Self-driving the Parks
I spend a few trips each year, self-driving in Southern Africa and have been asked recently how I set all the camera equipment in my car. Below is a photo that was taken on a recent trip I did in the Kruger National Park with some notes on each of the numbered items. On this particular trip, I was in a small Toyota Corolla, but the same would apply if I were in a big 4×4.
1. Canon 1Dx and 500mm
My main bit of kit that I use for my wildlife portraits from either the car or from hides. I set this to One Shot and High-speed continuous shooting which allows me to compose easily. It can be a little short in reach for bird photography as it is a full-frame camera, but I simply swap the cameras on the 500mm if I have the time. I have a mantra of taking banker photos first, then worrying about adding converters, etc. for reach.
The beanbag serves two purposes really, stability on the door frame as I photograph (which is essential) and to keeps the two camera setups from knocking against each other as you drive. This works well for most roads I have found except on some of the extremely corrugated roads of the Kalahari, where everything gets bashed around.
3. Canon 1Dmk4 and 70-200mm II
I have this set up as a default for action photography as it’s easy to grab and shoot. It also allows me to zoom in or out if subjects get closer to the car. Set on Al Servo and High-speed shooting, I often have the 1.4x converter on this setup. Used a lot for bird flight photography.
4. Bird Book and Notebook
I started out as a birder nearly 30 years ago and still have that inbuilt itch to twitch. There are times when I am sitting at a waterhole waiting for things to happen when I catch up with my sighting notes and more importantly, my Life list. It’s also a good time to document all the correct names so that it makes keywording in Adobe Lightroom easier.
Essential game spotting equipment. This is both for photography and birding as you never know when that twig off in the distance, might turn out to be an ear or tail. It also saves on batteries and arm power because you don’t have to use the big lens as a spotting scope.
6. Canon 1.4x converter
The converter is a great little piece kit which I switch back and forth between the camera setups when I need extra focal reach. This only makes an appearance once the sun is up as it’ll cost you light in the early morning and late evening. However, if it’s an extra special sighting, I’ll throw it on and push up the ISO. A grainy photo is better than no photo.
7. Coffee Mug
I am unable to function without coffee, so I have two mugs with me. A small mug for when I am waiting for the gate to open and let us out of the camp. The larger one is for the morning drive.
On the back seat
In a camera rucksack on the seat behind me are the following: Extra cards, cleaning kit (cleaning cloths and alcohol, small paint brush for dust), Canon 24-105mm and 16-35mm. And of course, it’s where I keep all those bloody lens caps.
I don’t use a tripod within the car at all. It is too cumbersome and takes too long to set up or manoeuvre around if you have too. I don’t use any door brackets either because I’ve yet to find one that works in the smaller cars which I hire.
I’ve always preferred on a lower perspective from a small car when photographing from a vehicle, as opposed to a taller 4×4. It’s key to be eye-to-eye with your subjects, and while you might miss some images of animals further off, it’s a godsend when a lion or antelope come close to the car. You will not be shooting down onto the animal as you would with a 4×4 or safari jeep.
If you are shooting with a single camera, you should have the spare lenses on the seat next to you.
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