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Tips for Taking Better Photos on Safari

Tips for Taking Better Photos on Safari

All You Need To Know
Taking pictures of animals in the wild is a lot of fun. In general, it has to go pretty fast. Regardless of whether you want to photograph leopards in Africa, tigers in India or ibexes in the Swiss Alps, you usually have only little time to choose the right camera settings resp. the ideal composition. Our 6 tips will help you shoot great wildlife pictures for the next time you are on a photo safari.
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6 tips for your next photo safari

1. Know your equipment
Everything happens really fast on a photo safari. A spectacular wildlife sighting can take place within only a few seconds. This is why it is particularly important that you know your camera equipment inside out and can react quickly.
You should know about these points and be able to react quickly to make the necessary settings:

  • What is the minimum shutter speed you can use with your camera and lens combination to create sharp images?
  • Where do I set the shutter speed, aperture and ISO?
  • Where do I quickly switch between the focus modes resp. the focus points?
  • Where can I quickly switch between multi-zone / spot metering?
  • How high can the ISO be on my camera without having large losses or too much noise in the picture?
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This lion decided to climb a tree within seconds. We had to react quickly in order to capture this unique animal behaviour

Nikon D750, 70-200 mm f/2.8, 200 mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 1250

2. Use the ideal camera settings
If you do not have much practice in wildlife photography yet, it is worth paying a visit to a nearby animal park or zoo to become familiar with your equipment and animal motifs. Try the most important settings on your camera. A certain routine helps when it gets "serious".

Use the aperture priority (A / Av)

This allows you to manually select the desired aperture and the camera then calculates the required shutter speed. Depending on the aperture you can create your shot creatively. To make the animal stand out from the background and achieve a beautiful bokeh effect, choose an open aperture, e.g. f / 4.
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In this recording, we have deliberately opened the aperture, so that the background is blurred, and all the focus is on the tiger.

Nikon D850, 300 mm f/2.8, 1/320s, f/4.0, ISO 640

Choose the ideal ISO value for a fast-enough shutter speed

Set the ISO value manually. Always pay attention to the shutter speed that the camera sets for the selected aperture. If your shutter speed is too slow, increase the ISO value. It is especially important to choose a fast shutter speed with telephoto lenses. Otherwise, you run the risk that your images will be blurry. When using telephoto lenses, you should use at least a shutter speed of 1 / 600s or even better of 1 / 1000s and higher depending on the lens, movement of the animals and lighting conditions.

Alternatively to the manual ISO selection you can also use the ISO automatic. This means the camera chooses the right ISO value. It is important, however, that you set a limit to your ISO value. For example, you set on the camera that the ISO value is not higher than ISO 2000. This is the only way to make sure that the pictures will not be too noisy.
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This bear mother marches leisurely back to land after the successful fish hunt. For the bears to be in focus despite the movement, we have slightly increased the shutter speed here.

Nikon D4, 300mm f/2.8, 1/800s, f/8.0, ISO 400

3. Know your subject
Wildlife photography is about capturing interesting animal behavior. For example, there is nothing more boring than sleeping lions. On safari you especially want to catch animals in motion or their interactions with each other. This results in exciting shots that captivate the eye of the beholder immediately. In order to get to know the behavior of the individual animals you should invest a lot of time in their observation. Do not chase one animal after the other, spend some time with one animal and observe it. This way you can learn a lot. The trained guides will also help you on a safari. Ask them a lot of questions about the individual animals. This is how you learn a lot about the nature and the animals. This helps you in the photography immensely as you can then evaluate how a specific animal will behave in case of a sighting and prepare you accordingly to the situation.
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Bee-eaters often hunt near their home. They hunt for insects, fly to their nests in the vicinity to feed the little ones and then fly back to their starting point. Mostly they use the same branch again and again. An ideal prerequisite for sitting in lookout in wait with the camera.

Nikon D850, 300 mm f/2.8, 1/4000s, f/3.5, ISO 640

4. Pay attention to the most important rules of image composition
If you place your main subject of your shot incorrectly, the photo loses tension. When photographing, pay attention to a few basic rules in the picture composition:

Rule of Thirds

The picture is divided vertically and horizontally. Striking or important image content, such as the eye of the animal or the animal itself should ideally be positioned in one of the intersections.
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A classic case of the rule of thirds. The eyes of the mother lie on the left vertical line.

Nikon D750, 200 – 500 mm f/5.6, 1/640s, f/5.6, ISO 1600

Keeping an eye on the background

The background often decides whether a photo works well or not. In general, it is important that nothing dominant or distracting disturbs the photo subject. Look carefully through the viewfinder and watch out for other safari vehicles, other animals that disturb the silhouette of the photo subject, highly reflective leaves, or that the horizon line does not break the silhouette of the animal. It is important that the background is as simple as possible and does not distract the main motive unnecessarily.
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In this example, the edge of the tree in the background touches the silhouette of the tiger. This leads to a somewhat restless picture, as the tiger is not quite the center of attention.

Nikon D850, 300mm f/2.8, 1/250s, f/4.0, ISO 800

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In this picture, there is enough space between the tree on the left and the tiger. The picture looks instantly more harmonious.

Nikon D850, 300mm f/2.8, 1/250s, f/4.0, ISO 800

Include the surroundings

Many photographers try to fill the picture completely with the subject. However, it can be just as interesting to present your photo subject in its natural environment or to include it in the composition.
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With this beautiful sambar deer, a portrait would surely also have been beautiful. But the inclusion of its natural environment, the Indian jungle, in combination with the backlight gives the picture a beautiful setting.

Nikon D750, 70 – 200 mm f/2.8, 170mm, 1/3200s, f/2.8, ISO 800

Focus on the eyes

This is one of the ground rules in animal photography. If the eyes are not sharp, very few viewers will feel addressed by the image. Of course, having eye contact with the animal helps to connect the viewer with the animal. But this is not always necessary. There are many beautiful shots in which the animal looks into the distance or to another animal in the picture. If the animal does not look into the camera, make sure that it looks towards the center of the image, not the other way around. Also, the eyes of the animal should be well recognizable and not in the shadow.
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In order for the dark eyes of this reindeer to stand out, we consciously overexposed this image. The overexposure also makes the snow look nice and white. It is also important in such an image that the focus is exactly on the eyes, so that they are well focused.

Nikon D4, 200 – 500 mm f/5.6, 1/1250s, f/7.1, ISO 800, + 1.3 EV

5. Be patient
Patience is the most important requirement for a great wildlife picture. The more time you spend on an animal, the greater the chance that something unexpected or exciting will happen. But until something exciting happens, it can take a lot of time. Luck plays a big role in wildlife photography. You have to be at the right place at the right moment. Hence, the need for patience is inevitable.
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First, these wild dogs were just laying around lazily. We waited patiently until they got up. Before hunting, there is always a lot going on in wild dog packs. It was definitely worth the wait.

Nikon D4, 300 mm f/2.8, 1/2000s, f/6.3, ISO 800

6. Be creative
The classic picture in wildlife photography is a portrait shot. The king's discipline, however, is to first document the animal in its natural habitat, e.g. the integration of an animal in a landscape shot or the focus on special details. The pattern of the animal's fur, eyes, paws or other pictures of details can give exciting subjects. Just try and see what you like. Besides all the rules in photography, the rule "break the rules" counts above all. Be creative!
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A nice silhouette shot of a leopard up in a tree

Nikon D750, 70-200mm f/2.8, 1/1250s, f/2.8, ISO 1000, -0.3 EV

Jennifer Brühlmann
Jennifer Brühlmann
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