One of the trickier aspects of wildlife photography that I personally love is that of nocturnal animals moving in the African darkness.
Many people coming on safari believe that nothing can be captured after sunset and tend to put their cameras down. Part of the reason is because many people are not entirely sure how to operate their cameras on Manual mode and so become afraid to step out their comfort zone.
Let’s go through a few simple steps that if you follow, can see you taking great after-dark photos in no time at all.
The first step in improving your photography is to know your equipment. I recommend playing around with your camera and becoming familiar with which buttons change which settings before you ever come on safari. This will make you far more comfortable operationally, and you can even practice from the comforts of your home before arrivingi at Londolozi.
Once darkness has set in, a good starting point for spotlight photography would be to set your camera to Manual. Aperture mode can also work, but then you are starting to play around with metering modes as well, which complicates things a bit, so let’s stick to Manual for now.
It is always recommended that after setting up your camera, you take a test shot and adjust the necessary settings to capture the perfect shot you are hoping to achieve.
- Set the ISO to 2000
- Set aperture to f5.6 or as low as your lens will allow you – the wider the aperture (smaller the number) the better, as you want as much light as possible to be able to hit your camera sensor.
- Set White Balance to Tungsten, or you can leave it on Auto White Balance, as this can be changed in post processing if shooting in RAW.
The final setting to adjust is the Shutter Speed; I would recommend starting around 1/160 sec.
Now, the brightness of the spotlight will determine whether you adjust the shutter speed or not. If the subject is too bright you can increase up the shutter speed in small increments until you get to the exposure you looking for. If the subject is too dull/dark you can slow the shutter speed down. Make sure you don’t decrease it too much, else you will get a blurred image. This goes especially for animals on the move:
- If the animal is moving towards you, increase the shutter speed as the light will brighten as the animal approaches.
- If the animal is moving away, decrease the shutter speed as the light dims the further the animal moves away.
Finally I highly recommend using a bean bag or some support mechanism to keep the camera as still as possible as to prevent the photo from blurring.
Here are a few of the photographs I have captured at Londolozi to give you an idea of what is possible when changing a few basic settings. Hope you enjoy.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the camps and vehicles.
Unofficially the biggest leopard in the Sabi Sands, the Anderson male is an absolutely enormous individual in north western Londolozi.
Remember, just because the sun has gone, doesn’t mean your camera needs to disappear too.