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

    • recommended equipment

      camera bodies

      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.

      zoom lenses

      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.

      support systems

      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

    • recommended equipment

      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.

      bean bags

      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.

      flash work

      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.

      Click to see image example

      camera settings

      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.

      Click to see image example

      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.

      Click to see image example


      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

    • exposure compensation

      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.

      Click to see image example

      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.

      Click to see image example

      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.

      Click to see image example

      rod wyndham

      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 bushmanager@sabisabi.com or to contact him while at Sabi Sabi for any further assistance.

      rod's equipment list is as follows

      Rod Wyndham

      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 - may 2010 to november 2012

    • Whilst out on a game drive one evening we found a pride of five lions.

      action in photography

      It is very important to be in the right place at the right time but also to be prepared.

      high iso

      It appeared that he was hunting mice - he would dash from one spot to another.

      backlit lilac breasted roller

      While we were observing the commensialistic symbiosis between the birds and the rhino...

      full moon

      Every 30 days the moon rises just after sunset and normally it looks spectacular.

      summer has arrived

      To capture a swallow in flight with a mouthful of mud has always been something...

      leopard portrait

      With this leopard portrait, the young male leopard was sitting on top of a termite mound...

      macro photography

      The insects are starting to emerge and along with insects come frogs!

      back or rim light

      Recently one of our resident prides broughp down at least 3 buffalo...

      digital post production

      Digital processing is becoming a major part of "new world" photographers...

      electric storm

      I eagerly awaited the first thunderstorm of this summer….and it finally arrived!

      aperture priority

      The most important part of this composition was getting the background right...

      the insignificant

      The oxpecker had now made its way to her head which might make for a good picture.

      rhino up in ash

      Rhinos are prehistoric looking mammals forming part of the Big Five found at Sabi Sabi

      photographic opportunities

      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.

      back-lit spotted hyena

      I managed to capture this image, with the spotted hyena staring in the leopard's direction

      motion blur

      It is always a challenge to try and portray movement within a single frame.

      a different perspective

      It was just then that I realized that it does not happen every day...

      birds in flight

      In order to capture an image of a bird in flight you need to freeze the motion of the bird.

      the impossible made possible

      We were in time to see the sun go down, the colors change and watch the full moon rise.

      into the darkness

      Rim lighting can often give an extremely powerful effect if used correctly.

      multiple exposures

      While trying to take the perfect photograph for Earth Hour, I sat playing with my camera trying to get the exposures correct;

      the angle makes all the difference

      Just changing the angle can change the whole look of the photo...

      low light focusing

      Taking photos at night using the spotlight or even a flash can be very challenging.


      Capturing the stars and the Milky Way in all their glory can seem rather intimidating...

      fill light function

      With technology moving the way it is, photography is becoming more and more in-depth.

      the ever elusive leopard

      This has got to be one of my favorite leopard photos.

      get creative

      There are those days when the animals are not creating any specific action...

      silhouette skills

      Another great effect can be achieved by capturing only the silhouette of the animal.

      scenic sunsets

      Africa is often characterised by its iconic sunsets.


      In my humble opinion, one of the most difficult images to capture is a beautiful landscape.

      painting with light

      Capturing a great picture of the stars is always a difficult task.

      high dynamic range

      With the introduction of digital photography came the introduction of post processing.

      capture the moment

      Often difficult to get a great picture because most often the action occurs at night

      buffalo sunset

      What a scene, what a photo…500 buffalo all feeding, with the sunset casting a golden light

      post processing

      Post processing is a very important tool to use in photography...

      hidden depths

      There are often moments in photography where you want...

      macro photos with a point and shoot

      The smaller more basic point and shoot cameras can box way above their weight

      keep your distance

      rule of thirds

      What is the real difference between a boring holiday snap and one that is something you can be extremely proud of?

    • photography tips - november 2014 to january 2015

    • Being at eye level gives the viewer the impression that they were right there...

      raw talent

      Most of the digital SLR's give you an option as to the size of the photo file;

      using extension tubes

      Macro photography has to be one of the best forms of photography...

      freeze the moment

      When it comes to wildlife photography it is vitally important to "freeze" the action.

      flights of fancy

      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'

      taking an image that pops

      One of the ways to really make a wildlife image "pop" is to have your subject as sharp as possible...

      lead the eye

      Every wildlife photo should have a subject that "jumps out" at the viewer...

      panning impala

      Panning, or the capturing of movement in a still photo is a little tricky...

      creating panoramas

      Capturing the essence of a landscape can be very difficult with an ultra wide angle lens...

      converting to black and white in post processing

      Almost any image can be converted into black and white these days thanks to post-processing.

      capturing the cosmos

      For any photographer it is always a great challenge to capture the beauty of the stars.

      change your perspective

      It is important to separate yourself from the masses and come up with new perspectives...

      creating a panorama

      Sometimes taking just one photo, even with a wide angle lens, is just not enough to capture the scene...

      outstanding subject

      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.

      creating with high key

      Overcast days are a perfect example of this as there is none of the beautiful golden light to work with.

      low key photography

      In todays photographic tip I am going to discuss photographing "low key" or "dark" images

      plenty of stars

      The magical thing about these types of photos is that it's all about playing.

      working with water

      Taking photos at night and capturing the night sky can often be a bit tricky...

      the macro world

      What you will need to unlock the beauty of the macro world...

      using fill flash

      Using flash for wildlife photography is not always successful, but in some cases it can be the difference...


      For the most part the best positioning for a photograph is when the sun is behind you...

      golden light and using flash

      For most photographers it is accepted that you should use the light from the rising or setting sun...

      stitching stars

      The winter night sky at Sabi Sabi is one of the most amazing things to see.

      angle is everything

      The angle at which you take a picture changes the perspective through which the viewer will experience...

      finer details

      When it comes to capturing something unique we need to look at some of the finer details around our subject

      balancing lightning and artificial light

      Today I want to quickly discuss the benefits of being able to balance different light sources.

      patience and anticipating behaviour

      I have learnt about photographing animals is that you have to be patient and you must be able to anticipate animal behaviour.

      go wide

      I myself use my telephoto lens more than any of my other lenses, but now and then I find myself changing over to my wide-angle lens...

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