wildlife photography tips
Sabi Sabi has played host to many of the world's top wildlife photographers over the past 30 years. Few places in Africa can offer a photographer up close and personal encounters with Africa's wildlife like Sabi Sabi. This, combined with a highly trained safari team, will ensure the very best opportunities and placement to achieve these once-in-a-lifetime shots.
a guide to photography at sabi sabi - recommended equipment
Any good camera will do. One gets so close to the wildlife that even a good compact camera will achieve fantastic shots. However, if you want flexibility and the opportunity of capturing that really fantastic shot then any good quality digital or 35mm SLR (single lens reflex, as opposes to a compact camera with automatic controls) camera body will be needed. There are many models and makes to look at, but it's important that the camera shoots at least five frames per second so that you do not miss the action. With a compact camera there is a slight delay between pushing the trigger and the shot being captured; whereas a SLR is instant. Some of the new Nikon SLR cameras offer excellent low-light capabilities giving you more opportunities when the light begins to fade.
suggested lens selection
You will get extremely close to wildlife so it is not necessary to have huge lenses. A good zoom lens is your best option and will offer best flexibility.
Fast lenses with an F stop of F4 through to F2.8 are best. Great all purpose lenses in this range are the 70-200mm f2.8, 200-400 f4 or 100-400 f5.6 lenses. With both these lenses you will have plenty on lens at all times and enough speed to keep your image nice and sharp.
multi purpose lenses
Most SLR bodies come with a standard lens; otherwise a lens with a 24-70mm range would be ideal to take landscape shots and general travel/ people shots.
prime or fixed lenses
These are lenses that have a fixed length starting from 200mm and going up to 600mm. These are excellent lenses but very expensive and not always necessary. These lenses are wonderful in low light conditions, are very fast and offer great abrasion/shallow depths of fields giving your portrait shot that sharp look with a blurred background. However, they do tend to be heavy and need to be shot on a tripod or support of some kind.
Put in a 1.4 or 2 x converter if you can. It's always worth having and gives your lens that little more if you realty need it or if you want to take photos of birds.
In order to get that sharp image, you need to make sure that you are shooting as fast as you can in the light offered, and most importantly you need to make sure your camera and lens are as stable as you can make them.
a guide to photography at sabi sabi - accessories
clamps and heads
All Sabi Sabi Land Rovers have large steel roll bars in front of each seat. The easiest way to get stability is using a G-clamp directly onto the bar with a good quality head. Any good ball head or video head will work. The wimberly head is one of the best and very effective, if expensive. The lodges are able to supply a G clamp and Manfrotto 501hdv head on request for a small daily hiring charge of R250. This Head and clamp works really well especially with the bigger lenses.
tripods and monopods
A tripod is not usable on the Land Rover itself. You will not have enough room to adjust the legs and will not get enough stability. However, in and around the lodge or for that perfect sunset shot, you could use a tripod. A monopod is very popular and works well, using the floor of the Land Rover as a base. It is still advisable to put a movable head on the end of the mono.
An old favourite, the bean bag, works very well. They are easy to use and offer lots of support. The down side is that they tend to be heavy. Don't worry about bringing the filling along, as this is too heavy. The lodge will gladly offer you rice to fill the bag for your stay. Out of interest, bird seed works really well, its very light and settles well plus you can use some of the filling to feed the birds.
It's important to have a good flash. A third of the evening safari is at night and in near total darkness. Having a good flash or speedlight will certainly help in these conditions. There is no problem with the use of flash at all during our safaris and we would only ask for flashes not to be used when the big cats are actively hunting. Each Land Rover will have a tracker and he operates a powerful spotlight. One can easily take photos using this light as your only light source - it often creates a lovely effect!
bags or cases
The African bush is a dusty place so it would be a good idea to keep your camera in a bag that seals while you are on safari. It's also a good idea to not change lenses while out on safari. This will help to prevent your digital sensor being contaminated by dust particles.
memory cards and storage
Bring a lot of memory with you - either a hard drive or lots of cards. There is no facility at the lodge to purchase cards and there is no way of downloading your cards either. So bring a laptop, hardrive or enough memory to last the full stay. I always take more than I expect to use. On a good safari I can easily fill up 8 gigs of memory. The more you shoot the more chance you have of getting that prize shot.
a guide to photography at sabi sabi - settings and tips
what to do on safari to get that prized photo
On your arrival let it be known that you enjoy photography and are interested in getting some great shots. While all our Rangers are well trained in the art of photography some of the team have made it their passion so by letting us know we will try to make sure your guide can assist you.
On each Land Rover there is three rows of seats, with each row a little higher than the one before. I always suggest taking the front row or even the seat next to the ranger. You want to be as low to the ground as possible. You will either be shooting over the bonnet or over the side of the vehicle so set yourself up accordingly.
If you are new to photography and your camera is new then I suggest keeping your camera on "Program" this is normally a P on most top end cameras. Make sure your Auto Focus is on and your image stability if your lens has such a function.
However if you understand a little more about photography and are confidant with your camera I suggest the following. Always shoot in RAW - this is so important I can't stress it enough. Granted, it uses up lots of memory but this could be the shot of a lifetime and if it is shot on RAW you have so much more flexibly when it comes to processing the shot. For your portrait shot and landscape shots always use "Aperture Priority" this lets you choose the Aperture and the camera will automatically select the camera speed for you. By doing this you can control your depth of field. In general keep the Aperture on F6.3 and F7.1. This will make sure that your entire portrait is in focus.
But beware make sure that you are getting enough speed especially when the light starts to fade. Rule of thumb is that your speed should never be below the length of your lens. For example: if you are using a 200mm lens you should never shoot below 1/200th of a second or you risk camera shake. To prevent this happening especially when the light is low do not hesitate to use a much higher ISO. On most of the new cameras you can easily take the ISO up to 1000 without the image being too grainy. I personally will keep my camera set on f7.1 and ISO 400 achieving speeds of 1/1600 to 1/2000 during the day and pushing my ISO up to 800 in the early morning and late afternoon and even at times taking this up to ISO 1200. Remember the more speed you can get the better chance of the image being sharp.
If you plan to try and shoot lots of action shots then "Speed Priority" is a must. To freeze a shot you would set a speed of at least 1/1600 and up, the camera will automatically set your aperture. Again be aware that your aperture is not falling too low if it is pushing up your ISO again. Here I would probably leave my camera on ISO 800 all the time. This would also ensure a lot of speed.
Most of the newer cameras allow you to move your focus sensor square around manually on the frame. Do this and always make sure that you place the sensor on the eye of the animal where possible. A sharp eye always gives the image a much sharper look.
a guide to photography at sabi sabi - settings and tips
If you shoot Canon I would set your camera compensation on 1/3rd over and 2/3rds over when shooting elephant and rhino. If shooting Nikon I would set the camera compensation on 1/3 under exposed and on 0 when shooting darker animals like elephant and rhino. This will still allow you to get detail in the dark areas of the shot.
things to remember
Don't always use your entire lens. While portrait shots with animals filling the screen are great, having an animal surrounded in its natural environment is sometimes even better. Make sure you place the animal in the bottom corner of the image and make sure that the animal is looking into the frame. This is called the principal of thirds. So the idea is to put your subject in one third of the frame normally the outside third. Try it - you will be amazed at the results.
Other than that just shoot a lot of pictures and don't be shy to fiddle around a bit with your settings. Often you will change a standard image into something very special.
Rod, the company's Group Operations Director, has been living at Sabi Sabi for the past nine years and is an avid wildlife photographer. Recently he was sponsored by Nikon South African and is very involved in assisting a number of well know professionals from all over the world when they travel to Sabi Sabi. Rod has a wealth of local knowledge that he is more than willing to share. He invites any guest wishing to know more to contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org or to contact him while at Sabi Sabi for any further assistance.
rod's equipment list is as follows
Nikon D3 Body
Nikon 700d Body
Nikon 24-70 mm f2.8 lens
Nikon 70- 200mm f2.8 VR lens
Nikon 200-400mm f4 VR lens
Nikon 600mm f4 VR lens
Nikon 1.4 and 1.7 converters
Nikon SB 900 Pro Speed Light
"I enjoy using the Nikon range of equipment mainly because of its low light capabilities and because the equipment just feels like it was made for professional photographers. It's just built to take the odd knock and ding."
photography tips - january 2009 to april 2010
Most photographers dream to take pictures of these elegant cats.
In the African bush we are lucky to often see some of the best sunsets in the world.
When it gets dark we so often resort to a flash, or pack away our cameras!
Most cameras have the facility to shoot a picture on multiple exposure.
I was driving guests from Little Bush Camp to Bush Lodge for a morning of pampering.
When taking photos of lions it's normally a case of needing lots and lots of patience.
You know its summer when you are sitting in the bush and you hear the sound...
I knew that a female leopard which had made a kill the night before...
So many people lose interest in these truly beautiful antelope shortly after seeing one.
Sleeping lions is what one can expect on an early afternoon in summer.
Whatever the season, sunset in Africa is always something special.
We spent the afternoon taking pictures in what was the most amazing light...
Only the very last rays of the sun were still falling on the top edge of the pan.
This year we have had unseasonably late rains - and lots of it.
With digital cameras we can take photos using only the light from a Land Rover spotlight...
A lion's eye is without doubt one of the most humbling things in nature.
Close ups of a giraffe's head tells a good story, showing off their eyelashes...
Late one afternoon while on safari with a professional photographer, the radio crackled...
To my surprise I found a young male leopard moving up the riverbed.
One of my personal favorite birds is the Saddle-billed stork, a truly beautiful bird...
When I arrived the lions were just waking up and the sun was setting.
This African Spoonbill which is a specie we do not often see, was doing exactly that.
I came around the corner and bumped straight into a huge male leopard.
On this afternoon I was told that a cheetah had been seen during the early safari.
I was racing home as a storm cell was approaching and I had no covers for my cameras.
A subject that is placed in its natural surrounds tells a far better story than a posed portrait.
Being low to the ground gave me a better angle and the rhino looked larger than life.
I positioned myself where I thought he might move next and got my camera ready.
I am sure many photographers dream of a good picture of a fish eagle actually fishing.
Wild dogs are without doubt one of the most threatened predators in Africa.
The bush had had a lot of rain and with this came a carpet of green.
In both crashes there where territorial males so I expected some action.
The sun had just dropped below the horizon and I insisted we just wait it out...
Using a flash is fine but that creates a flat image that can be over-exposed.
photography tips - may 2010 to november 2012
The African bush has such amazing colour, so why change this to black and white.
I returned a day or two later with a bit more time before the sun set.
The carcass attracted a lot of vultures and pretty much got rid of all of the rhino.
I have been a bit reluctant to take out my cameras for fear of them getting wet.
One afternoon I noticed this Praying Mantis. The colors and shape intrigued me.
Coming back from Earth Lodge one night I saw eyes reflecting in the spotlight.
The first movements started happening as soon as the sun set.
Instead of utilising the camera's built-in flash I made use of an off-camera flash.
Whilst out on a game drive one evening we found a pride of five lions.
It is very important to be in the right place at the right time but also to be prepared.
It appeared that he was hunting mice - he would dash from one spot to another.
While we were observing the commensialistic symbiosis between the birds and the rhino...
Every 30 days the moon rises just after sunset and normally it looks spectacular.
To capture a swallow in flight with a mouthful of mud has always been something...
With this leopard portrait, the young male leopard was sitting on top of a termite mound...
The insects are starting to emerge and along with insects come frogs!
Recently one of our resident prides broughp down at least 3 buffalo...
Digital processing is becoming a major part of "new world" photographers...
I eagerly awaited the first thunderstorm of this summer….and it finally arrived!
The most important part of this composition was getting the background right...
The oxpecker had now made its way to her head which might make for a good picture.
Rhinos are prehistoric looking mammals forming part of the Big Five found at Sabi Sabi
My eyes are always scanning for photographic opportunities.
It was a lovely afternoon and the warm sun was starting to throw soft light into the bush.
I managed to capture this image, with the spotted hyena staring in the leopard's direction
It is always a challenge to try and portray movement within a single frame.
It was just then that I realized that it does not happen every day...
In order to capture an image of a bird in flight you need to freeze the motion of the bird.
We were in time to see the sun go down, the colors change and watch the full moon rise.
Rim lighting can often give an extremely powerful effect if used correctly.
While trying to take the perfect photograph for Earth Hour, I sat playing with my camera trying to get the exposures correct;
Just changing the angle can change the whole look of the photo...
Taking photos at night using the spotlight or even a flash can be very challenging.
photography tips - november 2012 to january 2014
Capturing the stars and the Milky Way in all their glory can seem rather intimidating...
With technology moving the way it is, photography is becoming more and more in-depth.
This has got to be one of my favorite leopard photos.
There are those days when the animals are not creating any specific action...
Another great effect can be achieved by capturing only the silhouette of the animal.
Africa is often characterised by its iconic sunsets.
In my humble opinion, one of the most difficult images to capture is a beautiful landscape.
Capturing a great picture of the stars is always a difficult task.
With the introduction of digital photography came the introduction of post processing.
Often difficult to get a great picture because most often the action occurs at night
What a scene, what a photo…500 buffalo all feeding, with the sunset casting a golden light
Post processing is a very important tool to use in photography...
There are often moments in photography where you want...
The smaller more basic point and shoot cameras can box way above their weight
Being at eye level gives the viewer the impression that they were right there...
Most of the digital SLR's give you an option as to the size of the photo file;
Macro photography has to be one of the best forms of photography...
When it comes to wildlife photography it is vitally important to "freeze" the action.
Taking pictures of birds in flight is one of the trickiest skills in wildlife photography
In the days of film one would either have to do the metering using light meter readers or by 'feel'
One of the ways to really make a wildlife image "pop" is to have your subject as sharp as possible...
Every wildlife photo should have a subject that "jumps out" at the viewer...
Panning, or the capturing of movement in a still photo is a little tricky...
Capturing the essence of a landscape can be very difficult with an ultra wide angle lens...
Almost any image can be converted into black and white these days thanks to post-processing.
For any photographer it is always a great challenge to capture the beauty of the stars.
It is important to separate yourself from the masses and come up with new perspectives...
Sometimes taking just one photo, even with a wide angle lens, is just not enough to capture the scene...
When it comes to wildlife photography, the best results are achieved when your subject stands out.
Moving into summer I think it is appropriate to give some pointers on capturing some of nature's fireworks.
Overcast days are a perfect example of this as there is none of the beautiful golden light to work with.