Not all African safari companies can be categorized as photographer friendly. A photographic safari to Africa has some special requirements as opposed to the run of the mill trip so you need to choose your operator carefully.
It can be done with a conventional company but if getting good safari wildlife pictures is important to you then you will benefit tremendously by choosing a dedicated photography safari operator. Here's why...
More Vehicle Space
Photo safari operators restrict the amount of people allowed in a game drive vehicle as opposed to conventional companies which try to cram as many people in as comfortably possible.
Less people per vehicle has the benefits of allowing you access to both sides of the car with your camera to use a rest (very important), minimizes the risk of camera shake because of other passenger movements and leaves lots of space for you to spread out all your photo gear.
Game Drive Pacing
Patience is a pre-requisite in wildlife photography and once you've found a suitable subject you need to stick with it for awhile to get the best results.
Photographic safari drivers understand this and so will fellow photographer passengers, but on a conventional trip the driver is under pressure from non-photographer passengers to find other wildlife quickly, so they can't stay at a particular sighting for very long. As a consequence, your photography efforts will suffer.
The same goes for the length of the game drives themselves. A photographic safari company will stay out for as long as it takes to get good pictures, often the whole day, leaving early and staying out late to maximise game viewing opportunities.
The conventional company normally only goes out in the mornings and afternoons and the game drive length is often dictated by lodge brunch and dinner schedules (there is some flexibility, but not much).
Wildlife Photography Tuition
You get input, suggestions, instruction, help and workshops specifically about safari wildlife photography from the tour guide who is normally an expert in that field. The conventional safari guide will be a fount of information about the wildlife themselves but will offer very little in terms of wildlife photography guidance.
The Best List
So once you have decided to choose a dedicated company the next question is which one.
I've already been through the sifting process with many safari companies and compiled a list below of the top photographer friendly safari operators in Africa based on over twenty five years of personal wildlife photography experience, lots of trip reports and testimonials, opinions in forums and photo magazines and general consensus in the photo safari travel industry.
Not all photographers have the same budget requirements so to take that into account I've sorted the companies into different rate categories.
Low season rates can be about 25% less than high season rates. The rate indications below exclude international and inter-Africa airfares and are calculated per person per night spent on safari.
You need to book very early to get a place on an Andy Biggs trip because they are so popular. Covers Tanzania's famed Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara National Parks.
Eyes On Africa
Led by David Cardinal you get to visit the Makgadikgadi Pans and the Okavango Delta in Botswana. You also spend time at the Selinda reserve in northern Botswana's Linyanti region.
Joseph Van Os
Lemurs and chameleons in Madagascar, Gorilla and chimpanzee in Rwanda, lion and leopard in Kenya are some of the mouth-watering destinations you can expect to visit with Joseph Van Os.
Mid Range Companies
Undertaken by William Cowger, an award winning feelance photographer, these photo safaris and workshops take place in the Serengeti, Tanzania. Based in the USA.
Owner-guide, Peter Huysman believes that Kenya is the ultimate destination for nature photography. He uses a 'slow travel' philosophy that cuts transfers to a minimum and offers out-of-vehicle photography.
Wild 4 Photo Safaris
Family run business by Stu and Justyna Porter in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. A maximum of three photographers per vehicle and a spotter car driven by Justyna maximizes the wildlife photography opportunities.
Guide Your Own Safari
A self drive is one of the best ways to undertake a photo safari which is why I rate it as the number one tip to improve your African wildlife pictures. A big advantage is that it's low in price in comparison to a guided safari which means you can spend a lot more time in reserves taking pictures of the wildlife (up to twice as long for the same cost).
Guide Your Own Safari takes the logistics of the trip off your hands by booking your accommodation, vehicle and activities in Southern African reserves and game parks for you at the same price as if you were doing it yourself (no extra charge). All you have to do is turn up with your camera equipment, drive and take photographs. You get detailed support on exactly how to go about a self drive photo safari and the cost is lower than any guided safari anywhere in Africa.