How to prepare for a safari: equipment & outfit
So you’ve got your fantastic (new) camera and lens/lenses, a great tour operator, driver, accommodation, and you’re about to hop on your plane to Nairobi to start your adventurous safari journey! In that case, it’s worth reminding yourself if you did actually pack your other necessary items as well before you took off…
Let’s start with the camera-related items. The Mara is a dusty place. Very dusty. A couple of years ago I was in the Dubai desert with my brand new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL zoom lens… and when I returned home I went straight to the Nikon service centre in my country to get it stripped and cleaned from the microscopically small dust particles inside. I was a good lesson learned for me: I’ll never carry my lenses outside in the open without a lens cover ever again.
But a lens cover only will not suffice. The Mara dust will also make its way onto the outer glass element of your lens, ever so slowly. So, I also bring rain covers on my trips which provide a pretty good seal against the worst dust as well. Then there is the hood: for my 600mm f/4 I never use the original hood: it’s around $500 to replace and it’s bulky and heavy. Solution: get a foldable hood which easily attaches with velcro to your lens, for example like the one from LensCoat (no, still not getting sponsored by them…). This will also help keep the dust away.
Then there are your clothes: the Mara is a very cold place in the morning and a very hot place in the early afternoon to late evening. Cotton/jeans trousers will get too hot very quickly, so it’s better to go with trekking ones made up from a mix of polyester and cotton. The same goes for your shirts: try to avoid cotton during the day (evenings are fine). And another simple one I figured out a couple of years ago: the right hat. As you don’t want that Kenyan sun to burn right on top of your head you’re definitely looking at some form of protection there as well. I used to wear baseball caps during my photography trips; the only drawback with those is that when you want to shoot in portrait mode, you need to rotate your cap or remove it all together, loosing precious seconds.
A simple and elegant solution for head protection: a boonie hat! They come in all shapes, colours, and sizes, and the biggest benefit is that you can keep it where it is while you rotate your composition and camera from landscape to portrait and back. Most of them also have some openings on top to keep the airflow going.
On our 2nd day in the Mara we encountered this cheetah in the early morning, sitting on a small hill, looking for breakfast. I started off in landscape mode but I struggled to get the composition I wanted. So I decided to give portrait a chance and the result was much better. When you’re in a situation where you don’t have to worry about the hat you’re wearing when you quickly need to change between landscape and portrait mode, this will increase your chances to get that shot you want!
Next to gear, however, you’ll also need to master your shooting skills to increase your chances for that lucky shot. Which I’ll save for my next article.
And as mentioned in my previous posts, I’m aiming to organize a safari trip this year for a small group of photography enthusiasts and share some of these experiences and best/personal photography practices. So if these stories and images strike a cord in the coming weeks… drop me a note at: email@example.com.