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Responsible Photography on Safari

How to behave and act responsibly around the wildlife you photograph

Silly question? Or something we all should think very carefully about?

We’ve seen various instances of both safari-goers and photographers going to extreme lengths to obtain an image. But how far is too far?

NOT disturbing an animals natural behaviour is crucial. Why would we wish to photograph something which wasn’t natural? Even more important is, why would we want to be so intrusive just to gain an image? Wildlife comes first in our book.


Captured In Africa safari guests taking in an amazing lion sighting, with no intrusion and allowing the animal to pass by. Image Copyright © Drew Abrahamson


The majority of the safari areas throughout Africa have seen wildlife become habituated to game drive vehicles (and indeed people on walking safaris when operated responsibly). The animals are still as wild as ever before, vehicles have simply become part of the landscape for wildlife. A lion for example sees no threat from a 4×4, neither do they see it as prey. This gives us a unique and privileged opportunity to experience and spend time with a vast array of species and make that true connection to allow us into their world, to view their behaviours and daily life. This habituation gives researchers and conservationists a vital opportunity to study wildlife, along with filmmakers to make those iconic nature documentaries we all so love and of course photographers to take those beautiful images.

But please let’s not take advantage of this and push those boundaries to the point of being intrusive and disturbing natural behaviour of wildlife. We want our safari guests to appreciate nature’s wonders, not man-made and forced situations.

“this is Africa at it’s wildest best, not a Hollywood film. It doesn’t get much more enthralling than nature itself on one of our safaris!”

Paul Tully, Captured In Africa

“Photography has the power to change perceptions, but if we start altering an animals natural behaviour by becoming too intrusive, it incites an unnatural behaviour. We don’t want that. We want to see the animals instincts, that raw beauty of why we fall in love with wildlife and nature herself. So let’s appreciate that.”

Drew Abrahamson, Captured In Africa

The below image was captured by Captured In Africa’s Drew Abrahamson in Lionsands Game Reserve, South Africa. As shown here, a great guide will show their understanding of boundaries with wildlife, be calm and know how to control a situation as to not affect the animal’s behaviour or disturb them. We cannot underestimate how reassuring it is to have a great guide on safari, to know that both we and the animals are under no threat.

Lionsands Game Drive Ele

A great guide with composure in situations when wildlife is in close proximity

Captured In Africa advocate for, promote and support responsible tourism in the hope that the wildlife we view and photograph, can be left in as much peace as possible. The benefits rebound between both the wildlife and we as safari-goers, to not only ensure the purest of experiences, but also that wildlife, land & communities benefit from responsible tourism. What can be better than that?!

Captured In Africa spoke with professional wildlife photographer and guide Grant Atkinson, to get his thoughts on responsible wildlife photography when on safari.

What’s your ethical stance regarding manoeuvring the safari vehicle into positions to gain a better viewing/photographing angle? 

“I think that it can be a bit of a balancing act when deciding how close to position a vehicle for photographers. The more vehicles are involved in the sighting, the greater the distance from the wild animal should be. I also don’t hold with moving a vehicle too close behind or up to an animal that is itself, on the move. Obviously, there may be some areas where specific animals are supremely habituated to vehicles and then any impact or disturbance is lowered. With a wild subject that is on the move, I try to guess where that animal is headed to, then go further ahead and position early and wait. That way the animal can decide how close to come or not. Obviously I don’t get that right all the time but sometimes that kind of anticipatory positioning can lead to comfortable, close-up viewing on the wild animals terms.”


ETHICAL vehicle manoeuvring, allowing the leopard to continue on their path without interference

How intrusive is too intrusive, that it severely affects the natural behaviour of that animal?

“I think too many vehicles too close is intrusive, as is driving too close right behind a moving subject. I think most species will very quickly give signs of unease, or stress, as soon as a vehicle gets too close, or is too loud, or creates too much movement. Sometimes it may just be a glance, or a change in the subjects position to face away from the disturbance, or they stop whatever they were doing. At that point you have already registered some disturbance, so holding that distance or perhaps backing off a little distance might allow the wild animal to relax again.”

Has there ever been a time when you didn’t get a shot, because it may have meant troubling an animal or disturbing their natural behaviour?

“It happens frequently, that I don’t get shots, nor the photographers travelling with me, if we think that we are disturbing or harassing our wild subject matter. As soon as an animal shows signs of disturbance or irritation, we will either create a bigger space, or be quieter, or leave that animal and go look for something else to photograph. I always find that if I explain the animals behaviour to those photographers with me, that they understand and are co-operative in this.”

What is your view on drones and mobile camera units. Are some more intrusive than others for example?

“I have strong views on drones and mobile camera units being deployed around wild animal subject matter. The temptation is very high for users of these vehicles to antagonize wild animals in order to get more dramatic shots. I think both drones and mobile camera units should be banned from all wildlife reserves and National Parks, protected areas. I have been in repeated contact with the wildlife authorities in Botswana to bring to their attention the possible consequences of not banning both these types of remote vehicles. I have personally seen an armoured ‘Beetlecam” type remote vehicle with scratches in its metal casing from a lioness lifting it and carrying it, which were caused by the cats teeth. Carnivores are not evolved to safely handle metal and glass with their mouths or paws and I have no doubt that they can easily damage their teeth, mouths or claws by coming into contact with remote vehicles in that way.”

What are your thoughts on manipulating a sighting by making a noise or throwing objects at the animals to maybe change their position.

“I would always encourage patience at a sighting, when waiting for an animal to wake up. Wildlife photography is a serious craft and patience is a key element. Anybody wanting to disturb a subject or throw something would not be tolerated on a safari of mine”

Captured In Africa wish to thank Grant for taking the time to give his thoughts on this important subject. Grant Atkinson is a guide, wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast, he believes that learning the behaviour of his subjects is most important.

To see more of Grant’s stunning work, you can visit his website here

Kruger little one

Be cautious when around little ones, adults will always look to protect their young. Copyright © Drew Abrahamson


To enquire about your next safari (photographic or standard safari), you can contact the Captured In Africa team here

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