The elusive Leopard and Aardvark are 2 of the most popular animals to capture on a photographic safari in South Luangwa. It's all about being ready to seize the moment - here are some tips on how to set the scene for your adventure.
Why is South Luangwa a hotspot? High concentrations of game are supported by the waters of the untamed Luangwa River, which in itself is visually beautiful with its oxbow lagoons and lush vegetation. South Luangwa National Park is a pristine sanctuary and quite wild, so you won't find masses of tourists and camps around every corner.
South Luangwa is home to plenty of wildlife especially Leopard, which is seen regularly in the park. Other species include Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Wild Dog, Hippo, Thornicroft Giraffe, Eland and Roan, Puku, Zebra, Impala, and Waterbuck. Birdlife is prolific but sought after species include Fish Eagles, Pel's Fishing Owl, Carmine Bee Eaters and Lilac Breasted Rollers.
A number of South Luangwa camps offer photographic safaris where you can join a small group, usually about 6 guests at a time, and learn the tricks of the trade from an expert who leads the group. Small groups ensure that you receive personal attention and get a good spot on game drives (a side seat for you and the aisle for your gear).
You could also arrange to go on your own private photographic safari with or without the camp expert on exclusive game drives. The final option is to take your gear on a regular safari with other guests and just make the most of any photo opportunities - the amount of people per game drive will depend on the number of seats in the Land Rover, time of year and luck on your part.
Some safari camps close during the wet season so choose the one that suits you best (see information about the seasons below).
The equipment you take with you will depend on what types of activities you do. The most common activities are early morning and late afternoon game drives and walking safaris. In the wet season, some camps offer river safaris in boats or canoes.
Think about choosing a camp that has bush hides (camouflaged shelters), in this way you can really set yourself up in a safe wilderness setting to get the perfect shot. A camp overlooking a river or waterhole will afford you opportunities to set up on the lodge decks and get shots of animals coming to drink or crossing the river.
Think about what you will need on game drives in a safari vehicle (bean bag, tripod etc), if there are only 6 guests you will have room to take your gear, but on a fuller safari room will be limited. Bean bags are sometimes provided on board so you can steady your shots
Night drives are undertaken with the aid of a spotlight to track wildlife. Getting good shots is difficult unless you are experienced at night photography or you have serious flash equipment.
On walking safaris you will walk for at least 3 hours in the bush, it will be hot, very exciting and unpredictable. Think about what you can carry and get quick shots with on the fly. Consider choosing a camp that has hides (camouflaged shelters in the wild), which are ideal for waiting and watching and getting just the right moment.
What do you really want to see and do? Perhaps make a list of experiences you wish to have and decide on what you would like to photograph. Each season in South Luangwa has something different to offer so here is a guideline:
April to October (dry season) - this is the peak season, especially for game drives and walks. June and July are the winter months but each month afterwards gets hotter through to October. Big cat sightings are especially good from May to July. Carmine Bee Eaters start nesting in August. Ground foliage dies back and thirsty wildlife is easier to see at rivers and waterholes late in this season. Good shots are possible of massive Quelea and Lillian's Lovebirds colonies
Tree foliage changes colour and new shoots and flowers appear in preparation for the rains. Early morning light is very clear. October is the hottest month and predator action is more pronounced as survival becomes an issue.
November to March (wet season) - a number of camps close during the Emerald season because the roads become impassable. The park is quieter. Humidity rises with the start of light rains and wildlife disperses to higher ground. Migrant birdlife arrives in great numbers. Many bird species begin nesting and breeding. The light is superb for photography as there is less dust in the air and sunsets are colourful
The fertile landscape is lush and green and some animals drop their young. Heavy, short downpours mostly at night set in during January and the rivers swell. Boating adventures and river safaris become possible in February. The rains recede in March, which is a time of great renewal and visual splendour.