Smartphone photography on safari

Just point and shoot

Is a smartphone good enough for safari photos? While some may feel they need professional gear to capture impressive photos, we’re not entirely convinced. To us, a decent quality smartphone proves a cost-effective and versatile tool for casual shutterbugs and first-time safari-goers.  

Mike Varndell at Crafted Africa, our industry friend and safari photography expert, shares this sentiment. “You can certainly get by on safari with a good phone camera, as long as you’re mindful that it does have some limitations,” he says.  

If you’re trying to discern whether your current device is adequate for capturing your experience in the bush, here’s a deep dive into the strengths and limitations of a smartphone camera on safari.  

Ease of use

These days, people own extremely high-quality iPhones and Android-based smartphones capable of producing impressive images.   

“If you prefer to travel light, a smartphone is the way to go. It makes for easy, accessible safari photography,” Mike explains. “With a camera like a DSLR, you really do need to understand your equipment and account for the additional space, weight and care.”  

Mike’s Tip: If you’re a budding wildlife photographer and want to take the next step up from a mobile device, invest in a user-friendly bridge camera. As the name suggests, this is a type of user-friendly camera allowing you to take quality pictures without having to master its technical aspects. 

Types of shots

As for the best types of photos to capture with your smartphone, the closer the subject or the broader the scenery, the better your camera will perform.   

“Smartphones yield the best results for wide-angle landscape shots,” Mike explains. “They’re also great for capturing camp life or focusing on interesting plants and insects you might discover on bush walks. The biggest challenge you’ll encounter is capturing birds and wildlife clearly from a distance.”  

Mike’s Tip: Don’t use the zoom feature on your phone when taking a picture which decreases image quality. Do the zooming while editing. It’s better to shoot and crop later. Your safari guides will also be there to help position you within closer range of wildlife during game drives. 

Light sensitivity

Lighting is one of the most important elements of photography on safari, which Mike highlights as one of the primary challenges you’ll encounter with your smartphone.   

“The reality is that phone cameras aren’t as powerful in low-light situations. You can capture some inspiring sunset and sunrise pics in the golden hour. But during the time before that in the early mornings or evenings after sunset, you’re likely to get grainier images,” he adds.  

“Just remember, a phone is a multi-functional tool centering on communication and sharing content whereas a camera is purposely designed for one thing: capturing live imagery. It will have its limitations so it’s up to you to decide what you’re okay with or not”   

Mike’s Tip: Make the most of natural light whenever and wherever you can. In fact, a simple tilt of your phone could help improve lighting issues, get a better angle, or fit more into the photo.  

Editing your phone photos

Editing can make a significant difference in your smartphone safari photos’ final look and feel. Mike highlights how apps can assist.  

Lightroom is my favorite, but Snapseed proves a great free alternative for those new to photo editing,” he says. 

Mike’s Tip: The biggest indication that you’ve gone too far with editing is when the adjustments you’ve made are starting to distract from the image itself. Set aside time to practice taking and editing photos before you depart for your safari.  

The final snap...

In general, the better your smartphone camera is, the better your photos will be. “As long as your smartphone is a decent make and the camera is pretty new, you’ll get some great photos on safari,” Mike adds.   

“A happy by-product of not having the most advanced camera gear is being more present by spending less time glued to your device or experiencing wildlife from behind a screen. Don’t underestimate the joy of simply being there in the moment rather than trying to take the best photo.” he concludes. 

While some may tell you that you need professional camera gear to capture stunning photos on safari, we believe that a good smartphone can prove a cost-effective, versatile, and enjoyable alternative to photography equipment. If you’re interested in embarking on a wildlife photography course, get in touch with our team.   

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