Photographic Tips in the Bush


The objective in photography is to capture a moment in time as a complete story. You have an opportunity to make it interesting by giving it life and recounting the story to an absent person, in such a manner that makes them understand and enjoy the same moment which you enjoyed.

Golden Rules

  • Before you go out on drive, check your camera for a fully charged  battery (+ fully charged spare), storage media + spares, then set your ISO speed, and your settings for the anticipated conditions out on drive, and be ready for that quick shot with very little or no warning.
  • Turn the camera on and set to automatic “sleep mode” so all you need do is focus and shoot.
  • Always hold your camera – it reduces response time before you take a shot and the camera remains safe!
  • Always take a quick shot to at least have got a safety shot, and then check the playback in case you need make any adjustments.
  • Most guides are trained to ask about “special needs”, but before you leave, make a point to discuss the drive with your field guide and politely advise them that photography is the reason why you are there, and to try and work with you in understanding what a photographer needs.
  • Always use a lens hood, remove the lens cover and place it in your bag/pocket, then stuff a large lens cloth into the front barrel, so it sits snugly and protects the lens.
  • Always cover your camera with a large towel and hold it on your lap. (Game viewing vehicles do bounce around and loose cameras will end up either on the floor or, worse still on the road without you ever noticing the loss until you need it!) The towel and lens cloth are quickly removable and the camera is ready for any sudden action.

It is unethical to disturb, distract or interfere with any animal when observing and photographing them in their natural surroundings. An ideal sighting is to approach an animal close enough to get the shot/s, but not too close as to disturb its behaviour.

  1. Early morning and afternoon light are the best times for capturing images. The sun’s rays are travelling through a horizontally deeper atmosphere and are filtered to give a warm rich effect.
  2. When you start your drive, consider the direction, which you will travel, and the effect, which it will have on the available light, and subjects, which you will be photographing. Try to plan the trip so that the sun is behind you or at ninety degrees to the vehicle.
  3. Try to position yourself so that all you have to do is stop in order to capture the subject in just the right light. Manoeuvring disturbs animals and birds, and you may have only a split second to get that special shot.
  4. When in doubt, use a flash to fill shadow. It fills foreground, the back and side lighting work well. If it fails to fill the foreground, you will still have the chance of capturing good side / back lit subjects. If you don’t try, you will never know.
  5. Shoot as tightly as your lens will allow. Full frame shots leave little composing latitude. They also work well with the lens fully open and the depth of field loses importance. In fact, the less depth of field that you have the more the subject becomes the only focal point of interest.
  6. If you are caught with a short lens. Try to tell the story about the place where the animal was seen and its relationship with its surroundings. (Don’t forget the “one third / one third” composition theory.)
  7. Whether you are shooting birds or animals, compose them in the frame in such a manner that they have their back to the edge of the frame with the subject facing inwards. The direction of their flight, escape or natural movement is in the other two thirds of open escape route.
  8. Try to place light coloured animals or birds against a dark back ground and vice versa.
  9. Always try to use the eyes as the focal points. If nothing else in the shot is pin-sharp, the eyes should have it. Catch lights in the eyes give the shot life.
  10. Emotions in animals and birds make dramatic shots. Try to tell a story to someone who never saw the scene, in your shot.
  11. When shooting little subjects, try to get down to their level where possible. Being lower than the eye-level of the subject makes for more dramatic photographs.
  12. Never make sudden movements. They will scare off subjects. Be quiet and work in slow motion if you have been noticed.
  13. Keep quiet and try to not drop anything or make a sudden noise.
  14. Where possible, ask your field guide to manoeuvre the vehicle so that all the photographers on the vehicle, have an equal chance at getting a good shot. Wait until all have had their shots and then ask if everyone has finished.  If you have got the shots you want, respect those who are and give them the time they require.
  15. If the vehicle is bouncing along at speed it is acceptable to politely ask the field guide to slow down. It is wrong for the animals to be scared away as much as it is not good for the vehicle, the passengers and the expensive equipment falling and breaking.
  16. Listen carefully to the field guide who should warn passengers of overhead obstructions or potholes even though you may be completely engrossed in your equipment.
  17. When looking into the bush, try to look at the furthest possible subject as deeply into the bush as possible, and allow your vision to blur. Once you detect movement in the foreground, you should focus on that movement. This will enhance your sightings dramatically.
  18. When observing animals and birds try to put yourself into their place and try to anticipate what you would do in their place. Watch the direction of their stares and what they are looking at.
  19. Listen for alarm calls of birds, monkeys, and animals. Try to see what those creatures are looking at. They will tell you that predators are around.
  20. With a digital camera you can review your shot instantly. Don’t be scared to play with settings and keep adjusting until you get a satisfactory result.
  21. Don’t be scared to shoot multiple frames if the animal and bird are moving. If you have set the camera correctly the AI Servo will get the Auto Focus to quickly lock onto the moving subject.
  22. If you have to change a lens, ensure that the camera body is switched OFF! Digital cameras operate on electricity and an open body is a vacuum for static dust! Try not to change a lens in a dusty environment with the wind swirling around.
  23. Face the camera body downwards when removing the lens, and have the dust cover waiting to cover or other lens close at hand, to minimise the time while the hole is open.
  24. Many photographers fit a UV (Ultra Violet) filter to the front of all their lenses to protect the front element from being damaged. These have to be very high quality makes otherwise they can distort an image. A lens hood will also offer protection to the front element of the lens and I believe that a clean lens cloth stuffed into the front of the lens with a hood does the job just as well and offers a cleaner image with no distortion.
  25. As a passenger in a game viewing vehicle, I find a monopod to be ideal. While travelling, leave the clips unsecured and the pole loose in its sleeve. You simply have to raise the camera to eye-height and lock the clips to take a photograph. (Beanbags are also very versatile camera supports but can only be used in certain applications.)
  26. Image Stabilised (IS) equipment has become standard these days, and it does help tremendously to get sharper images. Camera movement spoils images! Compensate by increasing the ISO speed as well as shooting with the fastest shutter speed possible.

Apply the rules above and your game drives and holidays will be so much more fun with happy people!


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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Tim, Congratulations on a lovely website! What I see takes me back some years while I have been a member of the National Parks Board (for 15 years). I retired in 1998 after 15 years of service as an Editor. It has been the best years of my life by far.

    Have a nice day.