Swazicar

Photographic Safaris: Experience, Comments, Advice?

31 posts in this topic

Who has attended/participated in a formal photographic safari? Did you like it? What did you get out of it? How was it similar to or different from other wildlife-focused trips you've taken? Would you do it again, under the same circumstances? Having done one, would you do a second?

 

My questions are based, in part, on my looking into a possible trip to Zambia next year. If my wife decides she's unable to go, either because of the timing or because she doesn't want to blow another 10-12 grand on a trip to Africa, one option is for me to go alone. If I go alone, I'd seriously consider a green-season photographic safari. I'm not really a photographer, but I'm a guy who has had cameras for many years. I like the idea of a solo trip having a more defined focus (so to speak), and it's quite likely I wouldn't do a true wet-season trip to Africa if my primary interest were in seeing tons of wildlife. I'm not good at "resting" during the middle of the day, so I think I'd sort pf like being able to stay out for full days at a time.

 

I'm not mentioning specific names or locations, as I don't want this to be a "How was your experience with Photographer X?" thread. That said, if you had a really good experience, I think it's fair for you to mention any specifics you think are pertinent.

 

Thanks in advance for any thoughts.

 

-tom a.

 

 

 

 

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Oh... good questions! And I really hope for your sake too it doesn't get into personal opinions of photog x and photog y - it'll help not at all.

 

However, in the end (and I have never been on such a tour so don't take this too seriously) I think the individual tour leader and how they organise the tours is really critical for you.They do things differently. Some of them will be bad for you and some will be perfect for you - and I might have the exact opposite opinion of them if we were on the same tour. I just happen to have heard a lot of talk about one particular photographic tour leader over the years and while all agreed he was very good at his job, some loved his tours and thought him to be really fun company and some thought them a bit of a waste and found him arrogant and even abusive.

 

Sounds like a very good idea if you are going alone and don't really want to be alone. You kind of have at least two shared interests with everyone so that is a good start.

 

The kind of thing I am thinking about is....:

 

- the UK photographer AB actively discourages "serious photographers" from going on his/her tours.

- the UK photographer CD works his/her charges hard, thinking nothing of 5 am starts and missed meals when appropriate.

- the US photographer EF thinks nothing of negotiating with officials for hours or breaching ethical boundaries in order to "get the shot" for his/her charges

- If you go with the US photographer GH you may not actually spend a significant amount of time with him/her because he/she has larger than norrmal groups and delegates

 

They are all real people by the way, not composites, but I removed the names because it doesn't matter to my point - which is that if you do this and you're not just photography mad, it's important to feel that the culture will be right for you..

 

Sorry I can't offer personal insight but I look forward to seeing what others say.

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I haven't attended one but I have seen my share of them from a camp management perspective. Many trips led by many different photographers. To be honest the one common thread that has run through most of the trips is how surprised I am that most participants are not total photography nuts and many guests have actually been relatively new or not that experienced. Yes a fair few have been toting massive bazooka lens and body combos that I would kill for, but even then most have been very open in admitting that they have all the toys, but most importantly want to learn. As such I have been pleasantly surprised by the lack of pressure and the good humour in such groups. That makes my life easier!

 

The photogs that have led such trips have generally always been great people. Personally I would really like to do such a trip one day, but I don't see it happening for a while.

 

For those reasons I think it is a great idea, and if I was doing it I would do it either green season or very early/late season.

 

I only once saw a leader throw his toys out the pram completely, but that was 'cause he himself missed the most perfect video sequence by forgetting to press record!

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I did a "photo" tour with a pro photographer from the UK to the Mara once (Name withheld) .......... It was a mixed bag ............ I was under the impression that the pro photographer mainly wanted to build up his own "stock pile of photographs" - he was always seated in the best spot and wanted the vehicle to be positioned to his command and never rotated between the two vehicles (although clients rotated). Was often lazy with his photo tutorials -

 

The overall benefits - One session on Light Room processing. Did also help with camera settings and the pros and cons of various options

Overall - a mixed bag!

 

The big turn off for me - there was one afternoon when our vehicle was positioned ahead of time wanting the entire pride of Lions to walk into our frame single file ........ Suddenly, the other vehicle (with the pro leader) cut us off and parked right in line with the big male lion, as he wanted a tight frame of the male Lion's portrait. Ridiculous!!!!!

 

I did another time with an Indian pro photographer who tailored our safari to cater to our own group. What I wanted out of that trip was something totally different - I wanted to see Tigers and to see them without crowds. He was able to organize the trip to meet our needs ...... So, i guess it's all what you expect from the trip!

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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I've thought about it over the years... I am far from an excellent photographer. When I look at the costs, I always figure, hey for that price, I can do 2 safaris on my own. Guess which one wins out??

 

While I still take photos, I find I now take a lot less. Its about the right pictures I want for my memories of the trip. Im past the days of taking home 100's or 1000's of photos on a trip. I will usually end up with 100 or so from the entire trip after going through all the shots for the best ones. Maybe that just me...

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Thanks @@KaingU Lodge, @@madaboutcheetah, @@Tusker, and (especially) @@pault. I appreciate the input. You're all providing good fodder when negotiations with the wife begin!

 

-tom a.

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@@Swazicar I thought others deserved more of an "especially" than me, but I suppose I would think that! I think @@KaingU Lodge probably has a much better view of what these groups are like than me - certainly the ones in Zambia!! The people I am referring to are probably "name" photographers to differing extents and not wholly typical, even if my point was there are a lot differences.

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@@pault no slight intended to @@KaingU Lodge, who obviously is a superstar. I just mean that your post suggested specific things I might want to think about in deciding whether something was a good match for me.

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Posted (edited)

What great advice so far. I think you'd do well on a photo trip, @@Swazicar. I once found myself on a trip with 5 others who were booked as a photo trip, and I was the 6th spot. I like to take photos and am interested in improving my shots, but I did not have the intense interest or giant lenses of the other 5. It worked out fine. The guide spent more time with me talking about animal behavior--primarily bears because it was Alaska. When it was photo session/lesson time back on the ship, I would participate minimally then talk with the crew or the guide, or read or nap. You'd probably be very involved in the session/lesson. I found I was less tense because pixels were not as crucial to my enjoyment of the trip as they were to the other participants.

 

At shared meals the conversation was not just about photography because they had taken care of that in their photo session/lesson time. Most of these folks had been to other wildlife destinations for photography so there were a lot of shared interests besides cameras, and lots of laughs.

 

You mentioned staying out all day. Photographers are more inclined to want to do that than your average group so they can wait for best light or interesting animal activities. We were out much of the day and everyone agreed on that plan.

 

One thing to look into is the cost to you for a special photo trip vs a regular trip. On that Alaska trip I paid less since I booked a regular trip with the company. The photo group that took up 5 of the 6 spots paid a premium, I think much of it to their leader who was one of the 5 people in their group. All the photographers seemed to learn new stuff and appreciate the expertise of the pro who lead them.

 

"I like the idea of a solo trip having a more defined focus" ha ha, very clever for a photo trip.

Edited by Atravelynn
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.......... It was a mixed bag ............ I was under the impression that the pro photographer mainly wanted to build up his own "stock pile of photographs" - he was always seated in the best spot and wanted the vehicle to be positioned to his command and never rotated between the two vehicles (although clients rotated).

I would anticipate a mutiny by the end of that trip. How embarrassing for that pro photographer.

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@@pault no slight intended to @@KaingU Lodge, who obviously is a superstar. I just mean that your post suggested specific things I might want to think about in deciding whether something was a good match for me.

I am sure he didn't feel slighted! Anyway, I didn't mean to criticize you at all and I am glad I helped.

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Lynn, actually the rest of the group were just bewildered by his "celebrity" status and went with the flow .......... For the rest of them, it was their first trip to Africa and as you'll know - it's amazing!!! He probably took credit for that!

 

The timing of game drives were pre-set ......... It was almost like clock work. Not something I was used to - but, at the same time don't think we missed much by going back to camp.

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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Thanks, @@Atravelynn. Sounds like I'm sort of your type of photographer.

 

We're headed for Wallowa Lake today, so I'll likely be off-line (except during refueling stops at the Terminal Gravity brew pub!) for the next week or so.

 

Thanks again to all.

 

-tom a.

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I've only done the one photo safari, see my trip report here

http://safaritalk.net/topic/14260-laikipia-wilderness-camp-wild-dog-photographic-safari-with-albie-venter-march-2015/

 

It was a relaxed easy going affair with photographers of all levels. Albie is an excellent guide as well as a photographer. His knowledge of the bush in that area (he used to guide/manage at Sosian with Steve) is 1st class and I think that's what you need not just someone to get you in the right position to get a decent composition with the right lighting but someone who understands animal behaviour and how the surroundings might influence it i.e. alarm calls, wind direction, etc.

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@@Swazicar, while I haven't yet taken a photo tour I have done lots of research. The biggest thing that has stopped me is that these tours don't have options for non Photographer spouses to tag along at reduced prices and differing activities if needed. I see a niche there that needs to be filled, but I digress.

 

In my research, the biggest factor I have found in who I may choose had to do with whether that pro takes their own pictures or not. Some pro tours now advertise that they don't take pictures so that they can spend more time with their students. That's the type of tour I would take since that is the only way in my mind to justify the premium paid. I can travel to great destinations and hire guides that put me in position for great photographs on my own...but it's the art of TAKING the great photograph that I would want to improve on and for that I need the instruction of a pro.

 

The whole purpose would be to avoid what @@madaboutcheetah experienced. I think that is all too common (The pro spending more time taking their own pictures than helping the students grow).

 

That's just my 2 cents on what would be important to me. I'm interested to know what you decide to do.

 

Alan

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@@Swazicar I looked at taking a photographic safari but wasn't too sure how it would work out in a big group. In the end I paid for a private vehicle for a couple of days on a 'standard' trip and arranged for a photographic guide for one day. This gave me some great instruction but I think the biggest difference was having a vehicle to myself which allowed more flexibility and choice at sightings. This was in South Africa and easy to arrange - not sure how it would go in Zambia?

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There are guides like Edward Selfe who offer this. He is really the only one that I know is based in Zambia.

 

@@Swazicar I looked at taking a photographic safari but wasn't too sure how it would work out in a big group. In the end I paid for a private vehicle for a couple of days on a 'standard' trip and arranged for a photographic guide for one day. This gave me some great instruction but I think the biggest difference was having a vehicle to myself which allowed more flexibility and choice at sightings. This was in South Africa and easy to arrange - not sure how it would go in Zambia?

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Posted (edited)

@@KaingU Lodge

Isn't Patrick Bentley still operating in Zambia as well?

The advantage of the likes of Patrick and Ed is that they are not only great photographers, they are also Luangwa qualified safari guides as well.

Edited by ZaminOz

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You are right. Patrick! My apologies.

 

@@KaingU Lodge
Isn't Patrick Bentley still operating in Zambia as well?
The advantage of the likes of Patrick and Ed is that they are not only great photographers, they are also Luangwa qualified safari guides as well.

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Thank you for this timely topic. I am also interested in going on a formal photo safari next year, most likely to Botswana. It will be my first trip to Africa. I am an advanced amateur photographer. My primary interest in a photo safari is that I think a car of like-minded individuals will be more likely to want to wait at a sighting to get the right shot, versus non-photographer cars that might want to scoot off to the next spot shortly after arrival. I also hope that the skills of a pro photographer would be useful for my own education and advancement.

 

As I've done more research, and learned more about safari trips in general, it seems like there are many other options other than these kinds of formal photo trips which would likely satisfy all my wants.

 

I also notice that such safaris are at quite a premium compared to other options. However, I expect some of that is due to the fewer people per vehicle that these trips usually advertise.

 

All your comments are quite helpful.

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@@rouxeny, your comment about being in a car full of like-minded individuals is definately a very good point, but arguably self-driving is at least from that perspective an even more cost-effective remedy?

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There are certain camps that have a "photographer in residence" for part of the season, which to me seems like a great idea as you get tips and help but don't have to go the whole dedicated trip route. I know that Alex Walker's Serian did it this year, I am sure others do it also. A good agent should be able to help out and advise.

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@@rouxeny, your comment about being in a car full of like-minded individuals is definately a very good point, but arguably self-driving is at least from that perspective an even more cost-effective remedy?

 

Yes, I think a self driving safari would be great, but not as my first. I think that would take a level of experience that I don't have. I have little experience driving a four wheel drive vehicle off-road, I'm not familiar with driving in Africa in general, and I doubt I have the logistical skills necessary to prepare for, and carry out, an extended camping trip far from home.

 

I'm more than glad to spend the money to not stress.

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I have looked at group tours and discounted them purely on cost. Maybe that's a bit unfair but the reasons I arrived at that decision was based on being in Goa years ago, seeing the hotel the tour was based in, the numbers involved and the total cost. It was 3-4 x the amount I was paying for a superior hotel, I could hire my own private guide and vehicle and the pace of the day was mine to set.Nothing has persuaded me to change my opinion since.

Guided tour packages usually mean they maximise numbers to the vehicles available (otherwise the cost soars) sometimes overcrowding them, particularly if they are to be used as a mobile hide. Even with two abreast, one side is probably limited to the view and direction of the light. I have seen guided vehicles with three abreast. Piggy in the middle gets very little in the way of open shots. You are usually paying a home based tour company's expectations on profits as well as a home sent guide in addition to the ones based on foreign soil. Much better to deal abroad directly if you go down that route IMO. Best still to hire a guide directly.

A friend went on a photo safari to Africa where there were supposedly only 6 people in one of those safari vans with a pop up roof. The tour had taken 7. Now the vehicle will seat more than 7 but you can't fit that many standing up to say nothing of being able to swing your camera around with ease. He successfully sued and won a substantial amount but that didn't really compensate for what he had missed.

I have been on photographic hide holidays and although they can be very rewarding in terms of sights and opportunities I was brought down to earth when I researched other peoples photos and they were all identical to mine ( although maybe better executions!) You can look at some shots and immediately recognise where they were taken. It's a lazy approach to getting the shots you want but there again, particularly if you are in a foreign country, I can see the attraction to many. I now try for a bit of both hide and self found photography.

Like so many others I have a wife who isn't really interested in my passion so I have to find destinations that are suitable for us both or, as I have done for the last couple of years, taken individual holidays. The latter is something I never envisaged doing a few years back but I find with my life passing by I need to get out and do these things whilst i still can. No use regretting not doing so when it's too late. I have a very supportive and understanding other half which is crucial for a marriage to survive!

My solo trips are taken with a friend, I have been with 4 different people and got on well with all of them. Choosing who is important. You don't necessarily need to spend all the time together, there are advantages to being alone, but it's nice to have a travel companion and to reduce costs too.

I think that depending on where you choose to holiday you will probably come across like minded people anyway so even if you are travelling alone you won't always be so, particularly around the bar in the evening.

As for photo specific tutoring , yes I can see that that's a plus. I would certainly favour a tour where the leader was less interested in their own photos although I guess they can talk you through what they are doing as they look through their own viewfinder. Personally i have never had any tuition and it shows. I stumble along on a shallow self learn curve but hey, it give me an incentive to improve. It would be no fun to get perfect results from the off!

In a group you might have a wide ranging span of experience and equipment too. You can't cater for all needs at once and when one person has the perfect shot they may well agitate to move on whilst you haven't got anywhere near the shot you are looking for.

Where you choose to journey to is probably defined on where you are based too. I imagine Hawaii isn't served with too many direct routes to anywhere other than the USA but I say that with complete ignorance. From my own experience I find The Gambia perfect for a tog/non tog holiday as there is guaranteed winter sun for us northern folk, the birding is excellent even in the coastal holiday strip and it's inexpensive. I have had a holiday on the coast in Kenya and taken a three day safari with my wife. I swore then that having our own vehicle was the way to go as other vans passed us at great speed on hearing of lion sightings elsewhere. The same has happened in Sri Lanka ( another excellent venue for me and my other half) where most folk are obsessed with Leopards and little else. Our next holiday is one I'm really excited about, a self drive in Namibia. I'm just a bit worried that my o/h might get bored of my continual photographic obsession so I have made sure we are staying at the most cost effective places that have swimming pools for her to lounge by when I need to go off on my own.

Actually, I'm going to The Gambia before then. Twice in fact. First with a friend and heading off in to the non tourist area , roughing it, then returning with my wife on a standard package holiday at a level of comfort she is happy with.

Anyway, whatever your decision. Good luck and enjoy!

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Hello:

 

If you are planning to go to South Luangwa, I highly recommend Edward Selfe. As others have said he is both a great photographer with much to teach about wildlife photography, but also a wonderful guide. I just got back from spending 5 days with Edward. My 2 friends and myself hired Edward to spend the first part of our 2 weeks with us and had our own vehicle along with the camps guide and scout. Edward was wonderful. I was really worried that it would be uncomfortable or maybe so focused on the photography that I wouldn't enjoy it, but it was exactly the opposite. I learned a tremendous amount but always felt that the most important thing to Edward was that we have a great and exciting experience. And we really did. We got to photograph wild dogs twice and not from inside the vehicle either. Edward persuaded the camp guide to allow us to get out and photograph the dogs sitting on the ground. Amazing. And we had some totally amazing experiences with Lion prides interacting with Elephants that were something I'll never forget. This was an amazing safari and mostly because of Edward. He also took me from a photographer who always used auto settings to being very comfortable with setting up my camera for wildlife. I would be glad to talk to you about it if you want more information. Just message me. I think you would be really happy with Edward and if you go to his website he has some group safaris on his website if you didn't want to just hire him privately.

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