When I started writing my overlanding Africa blog I was going to include this section, but there was so much I wanted to include that I’ve decided to separate it. Before the trip I spent countless hours reading forums and website trying to decide what camera gear I should work towards buying so I was well prepared for the photographic opportunities. While there’s no hard and fast rule on what people should take, hopefully these suggestions will help people prepare for a similar trip. I wrote these suggestions while on the trip, based off my experiences and those of other photographers on the truck. 

I’ll start with a disclaimer regarding camera gear – the gear available will depend on budget and what is already owned. I had initially planned on taking a 80-400mm lens but after we cancelled our initial booking due to COVID I sold the lens. I didn’t buy any additional camera gear specifically for the trip so just took my usual setup of a crop sensor Nikon D500 with 300mm f4 and supplemented it by a full frame Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm f4.  This wasn’t ideal as it didn’t give me as much flexibility as a zoom lens, but it is a combo I’m familiar with and I know can produce excellent images if I get things right.

Lens recommendations

I suggest being able to reach around 500-600mm if possible, though 400mm would be doable if you are happy to crop a lot when editing. Note that when I suggest these focal lengths I’m referring to full frame equivalents – if you’re shooting with a crop camera (also known as APS-C or DX) you can use a shorter focal length to reach theseRead here for more information about equivalent focal lengths. How you get to this focal length will depend on what you own and/or budget. Flexibility is certainly helpful as you’ll be shooting from the fixed position of a boat or 4×4 vehicle, so a zoom is recommended. Apart from game drives, there are also plenty of scenery options and something in the range of 24-70mm or 24-120mm is helpful (again, in full frame equivalent). To this end, having a long range wildlife lens and a shorter scenery/general lens is recommended. 

Specific recommendations are difficult because technology is always changing with new options being released. It’s more straightforward to recommend lens focal lengths as a starting point, then you can match that with the appropriate camera of your choice. Many entry level camera packages include two lenses with focal lengths around 18-55mm and 55-200mm. These are passable but you’ll often wish you had more reach for distant or smaller animals.

Instead, for a crop sensor camera a 70-300mm lens is a better option for more reach, is commonly made by many lens manufacturers, plus it’s small and lightweight. Even better would be a zoom that reaches 400mm,  which can still be had for a reasonable price and isn’t too bulky. I’ve used the Tamron 100-400mm for a trip to the Subantarctics islands and been happy with its performance at a fraction of the cost of the high-end Nikon 80-400mm.At the larger end of the scale are lenses that go up to 500 or 600mm which would be useful but those options start to get expensive, big and heavy.

Some travellers used a Sony RX10iv bridge camera which has a 24-600mm zoom lens and got great images. It was a relatively new model in 2023 but alternatives may be released over time.


What to expect

Nearly all the wildlife interactions are from a vehicle so there’s not a lot of scope to reposition yourself to get the ideal angle or lighting. A good driver is absolutely gold here, and they are working for you so it’s perfectly acceptable to ask them to move forwards or back so people have a better view, as long as it’s not at the detriment of everyone else on the truck. It’s good to make sure that other people in the vehicle are on the same page here as some will be after close up phone photos vs nice camera angles, birds vs big mammals, cats vs everything else etc. Many drivers aren’t clued on to photography so will focus on getting close rather than a position with a clean background and the sun behind you for good lighting. There’s usually 8 other people in the vehicle too, so a bit of twisting is required to shoot around heads or through gaps! This is where a massive bulky lens can get a bit tricky. Sometimes you just don’t have a good angle on the truck while others do, and just have to suck it up. 

Astrophotography can be difficult as nearly all the campsites have floodlighting all around. There were a couple on the whole trip where there were some photo opportunities, but there was still challenging lighting to work with. In Namibia there were some epic landscape photo opportunities, particularly at Spitzkoppe and Sossusvlei, but they didn’t need any specialised photography gear.

Capturing the moment

Shooting modes will vary by preference and experience. I typically used aperture priority with a minimum shutter speed of 1/2500, or manual with auto-ISO. That shutter speed seems excessive high but I preferred it that way in case there was some sudden action or we drove past something without stopping (typically a bird perched by the road) and I wanted to quickly grab it. In those drive-by scenarios I’d sometimes go up to 1/4000.

Having a high FPS rate (>8) is also very helpful for action, as well as a capable autofocus system. Entry level cameras can still be set to single point autofocus if you switch to one of the PASM modes, which I helped a couple people with and it helped them focus through vegetation which otherwise confused the automatic autofocus.

The single most important thing for taking good photos is to be familiar with your camera gear before the trip, particularly shooting wildlife, changing shutter speeds and shooting modes, and controlling autofocus settings. In the middle of a game drive is not the ideal time to learn, though it will give you plenty of practice. Shooting in full auto mode will get the job done in most cases but there will be times you wish you knew what to do to get the best out of a challenging situation!


Again, this comes down to preference and experience. Modern cameras produce good images straight out of the camera and can be downloaded to a phone for immediate sharing. If you want more control over the images you can edit them using a photo editing program, though that can take a lot of time and isn’t as immediate.

If you decide you want to edit your photos it’s strongly recommended to shoot in raw format so you have the maximum editing leeway. It also means you can revisit the photos at a later time and edit them as your editing skills improve. Photographylife have a good explainer on RAW vs JPEG, as well as a wealth of other photographic information. A compact laptop is helpful for editing as well as culling images if you are as trigger happy as me!

Gorilla trekking

Trekking to see mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, in Uganda, was an optional addon for our trip and one of the most incredible wildlife encounters we had. For us, and most other people, spending an hour with a family of gorillas was a once in a lifetime opportunity and posed its own photographic challenges. Potential low light, large animals which could be a variable distance away, and not being able to change lenses could make photographing the gorillas problematic. Before the trip I read a lot of suggestions, which were somewhat variable, and came with the disclaimer that everyone’s experience is different in terms of distance to the gorillas, how much of a view you’ll get and the lighting. 

It was easy for me to choose which lens to take because I only had one! I put my 300mm f4 on my full frame Z6 and worked with that. There were definitely times that I wished I had zoom as the animals got close, but it did a great job and I got some images I was stoked with. I couldn’t get many full body shots but focussed on head shots or detail shots. This was a regular theme on the trip when large animals got too close and I had to get creative. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, just forced me to get creative. It was also very helpful knowing how to use the autofocus modes to help shoot through gaps in vegetation without the autofocus system getting confused. If I was in this situation again, I think a 70-200mm f2.8 would be optimal but this wasn’t an option for me.

Packing tips and final word

  • Dust blower to blow dust off the lens
  • Lens cloths to wipe lenses if needed
  • Spare batteries
  • Multiple memory cards
  • Dry bag for trips on the water. I used one to protect my camera from dust on game drives by covering the camera with it but not closing the bag. 
  • A camera bag to hold your gear, both when packed away and when in a 4×4 ready to shoot. 
  • A small tablet or laptop is helpful for sorting/editing photos, backing up, and reviewing images to see if your settings were appropriate. Personally, I would not have wanted thousands of images to sort through once I finally got home!

While the choices and decisions can be overwhelming, having a less-than-ideal camera certainly won’t mean you don’t walk away with any good photos. On our trip we had so many game drives and close animal encounters that everyone came away with some bangers, regardless of their gear and experience. However, to help nail those brief opportunities that arise the best thing you can do is be familiar with your cameras settings and how to get the best out of that. With a long lens and knowledge of how to use your gear you’ll be well prepared for the unpredictable African wildlife.