Safari Photography 101

Do you think you have to be a professional photographer with an expensive camera and massive lens to enjoy a safari? Well, think again!

Over the past seven years, we’ve had the honor and privilege to spend more than 240 days in Tanzania, accompanying more than 120 guests on the greatest adventures of their lives! And we’ve helped those guests capture incredible shots of wildlife and landscape from every angle from every device.

Whether you’re rocking a 100mm zoom on your Canon or shooting with an iPhone 7, our founder Susie has the know-how to help you capture the perfect shot on your safari. 

MYTH: The bigger and more expensive the camera gear, the happier the safari experience is. 

REALITY: Safaris are so much more than just photography opportunities!  Each guest’s experience on safari gets to decide for themselves what their safari goals are.  

Avid Nature and Travel Photographers: Avid photographers have a variety of reasons for bringing the best/most camera gear with them on safari. Most of these folks simply derive great joy from the act and creative exercise involved with photography. Some may be trying to capture images they can use for photography contests or competitions. Still others may be on the brink of getting their professional certification, and they are looking to capture that ONE SHOT that will clinch it for them! For these folks, being behind their lens is their happy place! They are challenging themselves to see the light, freeze the action, focus on the fine details, or tell the bigger picture through their photographs.

Vacation Photographers: Our guests who tend to only take photographs while on vacation are never disappointed on safari. Rather than lugging bulky equipment and learning the skills needed to operate digital cameras in manual mode, I’ve had dozens of guests who’ve successfully used smaller cameras with built-in optical zoom capabilities. These days, most vacation photographers simply rely on the high quality cameras that are built into the newest generation of smartphones! I’ve had a handful of guests who have created amazing coffee-table books filled with their favorite safari moments they captured with their smartphones.

Nature Lovers and Non-photographers: Nature lovers join our safaris to be truly present throughout the trip. They often bring nothing more than a journal and a set of field glasses, and they remain present for every moment of our encounters along the journey. Amazingly, 85% of the time they don’t even need their binoculars, as we are often extremely close to the wildlife and are always surrounded by incredible landscapes in every direction! I find it truly fascinating that they are often the ones spotting the wildlife as we drive along, and will be the first to point out the beautiful soundtrack that accompanies each scene throughout the journey. 

Professional Equipment Pros:

  1. High-quality images: Professional cameras offer superior image quality with high resolution and excellent clarity, capturing the intricate details of wildlife, nature, and the culture that is present throughout Tanzania. 
  2. Versatility: With interchangeable lenses and advanced settings, professional cameras allow photographers to adapt to various lighting conditions and capture different types of shots, from close-ups to landscapes.
  3. Manual controls: Photographers have full control over settings such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, enabling them to achieve the desired creative effects.
  4. Post-processing options: Raw image files provide greater flexibility for editing and enhancing photos during post-processing, allowing photographers to refine their work.
  5. Satisfaction/Accomplishment: Avid photographers love the challenge and the skills needed to capture amazing images.  To see the nuances of a scene that perhaps nobody else even noticed. To bring all of the elements together (light, action, scope, scale, background, etc.) tells a massive story in one photograph. To take thousands of photographs knowing that when they get home, they’ll be looking for only 5-10 of their best images to share with the world, or enter into competitions!  

Professional Equipment Cons:

  1. Bulk and weight: Professional camera bodies and powerful zoom lenses can be heavy and cumbersome to transport. Sometimes this becomes an issue when flying on bush planes, as they have weight restrictions for your total luggage weight.  
  2. Cost: High-quality professional photography equipment comes with a significant investment, including the camera body, lenses, accessories, and maintenance costs.
  3. Learning curve: Mastering the technical aspects of using professional cameras requires time, practice, and expertise, which may be challenging for beginners or casual photographers.
  4. Attention diversion: Focusing on capturing photos may detract from fully experiencing the safari, as photographers may spend more time behind the lens than immersing themselves in the wildlife and surroundings.  Obsessing over their settings and other essential elements required to adequately and artistically capture each scene can become all-consuming at times. 

Smartphones Pros:

  1. Accessibility: Most people already own smartphones, making them readily available for capturing spontaneous moments during safari outings.
  2. Flexibility: Guests can record a video of a scene, and then simply touch the screen on their phone to also capture a still image at any particular moment as well. 
  3. Portability:  Smartphones are lightweight and compact, making them convenient to carry and use on the go without adding extra bulk to luggage.
  4. Connectivity: Instant sharing capabilities allow users to upload photos and videos to social media platforms or share them with friends and family in real time.
  5. User-friendly interface: Smartphone cameras often feature intuitive controls and automatic settings, making them suitable for novice photographers.
  6. Post-processing: The need for post-processing is very minimal.  The technology built into these smartphones does a lot of the legwork for you automatically, saving hours and hours manipulating images after the safari. 

Smartphone Cons:

  1. Limited zoom capabilities: Smartphones typically have digital zoom, which can result in image degradation and loss of quality when zooming in on distant subjects.
  2. Image quality: While modern smartphones boast impressive camera technology, they may not match the image quality of professional cameras, especially in challenging lighting conditions.
  3. Lack of manual controls: Smartphone cameras offer limited manual adjustments, restricting creative control over settings such as aperture and shutter speed.
  4. Battery life: Extensive use of smartphone cameras for photography and video recording can drain battery life quickly, requiring frequent recharging or carrying additional power sources.

Binocular Pros:

  1. Enhanced magnification: Binoculars provide powerful magnification capabilities, allowing safari-goers to observe wildlife up close and in detail from a distance.
  2. Immersive experience: Binoculars enable users to focus on specific animals or landmarks, enhancing the overall safari experience by facilitating close observation and appreciation of wildlife behavior.
  3. Hands-free operation: Once adjusted, binoculars can be used hands-free, allowing users to maintain a steady view without the need to hold them continuously.
  4. Durability: High-quality binoculars are designed to withstand rugged outdoor conditions, including dust, moisture, and impact, making them suitable for safari environments.

Binocular Cons:

  1. Single-purpose tool: Unlike cameras or smartphones, binoculars serve a specific function and cannot be used for other purposes such as communication or entertainment.

Here are some images taken by avid photographers with professional equipment:

And here are some shots taken with smartphones:


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