Here are 8 things you should bring on one of our African Safaris:
1. A laptop.
There’s a school of thought that suggests that when you’re on holiday you should leave the trappings of modern life behind (ie. things that could potentially distract you from the business of relaxing). There’s an element of truth to that, but on a photographic safari in the bush in Africa you will often find yourself disconnected from the internet, so the urge to check emails and surf the web will minimised, while the desire to check out your photos as soon as you can will be maximised.
One very strong advantage of reviewing your most recent images before you head out on the next game drive is to be 100% sure that you have all your camera settings correct. In the excitement of getting out there sometimes you might inadvertently have a setting in place that doesn’t give you the best possible results, such as discovering that you’ve shot the entire safari in JPG mode (or in a colour space that is not optimal) and the white balance isn’t quite right. What if you have a dirty sensor? Do you really want to spend the next few months after your safari editing out dust bunnies?
Checking out your shots on a decent laptop in-between game drives is a great way of avoiding mishaps like that from causing you stress later on. You can also cull a lot of the images you know you’re never going to use.
2. Back up drives
If you’re bringing a laptop on safari you should also bring at least one external hard drive, preferably two. Why two? The first external you should use to make back-ups of your main hard drive, including any system files. Mac users can set up Time Machine to use one of the drives to run backups in the background. The second drive should be used to make a backup of your shots during the import phase. Lightroom offers this option, so at least if you lose the back-up drive and possibly your laptop too (which is not an uncommon occurrence for travellers) at least you will have a third copy of the files stored in a different location that can be packed into a different bag or case.
3. A travel tripod
On our last few safaris we’ve had some very good opportunities to do night photography as well as some painting with light. Bringing a lightweight tripod just adds another dimension to that kind of work that you won’t get if you’re resting your camera on a rock or something similar. In 2012 I managed one or two decent shots of the Milky Way by resting my camera on a log, facing upwards into the sky, but had I brought a tripod along I would have been able to compose my shots a lot better. They’re also good for doing HDR sunsets and sunrises, photo opportunities that shouldn’t be allowed to pass while on safari.
4. A photographers vest (or a smaller camera bag)
I hate wearing these things. They make me feel like a dork as they are the quintessential wannabe photographer cliché. Yet, a few years ago, when I was uncertain of whether I could get all my gear onto the plane as carry-on luggage, this was the go to item I wore with me onto the plane. Just in case. The amazing thing about these vests is the amount of gear you can put into them. On our last trip three of our safarians had them custom made for their gear and while they looked like pack horses half the time, they didn’t lose anything and had a steady supply of lenses and other photography paraphernalia close at hand. I’m hoping to get one made that looks a bit like Jax Teller’s cut from Sons Of Anarchy. Gotta keep the rep up, ya know.
If you don’t want to wear a vest you might want to consider bringing a smaller camera bag that you can take with you on the drives so that your gear isn’t lying around unsecured while the vehicle is moving. We encounter some pretty rough roads and it’s not impossible for a camera or lens to bounce right out of the Land Rover is you’re not holding onto it. On our upcoming trip next week I will be taking my ThinkTank Airport International roller to get my equipment to the reserve, once there I will transfer smaller items to another bag, like my ThinkTank Retrospective 5 (which is the best bag ever for my mirrorless system). This is provided of course that I can’t get hold of that SAMCRO cut beforehand.
5. A warm jacket
Depending on where you’re visiting, you’re likely to find the evening temperatures dip down below what could be considered a comfortable level for a regular T-shirt or sweatshirt. Even in summertime (which incidentally is not a good time to go on safari in Africa). Case in point, in 2009 we undertook an evening drive at the Mkuze game reserve in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal, which is quite a warm, sub-tropical climate. While the open vehicle we were traveling in was stationary the evening was quite pleasant, but as soon as we got moving I was freezing! I got so cold that even my eyeballs were aching. Same thing happened in 2012 at Sabi Sabi when we approached the rivers on night drives. You can feel the temperature dropping as you get closer.
When the last of the sun’s rays disappear and you’re still out on the reserve it gets chilly, so I recommend taking a moderately warm jacket if you’re visiting between the months of May and October. It doesn’t have to be something Alpine in nature, but expect temperatures anywhere between 0ºC (32F) and about 10ºC (50F), which by any standard (except maybe those set by the Norwegians) is uncomfortably cool.
6. Suncreen & a wide brim hat
Southern Africa has very harsh sunlight. If you’re outdoors and you have fair skin, you’re going to turn red pretty quickly if you don’t apply a good layer of sunscreen. I have an olive complexion so I don’t burn as easily as fair skinned persons, but on safari I would use a minimum of SPF 30, sometimes even SPF 50. Our game drives mostly happen in the mornings and evenings, but if there is something really exciting happening out in the veld we’ll stay out there, even as the sun gets higher.
A bush hat is a good investment to make, but ensure you get one with adequate ventilation otherwise you might find the heat a bit much to handle when the sun is high. Last year I used a Rogue hat found at a local outdoors shop for about $25. It was a little big, but I bought a Buff to wear under it and it actually made the hat very comfortable to wear.
7. Malaria medication
Not all reserves fall into the malaria risk areas of Southern Africa, an example being the Madikwe private game reserve in North West Province of South Africa. But most of the rest of them do, so protecting yourself against malaria by using prophylactics like Malarone® is a good idea. Malaria is the number one killer of humans in the world, taking over half a million lives every year. Yes, it’s treatable, but once you get it, you can have it recur up to 30 years later. Not a cool thing. Especially uncool if you’re a pregnant woman because the parasites can attack an unborn fetus causing many serious complications.
8. A macro lens
Not everything you encounter in a game reserve requires the use of a telephoto lens. Some excellent opportunities can be found within your campsite, especially if you’re into things like insects. Dung beetles in particular make fascinating macro subjects, not to mention spiders and other little critters. I have a few macro lenses, but the one I will bring with me is for the Olympus OM-D, namely the Panasonic-Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit. Small, light, sharp. Don’t really need much more than that.
These are a few little extras that can go a long way to making your safari a more rewarding and pleasant experience. If you have any questions about our trips or what we recommend taking in terms of gear, please feel free to drop me an email.