How’d You Get That Shot? Wildlife Photography with Jason Zucco

Written by Thomson Safaris

great migration river crossing in serengetiGreat Migration River Crossing
Photo: Jason Zucco

Capturing nature’s most awe-inspiring moments takes much more than good luck and a quick trigger finger. Careful planning, serious skill, and a little bit of luck are needed to create the kinds of unforgettable images that make an African safari so enticing, even from thousands of miles away. The photographs these guests snapped are so impressive, we wanted to learn more about what went into them. In this ongoing series, our most avid photographers share some of the secrets behind the stunning images that make us all wonder “How’d you get that shot?”

Photographer Jason Zucco joins us today.



What do you like about this shot?
I like the painterly quality of the light and the positioning of the wildebeests. It’s also unique to see them in a terrain that isn’t grassland. In fact, it was a small Kopje-like island in the middle of the Mara River. The herd started crossing onto the island through a shallow pool and quickly realized that the other side was impeded by fast moving rapids. So they were stuck there for 10 or 15 minutes. That gave me time to really frame up something interesting.

At the same exact time another herd was trying to cross from the opposite side and were throwing themselves into the rapids. It was an incredible sighting!

What type of planning was involved in order to capture this image?
Seeing a river crossing takes patience. If you wait by the river, there is very little chance that the wildebeests will choose that exact spot to cross. It’s better to wait and view the herds from a distance. Once they start to cross, you can rush over to that spot. I think we waited about a quarter mile back from the river for an hour or two for this particular crossing. Our guide Seph was very experienced and knew what signs to look for and where to be. If it wasn’t for him, there would be no picture.

Which camera did you use, and why?
This was shot with my Canon R5 and a 100-400mm lens. The R5 auto focusing system is unmatched in my opinion, so it was an obvious choice.

Which settings did you use? Are there any technical tips you have for photographers who are more advanced?
This was taken 1/1250 sec at f/5.6, 400mm, ISO 800. Animals tend to move quickly so I always try to maintain a fast shutter speed in order to freeze the action. The biggest and probably most obvious tip is to shoot at a higher ISO than you normally would. This technique will ensure that your shutter speed stays high when shooting in aperture priority mode. Ideally, I like it to be somewhere between 1/1000 and 1/4000 sec.

Which tools, during either the shooting or editing process, did you use to enhance the photo?
I edit all of my photos in Capture One. This particular image does not have any retouching, just some basic enhancements in color and contrast.

What advice do you have for safari goers who want to capture the perfect shot?
Keep going on safari! Nature is unpredictable; timing is everything. If you don’t come home with National Geographic quality shots don’t beat yourself up, those photographers put in thousands of hours – and sometimes in uncomfortable places – to get award-winning shots.

Photography is a practice in which you never stop learning. The more you practice, the better you become. Get a bird feeder and practice photographing the birds that show up. That will allow experimentation with different exposure settings and focusing modes so you can really hone your skills for the next safari.

I also recommend renting different lenses to see what’s possible. I use Lensprotogo and they ship right to my house. Long lenses can get quite expensive and if you’re only going to use it for a short period of time, renting makes a lot of sense.

What’s your favorite tip to give fellow photographers?
Don’t forget to put your camera down and be in the moment. Smell the air; take in your surroundings; get to know your guide better. Most importantly, have gratitude for being able to experience such a special place in such an extraordinary way.



How many years of professional photography experience do you have?
I have been shooting professionally for 20 years.

What’s your favorite thing to photograph?
Wildlife, by far.

What do you think of Tanzania or a safari as an overall photographic opportunity? What made it special to photograph?
It’s an enormous opportunity. Nothing is ever guaranteed, so when things go your way, it’s very fulfilling. It’s exciting to think that the greatest sighting of your life could be around the next corner, or on the next trip!

Where can we find your work?
Currently I use Instagram to show most of my personal work. Check out @jzucco if you’re interested, thanks!


Want to learn more about photographic safaris with Thomson Safaris? Contact us today!