Going on a safari was a new experience for me so before leaving I did ask for some advice on what best to take etc on a couple of photography club Facebook groups. Whilst I did get some useful information such as 'don't fall out of the jeep' and 'hold on to your camera' it was more equipment advice I was after.
Now I've completed 5 whole days of travelling through Northern Tanzania I thought I'd just put together my thoughts on it.
I organised the trip so that we were there at the beginning of November to try to catch the start of the rains. This brings on the grass so the animals are on the move. This in turn brings the predators that follow the herds. All done so we would hopefully catch the photos of the big herds on the plains and those close ups of the big cats.
We followed a route from Arusha, over to Lake Manyara National Park on the first day. Second day was taken up with a long day driving round the Ngorogoro Crater Park which in fact is a volcanic caldera. This was followed by moving on to a tented camp situated right on the Serengeti, for the next 3 days. Being situated right in the Serengeti meant we had maximised our time actually viewing animals without taking time driving to and from the park area. Up at 05:30 for breakfast and set off in the Land cruiser at 07:00 straight into where its all happening. The accommodation in the luxury tents with en-suite toilet and shower was very good and the food in the camp was exceptional.
Vehicle and guide.
We booked our safari as part of an overall holiday package through a company called Audley Travel which we’ve used a few times before. Our guide, who is a Massai had an encyclopaedic knowledge of flora and fauna of the area and certainly made the trip for us and was well worth the tip we gave him at the end of the 5 days. The vehicle he used was a Toyota Land Cruiser. Very comfortable and with 6 seats in the back, although there was only 4 of us. It had a roof which raised up so you could stand up and look out. You could stand on the seats (shoes off) and get a higher perspective. Generally I found the people of Tanzania some of the most friendly I've come across in the world.
So, what to wear. It's hot but there are also some tsetse flies in some areas so it's best to wear lightweight long trousers. Zip offs are best so you can convert to shorts when needed. Also wear lightweight long sleeved shirts. At times you will be standing on the seats of the vehicle to get a better view through the raised roof and as they don't like shoes on the seats, wear slip off shoes, they are easily put on and off quickly. I was wearing easily removed Keen sandals with socks. Not a very cool look but I was hoping the socks would prevent some bites (they didn’t).
Biting things (other than big cats).
There aren't many of the tsetses about but they can give a nasty bite as I know as one bit right through my socks. Tsetses can also carry African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness so its best to avoid getting bitten. On the subject of bites, make sure you're taking your anti malaria tablets too as there are mosquitos about in the wet areas.
Firstly, I thought, correctly that there was going to be a lot of dust kicking up on the Serengeti. So I decided to invest in a second camera body which would accept my existing Micro Four Thirds system lenses. This meant that I need not be changing lenses in that dusty environment. I use a Lumix GX8 so I purchased an Olympus OM-D E-M1 body second hand from the MPB Web site. At £285 it was an acceptable add on cost to the holiday.
One aspect of this trip was that I wasn’t sure of the best lenses to take as I want sure how close, or far away the animals would be. I understand that it is a difficult one as no one knows what is going to happen when working with animals. I settled on taking two prime lenses, which I didn’t use much and two zoom lenses, a 12-60mm and a 100-300mm. The two zoom lenses were the ones I used most as they covered most eventualities.
I also took my Gorillapod but it turned out that it was best to be able to move freely and in any case, there wasn’t anywhere I could actually wind it round the roof structure of the Land Cruiser.
One thing I forgot to take was a blower brush. That would have been a good accessory to help in cleaning the dust off the cameras at the end of the day. The do get very dusty in the vehicle.
So, a blower brush and a couple of cleaning cloths are worth having.
It's probably best to take a couple of spare memory cards too as you are sure to take a lot more photos than you think. When you are close to an animal it may not be adopting the best pose so you tend to just keep shooting in the hope of capturing just that moment when the head turns to get that profile or the direct stare from the eyes.
A good camera bag is worth having but be prepared for it to get very grubby and need a good clean up at the end of the safari. The vehicle we had was very well equipped with places to slot your camera in between shots. There was a trough in front of me with some padded bags so you could place one camera safely there and a suspended bag slung over the back of the font seats with compartments in which would accept a camera fitted with a zoom lens.
The vehicle was also equipped with an inverter and power sockets to charge batteries though I didn’t use that as I had plenty of spares.