Photo taken in /
Safari car at sun­set in Miku­mi Nation­al Park

In the fol­low­ing, I have col­lect­ed some hints con­cern­ing the equip­ment and tips & tricks that have proven to be good on our African safaris so far.

Photo equipment

The best shots usu­al­ly are usu­al­ly tak­en in the ear­ly morn­ing and late evening hours. Most of the ani­mals rest at noon, more­over, pho­tog­ra­phy with a long tele­pho­to lens from a dis­tance is hard­ly pos­si­ble at that time because of the heat shim­mer­ing of the air. Despite the light-sen­si­tive sen­sors of today’s dig­i­tal cam­eras, it is there­fore often nec­es­sary to use fast tele­pho­to lens­es.

Since there is no more hunt­ing allowed in Kenya and north­ern Tan­za­nia, the ani­mals are not too shy, so that one can usu­al­ly get close enough to them. In south­ern Tan­za­nia and espe­cial­ly in the Selous there is still some hunt­ing, and there­fore the flee­ing dis­tance of the ani­mals is much high­er. By the way, at least the mam­mals in Africa are rel­a­tive­ly large, so that usu­al­ly a focal length of 400mm with full for­mat cam­era bod­ies is suf­fi­cient, espe­cial­ly if a crop cam­era is avail­able, too. So I swear on my 400mm supertele with an ini­tial aper­ture of f/2.8, but this weighs more than 3kg. In the case that more focal length is need­ed: with 1.4x and 2.0x tele exten­ders the qual­i­ty will hard­ly decrease and you can achieve a focal length of up to 800mm with an ini­tial aper­ture of f/5.6.

Addi­tion­al­ly, I recent­ly took a “fine weath­er” tele­pho­to zoom with a focal length of 60-600mm (Sig­ma 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports*) with me, which is much more flex­i­ble in bright light and also pro­vid­ed an aston­ish­ing image qual­i­ty. I would also rec­om­mend a fast 70-200mm zoom for ani­mal group shots ( and for the ele­phants 😉 ) and a 16-35mm zoom for the breath­tak­ing land­scapes. If you plan to shoot the night sky, a fast wide-angle lens is also help­ful.

Fur­ther­more a tri­pod, a mono­pod, sev­er­al tri­pod heads, 2 Man­frot­to Super­clamps* and sev­er­al charg­ers accom­pa­nied us in our lug­gage.

In the often dusty envi­ron­ments, chang­ing lens­es should be avoid­ed as far as pos­si­ble, so, and also as a back-up, I rec­om­mend to take at least two cam­era bod­ies with you. It would be a pity, if the fail­ure of a sin­gle body would mean the pho­to­graph­ic end of such a trip. It is impos­si­ble to find a suit­able replace­ment fpr your bro­ken cam­era in the mid­dle of the wilder­ness. A good com­bi­na­tion is to take a full for­mat and an APS-C body with you. Recent­ly I even had 3 cam­era bod­ies with me: A Canon 5DS R* or pre­vi­ous­ly a Canon 5D MkI­II, a EOS 7D MkII and a Sony Alpha 7R IIII* or before that a Sony Alpha 7RII* with Sig­ma MC-11* adapter for Canon EF lens­es. With the Sony, I usu­al­ly used the Sig­ma 60-600.

In addi­tion, I used a small 12 inch lap­top for data back­up and a quick image check, an iPad, sev­er­al bat­ter­ies, pow­er banks, binoc­u­lars etc. Dis­trib­uted on 2 back­packs with nec­es­sary acces­sories this made in total a weight of more than 20kg.

As a back­pack, I used a Think­Tank Air­port Accel­er­a­tor*, which just man­ages to pass as hand lug­gage in the plane and takes 2 bod­ies with 400mm f/2.8, the exten­ders and the Sig­ma 60-600mm - but then there is no place left. The rest was stored in a Lowe­pro Flip­side 400 AW. But due to the 12kg free car­ry-on bag­gage lim­it at KLM and Kenya Air­ways the trans­port was no prob­lem.

The KLM and Kenya Air­ways air­lines can be espe­cial­ly rec­om­mend­ed for pho­to safaris in Africa, because they allow car­ry-on lug­gage of up to 12kg per per­son and we had almost reached this weight lim­it with our pho­to equip­ment on our trips, despite the fact that it was dis­trib­uted among 3 peo­ple.

With oth­er air­lines and a lim­it of only 8kg, you have to be tricky: I then divid­ed every­thing into three back­packs and hung a cam­era with lens for me and a fel­low pas­sen­ger at the bag­gage check-in around my neck. By the way, one time, when fly­ing with SWISS, the back­packs were actu­al­ly weighed. But despite a slight over­weight (approx. 9.5kg) they were gen­er­ous­ly accept­ed.

As you are usu­al­ly not allowed to leave the vehi­cles on the gamedrives (and you do not want to leave them because of the local wildlife - inside the car you are a tourist, out­side the car you are food 😉 ) you will observe and pho­to­graph from inside the vehi­cle. Ther­fore most of your pic­tures were tak­en from the roof hatch with the cam­eras an lens­es placed on bean bags. The roof of our vehi­cles could be raised, so that the bean bags could be placed on the edges of the roof. Sev­er­al bean bags were always avail­able in the vehi­cles. This has to be clar­i­fied with the tour oper­a­tor in advance. For some shots (espe­cial­ly dur­ing sun­rise and sun­set) we also attached the Man­frot­to Super­clamps* with tri­pod heads at the roof rails of the car, which increased the sta­bil­i­ty sub­stan­tial­ly. Lat­eron, I also took many pic­tures with a mono­pod through the open win­dow. The low­er per­spec­tive is usu­al­ly much more appeal­ing.

Other equipment

Pow­er adapters are impor­tant to charge the pho­to equip­ment. We have used UK adapters* in both Kenya and Tan­za­nia. The mains volt­age is 240V in Kenya and 230V in Tan­za­nia, all of our charg­ers worked with­out any prob­lems.

Fur­ther­more, in some accom­mo­da­tions, the elec­tric­i­ty is avail­able only for a lim­it­ed time of the day and/or at cen­tral points. In these cas­es, I con­nect­ed and charged a Pow­er Bank* dur­ing the day while we were on gamedrive and used it in the night to recharge my mobile phone, iPad and cam­era bat­ter­ies.

Daily schedule

As already men­tioned, the best time for game obser­va­tion on safari is ear­ly in the morn­ing and late in the evening. Due to the posi­tion right at the equa­tor, there is almost always an equal time of the day and night in Kenya and north­ern Tan­za­nia. The sun ris­es in the morn­ing around 6:30am and sets at 6:30pm in the evening. A safari is there­fore noth­ing for late ris­ers. Every morn­ing we got up around 5:30am and got into the car short­ly after 6:00am. We were reward­ed by many spec­tac­u­lar sun­ris­es. From about 10:00am on, it gets hot­ter and hot­ter and the ani­mals have their mid­day rest - you should do the same and enjoy the camp and a great lunch. In the after­noon the pho­tos of the morn­ing tour can be viewed and saved. An after­noon game dri­ve typ­i­cal­ly starts around 4pm and lasts until 7pm at the lat­est, by this time most parks have to be left. The final high­light is usu­al­ly anoth­er great sun­set. The evening ends at the camp­fire (“Bush­man-TV”), prefer­ably with a Gin Ton­ic, Tusker (Kenyan beer), Kil­i­man­jaro (Tan­zan­ian beer) or exot­ic fruit cock­tail and a fol­low­ing din­ner. Around 10:00pm you are usu­al­ly com­plete­ly tired. BTW: Nowhere else I have ever expe­ri­enced such dark­ness as on a moon­less night in Africa.

Health

No spe­cial vac­ci­na­tions are required for entry into Kenya and Tan­za­nia. How­ev­er, there is one excep­tion: When enter­ing Tan­za­nia from Kenya, yel­low fever vac­ci­na­tion is manda­to­ry. The vac­ci­na­tion card is actu­al­ly checked by a health offi­cer when you cross the bor­der.

Both Kenya and Tan­za­nia are malar­ia endem­ic areas, espe­cial­ly along the coasts and at Lake Vic­to­ria. Malar­ia pro­phy­lax­is is there­fore rec­om­mend­ed. We have con­se­quent­ly prac­tised this with MALARONE (one tablet per day) and have tol­er­at­ed it well. How­ev­er, it is also impor­tant to pro­tect against the sting of mos­qui­toes. The malar­ia mos­qui­to is active at dusk and at night. It is there­fore essen­tial to wear long, if pos­si­ble bite proof cloth­ing dur­ing this time and to use a repel­lent (e.g. Doc­tan*). In addi­tion, we impreg­nat­ed our cloth­ing with a repel­lent (Nobite) before the trip. Dur­ing the night a mos­qui­to net cov­er­ing the bed should be used. I myself did not notice a sin­gle mos­qui­to sting dur­ing the trips.

In the Serengeti there are also TseTse flies, which can cause sleep­ing sick­ness. How­ev­er, this dis­ease is very rare among tourists and occurs only dur­ing very long stays, appar­ent­ly a sin­gle bite is not enough. Our Tan­zan­ian guide, Arnold, knew from his own expe­ri­ence not a sin­gle case of the dis­ease. The TseTse flies are pen­e­trant, sim­i­lar to the horse­flies in our coun­try and some­times appear in swarms. We have killed some of them with our bare hands and impro­vised fly swats. By the way, our repel­lents did not impress them very much. Even with the TseTse flies, closed cloth­ing is the best pro­tec­tion. It should also not be of dark col­or.

Direct­ly at the equa­tor and at a height of 1200-1600m the solar radi­a­tion is enor­mous. A head­wear and sun pro­tec­tion cream with a high sun pro­tec­tion fac­tor is there­fore absolute­ly manda­to­ry.

Food & Drinks

“Cook it, peel it or for­get it”, this rule should be fol­lowed in Kenya as well as in Tan­za­nia. The qual­i­ty of drink­ing water is part­ly very poor, the water often con­tains pathogens, so that one should avoid washed uncooked food - even if it is very dif­fi­cult because of the fan­tas­tic sal­ad and fruit buf­fets. Ice cubes in drinks may also be con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed. Min­er­al water bot­tles are avail­able for tooth brush­ing in all accom­mo­da­tions. But in supe­ri­or lodges or camps, in the mean­time, min­er­al water is used for wash­ing the food, so that we now also had sal­ads there with­out any prob­lems. But to do this, one has to trust the kitchen staff.

The food in the camps and lodges is deli­cious and plen­ti­ful. The buf­fets are usu­al­ly exten­sive. The meat is what you are usu­al­ly used to: chick­en, beef, lamb, often with an “ori­en­tal” touch. Since there is no hunt­ing in Kenya and Tan­za­nia, local game is not served. Those who absolute­ly want to eat ante­lope steaks or some­thing sim­i­lar have to trav­el fur­ther south to Namib­ia or South Africa.

The bars in the camps and lodges are very well stocked. In the evening we enjoyed a Gin Ton­ic or a local lager beer at the camp­fire. In Kenya, for exam­ple, you will get the Tusker (called “ele­phant soup” by the locals), in Tan­za­nia the Kil­i­man­jaro. But there are also very tasty non-alco­holic exot­ic fruit cock­tails. The South African wines are also high­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

(* = Affil­i­atelink)