African safari

Mastering safari photography: 6 tips & tricks from the pros




Lauren Dold


Mastering safari photography

A beautiful blend of technical mastery and creative expression, photography is an remarkably subjective and personal art. But it’s also a skill, and while there’s no substitute for passion, perseverance, and a keen eye for detail, taking advice from those who snap for a living can only help hone your craft. For beginners or seasoned travel photographers, the best camera for safari is the one you’ve got. Whether capturing rugged Namibian landscapes, a wild gorilla portrait or an Okavango Delta sunset, these tips and tricks from four professional photographers will elevate your craft to achieve better safari photography, and immortalise your safari forever.


Master your safari photography gear

For US-based photographer Andrew Ling, who recently travelled to our Wilderness camps in Namibia, having a sound grasp of your equipment is his number one tip. “Understand your camera and its settings thoroughly. Learn how to adjust aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and other settings without hesitation”, he advises. 

It’s equally important to regularly clean and maintain your gear, and check it throughout the day when shooting. “There's nothing worse than coming home at the end of the day to see there was a dust speck on your lens or sensor!” says Andrew. “And practice with your equipment BEFORE you are on the shoot!” he adds. “When I first started photography, I used to just sit on my couch in the evenings, fiddling through every single menu item/function in my camera, just to get familiar with it as much as possible”. Dedicate time to acquaint yourself with every nuance of your camera, for it is the tool that translates your vision into reality.

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Consider lighting

For UK photographer and filmmaker Ollie Pritchard-Barrett, who spent time filming in and around the Wilderness camps in Zimbabwe and Zambia, lighting is the first thing he considers when out shooting. “Always think about the lighting first! Shooting into the light is the pro tip that I apply to every project, whether photo or video”, he says.


Experimenting with backlighting and low angles can produce captivating results, breathing life into your compositions.

Look for subjects with distinct and recognisable shapes; birds in flight, towering giraffes, or lone trees on a plain produce striking silhouettes.


“Angling your camera to shoot towards the sun with your subject backlit or side-lit will create layers of contrast in your image and separate the subject from the background, making it pop out of the frame”, says Ollie.


He says this this tip is best combined with a low sun, or “golden hour” as photographers call it. We call it game drive time; the hours you’ll typically be out exploring on safari, and a great time to catch wildlife on the move.


When the sun goes down, photography can become tricky on safari. Though your guide may have a spotlight, shining directly at animals can impair their eyesight, making them vulnerable. Once golden hour is over, sometimes the best night safari photography tip is to pack away your camera and enjoy the after-dark experience. 

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Play with composition

When it comes to composition, it’s all about experimenting with different angles and perspectives to add depth and interest to your photos. “Familiarise yourself with the principles of composition, such as the rule of thirds, leading lines and framing”, says Andrew.

After spending several weeks at our Wilderness camps in Zambia and Zimbabwe, travel and lodge photographer Teagan Cunniffe says prioritising simple, thoughtful composition is what gives her images an elegant and atmospheric feel. "Keep it simple,” she says. “Amid the excitement of wildlife encounters, it's easy to overcrowd your frame with unnecessary elements. A clean composition ensures that your subject takes centre stage, delivering more impactful and memorable photographs”, adds Teagan.

Teagan’s top tip is to identify what you love most about a scene, and set about isolating that from distracting elements whether that means waiting for an animal to break from the herd or move free of foliage, or using a telephoto lens to zoom in on one aspect. “Where possible, physically move yourself, or objects, so that only the bare essentials are left in a frame that strongly convey a story. I love shooting through foliage at a wide aperture and often use grass or leaves to hide areas of a composition that I can’t physically eliminate. This has an added bonus of creating depth and intrigue in your imagery”.

South African photographer and videographer Chris Joubert has spent countless hours photographing the continent’s wild subjects. He was one of the first to visit and photograph Wilderness Usawa in the Serengeti, where the abundant herds kept him and his camera busy. “When shooting wildlife always try and shoot from a lower angle instead of shooting down onto your subject. This will create a more natural looking image”.

Chris’s tip for photographing wildlife while on game drives is to try to move further away from the subject, and always sit in the lowest possible seat in the vehicle.


If photography is your priority on safari, book a private vehicle and give yourself the freedom to move around and get the shot you want. 

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Understand animal behaviour

The way a hippo disappears beneath the water before launching into a gaping, dramatic “yawn”; the turn of a bird’s head before it takes flight, or the freeze of a steenbok before it bolts for cover. These are the signs that all good wildlife photographers know, the “tells” that they rely on to get the shot. When your subjects are wild animals, being able to anticipate their movements and behaviour is key for the best wildlife safari photography. 

“Study and understand the behaviour of the animals you're likely to encounter. Be a scientist first, THEN be a photographer”, says Andrew Ling. This will help you anticipate animal movements and their environment, resulting in more authentic images. The second key tip? Be patient and observant. “Sometimes the best moments happen when you least expect them. Whether it's the perfect lighting or an interesting expression, photography rewards those who are the most patient”, says Andrew.

While on safari you’re bound to encounter a massive variety of wildlife and subject matter. Seeking expert insight here will help you better understand animal behaviour. “Some of my most memorable images have come through the direct help of guides”, says Teagan. “Having a guide with you who has an understanding of both photography and wildlife behavior is a game changer. Whether it is angling a vehicle or walking on foot, a photographic guide knows how to keep a situation both safe for animals and humans, as well as maximize on photographic potential. I always ask for guides with a photographic background to accompany me on shoots”.

Aside from training our guides on how to cater to photographers, on a safari with Wilderness, wildlife photography isn’t only confined to game drives, or even walks. At certain camps throughout Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia, you’ll have the chance to settle in to one of our strategically placed hides and wait for the wildlife to come to you. Here, patience is key, but where else could you expect to come lens-to-toe with an elephant? Mostly overlooking waterholes, the camp hides are a good place to practice Chris Joubert’s tip of getting eye-level or low down with your subject, especially in the heat of the day when wildlife gathers to drink.

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Prioritise storytelling

When it comes to the storytelling power of photography, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Beyond mastering his gear and experimenting with composition, Andrew spends time planning visual narratives. “Think about the story you are trying to tell, before you even start shooting. Days, weeks, months before!”

You may consider how you might explain extraordinary sightings or landscapes; try to capture the essence of a place by taking a wide-angle look at the scene, including as much context as you can in an image. Leaving space and using landscape to tell a story is just as valuable as a zoomed-in close-up.

Your Wilderness guide will help you paint the full picture. Familiar with the local wildlife, your guide will not only try to put you in the best possible position to capture your subject, but offer context and guidance to the scene. What may look to you like a mound of sand is a hyena den to your guide; the imperceptible gap in the foliage is actually a well-used game path; or a messy cluster of twigs, an eagle’s nest.

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Continuously learn and experiment

“Don't be afraid to try new things and push your creative boundaries!” says Andrew.

Ongoing learning and experimentation is essential in any creative pursuit. Andrew encourages photographers to stay updated on trends, techniques, and technology, embracing workshops, books, and peer feedback. “Critique your own images after the shoot, be honest with yourself. What did you do well? What could you improve on next time? Actively seek constructive feedback from peers and mentors”, he adds. 

Teagan chips in with her last tip, “Make mistakes. Blur subjects, and break compositional rules. There are many technically brilliant images out there – what stands out to me are images that show subjects, behaviours and landscapes in ways that I have never thought of before”.

Master your gear, understand composition, connect with your subjects, and embrace continuous learning; whichever camera you take on safari, remember these tips and you’ll unlock the full potential of your craft and take-home memory cards full of safari moments you’ll never forget. 

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