A Guide to Documentary Photography, Video Production in Uganda

For years, Malaika Media has trailed the deepest corners of this country on different missions to shoot photos and video documentaries. Therefore, if you are looking for experts on what you need on a documentary trip in the pearl, who better to ask than the people who have lived it. While the experience of shooting upcountry and meeting the indigenous tribes can be quite exciting, it can also be very daunting with a whole new set of challenges.

Recently, our team was on yet another assignment to collect photo-stories on Malaria treatment in Northern Uganda. The trip saw the team comb the folds of districts like Lira, Kwania, Kole, Kamudini and Oyam. Drawing from this experience, plus a collection of past events, here is a highlight of what one needs to consider for a successful documentary shoot in Uganda.

Photo by Emmanuel Museruka

Means of transport

First and foremost, public transport is not your friend for this kind of assignment. Putting into consideration that you have loads of equipment and you will need to make several detours, hire a private car for the number of days you will be at work.

Secondly, it is no secret that some roads in Uganda are not well tarred, potholes are of second nature to them. Well, on long-distance drives these roads take a turn for much worse. During the trip to northern Uganda, the over 300km from Kampala city to Oyam district, via the Gulu highway, was almost a smooth drive, it can be handled by any car in good condition. However, the about 70km road that connects Kamdini to Lira, is in a pitiable condition.

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Other roads that gave us a run for our money were those connecting Lira to Kole and Lira to Kwania, as well as Oyam roads, among others. There are times when we had to drive through swamps, mud infested channels and narrow paths. And this is just a general representation of the state of roads in most rural parts of the country.

Therefore, the best-recommended means of transport if you are looking at visiting such places for your documentary production, is one with a combination of good suspension, fair fuel consumption and can squeeze through the narrow terrain. Think SUVs and four-wheelers.

Photo by Solomon Tumusiime

Equipment Checklist

If this is not your first rodeo, you already have a list of equipment you need for your shoot. But, if we may make some suggestions, on top of your video camera, and sound gear, don’t forget your lenses, batteries, tripod shoe, memory card or a notebook.

However, what you could have missed about that list is that most of that equipment will need to be recharged at the end of the day. At a glance, Uganda’s electricity access has reached nearly 60% of the population in urban areas, but in rural areas, where most people who want to shoot documentaries tend to target, the rate still stands at 26% (World Bank 2016).

Therefore, if you do not intend to be moving to and fro the town centres looking for charging points every day, add extra batteries, a generator if possible or back up equipment to your list. Also, to note, before you set off, double-check if your equipment is compatible, the last thing you need is being 300km into a remote village and you just happened to forget your memory cards.


Keeping the weather and the poor road network in mind, your dress code should be appropriate. Some tribes in Uganda live in tightly-knit communities, with little to no need for expanded roads fit for cars, so, you may be subjected to straddling across some villages, with your equipment in hand, to get to your subjects.

Judging from the weather, consider packing light but long tire, with a pair of comfortable walking shoes, in case you have to walk long distances through plantations and bushes. The sunny days can also be quite brutal, so carry a hat and sunscreen if you can.


The biggest challenge on this trip, or any other trip to different parts of Uganda, will be the language barrier. See, Uganda is a multilingual country, blessed with over 40 languages. While exciting it may be to learn a few jargons, the culture clash is unnerving. 

Photo by Nazil Muzungu

Therefore, getting the right translator is key. We went through a number of these during the team’s northern Uganda assignment, and this is what we learnt. You need an attentive listener; one who explains in details, not those obsessed with summarizing the conversation, after all, the devil is in the detail. Also, look out for a translator who is charismatic, people open up easier to such characters.

Other tips you should keep in mind when taking on a documentary in a country like Uganda, are to always have some extra cash at hand, have drinking water, book your accommodation ahead of time and, always have your camera in hand because you never know when something exciting is about to happen in the pearl of Africa.

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