But spotting gorillas in the wild is a slightly more challenging experience than seeing the Big Five on a classic safari in the African savannah. Finding gorillas requires you to hike, hours on end and when there, only spend a limited amount of time with this magnificent wildlife before it’s time to head back.
Wildlife photography in the rainforests where gorillas inhabit is also a whole new ballgame. While much of the tips and tricks on wildlife photography will apply just as well in the rainforests, there are some key tips to capturing the perfect gorilla photo.
Know When and Where to Go
Mountain gorillas are the most endangered species of gorilla, which means that sighting them in the wild can be difficult. There are only two known habitats of the mountain gorillas:
- The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
- The Virunga mountain region which covers the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.
The best time to go gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda:
- June to September
- December to February,
This is because you’ll want to avoid the short rainy season in October and November. During these times, rainfall is considerably less making rainforest trekking a little easier. December is considered peak season in Uganda for gorilla trekking so if you plan to travel during this month, make sure to book a safari trip and accommodation early to avoid disappointment.
It is also entirely possible to travel to both Uganda and Rwanda during the wetter months as gorilla trekking tours happen year round. Budget travelers to Uganda would also benefit from traveling during the off-peak season as the prices for gorilla permits are reduced from $600 to $450 during rainy season. However, it is important to note that gorilla permits in Rwanda are not cut even in the low season, remaining at $750 year round.
Trekking through the rainforest can be muddy and wet even in the absence of rain. Make sure to:
- Wear light and breathable clothing that can be easily removed and changed should the need arise.
- Wear a sturdy, waterproof jacket and pants.
- Where possible, avoid cotton clothing, as they tend to soak up moisture and take very long to dry. Instead, invest in quality Merino wool outdoor clothing as they are lightweight and dry quickly.
Keep in mind that a typical trek last a minimum of 3 hours, but can sometimes go up to 7 hours when there are more trekkers doing the same trail. Dress as comfortably as you can for the long hours!
Other clothing items that may be good to have include a hat to protect your scalp from the rain or sun as well as gloves to protect your hands when you grab on tree barks and vines that may sometimes be particularly sharp.
Carry a waterproof bag and keep your camera equipment in a plastic zip lock bag as an extra safety precaution. Leave bulky equipment at home and settle for smaller, lightweight cameras that are easy to lug around. It is also protocol on gorilla safaris that you leave your bags (backpack or camera bag) about 100 meters away from the group of gorillas that you encounter. In this case, pockets will come in handy for storing various camera accessories and batteries when you get up close with a gorilla.
Use Short Lenses
Note that you are usually required to stay at least 7 meters away from the group of mountain gorillas that you come across but they often come closer to you out of curiosity. In this range, short to medium lenses are best suited for gorilla photography. Remember that there is a strict 1-hour time limit duration in place that you are allowed to spend with the gorillas so fiddling with long telephoto lenses will take up too much valuable time.
Special tip: DSLR bodies with 24 to 105 mm zoom and 70 to 20 mm zoom is ideal for gorilla photography.
Turn Your Flash Off
Flash photography is not allowed when in close proximity with the gorillas so be sure to turn it off and disable the automatic flash.
Frame Your Images Creatively
Shooting photographs in the wild means that your subjects won’t pose for you. In this case, you have to get creative when it comes to framing your images. Take a look at your surroundings and borrow from nature. Look for creative angles incorporating vines and bamboos that will help you photograph the mountain gorilla in a more interesting way. You won’t find great lighting in the jungle, but don’t fret too much about the lighting of the image. They can always be fixed later on using editing programs like Lightroom and Photoshop.
Put the Camera Down
While it is certainly priceless to capture perfect photographs of mountain gorillas in the wild, when you’ve captured a shot or two, do put the camera down and truly interact with the wildlife you are encountering. Don’t fret too much about the imperfection of your image. Take some time to just enjoy the moment. You only have one hour with the gorillas so do take it easy. After all, the memories of your encounter are far more special than any photograph that you can capture!
Looking for alternative gorilla safari destinations? Encounter mountain gorillas in the wild when you go on a gorilla safari in Virunga National Park!