How to Photograph Africa’s Big Five Safari Animals (With a Camera)

Few other adventure vacations are as alluring as an African safari that promises to see Africa’s big five animals up close and in the wild. The thrill of coming into contact with wild animals is hard to beat. The following article will provide essential considerations for your next Big Five safari adventure on the African continent.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, the “Big Five” game animals in Africa are leopard, African savannah elephant, African buffalo, black rhinoceros and lion.


Book an African safari trip

To lay the groundwork for your photo safari, you must first book a trip. You will want to consider three things: when to go, how long you should stay, and which company or outfitter to use.

The best time of year will vary depending on which region of Africa you are traveling to and which animal sightings are most important to you. The sheer size of the continent makes it difficult to make generalizations about prime time. However, most travelers agree that late spring and early summer are ideal for wildlife viewing as they coincide with calving season when large numbers of babies (and therefore their mothers) are visible in the open at the same time.

Calving season also means predators are more visible as they hunt baby animals and mothers. If you are interested in photography, summer may be the best time due to longer daylight hours and pleasant weather conditions. Winter can also be a good time to photograph animals and experience them firsthand when the grasses are shorter, making it easier to spot the big five.

African Safari Packing Tips

When planning your safari, consider the equipment you will need to film the Big Five. The type and size of camera gear you choose can be determined by many factors, such as how much weight you can carry, the types of shots you want to get, and whether you’re going on foot in the reserve. You will also want to consider bringing spare batteries and a small tripod.

When selecting clothing for your safari adventure, choose colors that blend with the landscape – khaki or camouflage are best – and clothing made of fabrics that dry quickly after rainstorms but still protect against the thorny branches of the bushes and the rough grasses. A hat or cap is handy for crossing under the hot African sun. It is wise to take essential eco-friendly lotions and sprays that protect you from insects in the wild areas of Africa.

Tourists on safari looking at an elephant. Photo of Depositphotos.

Big Five Safari Day

1. Prepare the material the day before to be sure to be well prepared.

2. Get up early so you can shoot at first light when the big five are active.

Plan your day around your catch list: if you want to get a particular animal or behavior, make sure you’re there at the right time of day. Check with camp rangers for the last five big sightings of the day.

The best time to photograph is when the light is at its softest, just after sunrise. You will be in the vehicle for several hours, so bring extra batteries for your camera and plenty of memory cards. A long telephoto lens (400mm and above) and a shorter zoom lens (24-70mm) are ideal for game drives. If you don’t have these focal lengths, borrow them from friends or rent them from a local camera store.

Finally, don’t forget the sunscreen. Wear comfortable clothes that won’t distract from the gaming driving experience; intense colors like red can scare animals away, while earthy tones are better suited to camouflage your surroundings. Bring plenty of water and snacks as there will be no options available during the ride.

Shooting tips for each Big Five Animal

To capture the most appealing image of animals, you should try to get close to your subject. If you are approaching a large animal like an elephant or rhino, make sure your guide is with you. But don’t approach too quickly and scare them – remember that they are wild animals. If they sense fear from you, they may attack. You can also judge their comfort level by observing their ears and eyes; If he’s calm and alert but not tense or aggressive, that’s a sign that you can continue to move slowly with caution.

Keep an eye on the light when taking pictures of animals in the wild. Since lighting can change on a dime depending on the position of the sun relative to your subject and surroundings, always keep your camera ready for action and remember to use your screen LCD. The backs of our cameras are like tiny monitors that allow us to see precisely what our images will look like from any given angle, so look for those golden moments when all the elements come together for the perfect shot. .

The leopard

Leopards are notoriously difficult to spot as they move stealthily through the thick of the bush or cling to the trees above your head. Spotting a leopard with a telephoto lens is much more manageable. I use a 500mm f/4, but you have to be very close or really lucky with the animal to get a good shot.

For moving big cats, use a fast shutter speed like 1/1000 second or faster – this will still capture them in motion (with reduced motion blur) and freeze background detail. Use a high ISO for safety – I usually start at 400 for moving animals and then adjust based on the amount of motion blur and noise.

African bush elephant

Africa’s largest land animal is still fairly common although there are signs of poaching in some areas. Although still a wild animal, you can get close enough to an elephant to get some good photos. The best time to photograph them is when the sun is low in the morning and evening.

Try to capture the elephants at eye level and in their natural environment. Try to capture their size by incorporating the landscape (a mountain or a tree) into your composition. Zoom in close to capture the interesting lines and details along the elephant’s skin and, of course, the big tusks of ancient patriarchal elephants.

The African buffalo

Buffalo is particularly dangerous and unpredictable, so you’ll need to keep a cool head. Be careful that they don’t charge and also be careful of your surroundings – buffaloes often travel in herds that number in the hundreds, but predators like lions or hyenas sometimes accompany them. Their mammoth horns make for alluring photos. Try some portraits of these majestic beasts that incorporate the face and horns together or as an abstract close-up.

The black rhinoceros

The rhinoceros is the most dangerous of the five big game animals to photograph because although it is huge and robust, it has poor eyesight. Their vision is terrible, but they have a fantastic sense of smell and hearing. So your best bet is to use those senses against them. The animal may charge without warning at what it perceives as a threat, and often at you! A rhinoceros can run up to 40 miles per hour, delivering formidable blows with its seemingly indiscriminate horn.

Any photo of a rhino is valuable these days due to their dwindling numbers at the hands of poachers and blind hunters.


King of the jungle. This majestic creature can make a remarkable subject with its royal mane and powerful hunt. Always be wary of getting too close to a Leo. When photographing lions, it is essential to use a zoom lens to get good shots without scaring them or putting yourself in danger.

The best time to see lions is in the morning when they are more active than any other day. Try to approach behind brush or stay close to your car while taking photos – you don’t want to disturb the lions while they are resting in their natural habitat. It would be best if you were also sure to look for them in the savannah and shady plains, where they like to rest in the midday heat before continuing their hunts after the sun goes down.

Safari Photography Tips

Lighting is one of the biggest challenges of taking photos outdoors. You try to catch a scene as it goes from light to dark and then back again. The most common rule of thumb is to shoot outdoors during golden hour, before sunset or after sunrise.

Since your camera won’t give you this exact result every time – there will be times when you’ll get an amazing photo in the sun, but others when you’ll be lucky to get a good one – this is vital that you know how to get the best possible results from your equipment.

You will strive to use the fastest shutter speed possible with the available ambient light. Often between 1/500 and 1/2000. You will need to consider your exposure triangle (aperture, ISO and shutter speed) at all times, especially for handheld shooting, and determine the best camera mode to use, such as priority shutter, aperture priority or manual mode. Learning to shoot in manual mode is a good idea to master the fundamentals of exposure.

Stay alert and aware of the surroundings when in the bush. Big Five animals tend to appear out of nowhere. It is advisable to find out as much as possible about the habits of the animals you may encounter on your safari. The more you know about wildlife, the better your chances of getting that outstanding shot.

Above all, be present and enjoy the experience, no matter what animals you are lucky enough to spot on the day of your safari adventure.

Picture credits: Header photo of Depositphotos

Comments are closed.