Other stuff to take

As any photographer knows, you can never have too many lenses and other bits of photographic paraphernalia.  However, you have to be realistic; if it won’t physically fit in the bag and keep within the weight limit, or go in the hold luggage instead of clothing, then either you leave it behind or you leave something else behind.  The core camera bodies and lenses must stay in the bag, so what else do I think is useful?  As I have said in earlier blogs, all the equipment I own and use is stuff I have bought myself; there are no hidden promotions on this blog.

The extra equipment I take depends a little on where I am going and what I plan to do when I am there.  I know that if I am likely to need discreet shots, such as street or indoor scenes, then I take a small shoulder bag with my Nikon D7100 and a 18-200mm zoom lens.  The image quality from this type of all-in-one super zoom is not as good as from the specialist lenses, but in crowded African cities, as here in Elmina in Ghana,  the unobtrusiveness of having just one body and one lens more than compensates.

Most of the time, the main reason for a photographic holiday in Africa is to go on safari.  On any safari trip, two things are indispensable; a beanbag and a pair of binoculars. A beanbag is brilliant in a safari vehicle for bracing the camera on the handrail of the vehicle, particularly for long telephoto shots in poor light.  I take mine unfilled, and simply stuff it with soft clothing when in camp.  You could fill it on location with sand, as is often recommended, but the sand gets everywhere and the combination of sand and cameras isn’t a good idea.  If you have forgotten to take a beanbag, then simply use a folded fleece on the handrail, and push the camera down hard on to it when you press the shutter.

You also need a good pair of binoculars, big enough to hold but not so large that they are unwieldy.  I use Hawke Frontier ED 8×43.  I have had this pair for some years and they are a bit battered, but still serviceable.  I personally don’t think there is much to choose between binoculars in this price range of a few hundred pounds; most are more than good enough.  You can spend a lot more on binoculars, and there is no doubt that Zeiss or Swarovski give a sharper clearer image, but remember your binoculars will be in a rough environment, and you can go through several replacement pairs of cheaper models for the price of one top end pair.

For long telephoto shots it can be useful to have a monopod for additional stabilisation.  I have one from 3 Legged Thing, which works fine, so long as you are careful not to poke your fellow tourists.  Some safari vehicles have photographic mounts built into the vehicle, but these are a mixed blessing; they provide good stable support, but limit your choice of viewpoint, so generally I don’t use them.

If I have space in my hold luggage, then there are some other bits of kit I will take along.  A flash gun (Nikon SB700) can come in handy for fill flash and for evening social photography.  Don’t forget that a safari isn’t just about the wildlife; some of your fellow travellers may become lifelong friends.

I also take a Benro carbon fibre travel tripod with an Acratech ball head which I use for landscapes and nightscapes.  I keep a heavy Manfrotto 055 aluminium tripod at Karoo Ridge in South Africa for very long exposure landscapes and for photographing the spectacular night skies you can get there, like in this image of a Karoo windmill.

In the middle of the day the African sun can create a very harsh light with high contrast, making conventional photography unattractive with sharp shadows and bleached subjects.  However, this type of light is well suited to infrared black and white photography.  The sky goes dark, the clouds become whiter and the ground becomes grey, creating interesting combinations of tone and texture.  As a lockdown project, I had a Nikon D3400 converted to 720nm IR by Protech, and am looking forward to taking it to Africa when we can travel again. I was inspired by my friend Mark Farrington who brought an IR converted Olympus on a trip to Karoo Ridge.

Here is one of Mark’s photos of extraordinary cloudscapes over the lunar terrain there.  Have a look at his website, https:///www.microcontrast.com  to see more.

Most of Africa is hot and dusty.  So take a couple of lens cloths and a lens brush, and be very careful about dust when swapping lenses in the bush.  Remember sunhat and sunglasses. If you are walking, riding or on a boat, keep your main camera on a neck strap, so as not to lose it.  I use Optech straps rather than the original Nikon ones, as they are more comfortable and more discreet.

Every photographer I have met is still searching for the perfect camera bag.  We all want the Mary Poppins bag which is very small but holds a huge amount of equipment.  The ideal camera bag also needs to be light, comfortable to carry and easy to access.  Do let me know if you find the perfect one.

My current bag is a Mindshift Backlight 26L.  This is just small enough to fit in the overhead locker of an Embraer flying to Maun, and just about carries all my normal kit.   You can see an image of it full of kit in an earlier blog titled;  My core equipment.  I find that this bag is fine on a safari vehicle if you have an accommodating person next to you, although it is too heavy for walking around. I also take along a small shoulder bag to use when walking around town.