10 Tips for the Best Photo Safari


Let’s explore 10 tips for the best photo safari. Firstly a look at the current hospitality industry. Now that covid travel restrictions have begun to fade into memory many bucket list destinations have been swarmed by tourists. Travelers are desperate for a change in environment and to fill their Instagram feeds with new and exciting content.

The strain on natural habitats and protected areas has prompted many locations from Antarctica to Seychelles to impose tourism caps.  So far this hasn’t happened to any safari destinations. However, the increase in year over year numbers is alarming.

Tourist Numbers 20212022% Increase
South Africa2,255,6995,698,062152.60%
Kenya vs South Africa Tourist Numbers*

A safari holiday has always attracted photographers. During the migration its not uncommon to see 200 vehicles lined up 10 deep with photographers all getting the same shot!  A spectacle similar to what can be observed at Arches National Park.

Naturally, tour operators and travel companies have aimed to capitalize on both the growth of photography and jaw-dropping locations. The variety and number of photo safaris and workshops on the market have ballooned over the last ten year

So how do you separate companies just cashing in on the trend from those that can give YOU get the best experience? Here are 10 points based on my work in the industry for over 35 years.

giraffe family

1. ALWAYS Read the fine print

Photo safaris often exclude important items in their pricing. For example. Park fees, drinks, pre-departure consultations, and numerous other points are left out. Beware of these hidden costs. Irrespective of whether it’s a large tour operator or a small local agent these elements are essential.

Do some research and make a checklist of exactly what features each company offers. You will find that services and operator experience vary greatly. You will also find that most tour operators know nothing about photography. Additionally, many photo safaris don’t specialize in specific parks or areas.

2. Avoid the Crowds and the ‘Ferrari Safari’

Tour operators like to push the busy periods. This is great for their commissions but terrible for photography. There’s’ nothing worse than coming across a great photo opportunity only to find you cannot get a clear view. Worst still, the encounter is interrupted and the wildlife gets scared away. Avoid times when the parks are full of families, tourists or groups of photographers all getting the same images.

Summer months are the times I avoid not only due to the crowds but also because it’s a peak period and you pay a premium for accommodation and flights.

photo safari exposuretours-17

3. location, Location, LOCATION

Some of the most expensive camps are situated quite close together. Over the years as these areas get busier many animals move to quieter areas. Typically you will be out shooting most of the day so whether your bed is a four-poster or not is often irrelevant. Being in the right place at the right time to get the perfect shot should be your priority.

Select areas with high densities of assessable wildlife and as few tourists as possible. Tourist data such as posted above can provide an important insight.

Ask the tour operator to show you samples of images from locations they are proposing and to give you the pros/cons of each. I have a selection of camps I like and closer to departure make my final decision depending on wildlife proximity.

elephant exposure tours

4. Size Matters

Group size is a key factor in helping you make the most of your trip. Large groups are great for profits but not good if you want a memorable safari experience. The average photo safari has around 8 guests, the average big name safari tour has close to 15.

If you’re looking to learn how to get the best images and be in the right place, stick with tours that have no more than 6 photographers per instructor.


5. Get what you pay for

Cheaper safaris are famous for filling every vehicle seat. Currently, South Africa is one of the cheapest places for package deals. Unfortunately, it is also highly prone to dangerous animal encounters. This is a result of continuous large groups harassing animals in the bigger more common parks.
You will find the whole safari experience to be different in each country. Not only the number of tour groups and how they behave but also the temperament and number of animals you can encounter. For instance in one day in the Mara, it’s not uncommon to spot all members of the Big 5. In Kruger, this could take a week or longer.

I now shoot almost exclusively in East Africa. Kenya is my favorite location, along with the great wildlife opportunities it also banned trophy hunting in the 70’s. This horrendous practice is still common in many countries.

safari vvan and lion

6. Elbow room please!

The number of guests in each vehicle is one of the most important factors you should ask about.

The average photo safari has 3 photographers per vehicle, the average package safari has six. You want to avoid the latter. Three photographers in a 7 seat vehicle will give each a whole row. Tour companies will promote this fact. However, ask them what happens when an animal moves to the front or back of the vehicle. When this happens only one or possibly two photographers will get the shot.

You want to be in a vehicle that limits the number of photographers to two. This means you always have the opportunity to get a shot irrespective of how the vehicle is positioned.


7. Know your gear

One of the worst things you can do in any type of photography is buy new gear just before an assignment. On safari, conditions and situations change constantly. A lion can go from being in full sun to hiding in deep shade. A cheetah can go from being perfectly still to 100km/hr in a few seconds. You have to know your gear, how it performs, and its limitations.

custom camera rig on safari

Very few photo safaris offer 1:1 instruction or image reviews. This is partly due to guest numbers and instructor experience. Almost none offer backup gear, gear rentals, etc. These are important points for a photographer. If your tour doesn’t offer them you should ask yourself do they know what a photographer requires.?

martial eagle posing

8. How big is Big?

Wildlife and bird photographers love their big lenses. But dropping $10,000 or more for an 800mm isn’t necessary. The most important component of your photo safari isn’t your gear. It’s the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time.

My first safari was photographed with a Vivitar 75-300 f 5.6 lens on a second-hand Minolta DSLR. The lens was worth around $200. Images from the shoot were used by The Royal Photographic Society and published in several newspapers and international magazines. The 35mm slides are now in the archives of the Royal Geographic Society.

Over the past 20 years, 95% of my favorite shots have been at 400mm with resolutions from 24megs to 45megs. I’ve tried various brands of lenses and still recommend staying with your camera brand lens. My kit used to consist of an 80-200 2.8, 200-400 f4, and for variety a 60mm 2.8 macro and an 18-35 2.8.

For my last 3-4 safaris I’ve reduced the amount of gear to two full frame bodies and 2 lenses. The 200-400 f4 and a 24-300 3.5/5.6 Its a slow lens. However I get a great range of coverage that allows me to go from a zoomed in shot to a full view of the action without having to take my eye of the scene.

I recently tested the Nikon 200-500 f5.6 the results were great for the price point

9. Manage your expectations

Don’t assume that because you are booking a safari you will automatically come home with some world class images. There is a high degree of luck involved but you can increase your chances by taking advantage of the points mentioned. Pick the right location, time of year, small group size, an experienced company, etc.


10. Photographers don’t sleep

Most budget safaris will take you out at sunrise and in the afternoon. The Safari experience holds many opportunities beyond wildlife. Landscape, macro, portraiture and even specialized techniques such as infra-red and star trails are possible. It’s also possible to do an optional 3rd game drive around noon. Although not ideal it can yield some surprising pictures.

Look for a safari company that doesn’t just cover the basics. Your photography will benefit and if it’s a once in a lifetime trip your experience will be greatly improved.

Join our next Photo Safari

For more pictures visit the Safari Gallery



9 Responses to “10 Tips for the Best Photo Safari”

  1. Joyce Avatar

    Great tips! Doing a safari has been on my bucket list for a long time and I hope to realize it soon. In tip 10, you talk about budget safaris going out at sunrise and afternoon but don’t mention what the best times to go are.
    Thanks for sharing your insights

  2. Bryan Pereira Avatar
    Bryan Pereira

    Glad you like the tips Joyce. Big Cats are most active in the cooler times of the day and of course overnight. For this reason most game drives depart just after sunrise, break for noon then go again for a second run in the late afternoon. These times also allow you to capture animals in the golden light hours!

  3. Sachin Sawhney Avatar
    Sachin Sawhney

    Love the tips and totally agree on all. I have personally been to South Africa and Kenya and certainly like Amboseli and Masai Mara in Kenya over anything else.
    I have been planning Ngorogoro this year, Any hints or ideas to ideas.

  4. Bryan Pereira Avatar
    Bryan Pereira

    Hi Sachin, Yes the mara is my favorite for safaris. Ngorogoro is an interesting and unusual landscape but the wildlife sightings are not that great. I would recommend taking in serengeti and/or mara as well to make the trip worthwhie

  5. Sachin Sawhney Avatar
    Sachin Sawhney

    Thanks so much…..will plan accordingly. I just joined Gurushotsabout 15 days backand saw your challenges as Pro Guru. Great work . Love the ones you have been giving…. hope to win one day 🙂
    Do check out my fb page when you have the time. No compulsions ….

  6. Dev Avatar

    I like what you have published. For one solo person can you give some idea of how much would you charge.

  7. Bryan Pereira Avatar
    Bryan Pereira

    Price will vary with dates and duration, email me and let me know what your looking for

  8. Maasai Mara Road Safari Avatar
    Maasai Mara Road Safari

    An amazing blog you have written on Safari it will be very helpful for so many peoples. Thanks for sharing.

  9. ‘Big Cats’ Africa Photo Safari – International Directory of Photography Workshops & Tours

    […] We fly to and from the mara so you maximize your shooting time. Over the  next 8 days we scout the wilderness in search of predators during extensive game drives. Here we see the abundant wildlife and these will present amazing photography opportunities, often we can get close enough to use a short range zoom or even a standard lens. (for more gear ideas check out our blog) […]

Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected !!