Let us say that you have saved up about £4,000 to go on a two week safari to Africa (and bear in mind that some two-week African photography safaris cost over £8,000). For most people this is a lot of money, and it may be that this is the only time you’ll spend this much on a trip. As a result you plan everything meticulously: you get your visa sorted long in advance, you make sure you have the right vaccinations, travel insurance, read all the guide books you can find, etc. etc.
Now imagine that you also want to come away with some great pictures from your trip. You have a digital SLR and the rest should be easy, right? Not necessarily!
Leaving your photographic preparations to chance could be disastrous. There’s nothing worse than having to describe to people “the one that got away” because you didn’t have the right lens, or your camera’s battery ran out of juice at just the wrong moment and you didn’t have a spare, or your memory card runs out of memory just as the herd of elephants start playing in the waterhole in front of you. I’ve been there! The picture above of the two cheetah cubs, for example, was taken at a private game reserve in South Africa which costs around $460 (US) per person per night. (I mention the price only to give you an idea of what’s at stake: if you don’t get the shots you wanted you’ll have to fork out for another stay!) Unfortunately on this particular trip I only had my 100-400 mm lens with me, which I used here with a 1.4 extender, but ideally I would also have wanted to shoot this with a 500 mm with a 1.4 extender (giving a focal length of 700 mm on a full frame camera), to get a nice close-up of the cubs.
And it’s not just equipment that can let you down. If you let the camera make all the decisions for you, you might well end up with pictures that are too dark or too light in the wrong places, or that are too blurry when you didn’t want them to be …
If you want to come away with pictures that are as good as your trip itself then you have to put the same effort into planning the photographic aspect of your holiday as the rest of the arrangements. That means you have to think carefully about the place(s) you’re going to and what you will be photographing. For example, how safe is the country you’re visiting — what are the chances of you being robbed of your valuable gear and what precautions should you take? Do you know if there are any restrictions on using your DSLR or tripod for the shots you’re hoping to get? A friend of mine went to Egypt a few years ago and was told he had to buy a special permit every day to use his DSLR; in this scenario you might want to think if you can get away with a micro 4/3 camera.
The kinds of thing you are planning to photograph will also be decisive in what you need to pack. One needs different lenses for wide angle landscapes compared to close-ups of hummingbirds. If your camera came with a kit lens this might cover a wide range, but it might not cover everything very well, in which case it might be worth hiring a more specialised lens for your trip.
In Part 2 I will talk a bit about how to prepare your shots when you’re in the field. You might also consider one of my half day photography courses specifically designed to help you prepare for — and make the most of — your special trip.