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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Steel

Photography bag checklist - 20 must haves for an African Safari

Organising a Safari may seem like the hardest part, but I would argue that organising all your equipment is just as painstaking, and equally important. After over ten years as a wildlife photographer, I have decided I would compile my camera bag "20 must haves" to make the most of your trip.

1. Memory cards – I cannot stress this enough, there is never too many memory cards in your bag! You need more than you think! I still, to this day, am surprised at how easily you can fill up a memory card on a good day. This is not just simply solved by getting one or two 128 GB cards. Trust me when they stop working you realise how many pictures can be lost. My advice is to stick to multiple 32 GB/64 GB cards. They are big enough to not be a hassle and small enough to not have all your eggs in one basket.

2. A dust sheet – Africa is dusty. Not just any kind of dust, this dust is so fine it will get into every possible camera or lens joint. Rather than waiting till the end of the day to clean your equipment, take precautions throughout the day. I cover my camera with a microfiber blanket when I put it down on the car seat between shots. This way it is easily accessible but still covered.

3. Cleaning equipment – Bring your cleaning equipment with you, and clean cameras every day if possible. I will emphasise this point again, the dust is a killer!

4. A full range of lenses – The moment you say “I’ll leave my wide angle lens at home, I won’t need it” is the trip you find out a rare meteor shower will be seen from a beautiful spot overlooking the Kalahari. Try to travel light but do your research, there is always a surprise awaiting you in Africa, don’t get caught out.

5. Lens hoods – It is not just dusty it's also sunny in this part of the world, and lens hoods come in very handy for that silhouette shot of a lion into the sunset.

6. Charger and equally as important a universal adapter – I recently cursed as I was in and out of every shop in Kasane looking for a square to round adapter, the truth is sometimes you may not be lucky!

7. Spare batteries – The best investment ever made when growing your equipment list, spare batteries can be a lifesaver. Even the pros sometimes run out of power!

8. Custom camera strap (If walking) – This is something I am yet to do myself, but the advice is it can half that pain of carrying often very heavy equipment around.

9. A good gimbal head and tripod – I always take mine wherever I go. The truth is I probably only use it 10% of the time, but it takes one missed opportunity to remember why that is my steadfast rule. It is the base to your shot, don’t underestimate it!

10. Natural density filters – This is my solution to not getting broken, scratched and dusty lenses. Bonus - they're cheap and easy to replace; unlike your lens.

11. Silicone Camera Cover – This is purely another protective barrier for your camera. The downside is that they do attract dust, so thorough cleaning is needed each day. Keep in mind that most of the covers prohibit you from seeing the diagrams and writing on your camera buttons. If you are still learning and unsure of settings I advise against getting one. Check out:

12. Base plate – Surprisingly not as expensive or as complicated to make as the price tag indicates. I refused to pay £100 for what looked like a frying pan with a hole in the middle. I took to drilling a hole in an old melamine plate (very light). This is not a flawless solution as I am already on my 4th one (largely due to them being crushed by moving car seats back), but it is a lot cheaper! I also use this base plate with my gimble tripod head as my travel tripod solution. It is light and easy to transport, it also allows getting a nicer low angle for subjects. Trust me - don’t be afraid to get creative!

13. Rain cover (believe it or not!) – It does rain. Don't be surprised if your best sightings take place during a downfall, so always have one handy for just in case.

14. A good map – Contrary to popular belief, they are definitly not undated. Sure, it'll take you from A to B but a good detailed map will often indicate other attractions and other 'non-touristy' sites.

15. A notepad and pen/pencil – The truth of the matter is, you wont find a lion around every corner. Reality is, this is the wild. Often you are left waiting in a bird hide or photographic bunker for literally anything of minute interest. Keep a diary, make a bird list, or if you're feeling inspired, sketch the animals you’ve seen.

16. A multi-tool – Things break, and far too often in Africa. The important reminder is that the opticians you need to fix the screw in your glasses may be further than down the street on a safari. A good multi-tool may be the saviour of a very out of focus looking elephant.

17. Insurance – For both you and your cameras. Crime or even just an accident can be a disaster and have serious financial ramifications. Luckily, if you've got a good insurance cover it might not be the end of the road for your photographic ambitions. It also pays to keep the information with you, just in case.

18.Sunscreen and a hat – Whether it is on a walking safari or simply in the car. There's nothing worse than being sun burnt in already hot weather conditions.

19. A beanbag – This is not a must, but it can come in very handy. If you have not got one yet I suggest either A. Making one yourself, or B. making sure you buy one that can be filled at the location. My reason being lugging a 1 or 2 kg beanbag only adds to the back problems all photographers have due to heavy equipment. For great beanbags and other custom photographic supplies:

20. Patience! – This one is the easiest to bring with you, but often I find it is the easiest to forget. In Africa, nothing can be rushed, especially not the wildlife. The sun will always set too soon, the lion will take forever to get up from its snooze in the long grass, and your bags may still miss your flight regardless of your rush. Enjoy the time you have, wait for the perfect moments, and appreciate your surroundings. The normal protocol is to watch the sunset with a gin and tonic while you wait for your bags that are coming “just now”.

The final note is; enjoy every single moment. Capturing every photograph may seem like the most important aspect of your trip, but the time you spend on safari should always be about enjoying every single moment as it happens.

I hope this has been helpful. If you would like any advice, help or simply have a question on safari's and photography safari's in Southern Africa, please do not hesitate to get in touch!

- William


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