Advice on dream African photo safari


Oct 4, 2011
Hello everyone,

I have been given the go ahead to plan a dream wildlife photo safari for the summer of 2015. Photographing African wildlife on safari has been a goal of mine for years and because this coincides with a big birthday celebration I have been given permission to design my perfect trip. Now I need to figure out where to start. The following are my thoughts already.

- In terms of camera + lenses, I will have a 5D3 (or newer body) and a 200-400/1.4x + other smaller lenses. I may rent or buy a second body.
- My goal is to take portfolio worthy photographs that I will sell as prints. I have photographed wildlife for some time and am confident I can do this if conditions are right.
- I have researched Africa a bit and found that the primary challenge in accessing wildlife (besides luck) are the following
- Some places are overflowing with tourists and vehicles will often surround an interesting spot
- In many locations vehicles are not allowed off road
- For this reason I am almost certain at least a portion of our stay will be in Sabi Sands, South Africa.
- The entire land based portion of the trip will be three weeks

At this point, therefore, my main dilemma is do we spend the entire trip in South Africa - going between different private reserves with perhaps some time in Kruger, or do we combine some reserves in South Africa with somewhere else - such as Botswana. One goal of course is to photograph as many different types of wildlife as possible.

Any help on where to start would be greatly appreciated.


Mar 29, 2012
I have only had the 200-400 for a few weeks and have had very limited use, but my initial impressions are that 400mm is the least you should have. If I was going to Africa, I think I would consider getting a 600mm. Are you able to bring more than one super telephoto?


Oct 4, 2011
KitsVancouver said:
I have only had the 200-400 for a few weeks and have had very limited use, but my initial impressions are that 400mm is the least you should have. If I was going to Africa, I think I would consider getting a 600mm. Are you able to bring more than one super telephoto?

Not really. I have long practiced only bringing lenses on trips that I am extremely familiar with. I plan to buy the 200-400 later this year and that will completely kill my budget for some time.

That being said, my understanding is it depends where you go. I have heard that in Kenya a 600mm is very useful, while in Sabi Sands and Botswana where the vehicle can get closer to the animals shorter telephotos work. I chose the 200-400 over the 600 mainly because it is far more flexible.


Jan 19, 2012
I was in Tanzania in February and spent a week on the Serengeti....I took my 600 with the 1.4 extender and my 70-300L. Of course I also had my 24-105 and my 16-35 II lenses as well. With the extender, version III, there is absolutely no loss of picture quality so you are getting way out there and have enough length for just about anything that you would want to shoot. To my surprise we were able to get very close to the overwhelming majority of animals that we shot so the 70-300 actually produced some great shots....I am going back in February of 2015 and will take both my 600 and my recently purchased 200-400. Between these two I kind of feel that I have the bases covered but will still take my 70-300 along for my wife to shoot...shooting off of bean bags does make it easier but the heavier lenses are still tough to hand hold otherwise.


Jun 24, 2013
A galaxy far, far away...
I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend you use Iconic Images out of Australia to handle the photo tour aspects of such a safari. I've travelled with Denis Glennon several times over the past few years. It will not be a cheap trip, but it will be top notch in all regards. I suggest you google "iconic images namibia" and watch the Vimeo video, afterwards visit their web site. Quite often Denis will enlist the aid of the head of Canon Australia CPS to tutor participants on his photo safaris. I'm going on a safari to Botswana and Zambia with him next month, and then to Rajasthan in January. If this piques your interest, send me an email and we can discuss it further off line.

BTW, I second the suggestion of using a 200-400. A great lens and almost perfect for an African photo safari. Denis and I both shoot with it.


I'm New Here
Sep 23, 2012
I've been to South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, and Tanzania. All are amazing experiences but there are key differences between them. Note that the reserves you go to can vary widely in the shooting conditions, types of vehicles, whether you can offroad, wildlife, how crowded they are, and temperatures so research a bunch.

What lenses you need completely depends on where you go. In most South African reserves - especially the private reserves - you don't need a whole lot of focal length. Many places allow off roading and there aren't the massive open spaces like in Tanzania and Kenya. On a recent trip I brought a 100-400, 70-200/2.8, and 500 along with a 5d3 and 7d. I was able to get by for more than 90% of my shots with the 5d3 and one of the first two lenses. In fact in some of the slightly denser areas (Phinda and parts of Ngala which is a private reserve adjacent to Kruger much like Sabi Sands) I was fine with the 70-200/2.8, an occasional 1.4 TC, and the 5d3. Remember that some of the best shots are at the fringes of good lighting in morning and night so the 70-200/2.8 can be key in that environment.

If you are a big birder you could use some more range - it looks like most of my shots with the 500 were on the 7d and were of birds.

Contrast this with the Serengeti and Masai Mara where more focal length is often critical. On a prior trip I wished I had more reach than a 7d + 500 + 1.4 TC at times. The vehicles are closed vehicles with pop tops in East Africa which means using beanbags on the roof but that actually makes supporting longer lenses much easier. In South Africa and Botswana you are looking at open vehicles which gives great visibility but can sometimes make supporting larger lenses a little less easy. I've had the best luck with a monopod and a gimbal +/- using clamps to secure to the roll bars in the vehicle. You are going to need something like that to support the 200-400 which appears to be a similar size and weight to the 500.

If using the 200-400 just make sure you have something ready with a wider focal length to catch things up close. I had an M with the 22mm lens and while I didn't take a lot with it I got some great shots when I did. I also use that camera to shoot a grey card for help in white balance later since light changes quickly.

Botswana is usually open vehicles and is kind of a combo between the areas - you will need some reach at times but not as much as East African countries.

You really can't go wrong with any of them but in terms of affordability you can probably do South Africa for less money which leaves you more cash to invest in getting a private vehicle or specialty guide or nicer lodge. You can travel between many reserves in South Africa without expensive bush flights and it is a reasonably drivable country with a few exception areas. Plus with your stated goals of getting shots you can sell you might have more control over your environment in a South Africa private reserve of high quality.

I think South Africa with some side trips to Botswana particularly the Okavanga Delta would be a great trip. You'll find yourself going back for sure - since our first trip in 2009 we've gone every other year including just getting back last month.

Also check out the time of year to go - our favorite is August-October. Bush not as dense so you can find animals, not really hot yet, still a bit dry so animals tend to congregate more near water, but all of this can vary by location. We've gone with andBeyond often and get a private vehicle when we can. You get a ranger and tracker and can come and go from the camp whenever you want and stay out all day if you want. They have specialist photo guides available if desired. They are on the more expensive side. There are a number of quality operators, just research them carefully and check out lots of online reviews before taking the plunge.
Jul 12, 2011
"I may buy or rent a second body" -- then consider taking the second body as a 7D (or the follow-on if it's even
available enough before your trip to get familiar with it -- and adding a 400MM f4.0 with the 1.4 extender as
a lens alternative. With the crop body you can get the reach you may need without breaking the bank and you
don't have to worry about image quality. Also, the smaller, lighter body can alternatively be used as a video
camera with spectacular results.


Jan 19, 2012
Most of us do not go to Africa very often...splurge, and rent a 1DX.........I guarantee that you will not be disappointed and the images that you will get will reward you over and over again for the expense of renting the camera for a couple of weeks.


Sep 29, 2013
Sabi is a good place to start but check out the accommodation options. You will need a shorter zoom there, such as a 70-200, for most of the time as the open vehicles get closer to the wildlife.

Keep your eyes open always too and be careful where you are walking....came out from breakfast last year and almost stood on a Green Mamba by a small pond.

Sabi and other private reserves in that area are on the edge of The Kruger Park and known as franchises. These places invariably go off road. At Sabi for the first time, our lady driver (nicknamed Schumacher by the locals!) got a radio call to confirm a leopard sighting. Direct route used, flattening small trees and bushes etc and we ended up quickly parked 10 metres away from the big cat. On the first night drive there, I could have stroked a lion as it strolled alongside our vehicle!

Ngala is another option, further North. If you get the chance, use the light aircraft fly in service from Mpumalanga airport. Amazing views flying in low and more than likely a herd of elephants on the landing strip at Sabi. Be careful of baggage weight limit though.

In the SANPARK reserves like Kruger and Pilanesberg, the safari vehicles generally stick to the road network so your 200/400 (or longer) will be ideal. This is where you are likely to encounter bigger groups of vehicles that will crowd a sighting and make good shots more difficult.

The Masai Mara is an entirely different experience and there your longer lenses will be most useful but do have something wide for landscape work.

Safaris are an awesome experience! I can also recommend going on a walking safari for one day at least.

Last couple of suggestions.

1) Consider using a local travel company such as who I can highly recommend. You can talk to a real person, via email or telephone and their local experience is invaluable, especially if things go wrong whilst you are there. Awesome service. No doubt there are others.
2) Think out of the box. Try to fit in a short trip to Kleinbai which is near to Hermaneus, about an hour's drive North of Capetown, to go out on one of the shark boat trips to see Great Whites at close quarters. Recommend shark who was the pioneer of cage diving in that area (you can stay on the boat if you prefer) ... This shot is a scanned image of a print from an early trip there and was using a 10D or 20D with a wide angle 10-22...... I could have kissed this one as it was so close.


I'm New Here
Apr 13, 2013
Having lived in South Africa all my life, the last place we go to take pictures are the 'tourist traps' as one finds in the Lowveld (Kruger Park area). Yes, many people go to the KNP and surrounding private parks but the most unique and picturesque parks are not found in this area at all. As you are not leaving overnight, do some research and do not rely on tour operators for advice - they will only take you where they can make the most money!


I'm New Here
Sep 23, 2012
To followup Derrick's posting - it is important to see a wide variety of ecosystems and types of parks. Don't just go to a bunch of private reserves. Set aside time to go out on your own somewhere.

Some of our best experiences have been in less traveled areas like Hluhluwe–iMfolozi, Tembe Elephant Park, and roaming around greater Cape Town. When you live somewhere you have a bit less pressure on you to acquire results (since the original poster made it clear that he needs pictures to sell) and you can "take a chance" on a less known location and get a great experience that most tourists won't.

To those of us who don't live down there, the experience in the private reserves near Kruger is unique but I can see how it wouldn't be as special to someone who lives in S. Africa.

Phinda is a private reserve that seems pretty unique in many ways with huge variety in wildlife and ecosystems. Madikwe is also a good experience and the best place in S. Africa to see African Wild Dogs.

For places in East Africa that aren't quite as heavily traveled - look at Selous and Ruaha in Tanzania. The classic tourist trap in Tanzania would be Ngorongoro Crater but it is still an experience you won't forget. Just don't spend more than a day or two because you'll miss other stuff.


Wildlife photography is my passion
CR Pro
I have been twice to Tanzania- Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire.

Before you make any choices, I would advise you to do a LOT of homework regarding the ecology. Fore example, I went to the Serengeti last August which was very different from the year before in March! The best viewing times in the Serengeti are in earlier in the year.

You don't want to go somewhere only to find that you just missed best viewing. Also, check to find where the tourists aren't! Look into different tour types- If you can afford it, get a private tour with only yourself and one other serious photographer. Stay out before sun up until sun down. Some parks don't have restrictions, some do. Some parks animals will be close up, and others, you need all the glass you can get! I would have to bodies with two lenses with two different ranges to minimize the need to change out in dusty field conditions.

It may take a year or longer to get all arrangements made. Also remember, check with airlines for weight and size limits so you don't have to leave gear at the gate. Remember that you can load up a safari vest with heavy stuff. Also, some parks don't like camo colored stuff as you may look like a poacher.

Once you nail down those variables, you can make good choices for you.

I am jealous. Have a great time, and don't forget you will need to check on vaccinations and malaria meds.



Oct 4, 2011
Thank you so much for the advice. A few more details about the trip.

- I will certainly bring more lenses than the 200-400. I also plan to bring a 70-200/2.8, a WA (probably 16-35/2.8 unless Canon finally releases a 14-24), a 100mm macro, and an MP-E 65 + MT-24EX (for bugs around camps).
- My wife and two kids (then ages 11 and 12) will be with me.
- The trip will be in July or August due to school holidays
- I think the trip will definitely include South Africa. It is highly unlikely to include Kenya or Tanzania but I am considering Botswana.
- I likely will bring a second body, but it is far too early to think about which body that is. I already own an EOS M that I took to Australia. I was pleased with the results though the camera is a bit maddening at times.


EOS M6 Mark II
Jun 14, 2013
A buddy of mine spent over a month in Africa earlier this year. He mentioned he wished he had a longer lens than a 400mm on his Nikon crop DSLR. Even though he's a Nikon guy he's an excellent writer and photographer.

Here's a few articles he's written on his African experiences that might help you decide on where to visit.’s-Exotic-Stone-Town/
I think to start off you need to decide what sort of photography you want to take, and what sort of wildlife you want pictures of.

I've been lucky enough to visit Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania & Kenya, but it depends on what I want to shoot as to where I go...

A few snippets:

Tech: If you want birdlife, then you want longer reach than the 400mm even with 1.4x built in
Style: If you want water, then you're talking more Zambia or Botswana.
Composition: Do you want lush green or straw coloured surroundings?
Subjects: Do you want to see the great migration? do you want to see young being born?

if this is your only trip to Africa, then I would start with the shots that inspire you and the mammals & birds you really want to capture. Probably those two elements will help focus your itinerary, and then the tech (what to buy and take), comes after that....

Mt Spokane Photography

I post too Much on Here!!
CR Pro
Mar 25, 2011
You definitely need to buy or rent a 2nd body. I'd make it a 5D MK III so your batteries will fit, and so you know how to use it and don't run the chance of doing something wrong.