From the Hip: Tips for photographing wildlife on foot

Morkel Erasmus All Authors, Morkel 9 Comments

It’s been a while since my last post – I hope you all are well. The majority of wildlife photos we see today are arguably taken from your standard safari vehicle, and if not they are probably taken from the window ledge of any normal consumer vehicle in a self-drive park. Yet, there’s an increasing emphasis on an authentic safari experience on foot. This comes with its own bag of risks and considerations, for sure, and the photography can be difficult if the animals aren’t used to seeing humans trundling around their clump of bush on a regular basis.

There are however places where a true photographic safari with a great deal of time spent on foot is a reality and a major drawing card – places like Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe or the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia.


So let’s look at some helpful tips for making the most of your walking safari, photographically speaking. I will also include some photos I’ve taken on foot in the wilds of Africa.

For this post, I will assume you will be walking with an experienced and qualified guide in an area where the animals won’t run after one of your party as they stepped on the first dry twig in the pathway…


1. Travel light but travel prepared!

Take as much gear along as you can comfortably carry for a couple of hours while offering you the most flexibility for varying focal lengths and interpretations. It also needs to be the kind of gear with which you can run (if needed) or climb a termite mound or tree (if needed). I know people who are fully prepared to trounce around with a large telephoto, but those are the people who can handle the weight for the needed duration and when speed is needed.

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2. Listen to and respect your guide!

This is crucial guys, it could make the difference in a critical and dangerous situation.


3. Get in close!

With the help of your guide, go in as close as possible without causing distress to the subject (careful interpretation of animal behaviour is needed here, as well as a good approach method). This will enable you to use a wider perspective and place the animal in its environment nicely.


4. How low can you go?

We all want that elusive low angle in wildlife photography to try and get an eye-level perspective with the subject. If the terrain allows it (no long grass in the way) and the subject is relaxed, do so under the watchful eye of your guide.


5. Leave only footprints

A no-brainer really. Don’t drop stuff in the bush. In fact, don’t carry stuff that could perhaps be dropped. Carry a water bottle and your camera, and if you need to take snacks then make sure you take the packaging out with you.


6. It’s not really about the photos

Being on foot in the bush is a special kind of experience, one that really allows you to immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, tranquility and sense of wonder that Africa has to offer. Drink it in, soak it up – this means you will often need to forget that you are carrying a camera. If you are truly plugged in to the experience, you will find the camera often naturally being neglected.


I hope this short post has been helpful and that you’ve been inspired to get out into the African bush.

When you are visiting your favourite game lodge or National Park rest camp again, make sure you book a walking trail or a walking safari – it might just change the way you see the world! If you would like to join us in Mana Pools this year (only a few spots left), then you can check out the safari details and get in touch.

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Morkel Erasmus

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Comments 9

  1. Carol Bell

    Hi Morkel…..loved reading this…… I really miss the days of when I just used to walk and was allowed to. I really like what you say about leaving only footprints…. think that is the most import thing! I just could not believe what people throw out of their car in Kruger. I took a photo of a baby baboon playing with toilet paper!!!!

    1. Morkel Erasmus

      Thanks for your comment, Carol. There are still places where you can enjoy the freedom of being on foot in the bush – but it’s always better to have someone with you who is qualified in handling confrontations with dangerous animals.

  2. Zine El Abidine Rami

    I loved it, thank you so much!!
    Reading you tips and looking at the picture made me feel the experience.
    Thank you very much again.

  3. Andy

    Great reading your advise Morkel.
    I was born in Kenya and lived there for most of my life. Can still remember walking for 60 Km across the Serengeti plains and recently walking free in our family ranch in the Rift Valley. No noise, just the singing of the birds and the sound of my footsteps, unforgettable.

  4. CJ Vermote

    Your shots are amazing. What lens do you use? I am currently waiting for my Tameron 75-600 to come in. The manufacturer did a recall before Sony got it out there. I’ve prepaid so I’ll be hitting parks as soon as I can when it gets here. I’m not sure my husband would feel comfortable with me on a real safari, but you sure help make me feel like I could. Be safe and enjoy – I look forward to seeing it through your eyes.

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