Now that you have decided to go to Africa on Safari make sure you choose your safari wisely. Going on an African Photo Safari is on every photographer’s bucket list of destinations, and rightfully so, it can be the most rewarding experience of your life. It can also be incredibly frustrating. I’ve been teaching photography workshops around the world for fourteen years and also traveled on safari in Africa fourteen times. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years to help you plan for a choose your safari in Africa.
Choose Your Safari on Private Property – Concessions
The most important consideration when planning a safari and in my mind, an essential one is to stay on private property and not in the parks. The advantages for the photographer are huge, and I don’t book any safaris that restrict my ability to get the images that I want. The benefits of a private property lodges include:
- Ability to Drive off of the Road
- Ability to Go on Night Game Drives
- Ability to Go on Guided Game Walks
- Access to the Best Local Guides
While you are in the parks, you are not allowed to drive off of the main roads. For example, if you see a lion just out of photo range, you are stuck, you cannot drive closer to get the image. This restriction does not apply while you are on private lands (also called concessions or conservancies in some countries) On the conservancies, you will be closer that you can image as your guide drives as close as safety allows.
Most parks have “office” hours for the safari operators to enter and leave the park. Sadly they don’t care that sunset and sunrise are the best for photographers and you often have to leave just as it is getting good! Staying outside the park eliminates this problem.
You are not allowed to leave the vehicle in the parks. You can probably now guess; you can arrange for a carefully trained and usually armed guide take you on a walk in the bush. A Bush Walk is a fantastic experience and one that you should try and arrange whenever possible.
On the conservancies, most of the guides have lived in the area of the camps their entire life. Many of them are second and third generation guides and only someone that has lived and tracked the animals their entire lives can be as good as the guides on a conservancy. You don’t get this quality of guide from the big in park lodges and hotels.
Choose Your Safari with a Small Private Group
Traveling in a small group gives the photographer many advantages. The most significant benefits are:
- Influence on the Activities
- Space in the Safari Vehicle
- Optimum Photography Position
It is possible to arrange for a private vehicle from the lodge, and this gives the photographer near total freedom to photograph what they want for as long as they want. With a private car, you can sit and shoot a herd of elephants for as long as you’d like. If you are part of a big group, this is not possible. Usually, you will be forced into a checklist sort of situation and barely able to click your camera before the driver rushes to find the next of the Big Five on his list.
Most photographers carry a fair amount of gear. When you are in a private vehicle, you will have an entire row for yourself. This way you can spread out a bit, you are also “never” on the wrong side of the action. Sometimes being able to move over and out of the sun can be a huge benefit.
Hiring a private car can add a considerable amount of money to your safari. Look for small private safaris, which include this luxury; you will be grateful!
Questions to Ask Before You Choose Your Safari
As with almost everything experience counts and on safari it counts for a lot. Selecting a leader that has experienced your safari, that knows the ins and out of the region and has a personal relationship with the camps and lodges will greatly enhance your safari. For example, knowing which side of the river to be on for photography without hordes of tourists.
Whether you are a beginner or an accomplished photographer working alongside someone that makes a living with a camera will always improve the images that you make. Going on safari with a professional photographer that is also a teacher will, without a doubt, help you make better images while on safari. The pro should prioritize helping you make the best possible images rather than filling his portfolio. Before you book, ask yourself these questions:
- Has the leader been to the camps that you have chosen?
- How much experience does the tour leader have?
- Is the leader a photographer?
- Is the guide there to help you or take images?
Summarizing How to Choose Your Safari
- Pick a safari lodge that is on private property or concession.
- Pick a small private safari that has an experienced leader that has been where you are going.
- Pick a leader that is not just a professional photographer, but also a photography teacher.
- In others words, choose Wildlife Workshops, and you’ll be in great hands with Jeff leading you on your African Safari.