Safari Photo Tips

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What are the most distant subjects that man is trying to photograph?

Of course, the stars and celestial bodies. Astronomy is nothing but photography even if it can appeal to other wave lenght than the visible spectrum, has more budget equipment and sometimes uses physical laws (Doppler Effect) to reach conclusions in a shot or recording.

But despite all the technical complexity, in astronomy as in more conventional photography, the best way to get a picture (or a signal) is still to get closer to its subject.

That’s why we built space telescopes, like Hubble. We can build much bigger telescopes on Earth, it will not remove the 100km layer of atmosphere that disturbs the photos.

This atmosphere contains air but also many particles which absorb part of light, part of contrast and can also distort colors and information.

Space is a vacuum and nothing can alter the photo.

In Safari the animals are not so far you may say. Yes of course, but your expectations are also much higher, you want to have as much details as possible and let me tell you that what’s in the air between you and these animals is far from having no effect on your shots.

Before you even talk about what’s in the air, air itself, even if it’s pure, can be your enemy.

You can see that the shot below is blurry, from the video you understand immediately why. The hot air rising from the ground makes it impossible to take pictures.

Blurry elephants because of heat wave
X-T2 f/5.6 1/1250sec ISO-250 400mm

Even if the heat wave is not an issue (cloudy day), the air which separates you from your subject can contain a lot of dust and small particles which will attenuate the contrasts and therefore the final rendering of your shot.

The elephants were located at around 750m while the lilac below was located at 25m.

Lilac-Breasted Roller
X-T2 f/8 1/500sec ISO-200 400mm

You do not need to be so close to get good photos

But depending on where you are, the outside temperature, the time of day (sun at its zenith or morning golden hour) it may be impossible to take the shot you want.

Leopard on rock
X-T2 f/5.6 1/1250sec ISO-200 400mm – Leopard at 50m

My advice is if you can GET CLOSER

Computing distance

How did I compute the distance on the shots?

Take the example of elephants.

  • Focal = 400mm
  • Height of the subject (about 3m for an African elephant, therefore 3000mm)
  • Number of subjects that fit: Given the size of the elephant, I could put about 9+ one above the other on the same photo
  • Sensor height: It is an APS-C of the X-T2, 15.6mm

So this gives us:

Of course this is computed on the original photo and not on a crop of the photo.

Quick distance assessment

One way to quickly assess the distance is to use the formula on a specific focal length. So I give you a benchmark for a 600 mm full format equivalent focal:

You have about 20m each time you stack an animal that is 80 cm high (there are many that make this height like the cheetah, the hyena, the impala). If it is a Kudu / Lion type animal or about this size, it is around 40m, if it is an elephant its more like 80m.

Easy to remember: 20,40,80.

So if you stack 5 elephants at 400mm APS-C, you’re about 400m away. You stack 6 lions at 600mm Full Frame you are at 240m. If it’s 9 impalas at 400mm APS-C you are at 180m.

If you were at 300mm Full Format equivalent (200mm APS-C), simply divide the previous value by 2.

My experience is that if at 600 mm Full Frame equivalent you have an animal that you can stack more than 5 times, you start to be at the limit in terms of distance.

Obviously if it is a snake or a field mouse you will be a few meters away, this remark does not apply.

Tell a story

This is a tip that you will often see, it applies to everything in a photo.

If you are a beginner, you’re going to take ALL the shots, the problem is that by reviewing your photos, you will no longer feel the emotion you had when taking it or maybe you will find it uninteresting.

Of course you will sometimes be lucky and you will take pictures of scenes so beautiful that you will have nothing to do to make your photos speak.

But sometimes it will be more complicated.

You have 3 examples, for each the first photo is as it could be taken by a beginner and the second photo as it could be taken by someone who’s looking to express more things.

4 are with the Lumix FZ-300 , 2 with the X-T2 and 2 with a Sony NEX-6. You see that even more than your equipment, the scene in front of you and what you do with it transforms the photo.

Viewing angle and framing

It is not an absolute rule but it is very useful when you start. If you do not know where to place your subject in the frame, go learn about therule of third in photography.

Once you understand the main lines of this technique, do not hesitate to display the grid on your screen (see your manual).

In Safari, you are generally taking picture from above in your 4×4. Sometimes you will take pictures standing up in an open 4×4.

This will give a high angle of view to all of your photos if your subjects are not very far away. In aclosed vehicle you have windows, open them and take picture from below.

With an open vehicle, if you can stand next to the driver, it is the best place to take photos, otherwise do not hesitate to twist to squat.

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