We are thrilled to welcome our resident photographer, Alex Roldan, to the blog today to talk a little bit about night drives and photography. Specifically, photography tips for those venturing out for night game drives.
Safari game drives are always fun and can open your eyes to magnificent wildlife. But when the sun goes down, life in the bush doesn’t stop, and all animals come out from their shelters to take advantage of the darkness.
Discover the Magic of Safari Night Drives
A safari game drive at night can offer a unique and captivating experience, allowing you to witness the bush come alive with different animals and sounds. As the sun sets, some animals retreat to the safety of groups or herds. In contrast, others begin their nocturnal activities, making the bush a symphony of insects, amphibians and other creatures.
During a night drive, your guide will use a spotlight to search for wildlife, focusing on the reflective eye-shine of animals roaming in the dark. The pace of the drive is generally slower as the guide carefully navigates the terrain in search of animals.
Some larger predators, such as lions, leopards and hyenas, are more active at night, using their powerful eyesight for hunting under cover of darkness. But the night drive offers much more than just predator sightings. You may encounter hippos emerging from the waters to forage and graze on fresh grasses or witness genets and various species of mongoose searching for their next meal. Many nocturnal birds can also be seen going about their nightly activities. On clear nights, with minimal light pollution, stargazing can also be a fantastic experience.
Overall, a safari night drive in Kenya offers a unique and exciting way to experience the bush and its inhabitants in a different light.
Camera Tips for Night Drives
Because you’re taking images at night and there’s minimal light (even from the spotlight), you’ll need to try to get as much light as possible into your camera, so it’s a good idea to start with settings something along these lines.
It’s best to try shooting in the full manual, which will give you the maximum control over your settings as the camera might try to do things you might not want it to, or it may not even allow you to take the image t all.
You’ll need to be shot very slowly, so setting your shutter speed between 1/40 to 1/80 of a second is a fairly solid place to start. And because you’re shooting so slowly, you will need to turn on any optical stabilization functions your lens might have. You’ll also need to use a bean bag or monopod to give you the stabilization you’ll need to try to capture a sharp image.
You can set your ISO to automatic (so the camera will decide the best level), or you can set this manually. You’ll need to start pretty high and then work from that. Cameras are becoming more adept at handling high ISO levels with the reduction of camera ‘noise’ (the grainy effect you will see on images taken in low light levels). Setting your ISO at around 3200 is an excellent place to start. And don’t forget; you can always reduce the amount of noise to a certain degree when you edit the photos on whichever platform you use.
Again, you will be looking to get as much light into our camera as possible, so using a lens with a large aperture will potentially give you better results. If you have a lens with an aperture of f/2.8, start with it there; you can always tweak it in the field.
The camera’s autofocusing capabilities will track your subject if you shoot in continuous mode. I shoot in continuous mode when capturing images of wildlife at night. You may only have a brief few seconds to capture your subject, so shooting on a single shot may cause you to miss your opportunity as the camera will want to refocus after each shutter button press.
Now, this can be a little tricky… you’ll want to increase your exposure compensation to at least +1.5 or even +2.0, to begin with. You’re telling the camera that you want to capture as much detail as possible from the darker areas of the image.
Capture the Bush in a New Light
Whilst on a night drive, please don’t forget to enjoy being in the wilderness. You’ll be doing a great job if you can get somewhere between 25%-40% of your images in focus and exposed correctly, so don’t be dismayed or get too frustrated if everything is not coming out as you want.