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Au Natural: Choosing a Photo Safari
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A wildlife photography tour can be a big investment, so it is important to spend time ensuring that the tour you choose is the right one for you. Andy and Sarah Skinner run through some invaluable tips for making sure you book the perfect photography safari.

It is often the case that photography workshops are more expensive than ‘non-photo’ workshops and safaris. This is because you will receive many additional benefits when compared to a ‘standard’ group wildlife tour. There are many photography companies and individuals offering a wide variety of photo safaris and workshops and it can be a little overwhelming when choosing who to go with...

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...Here are a few pointers to help you choose the right one for you.

The importance of feedback and guest testimonials

With any purchase we do in today’s world, it is always recommended to look at past client feedback. Choose a photography company that has been recommended to you, or has good customer feedback on their photo safaris. Don’t be afraid to ask the company if they have guests who are happy to offer you direct feedback and their opinions too, as gaining that first-hand experience from previous guests will help provide you with the confidence that the tour and the operator are right for you.

Expert Guides and Photographers
A photography-based tour is the perfect forum in which you can learn how to develop and expand your photography skills, therefore, a good photographic safari should be led by a photographer who has both a wealth of photographic experience and also extensive guiding or hosting experience.

It is always important to understand exactly who is hosting your safari and this gives you the opportunity to look at their experience, their photographic portfolio and to be inspired by the potential of what you can learn from your photography guide. Liking the style of their work is a good indicator of which photo-guide to choose.

A good photographic guide also goes far beyond just having technical experience of the camera. Guides who have experience of hosting groups, knowledge of the specific area, good ‘field craft’ and also of photographing the specific species you are interested in, is also important. Their experience of photographing such species will generally ensure you are in the right place at the right time to anticipate behaviour, which will translate through into your imagery and reap significant dividends.

Understanding levels of photography tuition

Any photographic-specific safari should always strive to offer the same opportunities for all clients. Providing optimum vehicle positioning, plenty of room in the game vehicles, being in the right place at the right time for the light, along with providing ample creative opportunities, are all really important. Understanding in advance what levels of tuition your guide is prepared to impart and provide is another vital facet of ensuring the tour is right for you. This may sound somewhat obvious but, in the world of photographic tours and workshops, there can be varying levels of tuition provided by your photographic host. Having some prior, direct dialogue with the tour company, or the photography guide leading the tour, will help you understand what you can expect.

If you want to develop your photography skills to the next level and be in the right place to take advantage of the light and creative opportunities, then it is best to choose a photo safari workshop where your photography guide will be on-hand to openly offer comprehensive tuition and full creative direction with your photography.

A good photographic guide should also spend some time on a one-to-one basis with you before your first excursion. This is often done via email, in advance of your booking, to find out what you would specifically like to achieve on your photographic safari. For even the most experienced photographers there is always something you can learn from your host and often from others in your group; another integral benefit of joining a photographic safari.

Guide-to-guest ratio and group size
Always look at the group size of the tour to understand how many photography guides are provided and the guest-to-host ratio. A smaller group, or a multiple number of photographic guides, will ensure that your guide can be more focused to each guest.

Photo safaris and workshops that have more than one photographic guide have a huge advantage, as you can learn different tips and creative styles from each of your guides. Always remember, the guide will not be able to dedicate their time solely to just one guest so, if you have very specific goals, or want to spend your time with just one specific species, then you may want to consider a bespoke one-to-one photography workshop.


THE IMPORTANCE OF SAFARI VEHICLES

When looking at vehicle-based photographic safaris, it is important to consider the type of safari vehicles the company use. An opened-sided vehicle, with the option of side mounts to place a bean bag, or to mount a clamp for your gimbal head, would be the best option. A roof hatch is an advantage, however bear in mind that the game vehicles used in southern Africa are generally different to those used in East Africa and most do not have roof hatches. Instead they offer wide-open sides nd tiered seating.

Ensure you know how many guests are in the vehicle before booking, as you need as much room as possible to manoeuvre and for your photography gear. A three-rowed safari vehicle that provides a row for each guest, or one that is limited to just four guests will be ideal and provide plenty of room.

It is also worth asking where your photo guide will sit in the vehicle. Usually they would take the seat at the front next to the field guide, who will be driving the vehicle, to ensure optimum communication and the best positioning at sightings. Ideally you do not want your photo guide taking up a seat that is meant for guests.

Timing
Ensure the dates of the tour are timed for optimum game viewing of the subjects you wish to photograph. In Africa especially, there can be regional variations even with the same species. A good photographic safari should always take the best timing into account, so again this is where the experience of the operator and photographic guides, and their knowledge of the area, will come into play.

Maximising photographic opportunities

Photography safaris are all about maximising photographic potential and ample time spent game-viewing. Being out in the first light and optimising all light conditions is key, so check what times you will be out on location, understand the approximate durations and, most importantly, check that there is flexibility to stay out longer, where a specific sighting may grant such a necessity.

Camera rental
If you are just venturing into the world of wildlife photography and not be quite ready to invest in purchasing your own photography equipment, or would like to take some different kit with you on tour, ask the company you are using if they rent camera equipment, or have an affiliation with any camera rental companies who would provide you with discounts.

Ask for the finer details
A good photo safari company should think of all of the little details too. The weight of transporting your camera kit can soon add up and it’s important to know if any internal flights come with extra weight allowances for you as part of the cost. Many operators will include this but this is always worth checking. This way you can factor in what you can carry and, if necessary, any extra costs that you need to be aware of.

When doing your research, ask the photo safari company how they can help you logistically in the field with your gear. Some will be able to provide you with additional aids, such as the loan of a beanbag for stabilising long lenses, which can really help with making your life easier.

Financial Security

Lastly, but very importantly, always make sure that any safari you book is financially protected. Photo safaris are a big investment and all reputable companies or individuals should be able to provide details of how your money is protected and the bodies and accreditations that are used to protect against supplier failure.

With all of this in mind, you are now ready to book the photography safari of a lifetime.

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Andy & Sarah Skinner

An award-winning husband and wife professional wildlife photography team from the UK, with over 15 years of experience photographing wildlife and extensive experience guiding and hosting wildlife photographic safaris to a wide variety of wildlife prolific destinations across the globe.

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