The best lighting for nature photography is the first 2-3 hours after dawn and last 2-3 hours before dusk hence most game drives are done during these times.
The safari vehicle leaves camp before sunrise and returns by about 09h00 and then leaves again at about 15h00. That means for six hours you don’t photograph – unless you are a macro photographer of course, which means you can shoot all day and night if you choose to!
As nature photographers we photographs mammals, birds, landscapes and macros. Macro photography simply means photographing small subjects, such as insects, flowers or reptiles at life-size or greater magnification.
The four most famous southern African game reserves of Kruger, Kgalagadi, and Pilanesberg in South Africa as well as Etosha in Namibia provide great opportunities for macro photography.
Please keep in mind that these parks have dangerous animals so please do not get out your vehicles – there are more than enough macro subjects to be found in the camps and picnic sites!
Kruger National Park
During the summer months, between December and April, the Kruger becomes a macro photographer’s paradise!
There are millions of insects, many of which come to your bungalow at night because they are attracted to the lights. In addition some camps, like Punda Maria, Berg en Dal, Mopani and Pretoriuskop have walks that you can go on inside the camp perimeter to look for insects.
Alternatively just walk slowly around any camp examining the trees, bushes and bungalows – you will find hundreds of insects to photograph plus some wild flowers and reptiles!
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
In most months you will find scorpions to photograph. In summer they are easier to find than in other seasons. In addition there are preying mantids, moths and a host of other insects that you can find by walking around Twee Rivieren, Mata Mata and Nossob camps.
If you are staying in the wilderness camps you are not allowed to walk around the camps as they are unfenced. Don’t fret, because many insects will come and pay you a visit at your dune cabin.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Macro photography can be good in the Pilanesberg, especially the summer months. All the camps have indigenous trees and bushes between the bungalows and Manyane camp has a walk that could take you up to three hours to do.
When you stop at the picnic sites don’t forget to look around – we always tend to find scorpions, grass-hoppers and unusual flowers to photograph.
Etosha National Park
The three main camps have a lot of trees and bush for you to explore, while Halali camp has a walk that goes up the hill within the camp – an excellent spot to look for insects and wild-flowers, especially in summer and spring.
Even though summer and spring are obviously the best times for insects we have had the odd insect surprises in winter. Insects are very hardy creatures and even in winter the days in Africa can get warm, thus encouraging the insects to come out.
Here are our Top-Ten Photogenic Macro Subjects, that we have photographed in the above four game reserves and that you should look for when you are there on your safari:
Armored ground Crickets: These crickets have a ‘shield’ on their backs containing spikes so they make excellent macro subjects.
Dung Beetles: Dung beetles make good subjects especially if they are pushing their dung balls! Also Keep a look out for the rhinoceros beetle, one of the ‘small-five’ as they are also photogenic beetles.
Emperor & Mopani Moths: There are a few moths that have ‘eyes’ on their wings to scare predators away but the two best subjects are the Emperor and Mopani moths as they have huge eye patterns on their wings.
Geckos: These lizards are found in nearly every bungalow and they provide us with much entertainment as they either fight each other or stalk and catch their prey.
Mopani Worms: The Mopani worm is one of the most colorful and interesting subjects to photograph. They are multi-colored, have spines on their backs and can be found in Mopani trees or crossing the park roads in the Kruger and Etosha.
Red Romans: These spiders are also known as Sun Spiders and they are not venomous but can give a nasty bite. People are scared of them as they seem to want to attack you but they are just running to your shadow!
Scorpions: They tend to emerge from their homes on windy nights and this is when we find them walking around the camps looking for their dinner. Please remember that the scorpions with small pincers and thick tails are highly venomous so don’t get too close to them. The scorpions with large pincers and thin tails are not as venomous. One year I was stung by the thin-tailed scorpion and it felt like a pin-prick that burned slightly for a minute and that was it. If it was the thick-tailed scorpion I may not have been writing this article today!
Velvet Mites: These tiny red mites have a velvet-like sheen to them and can be found in damp sand.
Whip Spiders: They are also known as tailless whip scorpions and have two long, pincer-like front legs that they hold out when walking and they use the other six legs for walking and probing to their sides. They look very scary but are harmless.
Wild flowers: There are many superb wild flowers to photograph such as Foxglove, Thunderbolt flowers, Devil’s Claw, Cat’s Tail, Black Storm, Sickle bush ‘lantern’ flower, Impala Lily and Purple-pod Terminalia.
Macro Photography Gear
We use Nikon 60mm and 200mm macro lenses. If we need more magnification we will add an extension tube to the 60mm lens, which then provides us with twice life-size magnification. If you don’t have a macro lens, or you cannot justify the extra expense, just buy close-up lenses (they look like glass filters) that you can screw onto your existing lens, thereby providing close-up capabilities without the added expense.