a coquerel's sifaka poses perfectly in a tree in anjajavy

How to Get this Shot – Lemur Posing in Madagascar

For the wildlife photographer and naturalist alike, Madagascar is one of the world’s most alluring countries.  The biodiversity is astounding, and 80% of everything found on the island occurs nowhere else on earth.  And if that wasn’t enough, the most charismatic wildlife, the lemurs, are virtually unafraid of humans due to millions of years of existence with minimal predators.

The result of all this?  Extraordinary potential for close-up, spectacular photography of some of the most fascinating creatures on earth.

If you’re headed to Madagascar on a wildlife photo adventure, be sure to follow these simple tips on exceptional lemur portrait photography in the wilds of Madagascar.

a coquerel's sifaka poses perfectly in a tree in anjajavy

First, you’ll need to get yourself in a place that offers such an amazing spectacle.  Just going to Madagascar isn’t quite enough, as there are so many places to choose from, you should seek expert advice if you’re particularly interested in photography at close range. Fortunately, the itinerary with Natural Habitat Adventures features many extraordinary spots for wildlife and lemur photography, but one stands out as superior–Anjajavy Lodge.  This is the grand conclusion to Nat Hab’s Madagascar Adventure for all the right reasons. Within minutes, you’ll likely be treated to photo opportunities like this one.

Your settings will be key to capitalizing on this gift of an opportunity, and you’ll want to adhere to a few basic principles.  You’ll want to get the lemur tack sharp, but the background nice and blurred. Thus, you’ll want to use an f/number that will give you good sharpness of your subject, but leave the background less defined.  Remember, if you just punch in the biggest f/number and get everything in focus, the background will be distracting and will take away from the sharpness of the lemur subject.  Hence, I often start off with f/5.6 and am prepared to go up to f/8 if necessary.

Your position and angle are also very important. To emphasize the background blur even more, try to place the subject closer to your lens, than the background is to the subject.  The more you can increase this ratio, the more the background will feature that lovely blur, aka “bokeh.”  So, as you find great lemurs, swivel around it to find the angle that puts LOTS of space between the lemur and its background (trees, shrubs, etc.).

If you set your camera on Aperture Mode, which I use most of the time, the camera will choose the shutter speed for you.  Just make sure that it’s at least 1/100, and preferably 1/200 while the animal is sitting still.  If it’s moving, you may need to double this and start getting to 1/400 and even above.

Your ISO should always be as low as possible, given the above settings.  I usually start with ISO 400, but am ready to quickly to go ISO 800 or even ISO 1600 if light begins to dim or I need to get a faster shutter speed.

Finally, I would highly recommend experimenting with your white balance settings, as the scene will look dramatically different at “shady” vs. “sunny” white balance settings.  If you’re not familiar with these different settings, check out my article on Understanding White Balance, as it’s a game changer for accurately depicting colors, while also making sure the photo really pops.

Now you’re ready to snap, snap, snap away.  And emphasis on the extra snaps!  One thing with lemurs is that they often exhibit interesting expressions and movements as they go about their day.  If you take 5 photos, all seemingly the same in the back of the camera, don’t stop there to make your decisions of what to keep and what to delete.  Chances are good that when you upload to a computer with a bigger screen, you’ll notice small differences (usually with the eyes and facial expressions) that help you pick the best of the best.

You can use these tips across the board for ALL lemur photography in Madagascar, not just this dazzling Sifaka in Northern Madagascar.

a close-up shot of a brown lemur in madagascar

And don’t forget to put the camera down for a moment between shots. Not only will this help you regroup and think creatively, but you MUST take some time to appreciate these amazing critters with your own eyes.

Go forward and give it a shot!

Court Whelan Signature