Xanet Scheepers

Compiled by Xanet Scheepers

Digital Lifestyle Editor

How to take incredible wildlife photos with just your phone

Heading to the bush for the festive season? Check out these handy techniques to take Nat Geo-Worthy photos with just your phone.

You don’t have to lug a huge camera and long-lens with you if you’re heading to the bush, all you need to take really great wildlife photos is your phone.

Mobile cameras have advanced tremendously in recent years.

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With high megapixel counts, portrait modes, optical zoom capabilities, and enhanced sensors, smartphone cameras now provide image quality approaching that of digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras.

And you always have a camera at the ready, right in your pocket.

Here’s how to ensure your safari photos stand out – whether you’re an aspiring photographer or simply capturing holiday memories.

5 tips to take the best wildlife photos with your phone

Get to know your camera

The key to getting the best shots is understanding your phone’s camera settings. Adjust ISO for low-light situations, white balance for colour accuracy, and exposure compensation to avoid overly bright or dark images.

Use different shooting modes like panorama, slow motion, or time-lapse for creative effects. Know your camera’s aperture size, sensor capabilities, and megapixels to predict image quality.

Get some help

Consider downloading helpful photography apps like Snapseed, Lightroom, or Camera+ to expand possibilities.

“With a mobile phone, anyone can easily capture lasting memories of this incredible experience; photos that can then be easily shared on social media, Whatsapp, etc with family and friends.

“There are also so many handy apps and phone tricks to really up your photography game,” says Kate Powell, General Manager, Sales and Marketing for the Zambezi Queen Collection of properties.

The nitty gritty

Don’t forget that simple habits make a difference, like cleaning your lens before shooting – dust or smears can ruin images. It’s a good idea to always carry microfibre cloths or lens wipes.

Then, to save phone battery and storage, turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not needed (you don’t need to be connected out in the bush!), close background apps, and transfer images to a backup drive periodically.

A portable charger pack also provides peace of mind for all-day shooting.

Composition tips

The golden hours after sunrise and before sunset are perfect for capturing wildlife scenes; the soft, warm light creates beautiful shadows and colours.

“A general rule if photographing animals and people is focusing on the eyes,” advises renowned professional photographer Andrew Morgan, based in Cape Town.

“For landscapes, it’s good to focus one-third of the way into the scene. More of the scene will remain focused behind the image than in front, so focussing a third in will give you a good balance.”

Patience is also key when it comes to spontaneous wildlife encounters. Resist using digital zoom, which decreases image quality. Instead, crop tightly later. For sharper photos, brace against something steady, use phone tripods or camera triggers, and switch on stabilisation modes.

Editing elevates images

Morgan recommends quick post-processing tweaks to take your photos to the next level.

“The digital darkroom is just as important as a film photographer processing their film. You need to tweak the colours, contrast, and even crop to get the best out of your image to make it as close to how you saw the scene at the time as possible,” says Morgan.

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