When planning for a safari, the first thing on my mind is always how I am to capture the best memories through photography.
To many, getting the perfect shot while capturing wildlife photos is sheer luck.
But my best Ugandan wildlife photographer Jonathan Benaiah, the Public Relations Officer Association of Uganda Tour Operators says otherwise.
I recently caught up with Benaiah and asked him to share tips on how to take the best safari photos.
Without hesitation, he agreed to list his top five tips on how to take the best safari photos.
On why people take photos when they travel, Benaiah says, “Why I think people take photos when they travel might be relatively different from what you think, but irrespective of the many reasons we might have, capturing memories that we can flip through several years down the road. It should be the main inspiration for us all to invest a bit more time and effort, into the process of taking photos; whether shooting a higher end DSLR camera or using a smartphone camera; which by the way is the best camera you can have because it is most of the time in your pocket whenever you need it.”.
Benaiah is one of those ‘Do It Yourself’ people and he practices a lot.
“Most of the things I know in photography and videography, I have taught myself, but I also get inspired by friends, a number of content creators, some on YouTube and Instagram,” he said.
He also reveals that he reads quite a lot about photography, and tries to keep an eye on trends in nature photography in particular.
“Lots of valuable information can be found on the internet.”
“I wouldn’t say I am one the best nature photographers in Uganda, but I sure do enjoy my time out in the wild. I like to tell you guys how extremely humbled and grateful I am at the way some of my photos have been received, and I am thankful for the opportunity to share a bit of what I have learnt and I am still learning,” he added.
Benaiah’s five best tips on taking the best wild photos;
- Book your trip in advance and plan to use a guide
“You must be like, is that really a tip, Jonathan?” But yes, it is! I know it might sound a bit lousy, but I think it might just be one of the most important things that break or make any trip.
Usually the time in the wild involves treading on paths unknown, so having a guide who knows the destination like a pro, will ensure that you know the right time to wake up to catch that stunning sunrise, the right time to be out on the game drive tracks to capture some of those iconic species.
Where to hike to get some cool landscape views, getting you that friendliness from the locals, but also making sure you do not get eaten by a hungry lion or fall off a cliff.
You will want to inform your guide before the trip about your expectations, for better planning.
- Light is king
Of course almost every photography class, if not all of them, will tell you that light is the heart of taking “dope” photos; the quality of light either makes or breaks a photo.
“The good, but also sometimes challenging thing about safari photos is the fact that you more than 95% depend on natural light, and you therefore need to know how to play around with it for your advantage”.
There are simple tricks when taking a photo of your subject, whether an animal, a stone or a friend.
Tips like putting yourself between the sun and the object, ensuring that you are on the lit side of your subject.
For example, having the sun to your back ensures that you aren’t shooting against the harsh rays of the sun, which often makes your subject come out dark. It is recommended to adjust your camera settings to allow enough light; very little light makes photos grainy and unclear, while too much light often makes photos pale and unattractive.
Always feel free to ask your guide/driver to change to a location that offers you better lighting.
Think about the photo, focus before you take it, be patient. Photography is about story telling.
I think the selfie-syndrome often gets us snapping away like crazy; perhaps we will also blame it on the large memory space that comes with smartphones today.
We have left far behind the days we used to have those ‘vintage point-and-shoot cameras’ which would let you take a few photos per film roll.
Today we enjoy the luxury of good quality cameras on our phones, and we enjoy clicking that camera button; but it’s more than just pressing the shutter.
Yes, some moments like a sprinting cheetah or a bird flying by might need you to be hasty; but most of the time it is best to first think about the photo before you take it.
Benaiah revealed that before taking a photo, he wants to think of the photograph as an imagination he wants to create with reality, it’s that creative thought process that goes on before he takes the photo that helps him tell a story.
“Of course if you are just learning this principle then it might dictate a longer time to get set, before you can comfortably press the shutter, but it works the magic.
I am proud to say that I have greatly improved in this area”.
When taking the photo, learn to focus on the moment first with your mind, then with your camera; and after that wait a bit longer for the perfect moment to begin snapping away.
“I have been a victim of “quick snap and run” some times. There was this one time in Murchison Falls National Park when I took several photos of a herd of elephants, and then just as I had just put my camera back, a cute little baby elephant ran out of the bush and did this crazy adorable dance, I missed it”.
He narrated a time moment during an evening game drive where they met this leopard lying in stealth waiting for prey to devour.
He took a couple of photos while it rested, but in his mind all he wanted was a photo of it roaring or yawning with it’s mouth wide open, and that’s where patience came to play.
“For more than 30 minutes I sat in the safari van waiting for the moment, and when it did, I was ready. There I was feeling so happy about myself because I had captured a moment that had gone forever, and was impossible to reproduce”.
So the principle is to first think of what you want the photo to look like, focus, wait for the moment and then take the shot.
Same principle applies if you are taking photos of friends on a trip; take your time and be creative.
- Find good gear that you know how to use, for each trip.
For someone wanting to go a bit more on the higher end, I recommend investing time in finding decent gear for the trip and understanding how to use it for different tasks.
To him, it’s not too much about the brand; whether Nikon, Sony, Canon, but it’s more about the fact that you can feel comfortable with my gear when out in the field and that you are confident it will serve the purpose for the trip.
“Plan to buy or hire at least 2 lenses, or a lens that has both a wide-shot, and telephoto (zoom lens) functionality. If you are to use a DSLR camera then I would recommend a telephoto lens of at least 300mm, or 400mm”.
This is because when you are out in the wild, most things will not be as close as you may expect them to be.
The second lens would be the wide lens which enables you to take those delicious landscape shots.
- Tweak or edit your photos a bit
Okay this is where many people like to get really fancy, but let it not go overboard.
“You want to use some of the photography tips shared above to try as much as possible come up with the most perfect version of a photo when in the field, and you also want to take more than one photo each time so that you have more copies to look at and compare when you get back to your hotel room, or back home after the trip”.
In summary, the purpose of editing a photo is to make corrections so that a photo looks better and more appealing to the eye.
Unless you are really a pro, your focus should be on just correcting the light in the photo and cropping out areas that look tacky.
“Editing should however not be overdone, unless you intentionally are aiming to communicate a particular emotion”.
There are many editing apps out there available on both Android and iOS, my favorite two are Light room and snapseed which are both free on phone. For my computer work I use Lightroom which comes at a fee, but there are free programs like the inbuilt windows image editor; and most of them work pretty much the same.
Note that like all other tips, editing skills improve with practice.
Maybe my bonus tip would be to put the camera to rest a couple of times, and just enjoy the moment.
“Some of the best moments can never be captured well but can surely be enjoyed and remembered. Take a few breaks from snapping away and just take in that beauty”.
While a photo speaks more than 1,000 words, sometimes a story of words retells an experience in a much better way.
All Photos by Jonathan Benaiah.