Any holiday to the national parks of East Africa is a great opportunity to practise photography and hopefully get some stunning shots. The reality is that it is very difficult; many animals have adapted to blend in with the environment, during the day they are resting and often hiding, and practically it is hard to get close up to a wild animal, which means lots of shots with a vast panorama of dun-coloured savannah with some tiny non-descript animals somewhere in the distance. It would be extremely lucky to get a shot of a chase or a kill, all of which tend to happen extremely quickly and more often than not in low light conditions of dusk and dawn (hence the reason for game drives happening at these times when the animals are most active). Therefore, some preparation is essential.
Security of Your Camera Equipment
Ensure your cameras and your equipment are protected against loss, damage and theft. Keep them on you at all times and in your carry-on luggage for the journey. Most thefts of high value items like cameras are opportunistic, so don’t make it easy for a thief to quickly lift something that has been put down. The vehicles we have are safe, and there will always be a driver and guide to look after the belongings, but don’t take risks by leaving cameras lying on the seats while you are popping into a shop to buy a drink for example. On safari, open windows are an opportunity for monkeys to reach in, it does happen, so common sense and a vigilant attitude will be your biggest protection.
Protect Equipment from the Elements
Safaris are hot, dusty and camera equipment needs to be well protected from the elements. A camera bag or case is a good idea. Fine dust can easily get into the working parts. The vehicles are driving offroad (albeit slowly), and the roads themselves are full of potholes, so make sure the cameras don’t get knocked about.
Visibility on Safari
During a game drive, the vehicles will drive to areas where animals are in sight, and the drivers are mostly in touch by radio or phone. You will be sitting in seats with sliding windows through which you can use the camera, but the driver may well ask that windows are shut if the dust is too heavy or if the animals are too close (especially near baboons). However, the safari minivan has a pop-up roof allowing you to stand up and take shots without any impedance. If you are using one of our overland trucks then the windows roll up and you will have a high vantage point from which to shoot photos. In the safari vans, there is not enough room for every person to stand up and use the pop-up roof, so everyone will have to take turns.
The lodges have power points for charging and Kenya uses the same three-point plug as used in the UK and they have the same 240V supply. If there is a generator then they will also supply 240V, but be careful of power surges. In the campsites, there are occasionally power points, but not many, so your options are to either bring a small solar charging unit with you or a charging cable that can be plugged into the cigarette lighter in the vehicle, of lots of spare batteries. The overland trucks have power points in the main seating area which provide a 24V supply and are fine for small devices like camera batteries. A lot of shops in Nairobi and the main cities like Arusha, Embu, Naivasha and Naro Moru will sell a limited selection of supplies like camera batteries and memory cards, but this not to be relied on.
Lenses and filters
To appreciate the vast panorama of the savannah a wide angle lens is obviously a good idea, but a standard 52mm lens will also be sufficient. To get the classic shot of a wild animal it is necessary to use a long lens up to 270mm. Also recommended would be a UV or skylight filter, and a polarising filter to make the best of a burnished blue sky that tends to overexpose a shot.
These are probably very important to take, at least the small gorilla pods or clasps that will grip to something and hold the camera steady. Your best shots may well be in low light and using a zoom, so it will be important to hold the camera steady and for a long exposure. People using iPhones can also buy grips that will hold it steady. Clearly, there won’t be a lot of space to set up a large tripod in the vehicle so enthusiasts would be encouraged to take both, a larger one for panoramic evening shots from camp for example, and a small one to stand or grip onto the vehicle in some way while you are on the move.
The KWS Wildlife Code
- Respect the privacy of the wildlife, this is their habitat.
- Beware of the animals, they are wild and can be unpredictable.
- Don't crowd the animals or make sudden noises or movements.
- Don't feed the animals, it upsets their diet and leads to human dependence.
- Keep quiet, noise disturbs the wildlife and may antagonize your fellow visitors.
- Stay in your vehicle at all times, except at designated picnic or walking areas.
- Keep below the maximum speed limit (40 kph/25 mph).
- Never drive off-road, this severely damages the habitat.
- When viewing wildlife keeps to a minimum distance of 20 meters and pull to the side of the road so as to allow others to pass.
- Leave no litter and never leave fires unattended or discard burning objects.
- Respect the cultural heritage of Kenya, never take pictures of the local people or their habitat without asking their permission, respect the cultural traditions of the area and always dress with decorum.
- Stay over or leave before dusk, visitors must vacate the Park between 6.00 p.m. - 6.00 a.m. unless they are camping overnight. Night game driving is not allowed.