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A Wildlife Safari may be a once in a lifetime experience and one that can be really fun for photographers. If you are planning a trip to Uganda or any other African Wildlife destination sometime in the future there are some thoughts that you should consider before you go. We shall share the tips from our experience as guides in Africa. We have seen some of the entries in photographic contests; the ones that get knocked out very quickly seem to be the photos that have not complied with the basics of photography. We are asking a simple question; Why are the top sports players and professional photographers so good and so consistent with their achievements? Because they stick to the basics and then build on those basics to improve their skills. People who are struggling in sports or photography tend to be the ones who think they can skip the basics or have forgotten the basics! We are going to share the basics in photography.
First and foremost, there are 2 basic kinds of digital camera. One kind with a built-in lens and the other kind with detachable lens. For photographing wildlife, it is important to be able to zoom close to your subject, so you’ll need a minimum of 10x optical zoom, or in the case of digital SLR, a lens of at least 300mm. Larger magnifications will be required for photographing birds. Most quality equipment has image stabilization technology and this is very valuable when shooting on safari.
As with digital cameras, the variety of camcorders on the market is not only bewildering, but constantly changing as technology advances. Many camcorders have optical zoom of 20x or more which is ideal for shooting wildlife, but don’t be fooled by high digital zoom statistics as these exaggerated magnifications produce images that are highly pixelated (broken up into small squares) and unsatisfactory. Some digital camcorders are also able to take still photographs.
The quality of any still photography (or movie clip) is dependent upon lighting. For this reason, the best wildlife photographs are taken in the early morning or late afternoon when sunlight comes at an angle. In the middle of the day, sunlight comes from directly overhead which creates hard black shadows on and around your subject matter.
Choosing where to place your subject in the viewfinder of your camera is known as composition. This is a vital aspect of photography and separates great images from ordinary ones. Things to avoid are chopping off part of your subject (for example, feet), zooming in too tightly or placing your subject in the very center of your frame. It is much more pleasing on the eye if an animal is pictured off center and thus looking in to a space. Likewise, placing the horizon of your landscape pictures in the bottom or top third of the frame (depending on whether the sky or foreground is of more interest), rather than in the very center, will create a more interesting perspective.
As already mentioned, many cameras have image stabilization technology. Blurred photographs are caused mostly by camera shake, which is the result of not holding the camera firmly, or not selecting the correct exposure options and thus using long shutter speeds. The use of a tripod is hard to beat but this is not very practical on a safari. Some travelers will extend one leg of a tripod or use a monopod. Alternately, use a soft beanbag. Simply pack a small cloth bag in your travel kit and then fill it with dry beans (or rice) when you get to Africa. This will then provide you with a flexible yet solid support for your camera. In the absence of a tripod or beanbag, a rolled-up jacket or sweater placed on a window ledge or vehicle rooftop will provide decent support.
Vehicle vibrations are a major cause of blurred images, so ask your guide to turn off the vehicle engine for special shots.
It is obviously necessary to have all the required battery chargers for your equipment when you travel. An electrical adaptor will also be important for connecting to local power supplies. Even the most remote safari camps usually have a generator capable of charging batteries. Consider taking two batteries for each camera, so that you always have a backup.
Take two or three cards and consider copying the data (i.e. your images) onto a backup device. Some travelers now carry iPods, or even a laptop for copying image files onto; these instruments also allow you to better preview and edit photographs or video clips on the spot. It is wise to store cameras and lenses in plastic ziplock bags to protect them from dust and humidity.
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