Sunset Safari Photography Tips


Wilderness Safaris


Northern Botswana and the Central Kalahari often serve up some of the most magical sunsets due to the flatness of the terrain. These provide perfect opportunities to also shoot silhouettes.



The perfect time is usually around sundowners while out on game drives. I have, on occasion, stopped early to find a perfect spot for sunset pictures whenever game was sparse. An ideal spot would be where there is the possibility of photographing game.



In the Linyanti, there are always possibilities of photographing elephants at sunset due to their abundance in the area. The image below was taken along the DumaTau floodplains in summer. We had just spent a considerable time with a pride of lions that had just finished a buffalo carcass and were all lying down to digest. As we pulled off, I saw an elephant bull in the distance walking towards the floodplain. We quickly drove to an ideal spot, set up our sundowner drinks and waited for him to approach. With cameras ready and a few sips of gin-and-tonic wetting the whistles, we waited for him to cross. In a textbook fashion, he casually started across the shallow waters.



Some sunsets can provide for rather unusual silhouette portraits. The image below is a perfect example. We had spent a couple of hours following wild dogs hunting around the Zibadianja Lagoon (Linyanti). The terrain was difficult to navigate as the vegetation was thick and there were a lot of dead trees and logs in the area. Effectively following the hunt was quite a challenge here.



At one point we were driving back and forth along the lagoon’s edge looking for possibilities of prey animals being chased into the water. This was how we spotted an impala ram hiding in the reeds and deep waters, having been chased by the pack. An impala that hesitates at the water’s edge often becomes prey so they are usually forced to take their chances against crocodiles and jump straight into the water.



At this stage, the wild dogs had disappeared and the sun was setting. As the water was turning crimson-gold, the impala started moving away from the reeds. While there was a strong possibility that we might not reconnect with the wild dogs again, we had a potentially great sighting of the impala swimming across in golden waters. As well as the possibility that a crocodile, or crocodiles, could take it out. Rich pickings! It was worth abandoning the search for the wild dogs this time. There was a clear patch away from the reeds that the impala had to go through to get to the mainland. This is where we focused our cameras as the ram came into clear view.



The Central Kalahari is also ideal for silhouette portraits due to its long stretches of flat landscape. The summer skies are a sight to see, especially when there are clouds in the west as the sun sets. These create a great background for silhouettes as golden sun rays light up the clouds from below.



The ideal spots are around waterholes as the animals come up to drink before dispersing for safety as nightfall creeps in. We were having our sundowner drinks around Kalahari Plains Camp’s waterhole and watched as small herds of springbok started towards the waterhole to drink. A lot of them were females with young but ideally we needed a big ram to pull off a great image. Eventually as the light was fading, a ram approached to drink. After he had his fill, he started off in the direction of the herd. Cameras started clicking as he paused at one point to look at the vehicle. This allowed for a perfect outline of the ram for the ideal silhouette.



Let us conclude with a few suggestions regarding this sort of creative photography. First I like to photograph subjects that can be easily identified. In cases of antelopes, males with distinctive horns are ideal. Again this is to aid in identification of the species. The colour temperature around sunsets is always high enough to allow for higher shutter speeds, without having to raise the ISO too high. This helps to reduce the sort of noise that comes with high ISO in certain cameras. The high shutter speed allows one to ‘freeze’ and compose the subject even if it is on the move. It is also important to ensure that the moving subject is in focus at all times, not the background. Because you are shooting in fading light here, it is important to open your aperture wide to allow as much light as possible into camera. This explains my low f-stops and higher shutter speeds in the images above.



Because the light may be fading here, it is often tempting to use flash. However this is not ideal as it illuminates the subject when you are, in fact, looking for the opposite. You would rather expose for your background and not the subject. If you are worried about lack of light in the background, there are ways to achieve this. The best is if you have a camera with exposure lock button, quickly point the camera at the bright background and press the lock button. With the button pressed, move the camera to recompose with the subject. Once you are happy with the composition of your image, take the picture. I have found this particular trick useful on many occasions when light was fading rather rapidly.



Now let’s get out there and carry on with our wildlife photography as we enjoy our sundowners!



Text and Photos: Ona Basimane



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