pangolin photo

What defines a photo safari? This question has become increasingly frequent among travelers planning a trip to Africa. Especially those wanting to get the utmost from their experience.

The answer may appear simple, however, when correctly addressed, the nature of a photo safari isn’t quite so obvious.

At Rhulani Safaris we specialize in photography safari experiences. We have the pleasure of taking guests around South Africa and Botswana. But why choose a photo safari over a traditional trip?


Traditional Safari vs. Photo Safari

I recently released a post on our Rhulani Safaris social media platform where I stated there is merely one major difference between what is considered a ‘traditional’ safari as opposed to a ‘photo safari.’ However, after careful consideration, I removed the post and considered discussing it in more detail on this Safari Blog.

What is a Traditional Safari?

To understand the uniqueness of a photo safari, I will first dive into the characteristics of a traditional safari. A traditional or African safari is both an educational experience and a holiday. During the trip you’ll learn about the functions of a particular ecosystem and its inhabitants.

Your professional guide will share his or her knowledge through innovative application. This will allow you to feel, smell and truly indulge into Africa. It is by no means a teacher-student involvement, but rather a guide welcoming and connecting you to their home.

As well as being educational, a traditional safari is also a revitalizing and spiritual experience. It is one of the few vacations where you can completely relax and enjoy while taking a thorough ‘life pause.’

Whether it’s the soft melody of a singing bird, a whistling breeze through rustling leaves, the distant roar of a lion or even as simple as limited access to Wi-Fi there is something unique about an African safari. This experience connects you with inner peace and tranquility like few other places on earth can.

Traditional Safari

What to Expect on a Traditional African Safari

An African safari typically starts off with an early morning wakeup call. This is usually before sunrise and comes with an energizing hot coffee, tea, and tasty home-made rusks.

As the sun peaks over the horizon, you set off in an open safari vehicle in search of Africa’s iconic wildlife and natural splendors. Your guide will customarily be putting emphasis on showing you Africa’s famous ‘Big Five’ (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant). They will stop temporarily at the animals and giving a brief explanation of their social habits, particular characteristics and other interesting behavior.

A ‘bush coffee’ is enjoyed as your guide chooses a safe place for you to get out. Here you can stretch your legs and enjoy freshly brewed coffee and cookies, before returning to the lodge.

A scrumptious breakfast is enjoyed followed by an afternoon siesta, lunch and evening game drive. Afterward, dinner is relished with buzzing chatter, reliving the days exciting events. A blazing fire under the vast African night sky has the ability to captivate and inspire even the most creative mind!


What Makes a Photographic Safari Different?

Between the creative wildlife, inspiring views and informative learning, most travelers are ‘hooked’ on the African safari experience. They often describe it as addictive – a relinquished break from life’s strangulations.

However, a photographic safari is not merely a holiday or vacation. I like to think of it more as an investment. As with the traditional experience, a photo safari is just as much a tranquil break from the hustle of modern-day living [as described above].

Guests are able to enjoy all the luxurious benefits of connecting with nature, but it also comes with the added value of an experienced photographic mentor.

Photo safaris are led by a professional wildlife photographer who is educated on camera systems, picture qualities and guest relations.

The major focus of this kind of safari is the photographic aspect. The goal is to learn new techniques, creative styles and to take home a set of images that you are thoroughly proud of.

The photographic guide works together with the lodge or camps nature guide to provide guests with the best possible opportunity to capture these breath-taking images. Often this small addition alone separates a good safari from a great one.

A comprehensive understanding of multiple camera types is essential, as working with several guests having several different cameras and lenses under pressurized conditions is no easy task.

I have on many occasions entered an action-packed sighting (such as lions hunting or wild dogs attacking hyenas) where cameras have seized or cards malfunctioned. The ability to keep guests calm and cooperative while sorting out the issue is a skill only learned over time.

What to Expect on a Photo Safari

Photo safaris are also commonly focused not only on particular species (such as leopard on our Sabi Sand Big Cat Photo Safari), however also around getting the most out of the available sightings.

For instance, where on a traditional safari guests may spend several minutes observing a sleeping lion, on a photo safari the guides will determine if the sighting is worth investing time in. And if it is, they will wait as long as possible for a photographic opportunity to occur.

Otherwise, if it is determined unlikely to produce something spectacular, the guides will decide to move on to something else more photogenic. Time is crucial on photo safaris and must be spent wisely.

On our safaris, I always state that an ordinary but creative subject is better than an iconic subject in an uncreative setting (such as a lion sleeping in the midday sun). The longest period we have sat quietly at a particular sighting was just over 10 hours. We were waiting for a leopard to ascend into a tree and feed on his kill. Understanding animal behavior, the region and having patience is crucial in these circumstances.

Benefits of Photo Safaris

Besides the focus being centered around time spent with a particular species and subject activity, another benefit is discovered in the daily workshops offered by the photographic guide.

As opposed to a ‘siesta’, photo safaris offer an opportunity for guests to expand their understanding and creative skills set.

Workshops cover the basics of understanding your camera, various artistic styles of photography, components of artificial lighting, post-process editing (lightroom and photoshop) and the subtleties or dynamics of wildlife photography.

It is important that guests expand their skills on every safari. And once again this is not a teacher-student lesson, but rather a discussion where various ideas, opinions and experiences are shared.

I have on numerous occasions come across guests who have had a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity at capturing something unique. But due to lack of understanding the camera, their images have come out blurred, out of focus or completely black or white. Such instances are sad, as photographic equipment is not cheap and you’d like to make it worth its buy. But without proper guidance missing out can be a frequent disaster.



Choosing the Right Photo Safari Experience

So, in overview, the major differences of a traditional experience as opposed to a photographic safari is that of the subject focus. This determines how the drives are conducted and time spent with a particular species.

There is also a clear emphasis of quality over quantity when spending time with the subject. The hours between game drives are then also utilized to further enhance your understanding and skills. These pay particular focus on the dynamics of wildlife photography, camera functions and post-process editing.

Overall, a photo safari allows you to get more out of your African safari experience. You get to take something of value home to put on your wall, in a photo book collection or preventing disaster at missing a unique opportunity. It is an investment that can be enjoyed over and over, with every experience being different from the last.

In 2021, I published a book titled, Photo Safari Kruger which captures the essence of what a photographic safari in the Greater Kruger region (Sabi Sand Game Reserve) entails. Should you like to know more about this publication, you can follow this link for more details: PHOTO SAFARI KRUGER by Armand Grobler.

Should you also have any further questions about a photo safari, the above article or would like to join me on a photo safari, please feel free to contact me directly at!

Article by Armand Grobler, Owner and Operator of Rhulani Safaris.