Top 11 points to know before a Tiger photographic safari. Most wildlifers ask me the secrets to get the best tiger and wildlife clicks/shots when on a safari in any Indian national park. Lets first look at the key points that I will be covering in this post.
1. Do exclusive tiger safaris
2. Be fit and agile in the vehicle with minimum movement
3. Try to take low angle shots from the floor of the vehicle
4. Keep distance from the Tiger, do not disturb him
5. Avoid taking photos from moving vehicle
6. Tripods do not work; gimbals and bean bags work partially
7. Know your camera equipment
8. Protect your equipment
9. Anticipate the Tiger behavior
10. Listen to your guide and driver
11. Never break jungle rules
1. Do exclusive tiger safaris:
Starting with our most important point of “points to know before a Tiger photographic safari”. If you are a serious amateur or a professional photographer, I suggest opting for exclusive safaris, i.e. just you with a guide and a driver. Having other friends or companions in the jeep could prove disturbing to you and to wildlife as well. Unknowingly, it also tends to impact the quality of the photos. While you might be focussed on taking great shots, your companion might not be getting the right angle, light or composition. He might ask the driver to move the vehicle, thus disturbing the stillness required for a good photograph. Being alone in the vehicle will give you plenty of space to move around and get the best possible angle. At times, you might have a bush, shrub or a tree disturbing the frame between you and the Tiger; if you have space, it becomes easier to adjust your angles. No doubt that exclusive safaris leave a dent on your wallet, but how will it be if you get an opportunity to get great photographs and fail due to lack of seriousness on part of your companion.
2. Be fit and agile:
This is extremely important and gets the least attention. If you are not an active person then there are chances of your body getting cramps while trying out some angles. Indian safari vehicles are not very spacious; to get low angle shots you need to be able to contract in the space available. This is when you can get into body cramps. There are occasions that you have to continuously look through the eyepiece in one position without moving, this can give you cramps depending on how you are sitting, crouching, or bending. It can destroy the whole range of shots that you could have taken had you been fit. So, for all prospective and budding photographers please be regular in fitness. Importantly, during the days you are going for safaris, do stretches before you get into the vehicle.
3. Low angle shots from the safari vehicle:
Here’s a secret point of “points to know before a Tiger photographic safari”.If you want some good photos of Tigers, then do not stand in the vehicle to take photos. This not only disturbs the Tiger as you look bigger in the vehicle, but also because top angle shorts are not that great. To get the bokeh effect in shots, you must go down as far as possible within the vehicle. This can happen only if you do not have anyone else, or maybe just one more person in the vehicle. It helps to have a lean body frame for this. Now, I am not saying that you get good shots only if you take them from the floor of the vehicle, but this is an angle that most photographers do not explore. *See the image below*.
In some national parks, it is permitted to remove one middle seat but not in all the parks. Removing one seat gives you a lot of range for body movement. It is best to keep a mattress so that you can keep your equipment safe. Remember, when you remove a seat from the vehicle and you happen to be sitting behind there is a tendency for the vehicle to be bumpier on the tracks, so sit comfortably and enjoy the safari.
4. Try and keep a distance from the Tiger, and do not disturb him:
Good photos are possible only if you give space to the Tiger, and let him do his own thing. Remember, we are in his habitat, so his right is primary. For this, it is important that you have at least a 300 mm zoom if not more. If the Tiger is coming on the road towards you, then it is good to back off a long-distance, switch off the vehicle, and wait for him to come towards you. When he begins to get closer again move good 100 meters if possible, and let him come to you. Keep doing this till he is walking on the track, and you cannot change your track, so keep reversing safely, keeping a good distance. If the Tiger is on a patrolling round then you will get many action photos, like the Tiger spray marking on trees, etc.
5. Avoid taking photos from a moving vehicle:
For the simple reason that your photos will be blurred and not sharp. By switching off the vehicle you will not get shake in the images. Also, there is no sound, and the Tiger is comfortable with no sound, and the distance you give him.
6. Tripods do not work; gimbals and bean bags work partially:
Must remember the point of our “points to know before a Tiger photographic safari”. There is hardly any space for a Tripod in the safari vehicle in India. So, avoid plugging it in. You may decide to carry a monopod if you are efficient to reduce and increase the height quickly. Gimbals also do not work efficiently. Yes, Beanbags do work if you get some time to plan your shots. But it is rare that the Tiger will give you enough time to adjust and shoot. At times Tigers just come out quickly and disappear onto the bush. So, you should be swift enough to lift your camera and lens and take images. If you happen to be carrying prime and VR lenses, then you have invested reasonably into your equipment that means you must do everything possible to get some nice shots. Like in shooting sport you are asked to do some stability exercise for your hands, hence it helps to do some exercise in the gym so that lifting the lenses and cameras do not seem heavy.
7. Know your camera equipment:
It is important to study the manuals of your equipment thoroughly and explore all possible functions. These days the DSLRs have a plethora of functions, but it is important to know the basics very clearly. So, study the manual, practice with your equipment in someplace close to your home, office before embarking to the national park with your expensive equipment.
8. Protect your equipment:
Remember that you are doing Tigers safaris in an open vehicle. To know the vehicle please read my blog here. It is a good idea to carry some covers to protect your equipment from dust and rain. Carry from home, put it in a bag, and in your vehicle. There can be sudden showers and you can get caught in the same, hence some protection for your equipment is of utmost importance. As the vehicle is open, it tends to get very dusty when there is another vehicle in front of you. It is good to carry a light cloth that you may place on top of the equipment in the vehicle. If you are keeping the equipment next to you on the seat then keep your hand gently on the same, as the bumps during safaris can dump your equipment on the floor of the vehicle. Though most of the lenses and equipment is sturdy enough for such falls, why take a chance at all.
9. Anticipate Tiger behavior:
Just like no one can predict the stock market, it is equally or even more tough to predict what the Tiger will do next. If you are going for your first Tiger safari in India then you must study about Tigers, talk to some other photographers who have done Tiger safaris. This will help you understand. You might have the best of equipment, and you might be with the best of drivers and guides, but no one controls the Tiger movements. Your only control is on your equipment and how to maximize the output in a minimum of time. Remember it is possible to get the Head of State to shake hands and smile, but you cannot get Tiger to stop and pose for you until he wants to. Hence it helps to know what the Tiger might do next. There are some tips that I will be sharing in my future blogs on the same and how to maximize your Tiger time and Tiger images.
10. Listen to your guide and driver:
You might have become an expert doing many safaris but the amount of jungle lore that the guide and driver have is very precious and always unavoidable. They know which Tiger takes which trails so if they are waiting at a certain point next to a stream or a bridge, or a trail, then let them decide on the position. They are doing safaris daily, and can quite accurately predict the movement of the Tigers. So, listening to them is only beneficial. Also, if the tiger does something that is contrary to what your guide and driver says then please do not argue with them. They want you to fulfill your purpose, but a tiger is a tiger, and there is only one expert on a tiger, i.e. the tiger himself. So, on a given day if the Tiger chooses to not follow a certain trail there could be several reasons for the same, including you. Many drivers and guides have become good with photography as well. Hence if they are giving some suggestions do listen to them. More often than not you will only benefit.
11. Never break Jungle rules:
This is extremely important for your own safety and safety of wildlife. Never ever consider getting off the vehicle to take photographs, it is not permitted. Likewise, there are several rules of the Jungle which you may read on my blog here.
If you are able to follow the above points then there are good chances of you getting good Tiger photos while doing Tiger safaris in India. But if you do not, then do remember it is a Jungle out there, and many factors are beyond one’s control. The above pointers will prepare you on how to handle yourself, your equipment, and the wildlife.
Should you require to ask anything, do write in on [email protected]
Wishing your successful Tiger Safaris in India.
Born and brought up in New Delhi, it was Sharad’s childhood passion to play cricket for India. While on a holiday in 1990, he saw his first tiger. Little did he know that this one sighting would immerse him into a realm where forests and tigers were all that mattered.
Sharad’s experiences as a wildlife photographer have inspired him to observe the tiger’s behavior for over 30 years and motivated him on his own journey as an entrepreneur. He started Nature Safari India Pvt Ltd, with a focus on “Conservation through Tourism.” to align himself to the mission of saving the regal species and repopulating them in India’s forests. In 2006, he set up one of India’s premier jungle lodges in Kanha National Park.
Sharad believes that there are many lessons to be learned from a tiger that can be applied successfully to leadership—both in business and in life. Here’s a new book by Sharad Vats on management and leadership skills to learn from a Tiger.