As a safari guide in Africa, I spend my days unveiling the wondrous Big (and Little) Five to my guests. And as a photographic guide, I like to enhance the wildlife experience even further by helping budding photographers with advice about what I like to call the Big Five of photography: lens, body, shutter speed, frame rates and composition.
Of course these are the often talked about ‘basics’ of photography. What we don’t often talk about are the smaller enhancements and ultimate game changers that can go a long way to make a meaningful difference to your photography and overall game drive experience. I like to call these the Little Five of photography:
A kikoi is a striped piece of cotton cloth from Kenya (similar to a sarong). Really though?! A simple rectangular piece of material? Absolutely! Besides my camera itself, this is actually one of the most-used items in my photographic arsenal.
A kikoi can be used to provide shade and protection when shooting in the hot sun. Don’t ever give up on a sighting because you’re burning to a crisp. Not only can you shoot longer and feel more comfortable with a kikoi draped over yourself for relief from the sun, but it also helps protect your lens from the dust, allows you to switch between lenses safely and enables you to view your camera screen without any glare. The bright sun can make it difficult to see the LED screen clearly and you could potentially be making fatal photographic errors that could be avoided.
Personally, I don’t recommend changing lenses out in the open, but if you really must, then the kikoi provides an extra layer of sun and dust protection for your lens and sensor. The kikoi can also be used as a makeshift bean bag. If you roll it up to form a donut shape, you can use it on most surfaces to stabilise your camera.
2. Memory cards
I always suggest to my guests that they bring lots of smaller, faster memory cards, rather than one large card. Unfortunately cards can sometimes become corrupt, so it’s good practice to bring several with you just in case. I have seen this happen all too often and I have sent many of my guests to data retrieval companies to attempt to retrieve their precious images. Storing your images in smaller batches can help prevent an unexpected catastrophe.
So which memory card is best? This really depends on your budget, however I would suggest a 32 GB card with a write speed of 95 MB/s. This will be quick enough for JPEG and RAW and the same theory applies to SDHC, SDHX or CF cards. You can find these specs on the card itself, otherwise ask the shop assistant or website help for assistance.
Personally, I’ve found Lexar to be reliable and reasonably priced, whereas I’ve actually had lots of problems with Sandisk, which does tend to be cheaper at times. Not to say you must use one over the other, just be aware of the potential complications. So, to sum it up, buy a card between 16 and 32 GB with the highest write speed and best brand to meet your budget.
3. Rain protection
More often than not, this is something my guests tend to travel without. Often we’ll get caught in the most dramatic of African storms and ill-prepared photographers are forced to pack their cameras away. But the storms are where the magic happens in photography, so don’t waste the opportunity.
Plastic bags tend to be a go-to for rain protection, but in order to help leave our world a better place, please, let’s steer away from using plastic! I suggest buying a far more eco-friendly ‘dry bag’ (you can find them in most outdoor shops). Neatly cut a hole in the bottom of the bag and slip your lens hood through the hole. There will be enough room for your hands to move around and change settings and it’ll last a lot longer than single-use plastic.
Different sized bags are available, which can fit a standard body size, right up to a 150 mm – 600 mm zoom lens comfortably. Otherwise, shop around online to see what other versions of rainproofing exist. Also ensure you have proper rainproofing for your camera bag. Pelican cases are still the best for rain and dust protection.
4. Cleaning kit
You can buy cleaning kits that come complete with blowers, pens, brushes, cloths and sprays. These are really useful and you should always carry one during a shoot. It is important, however, to be very careful how you use them. I’ve seen a lot of people use the spray directly on the lens and wipe. This will damage your lens over time, if not immediately. The chemicals and alcohols in the spray can corrode the protective film on some lenses and cause the cloth to scratch easily.
The best way to clean a lens is by using the hand pump blower. Blow the lens rigorously to remove all dust and particles that can cause scratching, then use a soft brush and gently brush your lens. Remember, don’t brush around in circles, rather use strokes and imagine you’re dusting and flicking particles off the lens.
If your lens is still dirty (you can hold it up to the light to check), then very gently use a cloth (not just any cloth – make sure it’s a microfiber cloth) to wipe the lens using the same technique as the brush. I try to avoid using a solution on my lens, but if you need to, then rather spray it directly on the cloth first, wipe gently, then wipe again with the dry side.
We’ve all learned this the hard way, haven’t we? There’s nothing worse than following lions that are on the hunt, and suddenly your battery indicator starts to flash. Always ensure your batteries are charged. It’s a good idea to have more than one battery to rely on. Pack two, maybe even three, just in case.
You can also buy battery packs, which can help immensely. I would recommend buying original batteries. There are some ‘decent-ish’ cheaper versions out there that many guests of mine use successfully, but I have also witnessed the flip side. Just know that if you’re going to go the cheaper route, that there are risks involved. Cheaper batteries don’t always hold charge or they can end up not charging at all; even though they appear fully charged, they can quickly leak power like a sieve. So, although they can be used as backups, I strongly suggest that you don’t take any shortcuts here.
I hope your next sunny safari shoot under your kikoi with your super clean camera and fully-charged battery fills your super-fast memory card with incredible, non-corrupt images that will provide a lifetime of memories.