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 perfect shot.
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.
Namibia is a great year-round destination for photography, you really can’t go wrong, but if there is something specific you have in mind, you certainly can do it right. Make the most of your trip maximising your photographic opportunities throughout. In short: the wetter months offer contrasting landscapes and the drier months, phenomenal wildlife sightings.
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 the 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 (November to April), temperatures rise and thunderstorms can make an appearance too. These can, of course, make for very atmospheric shots of strong contrasts but make sure you’ve got stuff to keep your kit dry should you need to. Winter (May to October) is dry and cooler with better wildlife sightings in general, but it’s also peak season so there’ll be more people about.
Seasons blur into one another and the change between them is gradual. Another reason why Namibia is a super destination for photographers all year round. You may only need change your camera settings and your lens. The subject matter remains spectacular. Namibia really is a photographer’s dream of ever-changing landscapes, prolific wildlife, authentic ethnic people and diverse birdlife. So while, we’ve reiterated that Namibia is a must if you’re a keen photographer, when is the very best time for you to get that perfect shot?
Continue reading and we’ll dive a little deeper. Here’s a rundown of some of Namibia’s most impressive highlights for photography and the best times to photograph them.
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.
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. Visit the rock arch at sunrise and sunset, which will give you a good contrast of light and shadow. An interesting rock formation that makes for the perfect backdrop to capture one of Namibia’s best sunrise/sunset locations. 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.
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. Mind you, the ones you are looking to capture are the older ones where the bow is covered in desert sands and these are anyways, for the most part, not accessible on land. 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. The best time for this is in the mornings after 10:00 and preferably during the summer months (best from December to March) as you won’t be fighting off the lingering fog to get a clear shot.
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 and snap away. There are so many interesting angles. Go outside of the ‘normal’ tour hours to get shots without people in frame. Again, best early morning and late afternoon but keep in mind you’ll need a special permit. It’s about 10km from the coastal town of Lüderitz.
The largest canyon in Africa and one of Namibia’s most impressive landscapes for its sheer size, it certainly makes one feel small. You’ll need a wide angle lens here and it’s best captured, as with most other landscapes, in the early morning or late afternoon for softer light and greater contrasts. These times of day are also always more pleasant temperature-wise. Marvel in wonder at the longest interior river in Namibia. A panoramic would make for a great print.
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. Avid photographers should aim for full moon, it doesn’t get much better than that. 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.
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 pastoral cattle herding tribe in the far north-western corner of the country. See them in the northern regions of Kaokoland near Opuwo, Purros and even further north around Epupa. Their ochre pasted skin and hair plaits make them a distinctive and unique subject for photography. The best time to take photos and visit the villages is during the early mornings when they are active and busy with their daily chores.
Herero, a Bantu ethnic group, live in eastern, central and north-eastern areas of Namibia. Their traditional attire of large colourful ball gown dresses and head gear makes for beautiful photographs. Include a stay in Central Namibia for a chance to snap these traditional pastoralists and their usually white-grinned smiles.
The San or Bushmen are known to have lived in Namibia for at least 30,000 years. They are one of the oldest cultures on earth and rightfully so, if you’re going to photograph people in Namibia, then you should have the San on your list. To see some of the last authentic tribes, you’ll need to head to the remote areas of Bushmanland. Watch them hunt and gather. It’s truly fascinating to observe how they have survived in this harsh and arid environment so gracefully at one with nature.
In the heart of Damaraland it’s no surprise you’ll find the Damara people, who for the most part no longer live as they did in ancient times. A visit to the open-air Damara Living Museum allows you to look at how their ancestors lived and in their traditional wear, get a photo of them showing you their local medicines or traditional games set against the rocky outcrops.
North of Etosha National Park, you’ll find Ovamboland, where you’ll find more than half of the entire population lives on only six percent of Namibian territory. A flat area of predominantly sandy and grassy plains that get very hot due to the high altitude. Not necessarily the most popular destination for tourists, but if you’re wanting to capture some local culture, a stop in these parts will have you interacting with the local Ovambo villages and people. Cook, herd cattle, stamp mealies (corn) and weave baskets.
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.
Winter in the bush. This is when the dry weather lures the animals to the waterholes so they tend to be easier to see. It also means less dense vegetation so spotting wildlife is not only easier but you’ll have a much better chance to snap away without the animals hiding away behind the thicket. If that’s what you want, aim to travel in the drier months, ideally, July 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.
Our tip: look to travel in May or June. These are the last two months before the high season kicks in. The game viewing in our opinion is equally as good, there is marginally less tourist traffic and you score on low season rates at the lodges.
There are great wildlife viewing opportunities throughout Namibia, but here are some of the best options.
Winter brings the dry season, so it’s big business in Etosha. Lots of wildlife unfortunately equates with lots of tourists, but even if we say it gets busy, it certainly doesn’t compare to being crowded. Guaranteed the wildlife numbers outweigh the guests. After all, 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.
There are plenty of secluded waterholes throughout the park, so needless to say, there are ample opportunities for great photography. Stay inside the park for a chance to get pictures at the floodlit waterholes or at one of the private reserves surrounding Etosha that offer a waterhole or even a photographic hide. Go as early as possible, or set up in a good spot for sunset. Or simply explore, this is one of the easiest wildlife parks to drive yourself.
You can’t get out of the vehicle inside the park, so it’s best to book a guided lodge activity in an open safari vehicle or a safari converted vehicle (from our fleet) that has large opening windows and a pop-up roof. Unobstructed views means a clear shot, but we know you already know that.
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. The landscape is also more green and makes for an attractive backdrop and seeing rain, the air is also clear so no hazy foregrounds.
They’re not their own species, they’re African bush elephants that have made the desert home. Strange yes, but true and Namibia is host to one of only two groups of desert-adapted elephants in the world. They free roam the arid and ephemeral riverbeds in Damaraland and Kaokoland. The mere feat to survive this harsh and arid, very hot environment is enough of a reason to want to see them. It’s almost impossible to think they not only survive but thrive out here. Seeing is believing in this case. Capturing them on camera is surreal. Go with a guide they know these areas best. Who knows, you could even come across rhino and other desert-adapted wildlife. All spectacular when you see the odds they’re up against.
Not your typical “wildlife” scene. 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. They are feral so there’s no guarantee you will see them. They travel large distances daily but with little water out in the desert 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.
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 National Park. 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.
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. Welcome to Namibia’s wetlands. Think lush, think rivers, think birds and think hippos.
There are 450 animal species here, some which you wouldn’t see elsewhere in Namibia like sable antelope. 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 and they all offer great sightings year round, but best in the drier months (aim for travel between May and November)..
In summer, the wet months, the migrants land. In winter, when it’s dry, it’s a good time to snap the endemics.
If you want to capture images depicting hundreds, even thousands of birds, this is the place to do it. This is a Ramsar Wetland site, one of only four in Namibia. These wetlands are seriously impressive, internationally important too. During the summer, you can even photograph them from the centre of town on the tidal flats. 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.
Etosha, also one of Namibia’s Ramsar sites, 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 also the low season - again that means less traffic inside the park and you can score on lower accommodation rates.
More than 250 species have been recorded over a relatively small area here. It’s lush and green with plenty of foliage so this is bird heaven. A great area for hikes and to find yourself in nature. Take your time and enjoy the quiet. Have your camera ready.
Venture all the way north if you want to capture the endemic Cinderella waxbill and the rufous-tailed palm thrush. Dawn is a good time to head out, either on your own or join an early morning birding cruise. Often more difficult to spot in thick vegetation, it may well be better to visit this area in the drier months (July to October) when the bush is less dense. It’s cooler too, which you’ll be grateful for as it gets very hot in the summer (December through to March).
There are over 450 bird species here. A twitcher’s paradise. Lots of migrants arrive in between November and April and many near endemics call this place home. You’ll find wetland and woodland species in these parts and some of the Okavango specials too, such as the slaty egret, racket-tailed roller and the wattled crane. It’s another place to see the African fish eagle too and don’t forget the Carmine bee-eater.
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. It’s really a photographer’s playground and there’s no better way to make the most of your photographic safari than being led by a specialist photographic guide.
Take your photographic safari to new heights. We have some of the best freelance guides: Our Namibian Guides. Having a guide on tour that not only knows the country but has a passion for photography himself makes the world of difference. Book a safari converted vehicle with large open windows and a pop-up roof and we’ll even supply stabilizing bean bags and book your special required photographic permits. This is the difference between getting a good shot and getting the shot of a lifetime.
Namibia - Michael Poliza
Skeleton Coast - Thorsten Milse
Light and Dust - Federico Veronesi