Travel Tips: Taking Photos on Safari


Male lion in the early morning light near Lake Ndutu in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Photo from an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

“In many ways safari photos have become the hunting trophies of the modern day,” photographer Melissa Kay wrote in a recent article for the London newspaper The Independent.

Whether you’re a photography hobbyist or someone who barely knows how to take a picture with your phone, Ujuzi wants to help you bring back the best photographic trophies possible from your trip to East Africa.

If you use a digital SLR (a camera with interchangeable lenses):

  • A zoom lens has many advantages. Safari conditions aren’t always best for changing lenses on your camera — in dusty or sandy areas, debris can get inside your camera as you switch lenses. Also, the more time you spend changing lenses, the more shots you’ll miss. Choose a zoom lens that extends to at least 300 mm. Longer lenses (400 mm and above) have the advantage of enabling you to get distance shots and shots of birds and small animals, but they aren’t as good at taking focused shots when a vehicle is moving.
  • A monopod may be useful in some instances, but can be difficult to use inside a safari vehicle. Also, monopods may be prohibited on some walking excursions, such as gorilla treks, because animals (especially primates) can feel threatened by them. If your bring a monopod, it should collapse to fit easily into your daypack.
  • While in a vehicle, rest  the camera against the roof bars or window frame. Setting a bean bag under the camera adds stability. (Many companies make bean bags especially for supporting cameras; examples include the Kinesis SafariSack and the Pictureline Bean Bag Camera Support.*)
  • Pack a small camera-cleaning kit to keep the lens and sensor free of dust. A jeweler’s screwdriver will come in handy if any of the screws in your camera shake loose on a bumpy safari ride.

Not everyone wants to invest in a professional-level camera. And that’s okay. If you own one of the  newer smartphones or tablets, you already have a reasonably good camera on-hand. It won’t allow you to take amazing close-ups or crisp photos of starry nights, but it can be a great way to preserve memories of your daytime safaris.

Below are some hints for taking photos with an iPhone or iPad. Many of these tricks can be done with other phones, tablets and point-and-shoot digital cameras, although the specific commands may differ from model to model:

  • To reduce blurring when taking a shot, hold the phone close to your body.
  • Your phone will try to guess what object you want to focus on, but it won’t always guess right. On the screen, tap the part of the image where you want the camera to focus. A white or green square should appear, telling you that the camera got the message.
  • iPhones allow you to take panoramas. Do this by selecting “Panorama” under “Options,” then sweeping the camera from right to left or left to right.
  • Choose “HDR” or “High Dynamic Range” under “Options” to take better pictures when light is low or there are lots of shadows.
  • So you can always take a picture at a moment’s notice, make sure the camera icon appears on your phone’s “sleep” or “lock” screen. Unlock your phone by swiping on the camera icon, and it will go right to the camera function.
  • Check out some excellent tips for better iPhone (and general) photography from professional photographer Cotton Coulson on the National Geographic website.


To take a picture of a bird against the sky, use your camera’s HDR setting or overexpose the shot by using a wider aperture or a slower shutter speed than suggested by the automatic settings. This helps capture the bird’s colors and other details. Photo from an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

These tips are good no matter what type of camera you use:

  • Make sure you know how to use your camera before you leave for your trip.
  • Recharge your camera or batteries each night. All accommodations that Ujuzi uses, including tented camps, have recharging facilities.
  • Bring extra memory cards — you’ll likely take more pictures than you thought possible. Some people even bring a small portable hard drive to transfer photos to at the end of each day. You may also be able to upload photos to the web at accommodations that offer WiFi; but keep in mind that internet connections can be spotty in more remote areas, so don’t rely on this as your only backup.
  • Turn off the flash when taking pictures of the sunset or sunrise.
  • Turn on the flash when taking pictures with lots of shadows, even if it’s bright outside. The flash can help illuminate whatever’s inside the shadows.
  • Take some of your pictures with your subject off-center. This often creates a more interesting shot.
  • Objects in front of the sky — for example, a goshawk on top of a tree — can end up looking dark and shadowy in photos. To prevent this, use your camera’s HDR setting or overexpose the shot by using a wider aperture or using a slower shutter speed than suggested by the automatic settings.
  • And a piece of cultural advice: Never take pictures of people without getting permission first. Some people are happy to have their picture taken, others don’t like it, and others expect compensation for modeling. Seek advice from your guide.

Last but not least, don’t forget to come out from behind your camera every once in a while! From the fragrance of wild basil to the sound of elephants munching on shrubs to the feel of the breeze against your skin, safari is an experience for all the senses.

For more information about our safaris, visit the Ujuzi website or email us.

*Products are listed as for illustrative purposes only.