First shot and how to freeze the action

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First picture

You are now supposed to master or at least be fairly comfortable with autofocus and light metering and you have set up your camera to shoot in RAW or JPG or RAW + JPG and for the JPG you have selected your white balance.

We will summarize the steps before taking the shot with an example.

Your guide spots a pretty lion surrounded by tall grass. He is fairly close and motionless.

Steps to take a shot

  • Your subject is motionless, you are in AFS
  • You zoom in until you get the frame that interests you
  • You select the size of the area to focus on so that the animal is clear (if the size you already had does not suit you)
  • You are metering with light Matrix / Multi or center weighted
  • You place the focus area on your animal and press the shutter button halfway
  • You can recompose the shot if you want, while keeping the shutter button pressed halfway
  • At this time, the light and the atmosphere of the photo should suit you and your subject should be sharp.
  • Observe the edges of the frame to be sure that nothing is lying around (car roof, finger, piece of sun visor, neighbor’s head)
  • Check that your photo is roughly right (horizon line displayable on most cameras)
  • All good ? Finish fully engaging the shutter. You have your shot

At first you will get confused and miss some shots. And again here we do not manage the light metering in a more complex way, we do not touch the speed or the aperture or the compensation, everything is automatic. But you can train at home before leaving or just 1 hour in your lodge before the first safari. You will quickly acquire the reflexes.

If you master these steps you will manage to have clear shots with a nice light in a good part of the cases. It’s already great!

Lion looking at the horizon
Perfectly sharp lion, correct exposure

How to freeze the action

Without going into detail on the basic parameters in photo, one of them is speed. It corresponds to the exposure time (how long the sensor is exposed to your scene before being turned off).

For example a speed of 500 means 1 / 500th of a second, so 2 milliseconds.

If your sensor remains on for a long time and your subject moves you will find yourself at best with a “ghost” effect that is often found on shots of cityscapes with cars or fireworks.

Ghost effect in a city
We no longer distinguish the cars but their light trace

On safari, if you have a fast moving subject (a bird that lands, an impala that is afraid) and your speed is too slow, your photo will be blurred.

P mode

The P (Program Auto) mode adjusts the speed to avoid blurring due to your own movements when you hold the camera, but it ignores everything about the scene you are taking a picture of.

Program shift

In P mode the device allows you, however, by turning a dial to change the speed (it will adjust the other parameters accordingly) so that you have the same exposure, really on the screen you will not see the difference in terms of light , but the speed will be more or less according to your choice. This can be called program shift on some devices, you have to look in your manual.

So by increasing the speed you make sure to freeze the movement.

Of course you can not do what you want because your device has technical limitations, it generally shows you a range within which you can evolve and / or blocks you if you try to decrease or increase too much the speed.

What speed to choose? To freeze the movement on safari, if you already have the chance to come across an action scene, to succeed in focusing (AFC) by keeping the subject in the frame try to be between 1500 and 2000.

If it is a scene of animals walking slowly a speed of 1000 should assure you of something sharp.

Impala running
Impala running through, 1 / 1000th

The video

If you think or your guide thinks there is going to be some action and you are not sure of yourself about the shots, my best advice is to switch to video. Shoot the scene as best you can in full HD or 4K if possible. You will have a great video from which you may even be able to take some snapshot.

In this example, we thought from the behavior of the lions that action was going to happen. Given the distance the photos would have rendered nothing, so I patiently waited in video mode.