Best Time For... Photography

The position of the sun, a surprise rain shower, even the sudden shoulder of a fellow snapper... there are so many factors and no guarantees. Time of day, light, weather, the list goes on. And yet, suddenly, you get the shot. You capture a lioness bringing down a zebra, you depict the fragile agility of a passing springbok.

So we ask you, what do you want to photograph? Wildlife, birds, flowers, people, landscape, the sea? There are certain times of year when you’re more likely to see lions, grey plovers, black-thorn acacias, so if you’re after something specific, click on the relevant “Best Time for...” article, get more info, then head back here. Or perhaps you’re happy with anything and just want to know the options? This article gives you that. Options. Whether your interests be flora, fauna, land or sea. And whether you are travelling in winter/summer, peak or low season.

Landscape

Intro
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Namibia is a country where unspoiled nature reigns supreme. There are four distinct biomes for a start and places as diverse as the Fish River Canyon to Sossusvlei, to the Skeleton Coast to Etosha. Seen photos of the Namibian sands? Vast and undulating, like the sands on the sea bed. And you want to recreate them, right? You want to capture the winds as they howl in off the Atlantic and sculpt the dunes. Scorched, arid, empty. The desert is a desolate place but offers a palette of sienna, ochre, even crimson to the photographer. And that’s just the tip of the barren iceberg that is Namibia.

A Note About Weather

Namibia is pretty much a two season country: winter and summer. But don’t get too hung up on it, Namibia is a predominantly dry country. Now, clearly landscapes stay the same whether it’s rain or shine but the weather will change the mood, look, tone and even colour of your photos. In the summer months, temperatures rise and thunderstorms can make an appearance too. These can, of course, make for very atmospheric shots but make sure you’ve got stuff to keep your kit dry should you need to. Winter is dry but it’s peak season so there’ll be more people about.

Here’s a rundown of some of Namibia’s most impressive landscapes.

1. Namib-Naukluft National Park

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Orange and yellows contrasting a blue sky; strange, dead camel thorn trees as a backdrop. Add the giant red sand dunes and it’s all pretty Instagram worthy. In fact, it’s often the image of Namibia used in travel magazines too. The Namib-Naukluft National Park stretches across much of the south coast. This is where you’ll find the world’s oldest desert and the largest sand dunes. They’re enormous with some rising 300 metres. When people talk of Sossusvlei they tend to refer to this whole area of dunes but it’s really the name of a specific hard clay pan with a big dune in the centre. Big Daddy and Deadvlei are also popular photo hotspots. In fact, this whole area offers you an easy opportunity to look like a pro. Go early in the morning when the sun creates vast shadows or later in the day for a softer light, but chances are you’ll want to do that anyway, as it will be cooler to climb. Photos from the top will give you the chance to get a full framed, ‘wave effect’ sand shot.

2. Spitzkoppe is a rocky mass of smooth granite peaks and boulders. Old, about 700 million years, high too, almost 2000 meters above sea level. You can make some eerie compositions here. Again, sunrise and sunset will give you a good contrast of light and shadow. Staying over offers an opportunity to do some night photography. There’s very little light pollution here so you get a chance to see those foreboding rocks set against an incredible array of stars.

3. The Skeleton Coast
A unique coastline aptly named due to the wrecks of unlucky ships hurled across the beaches in various states of decay. You might want to photograph them from above, so take a helicopter or small plane. There are lots of companies offering this option. The sand dunes meet the ocean and that’s quite something from the air. You’ll also be able to see the shipwrecks in all their unfortunate glory too.

4. Kolmanskop Ghost Town

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Not strictly a landscape but static nevertheless. And a good example of man versus nature. From 1908, this place became a busy village built up around an equally busy diamond mine. But in the 1950s the diamonds ran out and so did the people. So it was pretty much left to rot. Now what’s left looks strange and otherworldly because the sand, the Namib desert sand, is literally reclaiming it. And this dry, arid guest is preserving it too. And that’s what makes it a good subject for photography. You can go into the houses which are filling with sand, if you go at night you will need to bring your own lights. It’s about 10km from the coastal city of Lüderitz.

5. Fish River Canyon

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The largest canyon in Africa and second only to the Grand Canyon in the world. This is a great stop if you want to photograph rock paintings. There are also loads of rock paintings at Twyfelfontein, some over 6,000 years old.

6. Quiver Tree Forest and Giant’s Playground

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The trees in the forest aren’t actually trees, they’re aloes, regardless, they are very popular with photographers. They’re all sharp thorns and angular shapes and this area is a national monument. It’s also a good spot for night photography as the stars are often clear and the trees make impressive silhouettes. The Giant’s Playground is only a few miles from the forest and it’s another example of geology gone mad. Here there are thousands of dolerite boulders among odd trees with arching branches and thorns instead of leaves. It got its unusual moniker because, well, it does look like a giant’s playground. As if some massive creature has hurled these rocks all over the place.

People

Intro
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Thinking is a good rule of thumb before you start randomly photographing people. Remember, they’re not inanimate objects there for your perusal. Have respect, ask permission, go with a guide. Don’t just shove a camera in someone’s face. You’re not the paparazzi and they’re not celebrities. Find out if people want payment or food, even beads. Obey the rules of the tribe or village.

There are a large range of tribes and ethnic groups in Namibia. There are about 30 unique languages spoken here too. The most well known are the Himbas, Hereros, Bushmen and Basters.

The Himba are a nomadic cattle herding tribe in the far north-western corner of the country.

Herero people live in eastern, central and northeastern areas and the San or Bushmen are known to have lived in Namibia for at least 30,000 years.

The Basters are a Namibian ethnic group descended from European settlers and indigenous African women from the Dutch Cape Colony. Since the second half of the 19th century, they’ve lived in central Namibia, in and around the town of Rehoboth.

We don’t need to point out that people, like landscapes, don’t change with the weather but their moods probably will. They might not want to pose for you in the pouring rain or they might prefer it, who knows, just put some thought into the atmosphere you’re trying to create. Speak to your guide and remember, respect.

Wildlife

Intro
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Winter in the bush. This is when the dry weather lures the animals to the waterholes so they tend to be easier to see. If that’s what you want, aim to travel in the drier months, ideally, June to October. It’s peak season though, so expect crowds in the big parks. But don’t write off the rest of the year. Summer is when the baby animals make an appearance and birding is at its best.

There are great wildlife viewing opportunities throughout Namibia, but here are some options.

1. Etosha National Park

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Winter is big business in Etosha. Lots of wildlife unfortunately equates with lots of tourists. Nevertheless, it is the most important wildlife sanctuary in Namibia and one of the largest savannah conservation areas in all of Africa. It’s known for elephants, zebras, giraffes, and nearly all of the usual African safari suspects, sometimes you can run into rhinos and lions too. Okaukuejo Rest Camp, is a popular watering hole for animals, so expect the coach loads and tour buses. Go as early as possible, or set up in a good spot for sunset. Or just explore, this is one of the easiest wildlife parks to drive yourself.

In the wetter, summer months the animals are more elusive but you can still get great photos - particularly as this is the time that the newborns start to make an appearance. It’s quieter too.

2. Desert Horses at Aus

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These make for atmospheric photos. Desert horses. There are between 90 to 150 of these feral creatures and they’re the only herd in all of Africa. You’ll find them on the eastern edge of the Namib Desert near the town of Aus. Your best chance of seeing them is at the man made watering hole at Garub, early in the morning and late in the evening. It’s another place for starry night opportunities too.

3. Cape Cross Seal Reserve
In contrast to the graceful horses, you get piles of galumphing seals here. This reserve is about 80 miles north of Swakopmund and just south of the Skeleton Coast. In the summer, more than 200,000 gather to feed and fight for mates. It’s the largest colony of cape fur seals in the world and there’s an elevated boardwalk which helps you get up close. It’s a good place for a wide angled lens or enjoy a wildlife selfie. By the way, the noise is loud and the smell is ripe.

4. Zambezi Region

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Now here you get wildlife and greenery. This is Namibia’s contradiction, a place which is the opposite of the arid, dry, land and desert. Think lush, think rivers, think birds and think hippos.

There are 450 animal species here. Travel by boat to capture the river and it’s fruits. You can even take specific photography safaris down the rivers. Large herds of elephants and buffalo can be observed along the Kwando, Chobe and Zambezi rivers. There are several national parks.

Birds

Summer is the time the migrants land. Winter is a good time to snap the endemics.

1. Walvis Bay Wetlands
If you want to capture images depicting hundreds, even thousands of birds, this is the place to do it. During the summer, you can even photograph them from the centre of town on the tidal flats. These wetlands are seriously impressive, internationally important too. Tens of thousands of waders, vast flocks of flamingos, all on a stunning lagoon backdrop. Morning is the best time and you’ll need a telephoto lens for close-ups.

2. Etosha
Etosha is home to about 340 species of birds and is one of Namibia’s birding hotspots. About one-third are migratory. Flamingos, raptors, even the African Fish Eagle - the national bird of Namibia. A huge amount of migrants arrive in summer and it’s a great time of year for Etosha as it’s low season.

3. The Waterberg plateau
More than 250 species have been recorded over a relatively small area here.

4. Ruacana
Ruacana is good if you want to capture the Cinderella waxbill and the rufous-tailed palm thrush.

5. Rundu
The woodlands and wetlands around Rundu, a small town on the Kavango River, are home to a number of northern specials.

6. The Zambezi Region
There are over 450 bird species here. Lots of migrants arrive in summer and many near endemics call this place home. It’s another place to see the African Fish Eagle too.

Final Word

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Namibia is a hugely diverse country to photograph. The colours, the scales, the stark shadows. Enjoy the opportunity to tell your story. Add depth, contrast, play around with time lapse, capture clouds rolling over sand dunes, light changes etc. Just remember: choose your equipment wisely, think what to bring, and respect all subjects be they human, animal, land or sea. Photographic food for thought.

References

Namibia - Michael Poliza
Skeleton Coast - Thorsten Milse
Light and Dust - Federico Veronesi
http://www.namibiatourism.com.na/
https://www.britannica.com/place/Namibia

Updated: Thu 28 Nov, 2019

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