During the enquiry and booking process, I talk to hundreds of guests about what’s involved in a photo safari in the South Luangwa. One of the most common questions that comes up is whether the guests are “ready for a photo safari”.
The short answer is that if you love wildlife, enjoy taking photos and improving your photography and are looking for a safari adventure with like-minded people, then you’re probably ready for a photo tour!
1. Do you love wildlife?
A photo safari is first and foremost a wonderful wildlife experience. Every time we leave camp and go on safari, we do so to enjoy the privilege of being immersed in a huge wild place, brimming with life and extraordinary diversity. Elephant herds weave between bushes on their way to quench vast thirsts at the river; stately giraffes with long prehensile tongues reach for the tastiest fresh-growth between the thorns; lions, still on the move in the early morning, encircle a watchful group of antelope…which scatter as the lead lioness makes her charge.
Of course, we love to find the big mammals which epitomise any safari in Africa, but we also take time to watch the smaller, more subtle events of the bush: how a baboon’s single alarm-bark alerts other mammals to the presence of danger, or how a ground-bird ruffles her feathers and reveals a clutch of exquisitely camouflaged eggs. Without the barrage of noise of the developed world, you will be surprised to find how your hearing sharpens and the grunting call of a Giant Eagle Owl might lead us to a pair tending their woolly chick.
There will be natural wonders on every foray into the bush, and many will generate beautiful photo opportunities; but it will always be the case that the wildlife and wilderness value is placed at the forefront of your experience.
2. Do you want to take photos and improve your photography?
You will see beautiful sightings on any safari to one of Africa’s wildlife areas. However, what will make the difference between great wildlife sightings and great photographs will be the guide and his expertise as a photographer. This is perhaps where your photo tour might differ from a normal wildlife safari; a photo-savvy guide will consider the best photographic opportunities when approaching each sighting.
There are factors such as the angle of the light, the best position for a low-angle perspective and, crucially, what might happen next. Interestingly, it is often the case that the best position from which to photograph a sighting is also the best place to watch from! Your guide’s knowledge and experience in the national park that you are visiting will set you apart from others and ensure that you’re ahead of the action.
And you don’t have to be a professional photographer! This is certainly the most common concern that potential guests ask me about: will their photographic skills be good enough? Over the last eight years, I have guided hundreds of photographers, ranging from beginners to professionals; without exception, they have all wanted to learn more and benefit from expert guidance. Not only this, but they soak up advice and suggestions, both while in the bush and back in camp when we review photos and discuss photographic skills and techniques in greater detail.
3. Are you looking for a safari adventure with like-minded travellers?
Wildlife safaris attract all sorts. It’s actually one of the joys of the job; we meet people from all over the world who have chosen to visit one of Nature’s most celebrated hot-spots. But travellers who sign up to a photo tour are always unified by one factor: they want to make the best of the experience!
Whether it’s rising a bit earlier in the mornings to track leopards as the light starts to give form to the bush; or to sit quietly waiting for a long-legged Jacana to bring his chicks closer to your hide; or to give your morning to a herd of elephants, becoming acquainted with their behaviour and ensuring that you’re ready with your camera when a calf greets his mother by raising his trunk and placing it in her mouth. Whatever your hopes for your safari, signing up to join a photo tour will ensure you spend your days with other guests who value very highly the time they spend in the bush, and approach every day with enthusiasm and purpose.
In Summary: Joining a photographic tour ensures you have all the experiences and memories of a wildlife safari but with the additional bonus of excellent photographic opportunities and tuition. You will not lose out on the classic safari experience, and in fact, you can be sure of wonderful sightings, a more measured pace of safari and the privilege of sharing adventures in the bush with fellow wildlife-nuts!