Photography tips: gear for a photo safari

By Chris Bray 25 May 2012
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When you’re heading off travelling on a photo safari, you’ll need these photo tips to get you started.

IN AN IDEAL WORLD, you’d want a good wide angle zoom lens for landscape shots, a standard zoom lens for the everyday kind of shots, and a fairly serious telephoto lens (probably also a zoom) for all the wildlife shots. However, you do not need to go and spend a fortune on lenses to get amazing photos.

Lens choice

Even something like a twin lens kit (wide-to-normal, and normal-to-telephoto) will cover your bases, because usually if you’re with a good guide you should get quite close to a lot of the animals; however, some animals are small (especially birds), and some are harder to get close to, so a good long telephoto lens up to say 300mm or ideally even 400mm will make the difference between a good photo and an amazing photo sometimes.

So if you are thinking of buying one special lens for this trip, make it a telephoto zoom lens, and, if you’re tossing up between spending some money upgrading the body of your camera or buying a telephoto lens instead – buy the telephoto lens.

Standard lenses
You probably won’t be using a standard lens that much, so to be honest, whatever came with your camera will probably be fine.

Telephoto Lenses
Most wildlife photography requires a good long telephoto lens, the ideal focal length you would want to totally maximise your experience is 400mm. However, that’s not to say that you won’t get awesome shots on most subjects even with a 300mm if that’s all you have. I’d hesitate against using anything shorter than 300mm, though, as your longest lens.

Memory cards and file storage

While you should certainly be practicing restraint and only taking photos that are worth taking, you’ll still need several of memory cards, and it might also be a great idea to bring some kind of data backup system.
You get what you pay for when it comes to memory cards and cheap ones do tend to fail more often. Well-known brands like SanDisk are reliable. Also keep in mind that it’s a good idea to spread your risks over a few smaller cards than to have just a couple of really huge memory cards. These things do fail, and it’s best to limit the number of photos you might lose in one go. Instead of buying the largest one possible, maybe get four each, a quarter of the size.

As a ballpark figure, on a serious photo safari, you might need anywhere from 50GB to 100 GB of storage space for the two weeks, assuming you’re shooting in highest quality JPEG mode. If you’re shooting in RAW mode, or additionally shooting large amounts of HD video, then you might need more storage, perhaps up to a whopping 500GB if you’re totally crazy.

To avoid the risk of losing your images if a memory card fails or something, you should try to always keep two copies of your photographs. For example, I use a laptop and two identical external hard drives, and each evening I download my photos onto the first one drive, then copy them additionally to the second one, before deleting/formatting the memory card – just in case!

Chris Bray is a trustee of the Australian Geographic Society and Canon embassador. He runs one-day photography courses and has discounts for Australian Geographic members. See his website for more details.