Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Africa & the Middle East
Reload this Page >

HElP I need some tips for taking photos on a safari in Africa

HElP I need some tips for taking photos on a safari in Africa

Jul 28th, 2004, 12:09 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 511
HElP I need some tips for taking photos on a safari in Africa

I have a camera that take 35 mm film, are 400 speed and 800 speed film good for taking pictures on a safari? Also, I will have to take lots of flights during my trip, and I am concerned that my film may get damaged by xray machines at the airport. What can I do to prevent this? Have fodorites have bad experiences with damaged film when travelling in Africa? Any advise would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.
RJames is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 12:25 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 43
I am also about to leave for Africa in about a month. I talked to a friend of mine who is a professional photographer and he recommended using mainly 100 speed and bringing a few rolls of 400 speed. The quality of pictures is much better with lower speed film. The key is to keep the aperture size smalll so less sun is captured when taking pictures. You may need to use 400 speed film at night when the lighting is very low. Hope this helps.
noelm98 is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 12:35 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,922
I agree with the above. Using 100 to 200 speed will be the best for quality. 400 speed is good for occassional use in low light situations but I wouldn't recommend 800.

You shouldn't have to worry about the film if you have it stored properly in a carry-on. Do not put your film in a bag you're going to check.

I have taken quite a lot of film through the carry-on X-ray machines and it has been fine when developed.

Just make sure when you're in the vehicle or at camp it is not left anywhere where the film can get too hot or it is in direct sunlight.
divewop is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 12:51 PM
Posts: n/a
I use almost only 200, and take a disposable or two with 800 for night game drives or other pics that might be taken during dinner with very low light and lots of black backgrounds. These latter photos come out fine for what they are; night photography hasn't really been at the top of my list - prefer daytime photos.

Since game drives are done in early morning light I find the 200 is perfect, as well for later afternoon to dusk drives. Some friends have used 400 and I personally haven't been thrilled with quality of output, nor have they been of their own photos.

I try to remember, especially with Security these days, to remove the film from their cannisters, place in a clear zip-lock bag, then into a lead lined bag and into my hand carryon bag. Never does film go into checked luggage.

In the US, you can request a hand check of film and most TSA people (or whomever they work for these days) will do for film and your camera. Can't gurantee they will do so overseas. I rarely request a hand check, and only once when my carryon went thru security did the agent ask to see what the "black" bag inside was. It was the film, which they checked and then replaced in my bag.

Upon removing each exposed roll of film from camera, number it, so you know the order in which they were taken and then you can match up the photos with your itinerary and a journal of some sort that you record names of animals, birds, landscapes, est.

Bear in mind some lead bags are heavy and should be considered if you have internal flights as everything including camera equipment is to be included in weight allowance - sometimes it is, sometimes not. My lead bag is light weight, available for about $15 at photo stores, or the like.

On a recent trip, my carryon must have gone thru about 10-security x-ray machines and there was absolutely no effect on exposed or unexposed film, nor film still in my cameras.
Jul 28th, 2004, 01:00 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
Hi RJames

Firstly, it would help to know what kind of camera - is it a compact point or shoot or an SLR or SLR style (fixed lens but with lots of control over functions) camera?

Secondly, will you be using it mainly on automatic or will you be using some of the other settings such as Aperture Priority?

OK a couple of thoughts, folks are obviously free to disagree.

Unless you're going through a LOT of airports (more than 10) the Xrays are unlikely to make any impression on your films. Although it's a common fear tests by photography magazines show that airport xrays affect only high speed films (3200+) and even then only after repeated passes through.

I'd also say that it's no longer AS necessary as it once was to use 100 and 200 speed films for high quality results. It used to be the case that the grain on higher speed films was quite noticable. There have been many developments in film technology and the grain on 400 speed films is greatly reduced. Certainly the quality should be sufficient for reasonably large prints to be made for your walls etc.

If you're intending to make REALLY large prints or sell/ print your work in magazines then 50 or 100 speed would be better. But then, so might transparency rather than negative film since many many publishers still prefer transparency over any other format.

The trouble with lower speed films comes when the light is low. Any camera lens has a fixed maximum aperture that it can open to - and that controls the volume of light it can get in and onto the film.

I'm making up the exact figures here but as an example:

With a 400 speed film in a given low light situation a camera opens the aperture up as wide as possible and calculates that it will need to keep the shutter open for 1/60th of a second to let in enough light to expose correctly.

With a 100 speed film the camera would select a 1/15th of a second shutter speed to make the exposure.

But it's pretty darn difficult to keep a camera steady for that long without using a tripod. Even with a beanbag support it can be difficult. And tripods just aren't practical for most of us on safari.

My apologies if you knew and understood that already - it's the trainer in me - I train for a living!

Anyway, unless you get through film at a much faster rate than I do (and I'm not shy about taking pictures) you may often find yourself with a 100 speed film stuck in the camera when the light is fading and you'd be better off with a 400 because it would allow you to capture an image, even it's slightly grainier, of something that you're not going to see again.

Going the other way around, a 400 should be OK in very strong light situations because most cameras have quite a high maximum shutter speed.

That said if you're going to go through films quickly enough to switch to the right ISO/ASA speed for the current light situation then 100 is definitely better for strong light as it gives you more options with your aperture (and that controls depth of field in a shot).

So, in summary.

If you're intending to get through a LOT of film then I'd recommend taking a selection of 100, 200 and 400.

If you're not intending to take that many pictures I'd skip the 100 and stick to 200 and 400. I'd throw in 800 only if you are intending to take shots when it's quite dark.

Does this help or is it WAY more than you EVER wanted to know?

Kavey is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 01:22 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,922
In one of my basic photography courses, we compared some 8 x 11 photos taken w/ 400 speed film and photos taken w/ 100 and 200 speed film and there is noticeable difference in quality and grain comparing the 400 to the others.

If we were in a perfect world, then we'd be able to have two camera bodies w/ two different film speeds in them. Makes life a lot easier.

But if there were to be a happy medium, I'd compomise and use the 200 speed film.

You never know...you might capture that once in a lifetime shot and want to blow it up but if you use 400 speed, you just cannot do it without sacrificing quality.

So I guess I agree to disagree with Kavey on the 400 vs. 100/200 film speeds.

I have not been disappointed in using 100 and 200 speed film. But then again, I can burn through film like it's water. Hey, it's only film and you cannot replace a great photo op when it's there.

Hey Kavey-
side note,
I finally broke down and got my new D70 today. Yippee!
I can't wait to play with it. It looks like lots of fun!
divewop is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 01:42 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
Woo Hoo!!!

Divewop I don't say there is no difference in quality between prints from 100 and 400 speed films - of course there is or it would be a no brainer in terms of which to choose.

But were the ones you compared using some of the NEWER technology 400 films?

Traditional 400 speed films use older technology whereas the coating used on newer 400s is different and really does reduce grain.

But yes, of course there will be a trade off in terms of absolute quality.

The issue is whether the increase in quality comes at the expense of images that are actually in focus in the first place!

Kavey is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 01:46 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
PS The perspective I'm coming from is that I LOST a lot of images that could have been just wonderful because I had a 100 film in my camera when the light was simply too low. I couldnt hold the camera steady and result was a blurry pic. Personally I'd rather have had a focused picture with a little more grain when enlarged than the useless blurry ones I ended up with.

It's the eternal trade off and there is definitely NO easy answer!

Well... actually I DID love being able to change the ISO on the digital Nikon D70 whenever I needed to and as the light changed.

Kavey is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 01:48 PM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 1,715
I shoot slide film and use 50 or 100 most of the time and try and use 400 in the low light. The slide film definitely is more crisp and captures colors better. Investing in good film makes a huge difference in image quality if you want to do enlargements. I do bring two camera bodies -- can't imagine if one broke and I couldn't photograph my safari. I carry my film in leaded bags about the size of a paper lunch sack which holds aobut 30 rolls of film each. Only $10-15 at a photo shop.

One of the most important things to consider is zoom on your lens. If you have a SLR camera a 200-400 lens is ideal for most wildlife photos on safari.
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 01:56 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,922
You're right Kavey,
There is no easy answer. I had the opposite happen.

Used 400 speed film which I loaded in the camera the evening before and had it in the next morning, took photos and wanted to enlarge one but it was too grainy.

Guess we're coming from both ends of experience.

Then making the switch to transparency, I've gotten more comfortable using slower speeds now. Like PB says, the color is much, much richer.

I take two camera bodies most of the time as well and now w/ my new digital SLR, it will be interesting to see where that leads.
divewop is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 01:57 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
PB do you take the lead bags in hand luggage?

I heard that security folks are starting to get pissed off at them but I can't imagine why since they can always hand search them. Has anyone had attitude from security people about them?

I was thinking of getting one but decided not to as I'd read that slower speed films really aren't affected by these very short exposures.
Kavey is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 02:07 PM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 1,715
Kavey: Yes, always in hand luggage. I have never had any problems in Southern Africa, Thailand, or Belize but I haven't carried film with the bags in a year and a half. I will travel that way in November to Namibia and Mozambique and post it if I have any problems.
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 02:09 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
Good to know, thanks.
Kavey is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 02:15 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
I took two bodies to Kenya, one as backup but ended up using both - not to switch film speeds but leaving wide angle on one and zoom lens on the other.

I have long thought about switching to transparency when using the film camera but I understand it's a lot less forgiving than print film of exposure errors as, of course, print film errors can be corrected to some extent in the printing.

I don't know whether I should just not worry since I don't think I usually have exposure problems but... I don't know really.

The Kenya trip is one where I have a handful of images I think are actually saleable and know that this would be easier (more markets) if they were on transparency.
Kavey is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 03:48 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 723
For our last trip, I used 400 speed Agfa film. Best film available, in my opinion and for those of you who saw my pics, I think you would agree they didn't turn out too bad at all. Even some of the pics I had blown up to 11x14 look good. The very few rolls of 200 or 800 that I did use, I did not like the end result at all. If you opt to use a lead-lined bag, please keep in mind that they are somewhat heavy and add to the luggage weight limit if flying from location to location.
SusanLynne is offline  
Jul 29th, 2004, 07:36 AM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 1,715
I simply followed the lead of what the best wildlife photographers were doing when I switched to transparency film. I use a lot of Fuji Velvia (50) and Provia 100F and Provia 400F for low light. I am not really trained in photography techniques and mostly rely on the auto features of my camera, Nikon N80 so I'm sure anyone could shoot with transparency as it was the best improvement in photos that I have ever had. I take plenty of bad photos but get many outstanding too. I have a portrait of a Duba Boy lion from Duba Plains enlarged to 20 x 30 in my living room and a lilac-breasted roller with unearthly vibrant color. Recently I donated 4 picture to my local zoo fundraiser and they got good money in an auction.

The thing with getting slides is you then often want to pay to make photos for albums or notecards, etc. which adds to your costs as well as scanning them for digital. I love it though as I have a theme dinner party upon my return from travels with a slide show, I give predator lectures with the slides to promote trips I am leading and I do Africa shows at my daughter's elementary school.
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Jul 29th, 2004, 07:46 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
PB that's good to know re exposure - I think I'd probably be fine. I don't lose shots due to exposure mistakes on print film so don't know why I'm so worried about slide film.

The other consideration for me is that I don't do nor intend to do any slide shows and would indeed want to have a few prints made plus scans too. That would definitely add to the cost.

I currently tend to use Agfa for black and white and Fuji Superia for colour.
Kavey is offline  
Jul 29th, 2004, 07:49 AM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 1,715
Kavey: you sound pretty knowledgeable so I'm sure you would have no problems. I would say shoot a few rolls at the zoo, in the park etc. to be comfortable before a huge trip.

I think the bigger consideration is just that, having slides instead of prints. It does add to the cost as you are always going to make lots of prints too.
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Jul 29th, 2004, 08:40 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
And of course I have just gone digital - we took the new Nikon D70 to the latest trip. I did have my film SLR for back up but hardly used it.


Kavey is offline  
Jul 29th, 2004, 10:03 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,922
I don't want to get too technical but the reason 99% of people shoot w/ print film is for the forgiveness of such.

Print film has much more latitude for mistakes and is so forgiving. I think it is in the area of two or three stops either way. The photos will usually come out fine because the machines used to develop them are calibrated at middle gray.

When I took a couple of classes at a photography school here, we learned to shoot with slide/transparency film in the manual mode for that reason alone. To determine how to adjust the aperture/shutter speed etc. for the correct exposure.

And learning to meter in the manual mode to nail exposure spot on is really important. It really does make a difference and is noticeable with print and slide film. When you do hit that correct exposure with slide, the payoff is huge with the color saturation, richness and detail in the photo.

Learning from mistakes is crucial w/ slide. My brain is still fried from trying to learn all the techniques. And then what do I do...go out a buy a digital SLR. So here I go again!:-S
divewop is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 06:40 PM.