ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK, NAMIBIA
Is in my mind one of the best self drive safari destinations in Africa. My favourite time to visit is late Winter/early Spring. The climate is cooler with warm days and cold nights. This time of year it is much easier to find wIldlife.
Why? Water. There is no rainfall during these months, the wet season is from Dec-March. With no rain fall in winter the animals must drink from the man made waterholes or from springs on the edge of Etosha pan.
This makes life a little easier for Wildlife Photography. And saves endless hours of driving and looking for wildlife subjects.
Not All waterholes are Equal
There are lots of waterholes around Etosha, some are teaming with life one day and the next will be deserted. Life is never dull in Etosha. Animals will move from waterhole to waterhole. Why?, predators, and food source.
Predators know, just like photographers that their quarry have to drink daily. Lions Hyenas and Leopards will lie in wait and ambush wildlife on its way to drink.
Food source, in winter it is hard to find food. Animals will move great distances to find vegetation. Which in turn means they will drink at the closest waterhole.
How to Photograph at a Waterhole
First, check the position of the sun. Are you going to be photographing in to the sun? Which can make for nice rim lighting in early/late hours. But can be very harsh as sun rises higher in sky.
Ideally find a waterhole with the sun at your back. Buy a map of Etosha showing the location of waterholes and you can easily plan your morning and afternoon photography around the position of sun.
Etosha has wonderful winter light. When you park your car, keep in mind a few things, direction of light, direction of animals approaching and leaving, space for you to turn your car around if something unexpected happens .
Goes without saying, turn your engine off or photos will be have camera shake. Keep windows open, listen for sounds of the bush. Alarm calls especially.
You will without a doubt have great photographic opportunities at a busy waterhole. Each group of animal will be interacting amongst themselves or with a different group of animals. Action photography will be guaranteed. Keep an eye out for the tender moments too between animals as they meet and greet each other
Always make sure you have refreshments, coffee, biscuits and water. The hours will go by quickly and you maybe a long way from camp. Nothing worse than a hungry or thirsty photographer.
At times you will will succumb to tiredness. Take a nap. The best time is around midday. Find some shade under a tree or head back to camp. Have a late breakfast, shower, download pics, or sleep for a hour. Then once the temperature cools down. Drive towards your choice of waterhole. Maybe take a different route. Drive within speed limits and keep on the look out for wildlife that may be lying in shade, or on their way to waterholes.
Waterholes are natures clock. You can guess the time by the arrival of animals coming to drink at the waterhole.
Early morning you will find thirsty predators who after a night of hunting. Need to rehydrate. Lions Hyena, Leopard are the most popular.
The arrival of Springbok, Wildebeest, Zebra and Giraffe will tell you it's mid morning. The silent approach of Gemsbok and Ostrich will signal the hottest part of the day, midday. The lazy afternoon shift will be Springbok, Wildebeest, Zebra and Giraffe again.
What about Elephants! Well, Elephants can arrive at any time to drink. But if there is a large reservoir of water. They will arrive middle of the day to cool off. They will spend an hour maybe more. When they have finished bathing they will dust bath. You will get great photographs as they cover their huge bodies with red kalahari dust.
Evening and in to the night the reclusive and seclusive Black Rhinos are the highlights. Small creatures like bat eared foxes, honey badger, and others all come out to quench their thirst and to meet there friends.
Be on look out as the odd predators may make a surprise cameo.
Etosha is a great destination to photograph. Please be respectful to the animals. Do not drive off road. Be patient and respectful to others. Most of all take time out to relax and enjoy.