After reading about what the actual trekking is like, here are a few things that I think you may find useful with respect to photographing the amazing gorillas!

1. Should I bring a tripod or monopod?

I would suggest not to. Most of the terrain is very uneven and tangled with underbrush so it’s more probable that you will end up ditching the tripod or monopod. Also, the gorillas can be frequently moving around so you won’t be very mobile. Finally, I’m not positive about this but I think our guides probably wouldn’t allow them. We had to leave the hiking sticks with our porters before we could even saw the gorillas. Also, the gorillas could be constantly moving and to follow, you need to be very mobile and able to move through the dense forest without getting tangled. Lastly, if you’re one of the “lucky” groups that gets to trek after a family that is 2 hours up the mountain, you really don’t want to carry anything extra.

That said, without a stable support leg, you’ll want to consider a few things to help improve the sharpness of your photos if you find the gorillas hanging out in the shade: wider aperture (i.e., lower f-stop number such as f/2.8), increased ISO (just slightly), enabling vibration reduction (VR) on the lens, if available. Don’t be afraid to get on your knees or sitting down to improve your steadiness. You may also find nearby branches or bamboo that you can lean against.

2. Should I bring a flash with a diffuser?

No, you shouldn’t be using flash as it may startle the gorillas. Also, it could harm a baby gorilla’s developing eyes.

3. DSLR or point-and-shoot?

Whichever you’re most comfortable with since you won’t really have time to “learn” the DSLR while you’re watching the gorillas. That said, if you’re equally comfortable or have time to learn to use a DSLR before going, I would definitely recommend the DSLR since it will generally allow you to take more photos in succession for those rare moments (like seeing a gorilla charging through the underbrush!). There are plenty of other advantages, as well, but being able to take a photo with very little shutter lag is pretty important because… (see next question).

4. What was the biggest challenge when taking photos?

Great question! I think the one thing that stood out for me as a challenge was the fact that no matter how close you are to the gorillas, 90% of the time, they will be looking away from you. That’s right, all of the human visitors that come daily to disturb them seems to have created this behavior that when they see humans, they cover their faces or turn around! This is true the closer you get to them. On our first day’s trek, we were rather far away from the group (100 meters or so) so there were many opportunities to take great photos of their faces. But on the second day’s trek, we were within 10-20 meters of the group and almost all of them turned around and showed us their backs when we came into the clearning. Every now and then, a young gorilla will look up out of curiousity, but the silverback and the older females were very challenging to take portraits of. Hence another reason it’s important to have a camera with little shutter lag.

5. What zoom range should I bring?

Based on just the two treks we went on, I would highly suggest a zoom between 24m and 300mm (Nikon has a pretty impressive 18-300mm DX lens available – see thePhotography Equipment page for a link). You really will get situations where the gorillas are very close to you (within 10 meters) and very far (100 meters) on the same trek so get as versatile of a lens as you can! You can bring a second lens, but you’ll have to carry it on you (no backpacks allowed near the gorillas) but I would suggest you try to avoid this situation since you could be using your zoom lens on a gorilla 100 meters away when another one climbs out of tree 10 meters in front of you for a great opportunity.

6. How did you carry accessories and other equipment?

I had both pants and a safari vest that were covered in pockets! And, yesiree, I stuffed them full of extra batteries, extra memory cards, microfiber clothes, extra prime lens (though I didn’t have much chance or desire to switch the lens). You do get a few minutes when you stop before seeing the gorillas where you give the porters your hiking sticks and backpacks to fill your pockets so no need to stuff them before your trek but having batteries and memory cards in easy reach is important even during the hike. We actually ran into a family of gorillas that wasn’t the one we were trekking and got some close opportunities – so you never know when you’ll need the batteries or memory cards.

7. Will it rain?

There is a chance it will rain in the mountains when you visit. In fact, every afternoon on our 4 day visit, there was some rain and on one day, it was an extremely heavy downpour that caught the trekkers visiting the furthest gorilla families. If you aren’t wearing a rain jacket on the trek, stuff a portable poncho into your vest or pants – after our time with the gorilla family was over, we hiked for an hour in scattered rain showers before we met up again with our porters who had all of our backpacks (where my poncho was stowed) and food!

8. Should I carry food and water?

Definitely! Put snacks, chocolate, water, etc. in your backpack and I would suggest even carrying (well-sealed) snack food on you. The reason for carrying it on you is that you can’t be absolutely certain that you’ll meet up with your porters immediately after your time with the gorillas is over – we followed the gorillas for over an hour as they moved through the forest so we had an hour trek back to our porters afterwards. Just make sure it’s well sealed so the gorillas aren’t tempted to get at it.

9. Should I take video?

Absolutely! A GoPro HD HERO3 would be great or use your camera’s video functionality.  Mount it on your head and take video hands free!  Just remember to bring extra batteries and memory card since video recording can really use those up quickly.

10. Any tips on framing?

Take many, many photos where you’re zoomed in close to the gorilla faces (the expressions on gorillas are really beautiful) and also where you’re zoomed out and can capture the breathtaking landscape of the mountain side and their habitat.  If you find the gorillas in a clearing, use the edges of the clearing to frame your shots.  Look for straight lines in the bamboo forest behind the gorillas to also frame shots.

11. Shutter speed or ISO setting to use?

It can really vary. You may be deep in the forest cover where it’s mostly shadows so you’ll want a wide aperture and fast shutter speed or you may be under the bright sunlight in a clearing. Be ready for any situation – if a gorilla swings down from a tree right in front of you, be sure you know what fast settings to switch to so you can capture the moment!

12. Should I take more than one trek?

The biggest factor here is the daily cost of $500.  If you can afford it, I would recommend two treks since you’ll get to visit two different families with very different personalities.  One family could have a beautiful silverback while the other has the cutest babies.  That said, however, if you only go for one trek, it will still be just as amazing an experience and I’m sure you’ll remember it for a very long time.  Our group was actually nervous about the second trek after coming back from the first trek so tired (it was about 3-4 hours of up and downhill climbing through dense brush and occasional rain) but in hindsight, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity of a second trek (it was a much shorter hike and we got really close).

13. What else should I know?

The tip I found most important for this whole trip was to look up from your camera every now and then! Don’t forget to enjoy the moment (remember, you only get 1 hour). Take a deep breath, enjoy the crisp mountain air, and just marvel at the amazing land and these wonderful creatures. Your memories of the trip should be filled with moments like these and not just memories of you looking through your camera.

Good luck with your trip and remember to enjoy every moment!