I didn’t have a good camera, but I would have made a superb photographs. My sketches and lengthy descriptions of animals in Uganda reveal a traveler who observed everything with curiosity and recorded in colorful detail. You should all learn from my experience.
To this day, I am more of a traveler with a camera than “a photographer” per se, and I am grateful for a job that grants me the daily opportunity to learn new skills. As a lifelong student of photography, I am forever amazed (and puzzled) by the balance of art and mechanics that taking good pictures entails.
I embarked upon this assignment with my new camera (Nikon D600) and quickly discovered that the Islands were the perfect testing ground for new gear. Fearless and accessible wildlife makes this place an incomparable photographic destination. Elated by abundant animals and the strange beauty of the islands, I shot a lot of photos this past week. For what it’s worth, here’s what I learned:
Shooting some of the big five like lions, elephants, buffaloes, Rhinos, leopards and other animals such as giraffes, warthogs, water and bush bucks, topi, oribi, Uganda Kobs, jackals’ among others from the Uganda national parks
- Learn wildlife species
Study your subject—get a comprehensive tour company which will provide you a wildlife guide and read up on your Uganda’s creatures. When are they awake? When do they feed? What do they eat and where is that food most likely to be found? Before you start shooting pictures wildly, observe the animals closely. How do they move? Sea lions, elephants, buffaloes, Rhinos, leopards. The better you know what you are shooting, the better pictures you’ll take.
- Get Close
But not too close. There are rules in Uganda National Parks, so be disease free and fit to experience the gorilla trekking or chimpanzee tracking in Uganda, do not take off track searching for the wildlife “the lions”. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to get up close to take some amazing shots. Follow the National Geographic photographer’s/conservationist idea of Eco tourism/sustainable tourism/responsible tourism and appreciate the win-win scenario between you and the environment, “be there”. Go where the animals are. Good wildlife and primate photography should make you sweat a bit. Only the birds may meet you at eye level—otherwise you need to move. As for lenses, there is nothing wrong with taking a point-and-shoot to the Uganda boat cruise along the River Nile or Kazinga channel connecting the Ramsar Lake George to Lake Edward—you’ll still get close enough to take great pictures.
- Have plan
Once you get to know your animals, you’ll get better at guessing what they might do. Anticipating the shot before it happens is an advantage you want with wildlife. For example, if you’re photographing whales at sea, study their ripples in the water, notice the direction they dive, track their underwater time and be ready for the moment when they break the surface again. Make educated guesses about what the animals will do next.
- Be Patient
Unless you’re incredibly lucky all the time, the best animal shots take a lot of patience. Think, plan, get your camera settings ready and then go explore. Or relax in a safari car and let the animals come to you—in the National park, they will. Once you’ve taken a few shots—don’t rush away. The longer you hang around, the more chance you have of capturing something new and interesting. It was in the Uganda National park “Murchison falls, Queen Elizabeth national park and Bwindi forest impenetrable national park that Tony wrote, “It is the fate of most voyagers, no sooner to discover what is most interesting in any locality, than they are hurried from it.” Don’t hurry.
- Show Motion in your video/photos
Animals moving is always more visually interesting than a stationary animal portrait. Accept the challenge to not merely record the animals you see, but to get it in action. For birds in flight, use Shutter Priority (S) and AI-Servo auto-focus. (I always try to focus on the eyes.) Blur is forgivable and at times artistic, as long as there is some part of the animal that is in focus and recognizable. For faster animals (finches, small lizards, swimming fur seals, breaching whales) try using rapid-fire shooting (I loved this feature on the D600). It’s leaving a bit more to chance, but you’ll often be surprised by what you can capture. If you’re shooting video, let the animal enter and leave the frame—this gives you better editing options.
- Tell a Story on Trip advisor
Don’t just show me animal—tell me that animal’s story. Does the bird have to sit for weeks on a nest in the rain? How do they find food? How does a mother sea lion protect her pup? Ask questions and let your camera find the answer. Some of my readers cringed when I photographed a heard of buffaloes, lions, elephants, Uganda Kobs but there’s a story there: some big five eat grass and leaves, their digestive system is rudimentary and ancient, that these species are a testament to isolated geography and evolution.
- Involve People
How humans interact with wildlife is a story all by itself. Though we always want our wildlife to look wild, I prefer my photography with a side of honesty. The Bwindi forest, Queen national park and Murchison falls are national park with some high number of visitors annually. If there are thirty sea lions facing a crowd of 30 humans, which can be a better photo than a simple tight shot of a see lions.
- Get Good Light
This is a universal rule for all great photography. Remember the Uganda sits right on the equator: sunrise and sunset are quick and deliberate, but these short windows of time are a gold mine for good lighting. Research sunrise and sunset times before you go and make the most of those rare hours to get out and take photos. A land iguana’s golden scales will shine brightly in sideways lighting but appear dull at other times. Harsh tropical midday light casts deep black shadows that simply destroy your shot. Find the good light and pray the animals find it too.
- Don’t Multi-Task
It’s easy to lose your mind in all the excitement of flapping wings and seeing lions, however, trying to shoot everything all of the time will only bring disorder, frustration, and a lot of mediocre shots. Once you’ve gotten over that initial thrill of being in park, take time to focus on certain species at certain times. Set specific photography goals—say, “This morning I’m going to try to capture lion’s facial expression.” Then go out and get the shot.
- Look behind You
Some animals are shy, others are incredibly curious. If you focus with human vision span (120°), you’re always missing something. Some animals that scurried away from you are very likely to return from behind. Gorillas are shy and are especially good at this. Always be ready to flip around and click that shutter. In other words, watch your back when out of car especially in the park, you may be taking unforgettable photographs and then from your back the lion attacks; kill you and then no result from your Uganda photograph tours, wildlife safaris.