Tips for Epic Photos

I can't teach you how to be a great wildlife photographer in a paragraph. But I can give you a few tips. And those tips are pretty universal. So here we go.

Photography is 70 percent opportunity. Africa Dream Safaris is going to put those opportunities on your doorstep. Be prepared to capitalize on them.

Show up prepared. Don't buy a new camera and plan on learning on how to use it in Africa. That doesn't work. Practice BEFORE you go. Seems like elementary advice but people still ignore it.

Keep your shutter speed as high as you can. Learn its relationship to your camera's ISO and your lens' aperture opening. Arrive at a sighting ready to fire off a shot with a fast shutter speed. You never know what is going to happen and you are going to want to freeze that action.

The angle is important. Shooting down on a subject makes them look inferior. Shooting eye level gives them equal status. Looking up at them makes them heroic. Stay low whenever you can. Yes, you are at a disadvantage because you have to stay in the safari vehicle, but there will be opportunities. The rocks belong to the lions... and you'll be looking up at them often. Think about your angles. Ask your driver/guide to move. occasionally. Sometimes the same animal looks completely different from a slightly different angle.

Photographers refer to the glint in an animal's eye as a "catch light". A catch light is a reflection of the sun in the glossy part of the eye. Sometimes the sun will be behind the animal and this will be impossible. But often you can move to capture it. Watch for it.

Pay attention to your backgrounds. The setting is an important part of the story. Don't shoot big face close-ups just because you can. You can do that at a zoo. Sure, shoot some of them, but then reveal that background. You are in Africa... show it off! The backgrounds often make the picture. They tell the story. So many people ignore this.

Focus on the eyes. The eyes are your target. When people look at your photos their eye will go to the area with the sharpest focus first. Make that the eyes of the animal you are shooting. You'll kick yourself if you ignore this. Don't be afraid of out of focus foreground objects. It often gives your photos depth and a sense of "being there".

Pay attention to the light. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do as a photographer. If the sun is behind you the animal will be fully lit with all detail revealed... a good shot. But sidelight, with part of the animal in the shadows is mysterious... also a good shot. When the sun is behind the animal it rims its fur... epic. The light in Africa is your friend. Use it to your advantage. If it's not perfect... tell your guide to move around until it is.

Shoot details. Many times you will get to spend a lot of time with these animals. Don't forget to shoot some details. One of my favorite photos is of a lion's paw. Another is simply a series of paw prints in the mud. I once did a whole series of photos on full frame shots of different animal's fur.

Be patient. A lot of Safari companies hand out a checklist for "the big five". Their customers race around like they are on a scavenger hunt trying to check off each and every one on the list plus others. You are on a private safari. You are in control. Sit there. Observe. Wait. Eventually, something cool will happen. I've seen it time and time again. I'll be sitting on an animal sighting and other vehicles will stop by to see what we are looking at. They stay for a few minutes and drive off... then something super cool happens. Not every time... but many times. Wait for it!

Be creative. One of my coolest shots is an out of focus shot of a moving leopard. I intentionally shot the leopard with a slow shutter speed so it would blur. I love the shot because it's a blur of a magnificent animal the way you often see them in the Serengeti... like a blur out of the corner of your eye. It's real. I have another nice shot of a silhouetted giraffe against an orange sky with a silhouetted acacia tree next to it. Really cool. Experiment. Creativity is in the eye of the beholder. Make the photo yours... not something you are trying to mimic.

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