When many people think of a ‘safari’ they automatically picture a Land Cruiser thundering across the hot and dusty African savanna chasing after the ‘big-five’ animals, yet a southern African safari can be so much more, especially if you are doing a self-drive safari.
On a guided safari you are at the mercy of the driver and other passengers while on a self-drive safari you are the boss and you decide where you will go and how long you will stay.
If you want to photograph landscapes while on safari there are many opportunities but you may not get out your vehicle as there are dangerous animals around. We therefore discuss the safest places to photograph landscapes in four of southern Africa’s most famous game reserves.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Kgalagadi attracts thousands of nature photographers not just for the amazing wildlife but also for the most unusual scenery. You have the contrasts between the blue African sky, deep red sand dunes, carpets of yellow and purple wild-flowers, white calcrete cliffs and the green trees and shrubs.
The Auob and Nossob roads provide good opportunities but so do the wilderness camps, because they are mostly situated on top of high sand dunes. Our favorites are Kieliekrankie, Kalahari Tented Camp and Gharagab because of their height. Urikaruus, Bitterpan and Grootkolk camps are not situated as high but can also provide nice scenic photographs – you just need to be a bit more creative.
Twee Rivieren, Mata Mata and Nossob could also provide scenery opportunities but just watch out for telephone poles and other distractions that may make their way into your composition!
The Kgalagadi is also the best park to photograph star trails due to it being so far away from civilization and therefore far away from light and pollution. Upington is the closest city, which is 300 kilometers away!
Kruger National Park
There are many high view-points such as Nkumbe, Tshanga, Grano Kop, and Bobbejaan Krans that you can drive to and where you are allowed to get out your vehicle to set up your tripod. In addition, some camps provide excellent landscape potential as they are situated high on a hill, like Olifants camp or because they are next to a river such as camps like Skukuza, Shimuwini and Lower Sabie.
You should look out for trees that you can photograph against the rising or setting sun while out on your game drive and for the wild flowers that carpet some waterholes after good summer rains.
Some camps provide better star trail photography opportunities than others. Crocodile Bridge, Berg en Dal and Pretoriouskop are too close to civilization so you have lights from Komatiepoort, Malelane and White River/Nelspruit as well as pollution from the sugar factory spoiling the photographs.
If you prefer more adventure on your safari then you could go on a 4×4 trail or on a wilderness trail.
The three 4×4 adventure trails are self-drive trails that allow you to get out of your vehicle but you must remain close to the vehicle. They last about 3-4 hours and can provide some good landscape opportunities.
There are seven 2-day, 3-night wilderness walking trails in the Kruger Park. You stay in rustic, primitive camps and experience the African bush on foot – true wilderness with remoteness, tranquillity, peace and no other people – except the other people in your group and the two armed rangers!
There are four trails that provide excellent landscapes:
• Nyalaland Trail – is in the far north of Kruger and is the most remote Wilderness Trail. The scenic highlight is the spectacular Lanner and Luvuvhu gorges.
• Olifants trail – is in the central Kruger and you will go to remote valleys and gorges and to the very scenic confluence of the Letaba and Olifants rivers.
• Wolhuter Trail – is in the southern Kruger and is an amazingly scenic wilderness area characterized by high granite outcrops with deep valleys.
• Bushmans Trail – is also in the southern Kruger and is characterized by deep valleys and high rocky outcrops with stunning views. These high-lying outcrops are accessed early in the morning so you can appreciate the vastness of the landscape and the good photographic lighting.
Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park in Namibia is very flat but some of their waterholes make for good scenery photographs. Waterholes such as Homob, Salvadora, Twee Palms and Chudop are very scenic and there is the view over the pan from the view-points or from waterholes that are situated on the edge of the pan such as Okondeka.
The views from the camp waterholes, Moringa (in Halali Camp) and Okaukuejo waterholes, also make for good scenery photographs.
The waterhole at Namutoni camp is not very scenic but the fort in the camp makes for very effective landscape photographs. The views from on top of the Namutoni fort and from the top of the Okaukuejo observation tower also provide 360-degree vistas of the surrounding areas.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve
The Pilanesberg is situated in an extinct volcano whose walls collapsed inward forming many small hills that provide pleasing backdrops to your photographs, so keep this in mind when photographing animals. In addition there are great views from the picnic sites and view-points located up on the hills, which provide nice landscape potential.
Some of the bird hides, such as Mankwe and Rathlogo, also provide good potential – it all depends on the light and the subject.
Landscape Photography Gear
Fortunately the photo gear needed for landscape photography is not as expensive and heavy as what is required for wildlife and bird photography. You need a good tripod, a cable-release, some filters (a polarizer plus soft and hard graduated neutral density filters), a wide-angle lens (for grand vistas) and about a 200mm lens (for intimate landscapes). If you do not have a wide-angle lens don’t fret – you can shoot a few overlapping frames of the scene and then stitch them together to make panoramas.
If you don’t have Photoshop again, don’t fret, as you can download free panoramic software such as the Hugin Panorama Photo Stitcher.