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In this post, Sophie Brown, one of our wildlife photographers in the Greater Kruger, South Africa, talks about which camera accessories are available and worth having on a photo safari.


I have to admit, I used to be a sucker for an accessory or two when it comes to the world of photography. In my mind, I had spent so much of my hard-earned money on this equipment, of course I would want to make sure I had all the accessories I could possibly need when I went on a photo safari.

“Just in case” – My favorite phrase, or possibly excuse. 

But the reality is that many of the accessories I have bought over the years have laid dormant and unused in my kit. Therefore, in this article, I will break down some of the accessories available and worth considering having in your kit when on a photographic safari.

I have also included equipment packing lists you need for different types of photo safaris.

If you are wondering what camera bodies and lenses you need, check out Packing for a Photo Safari (Part 1): The Camera Essentials

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Which Camera Accessories SHOULD You Take on a Photo Safari?


Batteries and Memory Cards

The simple answer to this one is to have them and spares.

Batteries and memory cards are important components of your essential camera equipment. If you fill your memory card or run out of battery while in the field and don’t have any spares, you’re pretty stuffed.

Trust me, I learned the hard way!

When it comes to choosing which ones, remember there are plenty of non-branded batteries out there. They generally will not last as long as the main brand batteries, but they are perfect to keep as spares.

How many spares you need will depend on whether you have a mirrorless or DSLR camera body and how much you use it.

If you are using mirrorless, you should have more spare batteries (at least two) than if you are using a DSLR.

photo-safari-camera-accessories-batteries-and-memory-cards

In terms of memory cards, I generally look for a good, well-known brand (my personal preference is San Disk) and a write speed of at least 90mb/s.

This means I can make the most of my photo buffer and the fast frame rate of my camera body. If you have an FPS rate of 10, look for an SD card with a write speed of around 150mb/s or more to get the most out of it.

As mentioned before, make sure you have a few memory cards, each with a decent amount of storage (I aim to make sure that each of my memory cards is at least 32GB in size) to reduce the chance of filling a card during an epic sighting and wasting valuable time by having to change it mid-action.

It also means that if one of them fails, breaks, or gets lost, you have plenty of back-ups.

Memory cards come in a few different shapes and sizes and over the years have taken on many different forms. But SD (Secure Digital) and CF (Compact Flash) cards are the most popular and are easy to obtain.

Also see: Pietro Baroni, a volunteer on our Wildlife Photography and Conservation project in the Greater Kruger, made a video about A Day in the Life of a Volunteer Photographer in South Africa

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Tripods, Cushions, and Bean Bags

Now we are onto the real accessories, the ones where if they are left behind, it’s not the end of the world. We can still photograph without them.

When it comes to which of these to bring along, it all comes down to what you are planning or hoping to photograph.

For example: If you are planning to try your hand at astrophotography or anything that requires long exposures, a tripod is an essential part of your kit.

Many people like to use monopods of beanbags to help steady their often-heavy cameras.

I find monopods a little restrictive, but many people swear by them. Particularly those who do a lot of low light photography (requiring slow shutter speeds).

photo-safari-camera-accessories-tripod

Cushions and bean bags can be useful if you are planning to photograph birds or spend a lot of time in a hide.

Hide photography often requires a telephoto lens and long hours sitting in the same place. These lenses can be pretty heavy, particularly when held for long periods and you regularly end up focusing in on small subjects.

Having a cushion or bean bag to rest and support the lens on will not only allow for steadier and sharper images but also provide some much-needed armrest.

However, if you are not planning to do this, the additional weight of these items may not be worth it.

Although it is worth noting that bean bags can be bought empty and simply filled with something such as rice once you reach your destination.

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Lens Hoods

Lens hoods screw onto the end of your lens and act as a shield to reduce the amount of light hitting the front of the lens, thereby reducing contrast and lens flare.

They also double up as added protection for your lens.

Most high-end lenses will automatically come with a lens hood, but for those that don’t, they are worth looking into. I have lens hoods for all of my lenses and rarely take them off.

However, there are two possible issues when it comes to lens hoods that may be worth considering.

The first is SPACE!

Hoods are wider than the diameter of your lens, and in the case of wide-angle lenses can be much wider. Even when reversed and attached to your lens, this can cause issues when it comes to packing your camera bag.

The other thing to consider is the extra length the lens hood causes.

Not only will you be less inconspicuous (a consideration with portraiture or reportage photography) but when in windy conditions, the extra length can make it harder to keep your camera and lens steady, which could lead to a slightly blurred or shaky image.

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Filters

The market is full of different types of filters, all with different uses, from UV to Neutral Density to Polarizing filters. In a broad sense, they allow you to protect your lens, manage lighting, and produce specific effects such as color changes.

When it comes to wildlife photography, you will typically not have the time to change filters regularly to adapt to changing circumstances.

The only filter I recommend to anyone going on a photo safari is a good quality UV filter.

They will help protect your lens from dust, scrapes, and scratches, which is essential as replacing a filter is a lot cheaper than replacing or fixing a lens.

But this is not an area to cheap out.

Buying a good quality brand such as Hoya will reduce any change in image quality, as cheaper branded filters can cause your images to look soft or greasy because of the type of glass they use.

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Flash Guns

Flashguns may seem like a great idea – pumping in more light to a darker scene to get better pictures – but this isn’t always the case.

Firstly, from an aesthetic point of view, a flash firing off your camera often leads to flat and boring results.

It’s much better to use flashguns from a different angle to your camera to get more dynamic lighting — but this is near impossible with wildlife.

Secondly, some lodges, reserves, and organizations prohibit the use of flash entirely, as it can cause specific animals distress and even temporarily blind them.

If you want to use a flash on your trip, it’s best to ask who you’re booking with to what extent you can use it.

But don’t be disheartened if you end up leaving it behind — when the light fades your guides will start to use spotlights to shine on animals, which can still get you great results.

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Cleaning Equipment

People often forget about this one. They get caught up with getting the latest and fanciest gear and forget about keeping it clean — that is until they end up with dust spots all over their lens!

I must stress that I try to avoid needing to clean the sensor of the camera by myself. I prefer to send it off to be professionally cleaned, as too much can go wrong when attempting it yourself.

However, you can avoid the frequency at which your camera needs this.

Firstly, avoid changing your lens while out in the field to stop dust hitting your sensor. 

Otherwise invest in a decent cleaning pen/brush, lens cloth, and air blaster.

This will allow you to cover the basic cleaning of your equipment.

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The air blaster is the best tool for your sensor as it only uses air, therefore leaving no residue on your sensor. However, this is only effective on dry dust and specks.

If there is any moisture in the dirt, chances are the air will not blow it off and spread the dirt.

This could potentially cause scratches or damage to the sensor and should be avoided.

The other tools are great for dust spots and small debris on your lens itself.

Disclaimer: If, at any point, you are not sure or you’re uncomfortable in any way when it comes to cleaning your equipment (particularly the internal parts) the simple answer is don’t. Rather spend the money and send it away to be professionally cleaned.

It is better to spend a little and know the job will be done well than take the risk that you may cause more damage, which will, in turn, lead to you needing to spend more money on repairs.

Or even worse, new equipment!

cleaning-camera

Photo Safari Packing Lists

This will vary depending on what wildlife you are planning to focus on and how long you are traveling for.

For example: Equipment for photographing birds in Kruger National Park will differ from what you will need if you are planning to photograph elephants in Amboseli National Park.

If you are travelling for several months or to several locations, the weight will probably be a big consideration compared to going on a short trip to just one location.

Below are several different essential packing lists for a variety of photo safari trips:

camera-accessories-packing-lists

An All-Round Photo Safari Trip

  • 2x camera bodies (1 full-frame and 1 crop sensor)
  • 1x telephoto zoom lens (with a minimum reach of 300mm)
  • 1x shorter focal length lens (i.e. 24-70)
  • Lens hoods for all lenses
  • 3x SD cards (min. 16GB in size, but more will be needed if you aren’t traveling with a laptop and hard drive)
  • 2x camera batteries for each body (more if using a mirrorless body)
  • Tripod (ideally lightweight but strong enough to handle the weight of the body and attached lens)
  • UV filters for all lenses
  • Cleaning kit with air blaster, lens pen, and cloth

Bird Photography

  • 1x camera body with a fast FPS
  • 1x telephoto zoom lens (with a minimum reach of 400mm, but more will be advantageous)
  • Lens hood
  • 3x SD cards (min. 16GB in size, but more will be needed if you aren’t traveling with a laptop and hard drive)
  • 2x camera batteries (more if using a mirrorless body)
  • Cushion or bean bag
  • UV filters for all lenses
  • Cleaning kit with air blaster, lens pen, and cloth
photo-safari-felix-reitberger-bird-photography.

Wildlife Photography and Landscapes

  • 2x camera bodies (1 full-frame and 1 crop sensor)
  • 1x mid-telephoto zoom lens (i.e. 70-200mm)
  • 1x shorter focal length lens (i.e. 16-35mm)
  • Lens hoods for all lenses
  • 3x SD cards (min. 16GB in size, but more will be needed if you aren’t traveling with a laptop and hard drive)
  • 2x camera batteries for each body (more if using a mirrorless body)
  • Tripod (ideally lightweight but strong enough to handle the weight of the body and attached lens)
  • UV filters for all lenses
  • Cleaning kit with air blaster, lens pen, and cloth

Long Term Travel (without weight restrictions):

  • 2x camera bodies (1 full-frame and 1 crop sensor)
  • 1x telephoto zoom lens (with a minimum reach of 300mm)
  • 1x shorter focal length lens (i.e. 24-70mm)
  • 1x wide-angle lens (i.e. 16-35mm)
  • 1x prime lens (i.e. 100mm macro)
  • Lens hoods for all lenses
  • 3x SD cards (min. 16GB in size, but more will be needed if you aren’t traveling with a laptop and hard drive)
  • 2x camera batteries for each body (more if using a mirrorless body)
  • Tripod (ideally lightweight but strong enough to handle the weight of the body and attached lens)
  • Laptop and at least 2x hard drives to back up photographs
  • UV filters for all lenses
  • Cleaning kit with air blaster, lens pen, and cloth
photo-safari-charmaine-barvitius-elephant

Lightweight Travel

  • 1x camera bodies (consider mirrorless for weight)
  • 1x wide-range zoom lens (i.e. 18-400mm)
  • 3x SD cards (min. 16GB in size, but more will be needed if you aren’t traveling with a laptop and hard drive)
  • 2 x camera batteries for each body (more if using a mirrorless body)
  • UV filters for all lenses
  • Cleaning kit with air blaster, lens pen, and cloth

Close-Ups, Macro, and Insects

  • 1x full-frame camera body
  • 1x prime macro lens (i.e. 100mm)
  • 1x shorter focal length lens (i.e. 24-70mm)
  • Lens hoods for all lenses
  • 3x SD cards (min. 16GB in size, but more will be needed if you aren’t traveling with a laptop and hard drive)
  • 2x camera batteries for each body (more if using a mirrorless body)
  • Cushion or bean bag for ground-based photography
  • UV filters for all lenses
  • Cleaning kit with air blaster, lens pen, and cloth
photo-safari-macro-frog

Ultimately, what equipment and accessories you need comes down to you as a photographer.

Where are you going? What do you want to achieve? What type of images do you want to capture?

Once you know this, you will be in a prime position to have the best kit to accomplish this and it will become much easier to pack.

Do not worry if this changes over time.

Your packing list and kit will evolve and change over time, much like your photography will.

Also see: Packing for Africa: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go


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