticking with the maker’s recommended battery, although usually the most expensive option, has always been the right decision.

Carrying at least one spare fully charged battery is a smart move. For battery charging on the fly, we use a 12V dual battery charger that connects to the 12V socket in the front dash of our 4×4 Hilux. 

17. Memory Cards

Using memory cards from trusted manufacturers gives peace of mind that your precious images won’t be lost to a corrupted card.

I use the Sandisk 128GB and Sony Tough 64GB cards in the dual slots of my Sony a9s.

Both memory cards are water and dustproof.

Memory-cards for cameras
Trusted memory card manufacturers ©Lifejourney4two

18. Weather Proofing and Cleaning

Most cameras/lenses have a degree of weatherproofing, but regardless, the more you can protect your gear from the elements, the fewer potential problems you’ll have. Protecting your camera sensor and lens will help to avoid dust, which causes spots on your photos.

Great products like Optech’s rain and wind plastic protectors saved the day at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Drenching spray completely soaked us, but our camera gear survived.

Optech-plastic protector-over a camera seen at-vic-falls
Optech rain sleeve protecting my gear at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe ©Lifejourney4two

Keeping your equipment clean helps it operate properly and keeps debris off the essential parts of the camera or lens.

You’ll want to invest in:

  • An air blower,
  • A soft bristle brush,
  • Some microfibre cloths, and
  • Proper lens cleaner.

Be wary of using your ordinary glasses cleaner as the chemicals might not be suitable for your expensive gear. I always stick with reputable brands of camera lens cleaners. 

19. Tripod, Monopod or Gimbal Head

These tripods, monopods and gimbals provide more stability to avoid camera shake and are especially helpful by supporting the weight of long, heavy lenses when taking shots of wildlife.

During our Chobe River sunset cruise, we even saw a cruise boat professionally rigged with gimbals for steadying those long wildlife lenses.

boat-with-many gimbals and camera with lenses in place
Gimbals used on a boat photography tour on Chobe River, Botswana ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/1000, 200mm, f/9.0)

Gimbal heads connect to a tripod and take the weight by properly balancing the camera/lens level. This offers an unrestricted range of motion for tracking targets and following moving subjects.

Our Manfrotto Travel tripods include an integrated monopod, which is a handy option.

Man shooting with a Sony-200-600mm-on-monopod
Monopod used with my Sony 200-600mm lens ©Lifejourney4two

20. Bean Bag

This small bean bag acts as a steady base for the camera/lens. Bean bags help stabilize the camera and lens and prevent any damage when it comes into contact with a hard surface underneath. 

Shelley-with-window-bean-bag and camera resting on the bag
Camera bean bag – great for stability ©Lifejourney4two

Shelley is always using the bean bag placed on our Hilux’s window sill to shoot stable video and using this would be one of her top safari photography tips.

21. Binoculars

I rate binoculars as a must-have item for any safari. Binoculars are relatively inexpensive, and there are some good options to choose from.

Although it’s possible to use the viewfinder of the camera instead of binoculars, after a while, this combined weight becomes too much and unsteady, and it just isn’t practical. A lightweight set of binoculars is a perfect alternative. We use the Avalon PRO HD 10×42 binoculars. 

Avalon binoculars are robust with excellent build quality

If I had to share a top safari photography tip for your African adventure, it’s for each person to have their own set of binoculars. Which is what we do.

This way, each person’s binoculars can be adjusted for that person’s eyes, and they’re ready for immediate use.

22. Camera/Lens Carrying Strap

Even though a camera has its own carrying strap, this shouldn’t be used when a longer, heavier lens is attached to the camera. Carrying it just off the camera will stress the camera mounting plate. 

Man wearing the Peak-design-camera-strap-with-Sony 200-600-lens
Peak design carry strap attached to my Kirk lens footing ©Lifejourney4two

The use of an aftermarket carrying strap (we use the Peak Design Slide and Slide Light straps) enables the heavy lens to be carried easily via quick-release anchor links from the lens footing.

Carrying the lens like this also keeps it pretty well-balanced.

23. Backpack

A camera backpack is particularly useful for carrying the various camera equipment you’ll have with you.

A word of advice: look for a backpack that is waterproof or at least includes a waterproof cover. Keeping your safari photography equipment dry is important. Electronics and moisture aren’t friends.

My Vanguard Alta Rise 48 camera backpack ©Lifejourney4two

The image above shows my Vanguard Alta Rise 48 camera backpack. Our 2 x Sony a9s are placed inside, Sony 200-600mm, Sony 70-300mm, Tamron 70-180, Sony 90mm Macro and Tamron 28-75mm.

The small grey bag inside the backpack is home to extra batteries, lens cleaning solution, a brush and microfibre cloth.

Other backpack features to consider are ample pockets that can be secured, a compartment for carrying a water bottle and tripod-securing straps.

Safari game drive in Klaserie, South Africa ©Lifejourney4two

24. Changing Camera Lenses in the Field 

When it comes time to change lenses, you’ll want to take extra special care. The camera sensor and lens opening can be exposed to dust and moisture. 

Important steps to follow are:

·      Use an air blower to direct air at the camera/lens mount position to remove any existing dust.

·      Power off the camera before removing the lens (dust is attracted to a powered camera sensor).

·      Face the camera sensor down when changing a lens.

·      Use a dust cap on the camera mount and lens openings if exposed for any length of time.

I sometimes find that dust will creep into the camera sensor or the lens opening despite the best care taken. Before jumping to the ‘I now need to clean my camera sensor’ conclusion, use the air blower a few times.

I’ve always managed to remove any dust without cleaning the sensor.

Giotto air blower
Giottos Rocket Air blower

When using the air blower, just make sure you turn the camera sensor and lens opening downwards so any dust can fall out and away. I personally use the Giottos Rocket Air which works just great.

I rarely need to swap out lenses as I have two Sony a9 camera bodies using the Sony 70-300mm and Sony 200-600mm lenses during a photography safari.

25. Buy or Hire Safari Photography Equipment

You’ve probably realised that an African safari will not be cheap and that you may need some extra photography gear. Yikes, you’re dreading some more out-of-pocket expenses. However, this cost can be kept to a minimum.

If you decide you can’t afford to buy one because that dream lens is out of your budget, then seriously consider hiring what you need. 

Most of our safari photography gear ©Lifejourney4two

Photography stores offer equipment hire options, which is a great alternative to buying. You can request quotes online and then pick the best one for you. This way, you get to use your dream lens without the commitment of ownership. 

This is also the time to think about photography equipment insurance, which is discussed below.

26. Safari Photography Equipment Insurance

Your photography gear doesn’t come cheap. Having equipment insurance for those unexpected incidents where damage or loss may occur certainly lessens the grief.

When hiring photography equipment, it’s likely that you will be offered some sort of equipment protection plan. However, you may not need this as you may be covered under your household contents insurance.

Also, you may have travel insurance that includes coverage for your photography gear. This is something for you to look into.

For us, as owners of our photography equipment, we’ve elected to take out specific photography insurance underwritten by AON. This insurance has global coverage.

Quality photography equipment will give great results – Elephant at Khwai Concession, Botswana ©Lifejourney4two (Sony 200-600mm, 1/2000, 347mm, f/10)

27. Best Time of Day for Safari Photography

Safaris are not only limited to daytime activity. Night safaris are an exciting option. I discuss further below.

Daytime Safari

The most diverse sightings of African animals occur in the early mornings and late afternoons. At both times of the day, you can see:

  • Diurnal (daytime) animals such as elephants, rhinos, and wildebeests.
  • Crepuscular (twilight and dusk) animals such as cheetahs and wild dogs.
  • Nocturnal (night) animals such as lions, hyenas and leopards.
3 lions looking intently with the suns late afternoon rays
The soft, late afternoon light illuminates these lions on a termite mound ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/1000, 496mm, f/11)

What makes the photography special at sunrise and sunset is that the light is warm, soft and full of rich, intense colours, making for some beautiful photos on safari.

The trade-off for shooting at reduced light is pushing that ISO up to maintain a safe shutter speed. As mentioned before, fantastic de-noising programs can sharpen an image.

giraffe drinking at a waterhole with the setting sun behind
The setting sun gives the image a really warm feel ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/800, 365mm, f/9)

Night-time Safari

Night-time safaris are a lot of fun. It’s at this time that the nocturnal predators are active. We had some fabulous night safaris when we stayed at Ivory Wilderness River Rock Lodge, South Africa.

male-and-female-lion-spotlighted-during-a night-safari-
Night-time safaris are great for seeing the active nocturnal predators ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 70-300mm, 1/100, 163mm, f/7.1)

On a night safari, you lose 360-degree daytime visibility. You rely on the vehicle’s lights and any hand-held spotlights to spot game. There’s no ‘best time’ for a night game drive. The action can unfold at any time.

A spotlight provides illumination of the subject. However, the best approach is not to focus the beam of light directly on the subject but to the side so the animal is lit with the softer, non-direct light.

This reduces any discomfort to the animal and means that when photographing, the highlights of reflected light will be much reduced. I’ve sometimes shot at f4.0 as the subject was sufficiently illuminated and the shutter speed fast enough to prevent any blurring in the image.

As a final measure, we try as much as possible to use a red cellophane filter over our spotlights as the red light does not interfere with most nocturnal animals’ night vision.

Red cellophane on the spotlight ©Lifejourney4two

28. The Patience Game

On any safari, patience wins the day. This is an important tip to remember for successful safari photography.

Pick your spot to stop, such as a waterhole, and play the waiting game.

Park the vehicle to:

  • Have the sun in the best position,
  • Not to crowd the animal’s space and
  • Minimise any unwanted foliage interference.

While you wait, check your camera settings and camera battery power, and make sure the lens switches are in the correct position and the lens glass is clear of dust and marks.

We, as safari self-drivers, practice this all the time.

Patience has always provided some unexpected rewards.

There are many examples, but one that jumps to mind is our self-drive through Etosha National Park in Namibia.

Sometimes we would drive up to a water hole and not see a single animal. But all is not what it seems. Looking carefully through the binoculars into the scrub, we found the cause of that… lions.

lions-in-the-bushes_safari photography tips
Lions blending well into the surroundings at Etosha National Park ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/1000, 600mm, f/9.0)

They were playing a waiting game.

Lions practising for the real thing ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/2000, 600mm, f/9.0)

The waterhole was the only one within many kilometres and animals needed to drink. Within the next two hours, we saw a multitude of animals braving it out at the waterhole, all the while being harassed and stalked by the felines.

Lion stalking at Etosha National Park ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/2000, 467mm, f/9)

It was exhilarating to watch and made for some great photography shots. Had we left shortly after arriving at the waterhole, we would have missed all this action.

29. How to Find the Game During a Safari

If you are on a guided safari, you’ll sometimes see the driver using a radio or phone, likely talking to their fellow guides about what game they’ve seen and where it’s located.

It’s commonplace on an African-guided safari. 

The common open-style safari vehicle ©Lifejourney4two

The same sort of approach is taken on a self-drive safari.

Often, you’ll see cars stopping alongside each other and the drivers discussing what animals have been seen, where that was and when. This grapevine of sharing up-to-date tips to help you plan your safari route is super helpful. 

30. How to Photograph Animals on a Driving or Walking Safari

If you’re on a guided safari drive, then the guide will always try to get the vehicle in the best position for you to view the wildlife. This won’t always equate to being the best position for taking the wildlife photos. 

So, you have little option but to compose and shoot the scene as it is. I have already mentioned in point 7 about using two cameras with two different focal length lenses to give you options for a decent shot should the game be close or far from the vehicle.

Shelley and I have two Sony a9 cameras each with different lenses, so pretty much all scenarios (distance and up close) are covered.

For some of the big game, such as elephants or giraffes, you may be able to pull off an eye-level shot that gives the image some atmosphere and intimacy.

During a walking safari, the approach to photographing animals is somewhat different. Most animals can be photographed at or close to eye level but normally not up close.

Ground-level shooting of the meerkats in Namibia ©Lifejourney4two

Being on foot, the animals may react differently to your presence than if you were in a game vehicle. Buffalo is a good example. Buffalo generally tolerate vehicles, but if they see people on foot, they have no hesitation in charging.

walking-safari-in-teh south african bush with a guide carrying a gun
Shelley on a walking safari in Klaserie, South Africa ©Lifejourney4two

Luckily, we don’t have any first-hand experience of charging buffalos. But during our tracking of rhinos, we diverted to track nearby lions, which was an experience in itself.

Even though we approached the five lions from downwind and ever so quietly, they were aware of our presence even though they couldn’t see us … at first.

No chance for any photography at that time. Shelley told me afterwards that her bush trekking days were now at an end. As you can see from the image above, the guide was armed.

31. Understand and Look for Animal Behaviours

If you know what animals you will likely see, then try to research some typical animal behaviours before you arrive. And, of course, ask your guide for their top tips for African animals. Not only do guides undertake training, but they will also have local knowledge. 

A typical example that comes to mind is when a lion sniffs another lion’s urine. The head tilts up, the mouth opens, the lips pull back, and the teeth are bared. A photo opportunity.

lion-sniffing-the-air in the bush
The reaction of a male lion after smelling the urine of another lion – Bwabwata NP, Namibia ©Lifejourney4two (Sony 200-600mm, 1/2000, 600mm, f/9.0)

Some elephant behaviours to look out for are elephants standing with one leg in the air, moving backwards and forwards, displaying uncertainty; the elephant’s head shaking as a sign of irritation; and the dreaded, flattened ears and head down indicating a pending charge.

You want to pick when to take a shot carefully and when to retreat.

32. Respecting the Animals

Wild animals are amazing and their behaviours sometimes enthralling, however, the animal’s space needs to be respected.  Another of the important safari photography tips is not to get too close and make an animal feel threatened.

It will likely remove itself from the situation, meaning the photo opportunity is possibly lost.

In some national parks/reserves, during a guided safari, when the game is spotted, a certain maximum number of vehicles at a time are allowed in close.

You may find that some guides don’t adhere to the ‘respect the animal’ principles and harass the animal to the point that it reacts and guests can be wowed.

Game drive vehicle drives too close to an elephant crossing the track ©Lifejourney4two

The image above shows a game drive vehicle that sped to intercept the elephant crossing the track. The animal was spooked and then displayed aggressive behaviour before disappearing. It was totally unnecessary and an unprofessional act by the driver.

You can’t blame the elephant for being annoyed. Now that the animal is irritable, how do you expect it to react when the next game-drive vehicle comes in too close? Food for thought.

33. What Coloured Clothes to Wear

Definitely, muted-toned clothes are best, not black or white. Dark colours (black and dark blue) can attract mosquitoes and the Tsetse fly, while white colours are not natural in the bush and attract attention.

me wearing Khaki-clothes-in-africa-amongst-Himba-Children
Me wearing full khaki with kids from the Himba tribe, Namibia ©Lifejourney4two

The idea is that you want to blend into the environment as much as possible. This allows the wildlife to see you and your clothes as just a ‘part of the bush’ so it can go about its normal routines.

34. Shooting Video

For shooting wildlife videos up close, it’s hard to beat using one of the recent model mobile phones. Everyone is already a photographer to a degree.

Most of us bring a modern phone and can take photos and videos, which are quite high quality.   

Elephants walking past car with a hand holding a mobile phone at the car window taking photos
Mobile phones can capture good close-up images and video ©Lifejourney4two

The apertures on mobile phone cameras are wide, normally in the range of f/1.8, so they are good for capturing up-close footage. We use our iPhones and a GoPro 11, which gives great wildlife video footage. 

For subjects that are more distant, my wife shoots video using the Sony a9 with a Sony 100-400mm lens, supported by a bean bag on the window sill from the passenger side of our Hilux.

Our method for capturing video is to position the vehicle and then stop the engine to prevent any vibrations. The video quality from this camera/lens combination has been excellent.

35. Edit Your Images by Post-Processing

There are many programs available to process your camera images. Some require a laptop for use, and some are mobile-friendly apps. Regardless of what you use, it’s important not to overdo the post-processing.

Depending on what ‘feel’ you are looking for in the final image,  you may choose to try to re-create the scene as you remember it. Or try for a black-and-white image.

Black rhino in a rain shower at Karma Rhino Sanctuary, Botswana ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/1000, 600mm, f/10)

One of the main tips for processing African images is to avoid over-saturating the colours as it makes the image look a bit unnatural, but hey, if this is your intention or style, then go right ahead. 

Photography is subjective; there’s no right or wrong to it. 

Adolescent lion, Klaserie, South Africa ©Lifejourney4two
(Sony 200-600mm, 1/1000, 341mm, f/8.0)

Safari Photography Tips … That’s a Wrap

These safari photography tips are what I have learned and put into practice over the years of embarking on our own 4×4 self-drive safaris, guided game drives, and walking safaris.

Whether this is your first safari or you’re an old hand, the goal is to enjoy nature and the animals and to take some amazing images for lifelong memories.

I hope these tips have helped you, and I’d love to hear about your safari experiences.  Drop us a line here, or leave a comment below.

Juvenile southern carmine bee-eater, Chobe National Park ©Lifejourney4two


These are the travel resources we recommend and use when planning our trips.

For a more thorough list visit our Travel Resources page here.

Photo of author


Lars, grew up in the Australian countryside and discovered his love for nature early on. Leaving Australia at 20, he began a life of travel and exploration. As a co-owner of Lifejourney4two with Shelley, Lars captures their journeys through his photography. Join him here and see the world through his lens.

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