For those of you who have gone digital, it is a great
way to photograph the wonders of
Africa (or any other
location for that matter). Using digital technology on an African safari
brings up a number of items to be considered as you plan your trip.
Power, Power and MORE Power
There is no question that today’s digital
SLR’s require far
more power to stay running than their film-based predecessors. Tanzania,
like a number of my other remote location photography trips, is designed so
that we are far a field, close to the wildlife but a long way away from the
nearest wall outlet. If you consider the need to provide power for not only
cameras but flash units, backup image storage devices, and laptop computers,
the challenge to having a supply of fully charged batteries can become
daunting. Minimizing power demands starts with minimizing the amount of
equipment brought into the field that requires it. Cell phones do not work
in any of the Tanzania national parks due to the great distances involved
and only work in the major towns. I also discourage bringing along a laptop
computer as they are bulky, power hunger and very susceptible to dust and
Electricity is available in the camps by means of a generator operating
just a few hours each day. This makes long term charging difficult. There
are a number of backup charging options available. The first is that there
are now a number of quick charge devices available that can completely
charge a set of batteries in just a couple of hours. These can help maximize
your charging time when power is available. The second option is to use a
small solar powered charger that can handle up to four batteries and be left
outdoors at the camp while you are in the field. The third option comes in
if the safari vehicle is being used. Taking turns with the vehicle’s
cigarette lighter will help you to keep a set of charged batteries always at
hand. Keep in mind also that most vehicles in Tanzania have 12v sockets.
However, be prepared to encounter 24v vehicles. Older Japanese vehicles such
as Land Cruisers might use 24v lighter sockets.
Under these conditions, it is wise to bring extra set of batteries with
you on your safari. Using my camera body as an example, I bring three sets
of batteries. One is in the camera, one is in the camera bag with me in the
field and the other is in the charger back at camp.
Dust, Dust, and MORE Dust
I conduct a
number of my Tanzania photo safaris during the August/September dry season.
This time of year offers the best conditions for wildlife photography and
viewing. While these dry conditions can produce abundant wildlife,
unfortunately they also produce an abundant amount of dust. There is a lot
of airborne dust due to the winds and animals. While dust in the atmosphere
makes for magnificent sunrises and sunsets, it also makes for headaches when
it comes to keeping it out of your gear.
my book, an ounce of prevention is worth hours of cleaning time. Keeping
your gear covered when not in use is the first step. My Lowepro Trekker AW
bags all come with a rain cover that I can use as extra protection to keep
dust out of the bag. When driving between locations, I will put the front
lens cap on and enclose camera and lens in a cover while it sits on my lap.
(Note: while putting camera and lens in the bag is the best way to keep out
dust, it also the best way to miss the unanticipated killer shot you could
come upon while driving to a new location.) Keep the amount of lens changes
in the field to a minimum. Change lenses only after the vehicle has stopped
and then only with the camera pointed down.
Keeping today’s digital
SLR’s dust free is a big
challenge in the field. Thankfully, there are now a number of charged brush
products on the market that work very well in ridding your sensor of dust.
That said, plan on cleaning your camera’s sensor (along with all your other
equipment) each evening.
Thanks to rapid technological advances in
camera resolution, image file sizes have increased dramatically in just the
last three years. Shooting in a combined raw+jpg format with a high
resolution camera can create a 35MB file for each image taken. The questions
of how much memory will be needed each day and how to store your images
while in the field must be addressed.
You do not want to find yourself in the field and out
of image storage capacity nor do you want to store images on the memory
cards for the length of the safari. In order to determine how much storage
capacity to bring, you need to consider: the camera’s resolution; the file
format(s) you will be saving the images in; how many images you might (or
usually) take in one day; and how long to you have to go before you can get
back to camp to download images off of your cards.
Determining the number of images per card is as simple
as dividing storage capacity by file size. A 2GB card can hold 250 8MB
images but can only hold 57 35MB images. It then becomes a question of how
many cards to bring into the field. For
Tanzania, I recommend
bring a minimum of three cards. If one would fail you at least have two in
reserve. I will usually bring four cards with a total capacity of 16GB as I
generate large file sizes. In almost all cases, downloading images can be
done twice a day - once during lunch break and again in the evening.
Whether an extended safari or a weekend vacation, the
means of storing your digital images must be well planned. Size, weight,
power needs, storage capacity and reliability are all factors that need to
be considered in determining the best backup device for you. My preference
is a photo storage and viewer device made by Epson. It is basically a
portable hard drive that runs on batteries. You simply insert you memory
card into the unit and transfer the image files. This will enable you to
reuse your memory cards in a matter of minutes. The extra benefit is that it
comes equipped with an industry leading, 3.8” LCD screen that can be used
for editing your images. Bring along the charger and a spare battery and
your set. Epson currently offers two models with different storage
capacities, the P-2000 (40GB) and the P-4000 (80GB). Regardless of the
storage device you choose, keep in mind the files sizes generated by your
camera when determining the needed capacity. Storing 8MB files on a 40GB
hard drive equals a 5,000 image capacity while storing 35MB files on the
same size drive reduces the capacity to about 1,100 images.
As noted earlier, I do not recommend bringing a laptop
computer for use as an image backup device. Their bulk, heavy power needs
and susceptibility to dust and theft make them a poor choice for safari
And in Conclusion
Despite all of the issue raised while shooting
digital, careful planning and equipment selection will make the rewards all
worth the effort. With the advances in digital technology and the growing
selection of equipment to support the digital photographer, the advantage of
shooting digital outweighs the use of film while on safari.
For more information on Mark's
Wildlight safaris and photo trips send your request to: