How’d You Get That Shot? Safari Photography with Toby Gelston

Written by Thomson Safaris

star trails and night photography in serengetiStars over camp – Eastern Serengeti, Tanzania
Photo: Toby Gelston

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 Toby Gelston joins us today.


What do you like about this shot?
The inviting nature of the tent while time and stars pass by above.

What type of planning was involved in order to capture this image?
Being so close to the equator you can get circular star trails when pointed north or south. I knew the tent was my main center of interest and I wanted to find an angle that would show the stars leading the viewer directly to the tent.

Which camera did you use, and why?
I used the new Sony a1 to capture this shot with a 24mm f/2.8 lens.

Which settings did you use? Are there any technical tips you have for photographers who are more advanced?
The Sony a1 was set to 30 second exposure at f/2.8 and ISO 640. There are two ways to achieve star trails like this – one long exposure, at least 20-30 minutes long or multiple shorter exposures that you then stack in StarStax. I prefer the multiple shorter exposures – this method gives you more flexibility in post. During the course of the evening the clouds moved in and really blocked the stars near the end of the series. Because I had 83 photos I could choose to only use the first 50 or so – keeping a relatively clear view of the stars.

➡️ Toby teaches astrophotography workshops,⭐ watch his video on star trail photography ⭐ for more details ⬅️

Which tools, during either the shooting or editing process, did you use to enhance the photo?
Besides the obvious camera and lens you need a sturdy tripod and an intervalometer – a device that automatically triggers the camera to take a picture every x number of seconds. Many cameras now have this built in. I set up my camera to take a 30 second shot with a 1 second gap. After shooting I edited in Lightroom and used a program called StarStax to do the stacking and blending (it’s almost all automatic).

What advice do you have for safari goers who want to capture the perfect shot?
Know your gear. Understand the best settings for fast and precise focus and always be ready.

What’s your favorite tip to give fellow photographers?
Put the camera down from time to time and just look around. This might seem counterintuitive but there are times when you get so fixated on what you see through your viewfinder that you might miss the experience and you might notice something interesting that you want to capture in an entirely different direction.


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

What’s your favorite thing to photograph?
Starry landscapes

What do you think of Tanzania or a safari as an overall photographic opportunity? What made it special to photograph?
As an instructor with McKay Photography Academy I have been lucky enough to experience Thomson Safaris multiple times and each new trip brings new clients and new experiences and getting to see the experience through fresh eyes each time is really special. No matter how much you read or how many videos you watch – the sheer number of animals you see and the adventure that you are apart of will be mind blowing! As a photographic opportunity it is just amazing – from incredible landscapes to awesome animal encounters – there is always something to see and photograph.

Where can we find your work?
Instagram (@photorectoby) is the best place to see my most recent work and travels. You can also find my helpful gear guides and photo tutorials at

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