FILM & PHOTOGRAPHY DURING YOUR SAFARI
Tanzania photography safari is widely available, especially in Arusha, the Northern circuit, as well as Southern circuit and on the coast, and the price for these tours compares fairly well with what you’d pay at any other travel photography destinations in the world. Tanzania has heaps to photograph, and anyone with a camera inevitably gets very shutter-happy in the game parks looking for that ‘perfect’ shot.
It’s wise to bring films of varying ASA. If you’re using a zoom or long focal length camera (recommended) you ‘re going to need a film of at least 200 ASA to give you enough light, especially as the best photo opportunities are early and late in the day when the light is not as bright as the middle daylight hours. Higher speed film also makes it possible to take photos with a higher shutter speed, which is important when you’re trying to photograph moving animals at the same time as being bumped around inside a safari jeep.
Cameras & Lenses
For serious wildlife photography, an SLR (single-lens reflex) camera which can take long focal length lenses is necessary. If all you have is a little generic ‘snapomatic’ you may as well leave it behind. Although they are becoming more sophisticated these days, the maximum focal length is around 110 mm — still too small for getting decent shots.
Zoom lenses are best for wildlife photography as you can frame your shot easily to get the best composition. This is important as the animals are constantly and often quickly on the move. The 70 to 210 mm zoom lenses are popular and the 200 mm is really the minimum you need to get good close-up shots. The only problem with zoom lenses is that with all the glass (lenses) inside them they absorb about 1 and 1/2 ‘f’ stops of light, which is where the 200 and 400 ASA film starts to become useful.
Telephoto (fixed focal length) lenses give better results than zoom lenses but you’re limited by having to carry a separate lens for every focal length. A 400mm or 500 mm lens brings the action right up close, but again you need the 200 or 400 ASA film to make the most of them. You certainly need a 400 or 500 mm lens if you’re keen on photographing birdlife.
Another option is to carry a 2x teleconverter, which is a small adapter which fits between the lens and the camera body, and doubles the focal length of your lens, so a 200mm lens becomes 400mm. These are good cheap way of getting the long focal length without having to buy expensive lenses. They do, however, have a couple of disadvantages. The first is that, like the larger lenses themselves, a teleconverter uses about 1 and 1/2 ‘f’ stops of light. Another disadvantage is that, depending on the camera and lens, teleconverters can make it extremely difficult to focus quickly and precisely, which is an important consideration when both you and the animals are on the move.
When using long lenses a tripod can be extremely useful, and with anything greater than about 300 mm it’s a necessity. The problem here is that in the confined space of the hatch of a minibus (assuming you’ll be taking an organised safari) it is impossible to set up the tripod, especially when you are sharing the confined space with at least three or four other people. Miniature tripods are available and these are useful for setting up on the roof of the van, although you can also rest the lens itself on the roof, provided that the van engine is switched off to kill any vibration.
Whatever combination of camera, lenses and accessories you decide to carry, make sure they are kept in a decent bag which will protect them from the elements, the dust, and the knocks they are bound to receive. It’s also vital to make sure that your travel insurance policy includes your camera gear if it gets stolen.
If you don’t have the inclination or the resources to buy expensive equipment but still want some decent pictures of your safari, it is possible to hire SLR camera and lens in Arusha and Moshi, you can always let us know and we can find the best camera for you to use on your trip.
With the high duty placed on imported goods, you may be surprised to find that your old used camera is worth quite a bit in Tanzania.
Obviously the better the condition of the camera, the more it will be worth. There are a few camera shops in Arusha which deal in second-hand equipment, so check them out. Bear in mind, however, that you’ll most probably be paid in Tanzania shillings, so if it’s at the end of your stay you’ll need to have enough bank exchange certificates to reconvert the shillings to hard currency at the airport.
There are plenty of one-hour film-processing labs in Arusha, and at least one in all other major towns. They can handle any film speeds. The cost is reasonable and the results just as good as what you’d get back home. Three good places to have this done are Ujumbe Media, Camera Experts and the lab next to the Clock Tower, all on Sokoine St. The lab also has a wide variety of film for sale.
As is the case in any country where you are a tourist, this is a subject which has to be approached with some sensitivity. People such as the Maasai have had so many rubbernecks pointing cameras at them for so many years that they are utterly sick to death of it — with good reason.
There are even signs up in Namanga saying that it is prohibited to take photos of the Maasai. This does ‘t mean that you can ‘t, but just that you’ll have to pay for it. Much as you may find this abhorrent, it is nevertheless an aspect of the tourism industry you will just have to accept- put yourself in their position and try to think what you would do.
It is, of course, possible to take pictures of people with zoom lenses but, most of the time, what’s the point? By paying or giving some sort of gift, you will not only get a better picture by using a smaller lens but you will have some interaction with your subject. You might even get an invitation to see the family and possibly photograph them.