1. CHOOSE YOUR WEAPONS CAREFULLY
Equipment selection is crucial, not only do you want to have the items you will need to achieve your photographic goals, you definitely do not want to travel with gear you are not going to use. But you will… inevitably. Years of traveling back and forth to Africa has taught me that you will inevitably take a lens “just in case”, and then end up never using it, which is still way better than ending up in the middle of Botswana wishing that you had brought that big 500 or 600 after all. So make sure you do enough research about the area you are travelling to, and the proximity of the animals you will be viewing, some reserves prohibit guides from driving safari vehicles off-road and if you are viewing game by boat, well it kind of has to stay in the water.
2. CHOOSE YOUR QUIVER EVEN MORE CAREFULLY
What you pack your equipment selection into is even more crucial. Bear in mind that a nice rolling case that neatly accommodates all your gear and flies through Heathrow with little physical stress, might be a terrible choice for a safari vehicle with confined space as that leopard is about to launch itself into the big Marula tree in the perfect late afternoon light…
Therefore, you might be better off to stuff a more suitable backpack or a combination of packs in between the clothing in your suitcase, or pay the crazy fees for an additional suitcase and just take a pelican case with the most appropriate bag/s – consider point 1 and 5 carefully…
3. THINK WORST CASE SCENARIO, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
Make sure you know the contact information of the local repair centers and brand agents, as well as where applicable independent repair centers, because Murphy wrote that book…
I think I probably set some kind of record in the luck and efficiency department with the help of the fine folks at the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve a few years ago, when my 600mm f/4.0 lens decided that it no longer needed to autofocus. We managed to get the lens on the first flight out from the reserve that afternoon, had one of the reservation office staff members pick it up from the airport in Johannesburg and drop it off with the Nikon NPS technician, who in turn had it ready to go the next morning. It was back on the first morning flight from Johannesburg, and in my hands by the afternoon game drive.
It is also well worth knowing where you could potentially purchase replacement equipment, remember not all retail outlets or dealers stock higher end equipment.
4. THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT WHAT YOU WOULD “LIKE” TO SHOOT, NOT JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING YOU ARE GOING TO “GET” TO SHOOT
Guides are generally trained to show you as much as possible in the time you have to spend in the particular area you are visiting. This is great for general tourists, but for the discerning photographer, it may leave you with a great selection of “nice” images, but no “exceptional” images.
So, take the time to give it some thought, and communicate with your guide about how to go about getting those great shots.
5. BEFORE YOU LEAVE, DECIDE THE COMMITMENT LEVEL TO YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY
Sipping fine wine and enjoying the African cuisine is indeed a wonderful experience, but not conducive to getting up at 4 am to be “out there” at first light. Now that may be a little on the extreme side of things, but I’m sure you get my “drift”.
Especially if your significant other may be accompanying you, it is important to give your approach some thought and discussion.
Are you 100% committed to getting “the shot”? or is this a once in a lifetime trip to be savored while doing some enjoyable photography? Or perhaps a little bit of both.
Decide this before you arrive, otherwise you may leave Africa somewhat dissatisfied.
6. WALK A MILE… NO MAKE IT 5…
Once you have got your gear packed as you would use it on Safari every day, take it for a walk.
No really, do just that.
You may find that your tent or room is quite some distance from the vehicle or boat departure point, and you will have to carry all your gear from your room, to that point and back, multiple times a day.
You may very well find some eager hands from the local staff to help you with your gear, but that may not always be the case, so prepare yourself accordingly – see points 1 and 2!
About Simon du Plooy
Born in South Africa, Simon grew up between a big metropolitan city and a cattle farm in Kwazulu Natal. His love for nature and the natural world grew with him, coupled with a keen interest in photography and his creative spirit, a career and a lifelong passion was born. His award winning fine art work offered a glimpse into his true passion, but the dynamic world of commercial and editorial photography kept him in the urban jungle too often. Simon has spent the last 14 years in North America, but returned often to his continent of birth to quench his thirst for Africa and it’s wildlife. Eventually the call of the wild became too strong and Simon said farewell to the world of editorial and commercial photography for good to focus his photography on the natural world.