If you’re in a bushveld area like the Kruger, it's a very different story. Large animals appear next to you. Here the long stuff can be an embarrassment and a big telephoto won’t focus close enough to capture that lion attempting to eat your tyres. Best thing here is a 300mm with handy 1.4X converter. A great alternative is the 80-400 or 100-400 zoom, which will cope with just about everything except fast action in low light. Be aware that teleconverters are designed for use with fixed lenses and have front elements that protrude into the lens they are attached to. No problem with primes, but most zooms have rear elements that collide with the teleconverter. Try before you buy. If you’re considering buying a lens specifically for wildlife, our recommendation is a 300mm f4, with stabilisation. Its light, affordable, has fast AF and works well with a 1.4X converter.
Always use the lens hood. Some of the best shots are when the sun is getting low and the hood is an absolute must. Don’t forget to bring a wide-angle. There are ample opportunities and the resultant pictures add variety and context, contrasting nicely with your wildlife shots. 24 to 35mm is most useful, ultrawide 16mm less so. A 70-200mm might be considered if your main lens is very long. Don’t bother with a midrange zoom, it falls between both stools.
Forget the tripod, unless you’re going all-out for landscapes. Safaris are generally vehicle-based, so the humble beanbag is the tried and tested answer. Alternatives come in the form of clamps or window mounts that support a ball or gimbal head, but the most versatile of all is the molar tooth-shaped beanbag. It covers most situations and is not vehicle specific. You don’t even need to bring your own - we supply one for everybody on the vehicle.
A laptop with lots of free space or external USB drive provides the best downloading setup. You will also need a card reader or cable, camera battery charger and spare batteries. Two 16GB cards are enough for even the busiest of days. If you’re coming from the UK, we’ll supply you with an African - UK mains lead. Dust is the enemy, so clean your sensor before the trip and avoid swapping lenses on the move. A headtorch is a very good idea. We keep a pair of binoculars on vehicles, or you could bring your own. An insulated, self-sealing mug is a really top tip for brews on the move; a Thermos flask with separate cup on a rough track is an absolute recipe for disaster.
Shoes & clothing
Wear pale, natural colours to keep cool; you might have to cope with 40°. A hat and sunglasses are essential. On winter safaris (April-October), be prepared for cool nights; a fleece might come in handy. Be warned: Morning game drives on an open game-viewer are absolutely perishing. Sandals are best, unless you go walking in the bush, where light walking shoes or boots are preferable to avoid tick bites. Always check your shoes before wearing them as they make ideal scorpion nests. Don’t wear camouflage clothing in Africa. It is reserved for the military or you might be mistaken for a poacher.
At the Airport
Camera gear and laptops should be transported as carry-on hand baggage. There are size and weight limits specific to airlines, so check before you pack. Be aware that security staff may insist you spill the whole kit out of your bag for X-ray, so prepare for this by stowing small accessories in your hold baggage. Also ‘buddy up’ with a fellow photographer, so one of you can go through the hoop in advance of all the gear and be there to watch it all come through. Get the timing wrong, and someone else could be searching through your equipment while the security staff are searching you.
Check with your GP, who will have the latest information on vaccinations and anti-malarials. High factor sunscreen and insect repellents are recommended. Bear in mind the threat of malaria is considerably less in the winter months, April till October. All the countries we visit are free of Ebola.
Photo safari advice
Cameras and lenses
What camera equipment is best for an African safari? Well, that very much depends on where you are going. In the Kgalagadi or Serengeti, for example, the landscape is vast and animals generally further away. Long lenses are therefore pretty much mandatory. The good news is that the light quality is so good, you can use teleconverters and still get excellent results.