Wildlife photography in East Africa

Nature and wildlife photography is a fascinating genre, but to achieve success in this field you need not only sound photographic skills, but also a sense of adventure, a good nose for a chase and, in more remote places, a well-developed survival instinct.

In the course of my career, East Africa has become my main area of interest. I feel at home in the bush and out there in the savannah, surrounded by enormous herds of grazing animals and their predators, the big cats. Nowadays, I am sensitized enough to properly judge the risks and dangers involved in working in the area. This is particularly important to me as a professional, because my way of working is very different to that of a tourist on safari. It is simply not possible for me to spend days and weeks at a time in the safety of a vehicle or holed up in a cosy lodge.

In East Africa, the light is best for wildlife photography in the morning or afternoon. Around lunch time the temperatures are too high and the flickering haze makes photography difficult, this is the best time to relax and get some rest before the afternoon session.

East Africa offers similar shooting conditions all year round - 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. The actual time of the sunrise varies by only 15 minutes either side of 6:30am in the course of the entire year, and predator activity is at its most intense before and just after sunrise. After 9am, when the sun is high in the sky and it starts to get really hot, the light is no longer at its best for taking photos. Nevertheless, this is the time at which we can start to track daytime hunters such as cheetahs and leopards. Lions, with their acute night vision, only hunt in the daytime if they are extremely hungry or if their prey presents itself on a platter. Otherwise, they would expend too much energy hunting in the heat of the day.

Relaxing is the only sensible thing for a photographer to do around lunchtime, as it is impossible to capture sharp images at a range of more than about 50 meters in the flickering midday haze. Once things start to cool down a little, a typical afternoon shoot mirrors the morning program, working toward sunset.

Unless the animals themselves approach your parked vehicle, it is forbidden to photograph wildlife from closer than 25 meters without a special off-road or pro photographer license. If you don't have permission, fines can be as much as several hundred dollars per person in your group, and even extend to exclusion from the area, which can mean the end of the safari for everyone involved.

If you want to capture your subject at a reasonable magnification from a distance using an APS-C camera, you will need at least a 300mm lens and, ideally, a 1.4x teleconverter in reserve. I recommend you use at least a 400mm (or even a 500mm) lens if you are shooting with a full-frame camera. I used to take about 80 percent of my photos using a DX-format Nikon D2x with a 200-400mm Nikkor, but nowadays I use my full frame Canon EOS-1 Ds III and the 800mm lens for about half of my work. I sometimes use the 800mm with an EOS 7D too, giving me a 1300mm (equivalent) monster of a lens. I also use a full-frame Nikon D3 with a 200-400mm zoom to shoot about 25 percent of my photos.

Uwe Skrzypczak carrying two of his big lenses - one Canon, one Nikon - on
location in East Africa

As you might have guessed from that list of equipment, wildlife photography is, unfortunately, one of the most expensive genres there is, and the combination of expensive gear and high travel costs are enough to put off even the most determined photographer. 

When I was starting out and could only afford one long trip or two shorter trips per year, I had to carefully consider which lenses I could really use all year round. And remember - for the price of a prosumer telephoto and a teleconverter that spend eleven months of the year in a cupboard, you can easily rent a pro-grade super-telephoto for your major trips. If in doubt, rent. Don't risk an expensive purchase until you're confident that the equipment will prove indispensible.


Uwe Skrzypczak is a wildlife photographer based in Germany. You can see more of his work on his website www.serengeti-wildlife.com and read his blog at  http://www.uweskrzypczak.blogspot.com. He is also the author of several books about wildlife and wildlife photography.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.

Comments

Total comments: 24
JOSEPH NIGHTINGALE
By JOSEPH NIGHTINGALE (Dec 13, 2011)

I HEARD THAT IT IS A GREAT BOOK, BUT AFTER 2 DAYS I STILL CAN NOT DOWN LOAD THE BOOK

THANK YOU
PJNIGHT@AOL.CM

0 upvotes
photographynamkhanh
By photographynamkhanh (Oct 7, 2011)

Tôi là một photography nhỏ tuổi .tôi muôn được giúp đỡ về màu sắc trong 5d khi chụp dã ngoại chân dung con người.

0 upvotes
DannyFracture
By DannyFracture (Sep 27, 2011)

Excellent artical & Photo's :)

0 upvotes
ardyatma
By ardyatma (Sep 24, 2011)

excellent photos. I am a beginner photographer. I want to learn to shoot properly. please help....

0 upvotes
jasrockett
By jasrockett (Sep 14, 2011)

I'm a 42 year old photography student who doe's not understand the market at all. I'd like to know who buys Uwe's images, how do you generate an income from such an invaluable pastime. keep up the good work Uwe and I hope you can find the time to write an article 5 times as long.

2 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Sep 12, 2011)

This is just a quick message to let you know that Uwe is in Africa until the 21st of September, he's looking forward to responding to your comments on his return.

0 upvotes
bugbait
By bugbait (Sep 8, 2011)

The wildebeest image is awesome. I have added it to my high level favorite wallpapers. It is also currently the wallpaper on the 32" Bravia XBR9 I use as a computer monitor, thank you. And the recommendation to rent what will become obsolete before returning its investment if unused 11 of 12 months a year is dead on. Dude is making a living and a life that is enviable. Rock on.

How many thousands of power-tools see only a few hours of use, be they hand drills or $1000 cameras or microscopes, heck even cars. Collecting extremely expensive dust bunnys is a regular past time for a lot of us. Yes the article was too thin, more along the lines of a element in a compilation article featuring several professionals. But the main points were not lost on this reader. And I appreciate the author and publisher putting them forward.

0 upvotes
Jan3x5
By Jan3x5 (Sep 8, 2011)

Similar shooting conditions all year round? Simply cannot believe that as the weather is different in respective seasons ... With full respect to the photog, this article provides little to no information value and I do not hesitate to say that sometimes nothing is better than something like that.

btw: when listing and discussing the gear so much, it would be nice to hear why Uwe uses two systems. I assume the reasons are of purely historical manner as I think it is the worst thing man can do there - two systems mean twice the bodies (including backups), twice the batteries, chargers and all other accessories resulting in doubled weight of the gear and challenging operations. Not to mention the bloody expensive extra fees for additional weight in planes.

0 upvotes
Dan4321
By Dan4321 (Sep 8, 2011)

I agree, tell a story or do something for the article. Look to sites like Luminous Landscape, etc. for a good example of what these articles should be like. I got a few minor bits of information, but that's it. The article doesn't really draw me in or make me want to read any more.

0 upvotes
Rap
By Rap (Sep 8, 2011)

I respect the goal of DPreview and the article author to share useful and interesting information to readers from all levels of photographic knowledge, but I would really like it if we were presented to articles as deep as the equipment reviews, for example. Having field tests and impressions based on real photographic expeditions would also be a big plus. Sharing information about places, accommodations, transport, and situations involved in a shooting trip, besides only equipment tech data would be super. Something like we used to find between the posts of the Yellowstone Meet and Greet group here some years ago. Anyway, thanks for the articles, still a good start and much better than nothing.

0 upvotes
JK5700
By JK5700 (Sep 8, 2011)

Where is the article?

0 upvotes
Lukino
By Lukino (Sep 8, 2011)

When I was a kid, this was my dream job.

0 upvotes
Ema
By Ema (Sep 8, 2011)

I also agree with earlier comments.

I found very useful tips for my first safari here:
http://www.african-safari-pictures.com/

Best regars

0 upvotes
bajanexile
By bajanexile (Sep 8, 2011)

I am afraid that I agree with the general comments posted here, the article is really not very helpful. Anyone planning a trip might obtain far more useful information by reading this article: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/Safari-Tips.shtml

Lots of useful information to digest in this article.

Steve

2 upvotes
SiriusDoggy
By SiriusDoggy (Sep 8, 2011)

The article seems to be one of those articles that's really just an advertisement to get you to go to his website.
Worked on me.....

2 upvotes
sean lancaster
By sean lancaster (Sep 8, 2011)

I went on a wildlife shoot in South Africa for a month recently. I had a TZ5. It did okay. But I came back and bought a LX5. I suspect that one of the combos that Uwe is holding might have been better. I just wasn't thinking. Maybe next time.

0 upvotes
jkrumm
By jkrumm (Sep 8, 2011)

Not trying to be snide here, but this reads a little like an introduction to an article instead of an article itself. I found myself looking for part two.

5 upvotes
zevobh
By zevobh (Sep 8, 2011)

couldn't agree more.

0 upvotes
georgec
By georgec (Sep 8, 2011)

Me too

0 upvotes
casualShots
By casualShots (Sep 8, 2011)

Yep..really really short and too light on the details.

0 upvotes
pw-pix2
By pw-pix2 (Sep 8, 2011)

The recent macro/wildlife article was of a similar character, a brief introduction with no real information. I'd rather see a single part article with some solid inforamtion, than a series of small fragments.

0 upvotes
Higuel
By Higuel (Sep 8, 2011)

It is indeed a pity if dpreview will let private interests(read publicity or others) lower the high level of quality that we have got used to!

0 upvotes
Trike
By Trike (Sep 19, 2011)

Not terribly impressed either. Also, the looking down his nose at tourists is uncalled for. Did he jump out of the womb a pro photog? I'm guessing not. Which means he started somewhere, too. This is basically an ad, seems like.

0 upvotes
Jim Lowell
By Jim Lowell (Dec 10, 2011)

You can do alot of great wildlife photography with 'lesser' gear if you are determined.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 24