How to prepare for a safari or wildlife photography trip

Are you ready for your once-in-a-lifetime safari? From photographing the Big Five – that’s lion, leopard, rhinoceros elephant, and Cape buffalo – to the equally fabulous cheetah, zebra and hippopotamus, venturing into rural Africa brings some environmental challenges that you’d do well to prepare for.

Plenty of spare batteries and high-capacity SD cards aside, when you’re after that killer photo of Africa’s apex predators, you’d better be on your game. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s the best kind of lens for safari trips?

Do you need a zoom lens on a safari? If you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime, absolutely.

The focal length you’re going to need if you want close-up photographs is something in the 300mm region (or the equivalent if you’re not using a full-frame system). Many professionals will use much longer lenses, but something that can reach 300mm provides a good balance between suitability, affordability and practicality. Besides, a good safari guide will get you surprisingly close to your targets, particularly in private game reserves.

You do still need significant magnification in national parks because they often restrict or exclude off-road driving. If you’re planning to take photographs of birds, such as fish-eagles, Kingfishers and owls, then all of this is moot; the longer your zoom lens, the better.

Do I need a wide-angle lens for safari?

Your priority is likely to be a close-up shot of one of the big five, and that’s understandable, but don’t forget that some animals comes very close, and also that you’ll be travelling through some wonderful natural environments.

From the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania to Kenya’s Maasai Mara, the Okavango Delta in Botswana and Namibia’s rugged Damaraland, where there is big game there are always big opportunities for dramatic landscape photography. So pack a reasonably wide-angle lens as well as a zoom lens, which will allow you to capture both animals and big landscapes.

If you’re really tight on space, consider packing a compact camera or a pocket-sized action camera for wide-angle snapshots.

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