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general Photographers Guide

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Posted by  Simba Monday, 05 June 2006 15:47

general Photographers Guide

Taking photographs in Africa

Remember that wildlife behave most naturally if they forget human presence, so try to whisper. The best scenes result from patience and generous distance. If an animal doesn’t do what you would like it to do, it will have a reason for it. Please don’t yell, throw something, feed or scare the animals in any way. Although we see the animals feeding most of the time, this doesn’t mean, they are abound in food. For this reason, and the mid day heat, they save their energy during the day. Chasing a cheetah mother with her cups out of her hiding just so you get a better photo, can be costing the whole family’s life. Sounds exaggerated? There is a constant fight for pray between the predators. A lion that sees a helpless cheetah mother due to her cups, will take the chance to kill her once your car is gone.
Please refrain from taking any photographs at airports, harbours, or government buildings as this is considered illegal in many African countries.
If you want to take photographs of local people, you must ask permission and expect to tip them. It is best to check with your driver/guide first. Especially the Masai have learned to take good money for photos and the price will not always be according to your expectations. If so, don’t take the photo. It is their right just like anyone else’s to ask for a price, and it is your right to leave it. The same applies to visits to the Manyatta ritual of the Masai.


The scenery in Kenya is superb, the earth deep red, and the vegetation can be very lush. Wildlife and vegetation offer the full range from soft blending colours to combinations of bright colours offering immense contrast. It also depends where you go. Beaches, palm trees, sea and sky will probably be emphasized by a good Fuji Film whereas on safari you might want to take a Kodak to underline the red of the soil. Also, keep in mind that Kenya is right on the equator. The sun gets harsh late in the morning so that high-contrast films become inappropriate, roughly from 10am to 4pm on a sunny day.
Depending on the locations you visit, one can easily shoot 10 rolls of film a day. For a two-week trip, we could be talking about 100 rolls of film. The price difference between 100 rolls of E200 and grey-market Elite II is pretty significant. Unless you have reasons to get "pro film" such as E100S/SW, an amateur may be better off using either Sensia II or Elite II as their main film. A must is however, the Velvia for locations like the Lake Baringo, Bogoria or Nakuru for the flamingos, but also the rich sunsets, nutritious soil and dense bush by the rivers come out really well on Velvia. If you wish to make prints rather than slides, I suggest Reala and Super G 800.
For those who are making these "once in a lifetime" trips to such remote locations, make sure you bring at least two camera bodies in additional to plenty of film. In particular, the game parks are very dusty. If the only camera body you have with you malfunctions at a remote location, you are completely out of luck regardless of how many rolls of great film you have with you.
Make sure you keep your equipment in a dust free place (maybe a box with rubber seal), and tuck it away the moment you don’t use it. Keep a soft towel in reach to clean the equipment regularly. You will mostly be driving around with an open roof on dust roads and when you stop to take a photo, the moment you pop out your camera, all the dust from the car catches up with you and covers your lens.
The wide range of colours, contrasts and light available will demand a change of film all the time. The more camera bodies you have to “change film”, the better. Remember, the animals won’t wait or continue their action for you until you have replaced the film. You will have enough to do by changing lens.
If you buy your films at home or on arrival depends on you. They are likely to be cheaper in your home country and you are more likely to get exactly those you want, but due to the x-ray on the plane, you might want to put them in your hand luggage and depending on the amount you buy, this might be a bit inconvenient. Also, the heat doesn’t do them all too well. Depending on your itinerary you might want to buy some in Nairobi and some in Mombasa. Of course, the lodges sell films too, but not at the price you expect.
I suggest a 12-24mm lens for vast plains and herds but you will be surprised in how many other situations you will make use of them. A zoom won’t be of much use when an elephant of 4 meters height stands just a couple of meters away, or a cheetah jumps onto the bonnet of your car.
Of course you won’t get around a proper tele (zoom) either. I expect, at 400mm you will reach your limits in holding it still.
Of course a UV- and/or Skylight Filter should be on every lense for protection and use.
A polarisation filter helps a lot during the day at the water holes, rivers and sea side.
Other equipment
Sometimes a cotton sack of rice gives you a nice “lens pillow”, but with the engine running or the wind moving the car, even this might fail. A tripod could be useful for some scenic shots and photographing tame birds and small mammals (such as mongooses) in the camp grounds, but keep in mind that you're not allowed out of a vehicle in African National Parks. Far more important is the good bean bag like the large Kirk Hugger.
  • extension cable/adapter for British sockets
  • Rain protection for camera
  • Cleaning utilities
  • Dustproof case for equipment
  • Tripod or better, monopod
    You will be out in there in the middle of nature. There is no socket on the third tree to your left. Please remember to take sufficient batteries with you. Camps often use solar or generator power. Especially at night, the production is reduced to a minimum which can mean that you will not find your batteries fully charged the over night. A battery charger for the car could be an option depending on how you travel. 2 - 3 sets for each camera are reasonable.
    Digital cameras
    Unless you want to take your laptop into the dusty National Parks, you should have plenty of storage space. As mentioned before in the “analogue part” you can easily take up to 300 photos a day that you want to keep!! And you won't get around to sorting them out during the day, so you will have much, much more. Please don’t reduce the size of the picture on the card, if you take a great shot and want to enlarge it later, you will have a nervous breakdown. An external hard disk can help out well here.
    Please view also our Comments from members.
    If you have anything to add about digital cameras and video recording, please leave your comment.
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