Action with the Alpha 1

“All the gear and no idea” – well let me tell you something, with this camera in hand even if you knew very little about wildlife photography it becomes pretty darn difficult to not get it right! Now do take that with a pinch of salt as you obviously do need a little skill and understanding, but here’s a camera that will allow you to overcome your struggles in certain parts of your photographic experience and step up into a whole new world of skill.

The Sony A1 is a sensational piece of camera equipment. It is in my humble opinion the best camera ever built for wildlife photography. I’ve been photographing for many years now and I have shot with the best cameras to date. My work as a wildlife photographic guide means I have to be proficient at most camera systems. Nothing compares to what I’ve found in the Sony A1.

Now yes, I know I am a Sony Alpha Ambassador and I am biased towards the brand. You may think that I am “told” to say these things. But my relationship with Sony is not based on the fact that I get to partner with them for “free” gear, which, by the way you don’t just get, ha ha. It’s a little more challenging than that. But my trust in Sony stems from the fact that they have been able to step up to the Sony A1 in a very short amount of time. They’ve excelled in mirrorless technology, put major brands under pressure, and have been at the top of this new era with no signs of slowing down.

So. although I speak highly of all things Sony and in particular the Sony A1, know that I am a lover of camera technology and the advancement thereof. Sony’s genuinely been at the forefront of that, based on the top tech reviewers around the world, so it’s not just my opinion here.

The Sony A1 appeared early in 2021 and honestly, it’s taken my photography to a much higher level than ever before. Over the coming weeks I will share several blogs and videos with you showcasing what this camera can do but I thought I’d start with some good action photography, something we all love to get stuck into as wildlife & bird photographers.
The Sony A1, I must also say, has driven more a lot more to bird photography than in the past. The bird-eye autofocus on this camera is just sublime and tracks subjects with ease, given you have it set up well and understand the workings of it. I’ve truly enjoyed photographing birds in flight, more than ever before.

The same applies to wildlife. The camera’s equipped with incredible animal-eye autofocus. It allow me to capture images that previously was not impossible, but really really challenging. Dare I say it also does make the impossible, possible? Yes, that’s how good this system is.

Does it make it easier?

Yes. And no.

You see, I do come across many comments saying everyone can now get great images and that it’s become too easy now. Well, the Sony A1 does make it easier and certainly has the ability to elevate your photography in a short space of time. But, you still need to be aware of what you are doing. You still need an understanding of camera basics, how they all play a role in getting to the final product. You need to understand the autofocus settings and which one applies best to the scene in front of you. You still need to know what you are doing. Armed with a sound understanding and a Sony A1 in hand, you’ll see results come your way, and fast!

Below are a few examples of images I would like to share with you. Most of them were captured recently and they just stand out for me. Some are crazy action shots showing exactly what the Sony A1 is capable of, and some are images that just about everyone can get with some good understanding and timing.


A few images in there that really stand out to me are as follows…

The African Fish Eagle
I set this shot up by visiting a raptor sanctuary in Dullstroom. They take in injured birds and either rehabilitate them back into the wild, or keep them on site due to more serious injury. This bird is trained to take food in flight from a small pond, just like it would do in the wild. It’s great to see from so close up and really gives you a newfound sense of respect for just how agile they are.

You see, in the wild you are often far from the action. You may see birds like this in flight but honestly said, it’s just too easy to capture with the Sony A1. It tracks so well and with the bird being so far away and the wide focus field, you are almost always going to get pretty sharp images. But, what if I were only a few meters away from an African Fish Eagle in full blown action? What is I simply had to get the autofocus spot on, tracking they eyes of the bird while it barrels towards me at high speed with erratic movements? Now that’s the shot that I felt would challenge the Sony A1 most.

How did it do?

Have a look below…


Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like this! I was totally bowled over by just how capable this camera is. To track action at that speed whilst maintaining perfect focus on those beautiful eyes, wow, that is something that impressed me and yes, should impress you too. The key was that it could do this consistently. This was not a type of 1-shot-wonder scenario. It would repeatedly nail the action, track the eyes, and deliver this kind of results!

How does this translate into the “real” world, out in the wild? Well, if it can do this under these circumstances, you can rest assured knowing it can handle what you will face out in the wild! Of that, I am certain!

With the advancement of mirrorless technology, spearheaded by camera such as the Sony A1, you can now step into the field knowing you are equipped for just about any action scenario that may be thrown your way. Is this just not such a satisfying thought? You spend so much hard-earned money on camera gear to fuel your passion, hobby or profession. With better equipment in hand you can now get a return on that investment in the form of images that leave you short of breath. Is that not the goal?

Something the Sony A1 has done for me is that it has taken out the hard work of always trying to focus on the subject and action, trying to keep those focal points aimed at the head or eyes of your subject. I mean, we all had to do it and it took a whole lot of effort at the best of times. You had to because an image out of focus is out of the question, it gets binned, right?

The Sony A1’s autofocus system, given I have the correct settings dialed in, will take care of much of that for you. It follows and actively tracks the subject you are after. This allows me now to focus less time on my FOCUS, and more time on my SUBJECT.

I feel that so often exposure and composition went out of the window as I tried to keep the eyes or head of my subject sharp. It was easy to clip the tail of a leopard, the wings of a bird. Why? Because you had no time to keep your eyes on those smaller but important details. You were watching your focus point! Now, you can concentrate more on your general settings, making sure the exposure is correct, the shutter speed is fast enough, and the aperture and depth of field are where you want them to be. And composition, wow, what a relief. You can now compose so much easier because the focus is independent of your composition. Regardless of where you move your camera – as long as your subject is in the frame the active tracking focus points will follow your subject within your frame. You can now focus on better composition, a game-changer and one that ultimately results in images like the ones you see below.

The images above demonstrate this beautifully.

The Leopard
The Sony A1 ignored the possible object in the way, the horns of the impala, and just kept tracking those beautiful eyes as the leopard moved the impala carcass to get access to meat underneath the neck.

The Skimmer
This image for me, is WOW! I mean, that light you see across the image is moonlight reflected off the Chobe River. This tells you the time of day. The skimmer was flying back and forth searching for fish, and I could track at and compose, making sure the composition was on point and the bird was sharp!

How many images like this have you seen? Me? Not many!

The Leopard in a Tree
This happened fast. Like really fast! I shot this with my Sony 400 f2.8 GM lens and had very little time to react. She shot up the tree with the carcass and I was able to keep her not only in the frame, but kept the eyes PIN SHARP throughout! Honestly, I wish you were there to experience the difficulty presented to me in nailing this image.

The Mother & baby squirrels
I had very little time to get this shot. I was not prepared yet the Sony A1 immediately grabbed hold of the subject as she ran from one tree to another. These kinds of images are one of a kind, you can’t plan for them and you are unlikely to ever get another crack at a unique sighting such as this. So, to be in a position to get it, powered by the ability of the Sony A1, that’s fantastic and puts you a step ahead of the rest!

The Skimmer
Again, an African Skimmer. If you’ve ever tried photographing these birds in action you will know that it is no walk in the park. They are agile, change direction very quickly and just make life a little difficult for you. In this image, it all just came together. The sun was just about to set, the colours rich and warm. and the backlit feathers rounding off a beautiful image. Importantly, it was sharp. Very sharp!

Have you put in your online order yet for your Sony A1? Ha ha!

So considering the images above, what advice would I have for you to get similar shots? Let me share some tips with you to help you on the way to getting sharper action photographs, basic principles that has helped me in my own photography.

Tips for Action Photography

  • Make sure your shutter speed is fast enough for the action at hand.
  • I shoot in Manual Mode, with ISO on automatic. I keep it “capped” at a reasonable level to ensure less grain, but this leaves me to focus on only my aperture value and shutter speed. It’s fast & easy to change my shutter speed now, knowing my ISO will adapt to the change and give me the image and exposure I require.
  • Different shutter speeds are required for different subjects. For example, a large bird of prey is big and has slower wing beats. A smaller bee-eater is fast and agile and required more speed and concentration. Establish which shutter speeds work best for the action at hand.
  • Mirrorless cameras have helped me tremendously because I am able to see my actual, real-time exposure as I shoot. With DSLR’s you have to take a photo and quickly check the exposure before rapidly firing off a burst of frames. With mirrorless you can skip this step entirely and just focus on the action.
  • Anticipate the animal’s movements as best as you can. By staying one step ahead you can figure out how and when it will move, and you will have your camera pointed in the right area. It’s not always easy and you need a certain level of animal understanding to achieve this. Alternatively, a great photographic guide on a dedicated photo safari should help you on your way and get you thinking the right way.
  • Have a steady hand. I mostly shoot with my camera hand-help. I am strong yes, but I find that what really helps me is the ability to move my camera fast in any direction. I find being tied down to a mount makes me slower and can become frustrating when I wanna quickly move. Make sure you have firm support – either the seat in front of you, your knees, a beanbag, a mount – just make sure you are steady and not moving erratically. You subject is already doing that, no need for you to follow too.
  • Adjust your focus tracking sensitivity to lock on to your subject. You want your camera to keep tracking your subject, ignoring any possible objects that may pass quickly.
  • Lastly, when the action goes down on safari, it tends to happen very, very quickly. I often see my guests get over-excited or panic. This is the last thing you want to do as it will allow errors to creep in. Keep a cool head so that you can quickly and relatively calmy make the changes you need to. This is why it is extremely important to know your camera inside and outside and be comfortable with it and make quick changes. If you are not, you will find yourself fumbling in the moments that matter most, and you won’t get the results you could have had. Know your gear!

I could go on about this subject but if you want to know more you are going to have to join me on a dedicated photo safari, ha ha.

As I said in the beginning, I am biased towards Sony and I do love my Sony A1’s. This post is dedicated to this incredible camera and I speak highly of it. I do hope there was something in here you enjoyed, regardless of brand or level of skill. The gear is important and I am a firm believer that it does make a difference and it does matter. Better gear gives better images, fact. But, importantly, listen to some of the advice I gave and get yourself skilled up. It’s possible for everyone to get great photographs regardless of the gear in hand. Build those foundations and before you know it you’ll be shooting like the pro’s!

Thanks so much for the time and attention. Leave a comment with your thoughts below, I would love to hear back from you. Let’s have a chat and discuss the topic in more detail.

Until next time, all my best!

Learn more About Our Photo Safari adventures & Bespoke Safari Experiences. Enquire Now