Madagascar Photography Tips

Natural World Safaris

04 Sep 2013

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Madagascar photography: tips for capturing the wildlife on camera

Madagascar is one of the most popular destinations among NWS clients and team members alike. With much of its flora and fauna having evolved in isolation for the last 88 million years, the country offers a safari experience unlike any other. 90% of Madagascar’s wildlife is found nowhere else on earth, while its diverse habitats – including the unique spiny forests of the southwest and the bizarre limestone formations known as tsingy – contribute to the country’s appeal for those seeking a safari with a difference. Madagascar is also a haven for photographers, so in this blog we’ve prepared some useful tips to help you get the most out of your time on the “Red Island”.

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SAMPLE GEAR CHECKLIST

The exact equipment you bring will be influenced by your personal choice of camera system. Here is an example of what a Nikon user may take to Madagascar:

  • Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VRII (a fast lens for wildlife)
  • Nikon 18-200mm (a general-purpose lens)
  • Nikon TC14E II teleconverter (for a little bit more reach)
  • Nikon 60mm macro lens (for small creatures)
  • Compact camera with the capacity for taking panoramic shots (a lot of the scenery will come out much better in panoramas)

Bear in mind that you can rent lenses you don’t own from Lens Lockers, which will enable you to choose specific, high-quality lenses for a particular trip without breaking the bank.

Aside from technical equipment, here are some other pieces of kit that will be useful for any photographer in Madagascar:

  • Monopod (for added stability in low light conditions)
  • Waterproof camera bag (to stop your camera from getting too wet)
  • Belt kit (for added mobility). Consider something like the ThinkTank 20V as you can fit a 70-200mm lens, teleconverters and a camera hood in it
  • If you use a rucksack, make sure to take something like a dry sack to slip over it when you are out and about

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PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM OUR CLIENTS returning from Madagascar

NWS clients Michael and Alison Asplin, upon returning from Madagascar, have recommended the following top tips when it comes to photography:

  • Shoot in RAW rather than JPEG as you will need the post-processing ability when editing your photos.
  • In really poor light conditions for lemurs, use centre-weight metering and deliberately underexpose 1-2 stops. This buys 2-4x shutter speed and you can recover the exposure on the computer (as long as you shoot in RAW).
  • Shoot in high-speed bursts to compensate for both low shutter speeds and twitchy subjects. This gives you a lot of images to delete, but more chances of getting a good one.
  • For chameleons, wait until both eye rotate forwards.
  • For whales, use focus area rather than point focusing as you’ll have a greater chance of focusing on the whale than the waves.

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PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM OUR TEAM

We have no shortage of photographers in the NWS office and plenty of us have taken trips to Madagascar over the years – it is without a doubt one of our favourite destinations! Here are the team’s tips for getting the perfect shot during your safari.

  • Madagascar truly has something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for photographs of birds, lemurs, reptiles, amphibians, whales, stunning landscapes, the local culture or even macro photography of tiny insects, you’ll be able to find plenty of subjects here. With so much visual imagery to choose from, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and experiment with different photographic styles.
  • It takes a bit of work to invest in a good macro setup, and as you generally need flash to get the right effect, it’s not always easy to switch between lenses at a moment’s notice. However, the rewards are great, especially on night hikes, when a flash can reveal the intricacies of miniature flowers, insects and even chameleons not much bigger than your thumbnail.
  • Another good option for small subjects is to get as low to the ground as possible. Don’t be afraid of getting dirty! By bringing your camera’s perspective down to the same level as the subject’s, you can make images of ground-dwelling animals like tortoises much more visually engaging, by providing a sense of their environment and a nice separation between the animal and the background.

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  • Not every wildlife image has to be a portrait or full-body shot. Remember to capture the details! Madagascar has a wealth of strange and colourful wildlife whose individual body parts can make for some really interesting and abstract images. Try capturing the elongated neck of the giraffe weevil, the curled-up tail of a chameleon or the patterns of a moth’s wing.
  • An ultra-wide or wide-angle zoom are your best lenses for capturing general landscape/travel/people images. Good options include 16-35mm (full frame) or 10-22mm (crop frame) for ultra-wide lenses and 24-105mm (full frame) or 18-55mm (crop frame) for wide-angle zoom lenses.
  • The famous Avenue of the Baobabs near Morondava is one of Madagascar’s most well-known photographic hotspots. Arrive early before sunrise and you may be greeted with morning fog, adding an otherworldly tone to any photograph. Sunsets are also fantastic – just make sure to face the sun and capture the silhouettes of the trees below the stars. Villagers walking or riding in zebu-drawn carts along the dirt road that runs between the baobabs can add a great sense of scale to your image, but bear in mind that this area is not protected and the locals receive little income from tourism, so donations to your subjects will always be welcome.

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  • You will not need very long lenses for wildlife photography in Madagascar. Unlike other African countries, there are few predators here and many animals exhibit little to no fear of humans. This allows you to get very close to certain species, safely and unobtrusively. Due to your proximity with the animals, the speed of your camera will be more important than its focal length.
  • No Madagascar safari would be complete without a lemur sighting, and for many photographers, these primates are the undoubted highlight of the country’s wildlife. You can get close to lemurs in a number of locations, but they can also be very fast-moving, so a high shutter speed of between 1/640” and 1/2500” may be required if you want shots of lemurs leaping from tree to tree.
  • If you do choose to bring a telephoto lens, make sure to choose one with an aperture conducive to limited light conditions. The tree cover in Madagascar's rainforests and cloud forests can be quite dense, so a lens capable of shooting at f/2.8 or f/4 will be advantageous. A 70-200mm, 70-300mm, 100-400mm or 80-400mm zoom telephoto lens should be adequate. 500mm or 600mm super telephoto lenses are both heavier and bulkier, and as many national parks and reserves require a good deal of hiking, you may prefer to forego these longer lenses in favour of a lighter load and extra mobility.
  • Madagascar’s rainforests may be filled to the brim with intriguing species just waiting to be photographed, but there is a whole world waiting beneath the waves that also deserves a share of the limelight. From whale sharks and humpback whales to sea turtles and colourful reef fish, underwater photographers have plenty of marine creatures to capture. GoPros and underwater camera housings are a must if you’re looking to take a dip in the ocean.

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  • Madagascar’s coastlines are littered with traditional fishing villages that offer fantastic photo opportunities, with white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, handmade seafaring vessels and friendly locals the norm. Belo sur Mer, a small town south of Morondava, is cut off from the mainland for up to five months during the rainy season; it comes highly recommended by the Digital Editor-in-Chief of SUITCASE Magazine, India Dowley, who spent time in this charming commune with NWS in 2018. A relaxing visit lapped by the warm waves is a great complement to a trip that takes in Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park and the Avenue of the Baobabs further north.
  • You’ll have no shortage of animals to capture on camera in Madagascar, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you’ll find different species depending on the time of day you’re out in the field. Night walks will reveal nocturnal species like the sportive lemur, aye-aye, comet moth, Madagascar red owl, and various species of tenrec and tree frog. Guides will bring spotlights with them during night walks, but make sure that your camera has a flash function as well, or alternatively bring an external flash unit with you.
  • The rainforests and cloud forests of Madagascar have a number of running streams and waterfalls that lend themselves well to long-exposure shots, but if you find one of these waterways in a sunlit area, your shot is going to come out overexposed. For these occasions, it is advisable to use a neutral-density filter or graduated neutral-density filter in order to properly expose the shot. This way, you’ll be able to produce images with stunning motion-blur effects.

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We hope that these tips help you to capture some excellent photographs while on safari in Madagascar. If you have any further questions for us, or if you'd like to share your own photos and photography tips, just click the button below to get in touch with a member of our expert NWS team. Happy shooting!

Want to learn more about Madagascar?

Click the button below to read our in-depth Madagascar Guide, which includes information on species, destinations, FAQs and more.

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Comments

Georgia B

11/11/2016 5:20 PM

How cool that wildlife is so close that you don't need anything more powerful than a 200mm lens! My dad goes on lots of business trips to Madagascar, and he's taking me along soon. I'm so excited for the photo opportunities, especially now that I know that the wildlife encounters will be so close and intimate! http://www.nickigeigert.com/

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