Are you planning for a wildlife safari in India? Below are few basic points to keep in mind for taking better photographs on your next safari holiday in India.
Know Your Gear Before You Go
Its not a good idea to go on a safari with a new or unfamiliar gear. Whether it is rented on bought new, you should know how your camera or lens works, what is its sweet spot, where are the buttons located and its functionality to quickly change the setting. In the jungle most animals will not give you time to stop and change camera settings, before you know they have either changed their position or vanished in the thickets.
Choose Correct Gear
Bringing correct gear on safari is very essential. This largely depends on what you shoot. In my experience the people I have taken on safari have carried all sorts of camera and lens from high end to bridge and point and shoot. But in my opinion you need a dslr with lens with enough reach to get decent close shots of animals. It is recommended at least 200-300 mm lens for general wildlife and minimum 400mm for birds. You might also want to pack a wide angle lens as Indian jungles offer some beautiful landscapes.
Very often you will see animals including tigers at close quarters in the thickets or crossing roads. In this scenario, high end zoom or telephoto lens are not much of use. Therefore, it is wise to pack lens that does the job.
Most wildlife in India is active during early morning hours or late in the evening when light is very low. To get decent shutter speed you need fast lens and body with good iso performance.
Adapt According to the Conditions
Light conditions in the Indian jungle constantly changing. At one moment you are driving through the jungle and in next you come out on the meadow. With constantly changing light, it is a best practice to keep changing your camera setting. It can be painful and easy to forget but give you an edge to quickly point your camera and freeze the moment.
Light temperature is another aspect you need to take into consideration. Early morning light in central India tends to be cooler while day is very warm. If you like to make the most out your picture it is best to keep an eye on your camera’s white balance setting.
We do not recommend bringing tripod for safari in jeep because there is just not enough space in jeep to install the tripod. Wild animals move fast and change direction, so tripod can become an obstacle rather than a helping tool. We however, recommend a bean bag which is much more practical and offers a better flexibility while you maneuver from one side of jeep to other. It is also easier to pack and bring. We will fill your bean bag before you go on a safari so you do not need to carry fillings with you.
Focus on the Eyes
A wildlife photograph where the subjects eyes are out of focus loses a lot of its appeal. The reason is probably that we as humans are naturally drawn towards looking at eyes and if you can't see them due to blurring it's a little jarring. Whatever the reason, always keep the eyes of your subject in focus and if you can capture the sun glinting in the pupil you get bonus points because that really livens up the picture.
However, it is not always the case to get eyes in perfect focus specially when the subject is bit far off. In such case it is best to focus on face so you get important features of animals in proper focus.
Different shutter speeds produce varying effects with regard to subject blur and camera shake. Fast shutter speeds are desirable for stopping movement, such as flying birds and eliminating camera shake. It is worth remembering that is some situations movement of the subject during exposure can often result in a pleasing pictorial image. A minimum shutter speed should be 1/500.
Shoot in Continuous Mode
Shooting in Continuous mode with 3-6 frames per second helps to capture many beautiful moments of action in the wild. It captures them in flight, leap and behavior and most important you don’t miss the shot when your subject is on move.
Shoot in RAW
A RAW file has much more data than a JPEG file. JPEG is in camera built processing of your photograph and is ready to print. But JPEG can fool you with its processing whereas RAW gives you the advantage to go back any time and process the image; do color correction, brightness and contrast, sharpening without damaging your original file.
Note: RAW files can be processed in Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom etc.
Shoot in Aperture Priority
For that nice blurry background and stand out wildlife photographs Av or Aperture priority mode is used with a decent telephoto lens. Do keep your aperture wide open with f/stops like f/2.8 or f/4 or f /5.6 to get minimum depth of field. These f/stops are mostly used in birds and mammal photography. Vice a versa for photographing landscapes you can achieve a maximum depth of field with f/16 or f/22 so that the scene is sharp from foreground to background.
Note: The shutter speed will be set automatically in this mode and can be increased by increasing the ISO values. Just keep this in mind that a narrow aperture like f/16 or f/22 will slow down your shutter speed and you might need a tripod to capture the scene during dawn and dusk.
Every zoom lens has a sweet spot which is generally 30-50 mm short of full zoom and a 1 f stop down. Find this sweet spot by practicing and observing images for sharper results.
Other Essentials in your Camera Bag
-Pack extra batteries and memory cards since you’ll have few chances to charge your camera and transfer photos throughout the day.
-Do not forget to keep a camera cleaning kit with dust blower, cotton swabs, cleaning brush and lens cleaning tissue.
-It is wise to pack extra charger. I have seen battery chargers failing and people getting dishearten due to non functioning charger.
-Cables, card readers and portable hard disc are other essential to have in your camera bag.
Safaris can be very dusty due to loose soil and light suspended particles in the air, specially if you are behind another jeep. Therefore, it is advisable to carry some kind of protection to cover your face, head and gear.
Go With Pro
It’s tempting to try and save money by organizing a safari on your own, but it’s worth it to go with a travel specialist, like Chinkara Journeys. Quality travel advisors can offer small or private tours so you are not fighting for a good view or moving on before you get the shot. A good guide will also have the knowledge and experience with wildlife to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time to capture stunning images. Going at it alone or with an inexperienced operator may lead to missed opportunities and subpar photos.
Research Your Subjects
It is always better to do some home work in advance before visiting any national park, tiger reserve or bird sanctuary. Every park is different in its terrain, habitat and wildlife and it looks completely varied at different seasons. So surf the web and ask your tour operator. Ask the lodge manager and there in house naturalists about the terrain, common sightings and kind of photography opportunities you may get. Do a research about the targeted animal species, their behaviour, routines & habitat.