Gear for wildlife photography on safari in Africa.
Bags and carry on weights
The topic of hand luggage allowances when it comes to camera bags has filled plenty of forums and we’re afraid to say that the answer as to what is the protocol or allowance (as well as leniency) varies from airline to airline. The prospect of checking very expensive gear for wildlife photography into the hold of a commercial airline is not very enticing so here are a few tips from us on how to ensure that you travel with your gear in the cabin and not in the hold. These tips do not guarantee success but they should ease your passage through the process.
Rucksack camera bags aren’t noticed as much. Wearing your camera gear on your back rather than lugging around hard cases like Pelicans and the case in which your big prime lens was delivered to you is always a good idea.
When asked whether you have any hand luggage simply pointing to the strap on your shoulder and saying “just a rucksack” works in your favour. Once you have your ticket then a brisk stroll away from the counter deters anyone from questioning its dimensions. We think that the fact you are wearing it also implies that it’s not very heavy!
The hand luggage spaces on board vary immensely from plane to plane and even within the planes themselves. In our experience having a very deep rucksack or camera bag can make squeezing it into the overhead compartment a bit of a challenge. Obviously, the height of the bag will be dictated by the diameter of your largest lens (and the padding around it) but bear in mind that a flatter profile bag slips into the overhead bins easier.
If needs be, place it under the seat in front…ok for short hops.
If you are taking lots of short flights in small aircraft weight really does make a difference and the smaller charter airlines are very strict about weight as well they should. One way to avoid the issue is to book an extra seat and share the cost with any other photographers you are travelling with.
This will allow you to take more camera gear with you each without risking the ire of the bush pilot flying you around.
Batteries and charging
Battery technology has come on leaps and bound and a decent Lithium Ion battery should last even the most trigger happy photographer more than one game drive. That said there is no worse feeling than missing a shot because you have no more juice and no spare battery. We recommend taking one spare battery per camera body.
Batteries are heavily affected by temperature so if you are working in very cold conditions its best to keep your spare batteries as close to your body as possible (a shirt pocket for example) to maximise their charge when you insert it.
Wherever we go we make sure that there are facilities to charge batteries and laptops etc. Even in the tented camps deep in the bush and miles from the mains supply, we have solar panels, inverters and plug points so travelling with more than two batteries per camera body really isn’t necessary.
What to bring on a photography safari in Africa?
Well this is the $64,000 question, isn’t it? This is obviously very much down to personal choice at the end of the day and what it is that you are looking to photograph. We decided to ask Guts what gear for wildlife photography he would put in one camera bag (a rucksack like we mentioned above) to go on safari to Africa and here is what he said:
We know that plenty of our clients are just getting into photography and the words in the section may appear to absolute gobbledegook but for those who have a bit more experience we hope this will help.
Guts travel with two camera bodies so that he doesn’t have to change lenses when changing from a zoom (or indeed fixed focal length) lens to a wider-angle lens. This saves time, especially at a crucial moment. In his camera bag he travels with a longer lens with a focal length up to 500mm or 600mm or more recently he has taken a 200-400 with a teleconverter along with a wide-angle lens with a lower focal length of around 10mm. As to a third lens he will often take his 70-200 mm lens which gives him plenty of options for composing his shots along with the longer lenses. This range gives him a whole spectrum of photographic options when in the field and if not restricted too much on weight he may even add a third body to the mix so as to huge all three lens variants mounted and ready to go. If you are not travelling with a camera don’t forget that we have plenty for you to use in the Chobe.
We have various camera bodies we supply from Canon as well as zoom lenses from 150mm to 600mm that are more than adequate for photographing from the boats and vehicles. One solid piece of advice is to place all your smaller gear for wildlife photography i.e. chargers, lens hoods, cables, card readers and other bulky items into your main checked-in luggage to make room for more valuable and breakable items in your camera bag/hand luggage.
Even if your luggage is delayed with a few full batteries and some extra memory cards you will be good for a few days of photography before your bags catch up. This is also a very rare occurrence but just another tip from the pros.
The Pangolin photo hosts each have their own dedicated social media channels and regularly post their latest images which are sure to inspire you. They mainly use Facebook and Instagram and you can find them using the links below:
Keeping your gear for wildlife photography clean.
Wildlife photography is not a “neat and tidy” hobby by any stretch of the imagination and certainly not when on safari. Taking care of your camera and lenses on a daily basis will hopefully mitigate the risk of having a malfunction in the middle of your trip so here are a couple of tips to help you stay shooting. Janine made an excellent video explaining how to keep your gear for wildlife photography clean on safari.
At the end of the day wipe down the exterior of your camera with a VERY slightly damp cloth or towel to get rid of any unwanted dust or sand that it might have attracted. There is no worse sound than that of a grinding zoom or focus ring on a lens due to grit getting into the mechanism. Once wiped down leave the camera to dry completely in the open in your room, cabin or tent before placing it back in the camera bag.
We advise you to travel with not only a lens cloth that you should keep to hand when in game drives and boat cruises at all times but we suggest you get a blower too. This will be incredibly useful and should be used to get between the nooks and crannies of your camera and lens before you wipe them down as per above.
Bin bags. Just your common or garden large plastic bag. If all else fails and its raining or kicking up a dust storm a trusty old bin bag not only packs away into a minute space and weighs next to nothing but is easily deployed and if it stays un-torn and intact acts as a perfect shield against foreign matter that can harm your gear.
Laptop or not?
We always advise travelling with a laptop. Access to computers in lodges and hotels (like the Pangolin Chobe Hotel) is very limited in Africa and reviewing your images just on your camera screen is ok but you won’t be able to see the levels of sharpness or exposure until you get it onto a bigger screen.
If you are joining a workshop that we highly recommend you travel with a laptop with the latest version of Adobe Lightroom loaded (or indeed your post-production suite of choice). Whatever you use take the time to load the latest version as bandwidth is also limited in the bush and doing an update in the field will be nigh on impossible.
Another tip to consider when choosing your camera bag is to have your laptop section detachable so that should the airlines require you to shed some weight from your carry on you can utilise the standard policy of having one carry on piece and a laptop. This usually appeases grumpy ground staff.
This is a debate that has raged on since the advent of digital photography. Do you take lots of smaller memory cards in case one corrupts or one is lost? That way you have only lost a few of the photos if one card breaks, gets damaged or is lost.
Or on the flipside do you take a couple of larger capacity cards so that you have to change fewer times. It’s our general consensus that a card getting corrupted these days is incredibly rare and more often than not when trying to manage several smaller cards during a trip one always gets lost.
If you are travelling with a laptop, then this is a bit of a mute point as you will process your images regularly on the laptop and probably download all the files to either the laptops onboard hard drive or as we tend to do onto an external hard drive that we travel with. An external drive does add extra weight but with the average capacity of such devices sitting at 1 or 2 Terabytes they are a worthwhile investment.
For more gear advice, join the Pangolin Wildlife Community here.
Other things to consider
Always take a few with you as there is nothing more frustrating than getting to a border and having to fill in a pesky arrival or departure form to realise that you don’t have a pen. Having got yourself to the front of the queue you will not have to wait to borrow one from a fellow traveller and return to the back of the line.
An essential piece of kit when going on safari. Small, lightweight and increasingly powerful we suggest getting one that has the option to turn the light to red which seems less attractive to nocturnal flying insects.
Multi-tool (Leatherman etc.)
Always useful but do remember to place it into your checked in luggage and not in your hand luggage whenever you are flying on a commercial airline or you will lose it at the security checkpoint along with any liquids over 100ml.