As much as I wanted to click away at every turn, it was not always culturally acceptable.
Carrying a mirrorless DSLR would have allowed me to capture so much when I was away from the touristy areas. Pulling out a large camera in poverty-stricken areas doesn’t always feel right. If you feel in your gut that it’s wrong to use your camera, then it is probably wrong. I have visually explosive moments etched in my memory as on many occasions I chose not to take a photograph. It’s important to be respectful of culture and adapt.
Depending on the country, it’s a good idea to have small change or something you can exchange when your taking a photo.
The difficult thing here is that as soon as you ask permission, the natural moment has gone and all of a sudden, you’re taking a posed image. It’s even more difficult if they can’t understand you and you’ve not only lost the moment but now there’s confusion. One tip here is to take the image as you see it naturally, if you feel you can, then drop the camera downward and connect directly with them, offering them a gift. They will most likely pose for a photo and that’s okay, everyone is happy, and you’ve got the before and after. It’s all very much a part of the photographic journey in Africa.
When we made connections with people from the local community, we’d listen to their stories and more than not, they would end up taking us with them, to local markets, to their villages or their home.
This, photographically, is one of the most valuable opportunities you can have. African people are very hospitable and we found ourselves off the tourist track experiencing a side of Africa that’s not in the brochures. There is a deep sense of privilege, being invited into villages, into their homes with your camera. On these occasions we were never asked to trade or offer money, it was authentic hospitality on their part, and on our part, a moving and humbling experience. Of course, even though it’s not expected, leaving a gift is courtesy.
Traveling With Camera Gear
Try and limit your gear to 7kg so that you can keep your gear with you while travelling internally throughout Africa.
Its a good idea to travel with a plain cheap camera bag with more internal pockets than external ones. When you carry it, wear the back pack on your chest side, in reverse to how you would normally wear it, and in the car, place your gear low to the ground and cover it. As beautiful as Africa and it’s people are, the built up city areas can be a haven for theft.
Keeping Your Gear Clean
Africa has many unsealed roads and townships so the level of dust particles in the air is much greater. If you need to change a lens, hold the camera downwards away from the direction of the wind.
Take a plastic bag inside your back pack and use that as a covering shield while changing lenses if you have to. If your new to photography, then practise changing your lens without the need of looking at it. Take quite a few lens cloths. You can get them cheaper from optical stores. Lens cleaning tissue paper is also excellent and handy because you can dispose of it. Make sure you include a blower in your cleaning kit. You’ll need it!
No matter where you travel, take loads of SD cards or compact flash disks. You will use them all. It’s better to have smaller amounts of storage per card.
Example, 10 x 8GB cards is better than 3 x 32GB. The simple reason is that if you have a card that becomes corrupt, you’ll only lose whats on the card. Keep a snap lock bag in your camera bag and write ‘Used’ on it. Place the used cards inside and this will help you keep some amount of order.
Enjoy your journey!
There are many options out there for Safaris such as joining specifically designed photographic tours where they provide all the gear but if that’s not your style, hiring a private driver is an excellent start to your photographic adventure and it’s affordable if you shop around.
Cilla from Tanzania Escape helped tailor make our first eight days with a private driver and this helped tremendously toward being able to visualise what I wanted to photograph and then communicate that with our driver. I think he loved the challenge. Tanzania particularly is a difficult area to self-travel due to the amount of policing that lines the streets. Our driver took complete control while traveling through Tanzania and then on Safari, he had the knowledge and expertise to help me seek out those shots I was dreaming of.
Namibia and Botswana on the other hand are extremely easy to self-drive. We travelled in a hired Toyota Hilux fitted out as a camper which we hired from Caprivi Car Hire in Namibia.
The beauty of self driving was being able to park ourselves dead centre in the middle of National Parks and wake up in amongst it all with the glorious early morning light. At times we felt like we were in Jurassic Park. Traveling in this manner helps achieve the shots that no one else is taking, as you’re on your own. Our most loved isolated spots were Ihaha in The Chobe National Park. Botswana have strict poaching laws and because of this the animals are protected and the environment is lush with wild life.
Traditionally a wide angle lens is used for landscapes but if there was one lens I would have left at home, it would have been this one. Your telescopic lens is essential while on safari so why not use this for landscapes as well.
Landscape photography is not always about the expanse, but about the textures and colours and depth as well. Even though I took my 16-35mm, I found myself using the 70-200mm more than usual. I was avoiding lens changes at all cost due to the constant debris in the environment. Even though telescopic is not considered ideal for landscapes, I found it offered a different landscape perspective. If you have to travel light and want to avoid changing lenses, then work your telescopic more than it’s used to. The lighter you can travel the better!
Choosing a tripod
A Carbon Fibre tripod is light for travelling. The Job Gorilla is also excellent and easy to travel with.
You can purchase the Gorilla according to the weight of your gear. It’s good for awkward spaces like Safari vehicles and easy to attach to parts of the car. When you’re using a standard tripod in a safari car it can get quite crowded so bring the tripod legs together and use it in a monopod fashion so that your not in the way of others.