Photographic Safaris in Zambia
South Luangwa National Park has to be one of the best places in the world for visitors who want an authentic African photo safari. Shenton Safaris’ two camps are located in the most game rich area of the South Luangwa, it is also the area with the fewest other camps in the vicinity.
What we offer our clients on Safari
We pay special attention to your photographic experience by providing all guests with bean bags, dust covers for their camera gear and of course there are our world renown photographic hides.
The game rich area combined with our expert guides, specially trained in lighting and photographic positioning, and the photographic hides means spectacular photos are guaranteed. Shenton Safaris has always been the operation of choice for professional photographers and filmmakers. Many of the documentaries you’ll see today on National Geographic Channel have been filmed in our area and using our hides.
Guest photographs take on our safaris
If you love wildlife and adventure and you truly want to experience and photograph raw nature then a Shenton Safari is for you. You will witness beautiful sunrises and the most glorious sunsets; watching your first leopard or lion kill is an experience you will never forget. Seeing the elephants cross the river and walk right under you while you are sitting up in our unique elephant hide gives you an unmatched appreciation for these intelligent creatures. Just to name a few of the animals that you could see on a safari with us are: Leopards, lions, wild dogs, hippos, elephants, buffalo, puku, impala, zebra, kudu, giraffe, waterbuck, eland and roan. There are far too many birds to mention, but photographic favourites are Pel’s Fishing Owl, Carmine Bee Eaters, Lilac Breasted rollers and Fish Eagles.
Typical Safari Day
The wonderfully unpredictable nature of wildlife means that every day is completely unique with surprises around every corner. We structure our days to make sure you get the most out of your experience and so a typical safari day with Shenton Safaris is as follows:
At 05:30 you will be woken by the sounds of rhythmic Zambian drumming. In order to maintain privacy at the chalets we use the drums as a means of communication to announce meals and wake up time.
From 05.45 we meet at the early morning fire for tea, coffee and cookies, whilst enjoying stunning pink, orange and red hues as the sun rises over the river.
We encourage an early departure for game activities so you can make the most of the beautiful early morning light and more active game, so walks and game drives tend to leave between 06.15 and 06.30. You will have another tea and snack break on your drive.
Between 09:30 and 10:00 it is time to head back to camp for breakfast, which is continental followed by a wonderful full English breakfast at our central chitenge (“meeting place”).
Shenton Safaris are the only operation to offer three game viewing activities per day. At midday we will take you out to sit at one of our hides such as the famous hippo hide, or perhaps take you to a lagoon to watch a fishing party of storks and pelicans, or a visit to the ebony grove. If there is predator activity nearby (eg lions or a leopard on a kill) you will get another chance to go and visit this at this time.
Some days we actually have 4 activities a day out of Kaingo. The elephant hide sits above an ancient crossing which is visible from the camp. There is little point going to this hide during the midday activity unless the elephants are crossing. When we spot the elephants crossing we send the message out to all guests who would like to come to quickly meet at the chitenge. From there we will race you to the hide, climb the tree and enjoy watching these amazing beasts as they drink, hose themselves down to cool off, greet other family groups of elephants and eventually cross the river underneath you. We also use this hide as a star bed and you can enjoy sleeping out under the stars with the river burbling away beneath you (advance reservation necessary).
At 13:30 we offer you the chance to relax on your private river front deck in large, comfy chairs. Here we serve you lunch and drinks. Because breakfast is such a large meal which
Safari wildlife photography is quite a different beast to everyday photography. So much about great wildlife photography is about making the most of fleeting opportunities. It is so important you snatch the moment and maximise each opportunity by moving with your camera ready to shoot. In order to learn more you need to come on our photographic Safari.
As soon as you get on the vehicle check your settings. It sounds fairly obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times in the early days I blew shots by having my camera still on my high ISO night settings, resulting in images that were blown out and full of noise. Often by the time you’ve realised your error the subject will have moved out of the beautiful light, flown the roosts, ducked off into the bush etc and you’ve lost that irreplaceable opportunity.
So, check your ISO and set it at an appropriate level for the current light conditions. Keep in mind that the light is going to change regularly during your drive, do not wait until you’ve found a photographic target to change the settings. The same goes for your white balance, whilst this doesn’t tend to need changing as frequently as you ISO if you’re shooting JPEG only you need to keep it in mind. If you’re shooting RAW then you can take care of this in the post processing.
The other major tip given to me by Frans was to use a bean bag. “STOP hand holding your camera, and you’ll see a dramatic improvement in the quality of your photos”. I’m never one to miss an opportunity and I asked him if I might borrow his beanbag momentarily to give it to my tailor. As a result, for the last 5 years, we have had professional quality bean bags available to all our guests. Even with the all the image stabilised lenses available today camera shake is a big issue and the bean bags make a world of difference.
Night time photography and flash
I have to premise this section by saying I’m not a huge fan of night photography – mostly because I don’t consider myself to be very good at it! There are plenty of wonderful off camera flash options for the serious amongst you, but for those of you, like me, who only have your camera’s on-board flash you might want to consider other options.
This last comment really only applies to those who have booked a private vehicle, as vehicles with several groups of guests do need to please the majority. If you saw a leopard disappear up a tree, you can’t make the whole group wait untill it reemerges, since this might easily take several hours.
However, if you have booked a private vehicle and have been on safari before and ticked most of the boxes, then have the patience to work an opportunity. It may be a fruitless few hours, or you may walk away with shots to rival the pros. In my opinion the best wildlife photography is that showing unusual or striking behaviour. Stick with it.
When planning what photographic equipment to bring for your trip there are several components:
1) Binoculars – these are an extremely important item. If you take good care of them they can last a lifetime so it is worth investing in a good pair.
2) Camera Body/ies – If you’re quite serious about the photographic element of your safaris then I recommend bringing two bodies. I use Canon so apologies for the Canon slant to this information, I am just not familiar with the other brands. I find the 50D range the perfect balance of cost vs functionality. They do not have a full frame image sensor which in wildlife photography can actually be a bonus as it means the camera will multiply the focal length of your lens (eg if your image sensor says it is 1.6 that means you can apply the focal length of your lens by 1.6 to get the actual length when combined with that body. If you have an unlimited budget then there are fabulous options at the top end of the scale, but this will be fine for most.
3) Lenses – I use the 70-200ml F2.8 IS and the 300ml F2.8 IS
4) Extenders – I combine both of the above lenses with a 1.4 x extender. I believe the new 2x extenders are quite good
5) Memory cards – be sure to bring plenty of storage space, you’ll be amazed at how many photos you end up taking
6) Photo viewers/downloaders – as an additional option you can bring a small photo storage device like an Epsom, Gigavu or Ipad.
Not everyone wants to invest in all this equipment initially. There are many companies that lease photographic equipment for a very reasonable charge.
Must see and photograph
The animal most of our guests arrive wanting to see and photograph is the leopard. Ideally photographers would like to see a leopard sunning itself on a nice open branch. This does happen, but in reality to see and photograph leopard you need to stay in the same spot for a while. Jumping from camp to camp means you lose time in transit and whilst there is a marginal chance you will hit the ‘hot streak’ of each camp, it is much more likely that you’ll end up bumping into each camp’s quiet night (we all have the odd one of those).
The biggest tip you’ll learn from any wildlife photographer is take the time to work your subject. Find an area that has good leopard and stay there for a significant period of time, we recommend our guests ideally spend 8 nights between the two camps, Mwamba and Kaingo, for serious photographers that length of time increase to 10-14 days.
We have fantastic leopard at both camps and the camps are close enough that whilst you move to the territories of different leopard, if there is a phenomenal sighting at one camp they are close enough to let the guide from the other camp know.
Another frequently requested, but difficult to photograph subject is Aardvark, although on that particular subject (having only seen my first in my 6th year of living here) I don’t have much advice.
Last time National Geographic stayed with us they set up a camera trap on an active Aardvark hole just outside Kaingo and they got phenomenal photos of Aardvark.