When I prepare to lead a safari group, I pack my safari photography kit with the minimal amount of equipment. With airline restrictions and limited space for bags in vehicles, I choose a medium sized bag and an assembly of lenses which will give me a good coverage range for the most likely subjects.
When I arrive at the lodge, by bag contains everything I need for the whole trip. Each day I reconfigure my bag to hold just what I need for that day and location.
For a Game Drive
The Bag: Guru Gear Kiboko 22L+ with butterfly closure for quick access either side
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with LensCoat body bag
Canon EOS 5D Mark 3 with LensCoat body bag
Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens with Really Right Stuff LCF-52 foot and lensCoat protective cover.
Canon Extender EF 1.4x III
Canon EF 100-400 F4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens with Really Right Stuff LCF-54 foot
Canon EF 24-105 f4 IS USM lens
Nikon 10×42 Monarch 5 Binocular
Black Rapid RS-4 camera strap
Point and Shoot pocket camera
Extra camera batteries and charger
Extra memory cards
Hydro Flask water bottle ( 621 ml )
Sometimes with me on a Game Drive:
For a Night Drive
Canon Speedlite 580EX II with Visual Echoes FX3 Better Beamer
Gitzo tripod ( GT2531 ) w/ Really Right Stuff ballhead ( BH-40) with screw-knob style quick-release clamp w/ bubble level
Wimberly SK-100 sidekick gimbal head
Canon timer remote controller ( TC-80N3 )
This tripod setup is also perfect for capturing the wondrous night time starscape; capturing images of star trails and the Milky Way.
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM Lens
Items that travel on the trip with me but stay back at the lodge
Nexto DI ND2730 card reader and portable storage device -for doing backup
Lexar Professional USB 3.0 duel-slot card reader
13” Macbook pro
How Often will I need the Big Lens?
I took a look at the metadata in my Adobe Lightroom catalogue to see how many images I take with each of my safari lenses.
I reviewed this data after I had culled and rated my photos so this is a curated collection of just the “keepers” .
Please keep in mind that this data is from my South Africa safaris which combine private reserves and Kruger National Park and may not be reflective of other safari destinations or tours.
Lens % of images
16 – 35mm 4%
24 – 105mm 14%
100 – 400mm 58%
400mm 24% (with extender EF1.4 x 3)
Images Taken in Kruger National Park
16 – 35mm 5%
24 – 105mm 3%
100 – 400mm 53%
400mm 39% (with extender EF1.4 x 3)
From this, it shows that subjects in Kruger can be further away. We also tend to see some special bird species in Kruger.
My best advice:
Keep your camera bag streamlined with a thoughtful selection of lenses. Use a smaller camera bag because it will fit better in the vehicles and save your shoulders while carrying it. Less hassles in the airport too.
A Collection of some of my favorite Safari Story Posts
A safari is an adventure and like all adventures it is full of stories and special moments.
With or without a camera, it is those stories and having been there in that moment that make the vivid memories. The great photographs enhance and help tell the story.
Over the years of leading safaris, my guests and I have been present for many moments which culminate great stories. I have told many of these stories here in my blog. Here is a collection of my best African safari stories.
Stories from our 2017 September Safaris – One safari is One hundred stories
Learning to be a Leopard: A young cub must quickly learn to drag a kill up a tree and eat it up there.
A newborn elephant: We were present to celebrate a birth with the family herd. Just an hour old it was a very special encounter
Lions Hunting Buffalo: From the planning to the (failed) execution of the plan: we were there to see and photograph the exciting event
When a predator makes a kill and settles down for a meal, it is an invitation for many different players to come to the party: the hyenas who hope to steal it, vultures who want their share, jackals who just want to sneak a small meal without being noticed, and others.
Many vultures will show up to a kill sight. Of the many species, each has a specialized function and morphology at the carcass. Some vulture species can not eat without another species to first do their part.
To Go on Safari is to Return with Hundreds of Stories: Predator vs Prey, Survival, and Cooperation among Wildlife
Learning to be a Leopard
The Sabi Sands Reserve is famous for its resident leopars. Our guests were treated to a 4 leopard afternoon game drive.
An older female leopard called – Ingrid Dam – was watching her cub (unnamed) eating an Impala kill up in a tree, it was having a difficult time eating in the tree because of the position of the kill. The Impala kill and the young cub fell out of the tree. We knew and the leopards knew there were hyenas nearby wanting to steal this meal should the opportunity arise. Was the mother going to come down and take the kill back up the tree for her cub? We watched and waited. Though the cub seemed to be asking for help, mother decided on tough love and stayed in the tree watching as the cub learned to drag the impala kill back up the tree. It was a hard and physically challenging lesson to learn, but the cub had succeeded for the first time to save his meal from those who would steal it away. The effort involved with dragging a kill up a tree is the leopard’s way of out maneuvering scavengers.
As New as it Gets – A Newborn Elephant
We were on a game drive on a private reserve near Kruger enjoying some great lions, a buffalo herd, and a leopard up a tree when we had a radio call from another safari vehicle about a great sighting. We hurried over to find it was a newborn elephant calf. At first we could not see the little one since the calf was hidden among the large legs of the mother, her sisters, and the herds older children. They were all vocalizing and moving in small, strange movements as if dancing or chanting. The mother was throwing dust on herself and the calf. Soon the crowd parted and we could see the newborn. Cute, wrinkly, and very unsteady on the feet, it was obvious the calf had only been standing for mere minutes. We were very close and felt very privileged that the herd let us be this close and share their joy at the new arrival. The calf tottered and fell a few times and we worried until the little one struggled to stand again.
The next week, we had wonderful continuity when we spotted the herd again. It was wonderful to see the infant prospering, healthy, and nursing.
The Unicorn of Safari Experiences: Lions Hunting Buffalo
It was our last game drive on the last day of safari and getting to be the time to turn around and head back to the lodge. It was a great drive, but about to get even better. We spotted several female lions concentrating on a medium sized herd of buffalo.
It appeared the plan was to slowly move into positions around the herd to separate certain buffalo. The lions separately made their way around the buffalo herd. Suddenly something goes wrong – one of the lions must have blundered – and the buffalo started to run. Wait a minute; they are not running away, they are charging the lions! One of them was running for their life straight toward us.
It is hard for lions to give up when things do not go to plan. Some of the pride continued to run with the stampeding buffalo to see if there could still be a chance to salvage the hunt. It was not to be.
Still, it took a long time before the lionesses could let this one go – they continued to watch the buffalo herd move out of reach.
As I look through my images, my memory goes back to watching the events unfold in front of me. They are much more than the best image: it is the dozen images before and after that one great image that make up the safari stories that I will tell my friends and family. While images help to make the story real; nothing compares to having been there and witnessing it live.
Contact us about a safari or with any questions about choosing, preparing for, and going on a safari. It is just my wife and I but we correspond with all inquiries personally.
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The newest release of Adobe Lightroom CC 2015 has a new tool called Dehaze which is stated to “dramatically improve images by removing haze”. I have been wondering if this tool is applicable to underwater situations that mimic haze (scatter and low vis).
In this demonstration I take a pretty good underwater image that feels a little “hazy” or “Milky” and apply the Dehaze tool like a secret weapon to see if it improves the sharpness of the image. I also compare it and combine it with the Clarity tool – another finishing touch secret weapon.
The Original Image
(click on photos to enlarge)
The Image with some Exposure, Curve, and Color adjustments
Adding the Clarity Adjustment
As per my usual method, I add the Clarity adjustment to the image right at the end of my process. The Clarity slider adds mid tone contrast, lending a sharpness to the image. I don’t normally Sharpen beyond the default setting unless I am presenting elsewhere besides on screen. If it is to be viewed very large or printed I get serious and sharpen in Photoshop.
I used a fair amount of Clarity to pop out details on the whale sharks face. It is a good effect and I am happy with the results.
Also you can see my Exposure settings from the beginning of my processing which back off the bright highlights (the white upper lip near the surface) and boosts some contrast in the mid tones on the body by separating Shadows and Whites, and adding darkest tones by decreasing the blacks. Not seen here are further adjustments to the Curves to manage the Highlights, but that is a different topic.
With a just a Dehaze adjustment – clarity set back to zero
Dehaze was a bolder effect, but similar to a Clarity, but I see a slight “enriching” of the colors as if the smarts behind this tool also effect a certain color range. I like the effect, but might have to follow it with a small color shift and a brightening of the water to maintain the contrast between water and shark.
A Similar Tool that does the Opposite – Luminance Noise
Getting rid of Luminance noise is effectively doing the opposite of what the Clarity and Haze are trying to do: add contrast vs remove contrast.
Luminance Noise is common in images taken in the dark. Underwater photos have scatter which in many cases can be treated like Luminance noise. There is also Color Noise, which can also happen in (commonly green) water, it is harder to fix. I applied a pretty heavy Luminance correction to “smooth” the water and remove what manifested as grain in the water.
The Luminance Slider is the amount of effect to apply
Detail is like telling what size of speck you want the tool to act on
Contrast is telling the tool how different the luminance of the speck has to be in order for the tool to act on it.
These tools take some trial and error to get it smoothed to your taste without going overboard and making it look smeared.
It will not work on all photos unfortunately and in extreme cases you will have to resort to blurring, masking, and advanced tools in PhotoShop.
You can also try the Adjustment brush to a specific area with the Clarity set to a negative value – anti clarity which can work like a gauze effect. I may explore this in another post one day.
End Results – Luminance Noise Adjusted Water plus Clarity only
End Results – Luminance Noise Adjusted Water plus Clarity & Dehaze
End Results – Luminance Noise Adjusted Water plus Clarity & Dehaze and a brightening of the water
To put back some brilliance in the water that the Dehaze took away, I brightened the water only in the Blue color channel. Any adjustment including just midtone adjustment would have effected the results of Clarity and Dehaze on the black, white, and grey colored whale shark which is where I wanted it. I dont need the technique on the water and it is uniquely blue compared to the whale shark, so using the Blue Luminance on the color channels allows brightening just in the water.
My conclusion is that i will use the Dehaze tool and further explore situations where I can use it.
Which is the Best Season to Visit South Africa on Safari?
Since we host safaris in both April/May and September/October we get asked frequently which is the best choice for a photo and wildlife safari . The short answer is that they are both great times to visit South Africa and see wildlife. Given this, there are differences which I will point out. (please note: This information is specific to the Kruger region of South Africa and does not at all describe conditions in other African countries)
Dry season starts in May and ends in October so both the April/May and September/Oct safari sessions are going to be dry and most often with no rain at all.
May begins the South African autumn while September is a warm and dry spring month that grows to summer temperatures by early October. The seasonal “rains” start in mid October
Daytime temperatures are very comfortable for both safaris with guests wearing tshirts and shorts. There may even be a few hot days.
Night time temperatures are very warm and mild in September/Oct. Low and overnight temperatures are more variable in the April/May/June season as cold fronts are possible.
In both seasons: After warm afternoons, the evening temperature stays comfortable for dining outside with the additions of just a light jacket or top.
Mornings before 9am will be the coldest periods. But the sun quickly warms everything. Days are almost always clear.
Average daytime or high temperatures in both seasons are 70 – 88’F (20 -30’C)
Overnight and morning temperatures in September will only get down to a low of 55’F (15 C’) on the coldest days. April tends to be the same
In May temperatures will get down to the low 50’s F (10 – 13’C) during a cold spell , but more typically are around 55’F (15’C)
The wildlife in South Africa is present all year around as there is not much migration. The variety of species is large in our area and stays consistent through the year. In Kruger there is some movement of wildlife herds toward water sources and any remaining grazing, the the habitat is such that food is readily available in most every habitat so large migration is not necessary.
The peak of dry season: September/October will find animals congregating around watering holes which makes for some varied and exciting encounters. You can almost park at a water source and have the animals come to you. Wildlife is not active in the mid to late afternoon except at watering holes.
In April/May the food is still plentiful but grass is starting to die off but the wildlife is still active and easy to find since food is everywhere. Animals and especially grazers are in good condition this time of year.
Some animals enter mating season in May such as impala. The large herds and politics of the activity makes for interesting wildlife observation.
Many animals have babies all through the year. Some herd animals do not give birth until the rains start in October/November.
Changes in Surroundings
April is when the rain and high summer temperatures cease so the grass begins to die down (or gets eaten down). The green color of the landscape begins to yellow and some trees show a bit of color as the leaves fall in late May. As the grass falls flat in May it becomes easier to spot the wildlife.
Insects only thrive in moist weather so as soon as the rain stops in early April, they disappear. A cool night here and there also spells their demise. We have very little problems with bugs, flys, and mosquitos in both the April/May and Sept/Oct sessions.
When you arrive in September, the trees are bare or in bud and there is hardly any grass to speak of so it is very easy to see wildlife. Dust is more of a presence in this season. Your photos will have more muted tones in the background since much of the landscape and foliage is straw colored.
If you plan to catch the whale season down in Cape Town, they are present from June – November. This is the same season as the visiting great white sharks to the Simons Town Seal Island area. A safari in May with an extension to Cape Town works in both seasons.
Lodges and parks tend to be busier in the August – January season.
Really, you can not go wrong with either season: it is what works best for your schedule. The wildlife will be great either way. We have repeat guests who have come in both seasons and do not favor one or the other : I enjoy them both equally.