By Ritchiephotos.com, written 1476827782
Based on my recent excursions to photograph the wildlife on the Serengeti and in India, here are some tips for budding wildlife photographers or those who are planning to go on safari.
Personal safety is priority
This is particularly the case if you are planning on shooting predators. On the Serengeti, we had jeeps and armed guides on hand to assist. Fortunately, the guns stayed silent and the jeeps were sufficient refuge during potentially dangerous times.
Never put yourself in a situation where the animal is between you and safety, or where you are between it and it's young. Hippos are particularly dangerous, as they are not considered to be dangerous (i.e. they don't eat people), but if you get between them and the safety of their water they will charge, and can trample or crush you.
A good local guide is a must
When exploring the wilds of the Scottish highlands, a guide can be helpful for even the most experienced photographer or climber, but when venturing abroad it becomes a necessity. A local guide can save you valuable hours of shooting time by taking you to known viewpoints where animals frequent, and can also be more skilled at spotting wildlife in the bush.
In India, we toured one of the national parks and the guides, while not as good as their African counterparts, knew where all the watering holes were located and knew that this would be a good place to start. In Africa, they are more knowledgeable about the habits of the animals and were better at tracking the wildlife.
Choose your gear wisely
You will need to travel light, so pack wisely. I take one or two bodies, a 200-500mm, 70-200mm and 50mm lens. I rarely use the 50mm but I feel naked without it! A tripod is usually unnecessary, as you will be moving around and need flexibility. If you are travelling in a jeep, most of them are open-top or have extending roofs and you can often balance your camera and big lens on the frame of the vehicle. You probably won't need a flash. Take cleaning cloths, etc, with you, and plenty of them.
Never interfere with the animals
I have been privileged to see multiple kills, as big cats attack their prey. It is tempting to shout "behind you" to the doomed animal, but you must resist. There is something quite humbling about watching nature in its rawest form. Set up your camera to take as many fps as it will allow, and you will capture striking images of predators and prey.
Be aware of your surroundings
One of the scariest moments of my life was when I found myself between a pride of lions and their cubs. We had been tracking buffalo and had wandered into pride lands. As the lions attacked the buffalo, we were happily snapping away. After the kill, one of the lions walked directly towards us. I was terrified. Normal behaviour would be for her to feast on the kill, and yet she kept coming towards us. The guide warned us not to move (easy for him to say as he had a gun). The lion walked past us (about 15 feet away) and went into a patch of long grass behind us. She emerged a few seconds later with four tiny cubs, about 8 weeks old. The pride had killed, and she had come to get the babies to ensure that they received their share of the spoils. The cubs walked past us, close enough for us to bend down and touch them (we didn't!!!)
Keeping your equipment clean is an impossible task
The Serengeti, in particular, is a very dusty environment. Avoid changing lenses unless it is absolutely necessary. Do so with great care, as dust does not help your image or your camera. I cleaned my kit every hour in Africa, and every 4 hours in India, and gave everything a thorough clean each night.
Take every memory card that you own!
I probably took about 8,000 photos in Africa and another 1,000 in India. Back them up every night - dust and sand can damage memory cards too.
Take a break from behind the camera
If you are fortunate to have the opportunity to photograph big cats in the wild, and in their natural habitat, enjoy it. Taking great photographs is only part of the trip. Don't forget to enjoy and experience the surroundings and the drama of life on the plains or in the jungle. If it is, for you, a once in a lifetime trip, you will regret that you spent the whole time behind a camera. Put the camera away and watch what is happening. Let your senses come alive with the sounds and smells of the wild. You won't regret it.
My next trip?
Hopefully I will be off to track mountain gorillas next.