Photographing on Safari in East Africa:
Why a good guide is the most important “tool in your bag”.
by Bev Pettit
“Stop!” Our guide exclaimed! “Do you see that?” “Er, what?” we mutter, turning our heads in all directions with anticipation. “That, over there!” he exclaims. “…all that we see are trees, empty trees! Why? What do YOU see?” I ask. “Nothing!”, our guide responds. “There’s nothing in those trees!” “Oohhh kay …so what does this mean exactly?” “Well, it means that something’s happening out there. Way out there, on the “marsh”!. If there would be something in those trees, like monkeys, all would be normal. But since it’s quiet and the vultures are flying in the direction of that large herd of buffalo, way out there across the marshland it means that there has to be a kill nearby.”
Up come the binoculars and we all peer out across the marshy plains, toward a seemingly never-ending line of buffalo migrating to the north. We peer out, but still, see nothing. Then, all of a sudden an ear pops up in the tall grass, about half way between the buffalo herd and our Land Cruiser. Then, sure enough, another ear pops up, and then a tail. There are lions out there! Not one, not two, but many!
Our Tanzanian guide starts up the vehicle and slowly crawls to the edge of the marsh. We look down to the soft, wet, black, spongy soil. He maneuvers the vehicle left, then quickly right, then back left again, as we wind our way slowly through the tall grasses, searching along the way for ground that is firm enough to hold our weight. As our hearts beat harder and our shaking hands slowly lift cameras to beanbags along the edges of the open-topped Land Cruiser the scene opens up. We are now within just a few feet of a fresh kill. An adult male buffalo is surrounded by six lions. Five others lie flat on their sides nearby, casually sleeping off their meals. Two females slowly appear, crawling low through the tall grass. They glance up casually at us as they saunter by, moving in for their turn at the kill.
Having just returned in July from a three-week photographic safari in Tanzania I can attest to the ONE thing that I found to be absolutely vital to a successful photographic safari. And that’s an expert guide.
You can have the best photographic equipment in the world but none of it will do you a bit of good if you can’t get close to the animals, at the right time and in the right places, to get the shots that want. I often found that we would be the first to a remarkable scene, the first to find a leopard in a tree or a cheetah gracefully resting on a rock or a pride of lions at a fresh kill because we had a great guide. When we were ready to move on our guide would radio the others to share the sightings.
Our guide was also an expert in wildlife and knew the names of every animal and species that we encountered, from the Big 5 to the smallest little bird or rodent, that roamed the paths of the woodlands, grasslands, and forests.
So when planning your safari, I strongly advise finding a guide who understands the needs of photographers and one who has the patience to hang in there, and not rush you, so you can get the shots that you want. One who will take you out at the times when you want to go, when the lighting is good. If your guide understands what you are looking for … good light, the right angles, timing, etc., this is what will make the difference between your getting ordinary shots and getting great ones! Hiring an expert guide is not an area where you want to cut costs. After all, you spent a lot of money to get to Africa! You want to be sure your efforts and dollars are well spent.
By law, you have to travel Tanzania with a local guide. Whether you book your trip through a tour company or through an independent workshop group be sure to ask about the guides. Who are they? Where are they from? What kind of experience do they have? Are they experts in the areas that you are visiting? How long have they been guides and where have they guided before? Have they led individual photographers or groups of photographers before?
It is also useful to note that if you travel to a number of parks it would be to your advantage to keep the same guide throughout the course of your travels. That way, not only do you get to know your guide quite well, he gets to know you and what you expect as a photographer and as a traveler. A good guide will do his best to get you exactly what you are paying for. Also keep in mind that it is a good idea to tip well at the end of your journey if you are happy with your guide’s services. This kind of courtesy can go a very long way in establishing a relationship with your guide and your tour company. You never know, you may want to return one day. Or should I say, you may never know WHEN you will want to return.
But most importantly, while in Tanzania, be sure to enjoy the journey! Hakuna Matata!
All text and photos copyright © Bev Pettit. All rights reserved. Copying or use in any way, without the permission of Bev Pettit, is prohibited and protected by US Copyright Law.Photos taken at Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary and Monument Valley. Thank you for your interest in my photographs and writing. To see more of my photos of wild horses, domestic horses, western landscape, cowboys and the Navajo Indians, and African wildlife visit www.BevPettit.com or on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/BPettitFineArt