Photography Tips for Beginners on Safari

by Courtney Hoffman

Are you an avid safari-goer and lover of the African bush, but can’t seem to ever get that perfect photo? While mental Kodak moments are well worth the travel miles, there is nothing like capturing that once-in-a-lifetime game viewing experience yourself. So, get ready to take your camera on an adventure because here are some easy photography tips to read up on before you head out on safari.

Always have your camera and gear ready

As soon as you climb on board the game viewing vehicle, get your camera ready. Place your camera and anything you might need right by your side. When on safari, anything can happen at any moment, so it is always best to be ready for action. Don’t forget to make sure the camera is securely on the seat beside you or in the pocket in front, as it can be a bumpy ride through the African bush.

Know your camera settings

Manual mode is always the best when it comes to wildlife photography. However, controlling every aspect of your camera will give you the best results regarding good quality photos. Here are some settings that produce high results:

ISO: keep it between 100 – 200

APERATURE: Wide aperture since there is low lighting on early morning and late afternoon game drives. F5.6 is a good place to start.

SHUTTERSPEED: The faster, the better for wildlife photography – 1/250th of a second is ideal

Use lighting and time of day to your advantage

Whether you have chosen to go on safari in Chobe National Park, South Luangwa or any other of the fantastic wildlife destinations in Africa’s Eden, the best time of day to go on safari is either dawn or dusk, when most animals tend to be active, hunting, or visible. Fortunately, early morning and late afternoon are also ideal for photography when the light is not as harsh. The best colour appears when the sun rises, during the golden hour (the hour before sunset) and during sunset itself with an array of oranges and reds.

Keep your equipment clean in the bush

Being in the bush on safari can take its toll on camera equipment. Make sure to wipe the dust off and protect your camera during a safari. You will also get better-quality photos without smudges and streaks on our lens. Lens caps and camera bags are a must when travelling with your camera. Ziplock bags in various sizes are a great option for keeping your equipment dust free. Small paint brushes and bulb blowers can assist with getting dust out of any nooks and crannies.

Mind the weather

While your camera is at the ready, be sure that you don’t unwittingly leave your gear in full sun. Even if your equipment is safely in a camera bag, it can be easily damaged if it gets too hot. So, always have your camera and camera bag in the shade, or throw a light-coloured towel or sarong over it if necessary. Conversely, a downpour can happen suddenly in the wet season, and you don’t want to scramble for your things. If you are travelling in the emerald season, consider buying a quality dry bag for your gear.

Rookie mistakes to avoid

The most common mistake every photographer has made at least once is forgetting to check if an SD card is in the camera. Nothing is worse than seeing a lion in front of you, grabbing your camera to take what could be THE picture to find a notification saying there is no memory card. Another good habit is checking to see if your battery has enough power to last a 3-to-4-hour drive to avoid the same disappointment.

SD card fill up quicker than you might expect! However, rather than keeping all your eggs in one basket (or photos in this case), consider carrying more SD cards with less storage capacity. This way, you are less likely to lose all of your photos if something goes wrong.

Rest assured that once you go on safari for the first time, it is unlikely to be your last. There will always be a better angle, better light or more unique wildlife encounter. Enjoy the photographic journey – soon you’ll be as excited to take a photo of a dung beetle in the perfect light as you would be seeing an elephant for the first time!

Courtney Hoffman photography tips for beginners on safari


Courtney Hoffman was born in Lusaka, Zambia where she spent the majority of her childhood in the bush. Her family travelled quite a bit during her early years, offering the opportunity to live in Southern African countries such as Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Malawi. Courtney is Canadian by nationality and studied Hospitality in Canada, enabling her to travel and work in different countries around the world.

After many years abroad, Courtney found her heart yearning for Zambia again and finally returned in 2017 before making a permanent home for herself in the Zambian bush amongst the wildlife.