Namibia truly matches most of the African natural beauties in just one single country. It's a land of abundant wildlife, extravagant colonial architecture and incredible landscapes.
This country hosts the Namib, the oldest desert in the world, with its towering red and orange dunes dropping down to the wind-lashed coastline. Here you get also the second largest canyon in the world, never ending lichen-encrusted gravel plains and magnificent wetlands. A country that lives up to expectations. No wonder why Namibia is among the photographers' favorite destinations. Also is a safe and clean country to visit with an extensive route network. Most of photographic sightseeing can be reached with a 2WD. If you plan a first visit to Africa, definitely Namibia should be your first country where start from. These are some Namibia photography tips.
WHEN TO GO
Best period to visit Namibia is in winter (June to September) which coincides with the dry season. This means plenty of sunshine and blue skies or stunning night skies for your shooting. It's also easier to spot wildlife in the national parks as vegetation is sparse and animals then are forced to congregate at established waterholes like in Etosha National Park. Local summer (December to March), instead, coincides with the rainy season. Temperatures and humidity are higher than in winter and you get rain, though mostly comes as afternoon thunderstorms or sudden showers. Thanks to rain, landscapes and countryside are more scenic and you get also a more variegated sky with some dramatic clouds to add in your photos. Doesn't matter when you decide to go, remember always carry with you plenty of water during your on the road journeys or hiking. Frequent high temperatures and very low humidity conditions mean you must drink 3 to 4 litres of water per day in order to avoid dehydration.
This was my second journey in Namibia, Many things changed since my first visit in 2000 but the beauty and the spirit of landscapes remained the same. These are some Namibia photography tips of mine for the following most visited locations: Fish River Canyon, Kolmanskop, Namib-Naukluft National Park and the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshop.
Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon is one of Africa's greatest natural wonders and is located in Southern Namibia. It is the second largest canyon in the world after Grand Canyon and the largest one in Africa being some 160 km long and up to almost 30 km wide. Its deepest point reaches almost 550 metres. Being far away from the two tourist top destinations, Etosha and Namib-Naukluft national parks, most of tourists tend to ignore the canyon which means you will end up with enjoying the view almost for yourself only. You can reach Fish River Canyon easily through a dirt road (C37) also by 2W car. A couple of expensive accommodations are available near the park entrance otherwise you have to sleep in Grunau, about 100 km east from the park. There are three access points to the canyon but Hobas is the one that offers more viewpoints. The daily park entrance fee costs N$80 per person plus N$10 per vehicle payable at the MET office at the park entrance. The Main Viewpoint (10 km after the main entrance) offers some great views over the canyon but make sure to drive or walk till Hikers Viewpoint located some 2 km on the right of the main viewpoint. Best light for shooting is at sunrise/early morning from both viewpoints and sunset from Hikers Viewpoint. There are two more viewpoints which involve a longer drive southward only if you have a 4WD: Sulphur Springs (6 km) and Eagle's Rock (6 more km).
Kolmanskop is a diamond mine ghost town located about 10 km inland from Luderitz. This is a more and more popular destination for photographers heading to Namibia. Till 1908 it was just a railway station but, as soon as diamonds were discovered, a mine was promptly installed and the site turned into an extravagant construction boom. Within a couple of years only, the new settlement boasted electricity, a hospital with the region's first X-ray machine, a theatre, a casino plus many luxurious houses to accommodate the workers and their families. This didn't last long. After World War I diamond prices dropped while richer deposits were discovered somewhere else in the region. As mining ceased years later, the last families left Kolmanshop in the 50s of last century. Since then, Kolmanskop is a ghost town and the sands of Namib desert started to reclaim all those decaying old buildings. You can visit most of the buildings inside (at your own risk) and discover rooms and staircases partially buried beneath sand dunes. Best things to shoot in Kolmanskop are the House of the former mine manager, the hospital and the interiors of the more distant abandoned houses located near the former school. Bring a tripod for shooting inside at lower ISO and watch out for likely snakes. Some colorful painted interiors enjoy of lovely sun light depending by their position and moment of day. My suggestion is to take your time and spend a few hours by walking around to get the best interior lights. For best outdoor shooting be there on early morning and sunset. As the area is usually windy you can easily face up with annoying sandstorm while shooting. Protect your camera and avoid changing lenses outside if you can.
You can reach Kolmanshop through the B4 national route, 11 km from Luderitz. The site is open daily from 8am to noon but a photo permit, available at the gate for N$230, allows you to stay and shoot photos there from sunrise till sunset.
This large protected area is home for one of the most spectacular and iconic landscapes in Namibia: the vibrantly coloured dunes of Namib desert around Sossusvlei. These red apricot dunes attract also a growing number of photographers from all over the world. The most famous photographed places in the area are the Dune 45 and the dead trees of Deadvlei.
Dune 45 gets a classic curvaceous spine with a lonely camelthorn tree at its base that marks it as a perfect iconic photo star. Best light conditions for shooting are at sunset when you get a contrastful image due to half dune illuminated by sun and the remaining one completely in shadow. If you decide to climb the dune for some top view pictures do it at sunrise. Bring plenty of water with you as humidity in the area is around 10% only and don't underestimate the steep hike. Access to Dune 45 from the main Sesriem gate is along a 60-km tarred road. The dune is located at km 45.
Deadvlei was once the end point of Tsauchab River till the climate changed. As the river's course remained totally blocked by dunes all the camelthorn trees in the area were left to wither and die. Some of the trees you may see there are even 900 years old. Their sun-scorched skeletal trunks are still there thanks to the local aridity. Coming out from the surrounding white clay-pan floor, these dead trees provide a beautiful and strong contrast to the surrounding red dunes and blue sky. Best time to shoot photos at Deadvlei is on early morning.
The daily park entrance fee costs N$80 per person plus N$10 per vehicle payable at the MET office at the park entrance.
Try to sleep inside the park to avoid the early morning car and bus queues at the park entrance. The gate opens at sunrise. My suggestion is to drive straight to Sossusvlei and head to Deadvlei if you want to have the dead trees area (almost) all for you. Most of visitors stop at Dune 45 along the way or opt for hiking Big Daddy dune before heading then to Deadvlei. After 9am you will have to share the beauty of Deadvlei with (too) many tourists. Access to Sossusvlei car park from the main Sesriem gate is along a 60-km tarred road. There are three additional kilometres from the car park to Sossusvlei area along a sandy track where 4WDs only are allowed. If you don't have a 4WD or you're not experienced at driving in sand you can take the regular Namibia Wildlife Resorts shuttle for N$150 per person. Once in Sossusvlei you can walk till Deadvlei some 2 km away. Bring plenty of water with you as there is no any store available till Sesriem.
Quiver Tree Forest
The iconic quiver tree is one of the most recognizable sights of Southern Namibia. Known also as kokerboom (in Afrikaans) is not a tree at all but just a giant aloe (Aloe dichotoma). Its name comes from the Khoisan indigenous peoples who are said to use the hollowed-out branches as quivers to hold their poison-tipped hunting arrows. Some trees are even 9 metres tall. Their distinctive crown of thick leaves help the tree to fight the tremendous heat of the desert and also to reduce water evaporation. Located 14 km north of Keetmanshop along a dirt road, the Quiver Tree Forest is the perfect place to shoot this curious and photogenic "tree". The forest is inside a farmer's property. Best light conditions at sunrise or late afternoon/sunset. To visit it you have to pay a N$200 fee at the farmhouse. As the Quiver Tree Forest is quickly becoming a requested location for night photography, the owner of the farm has issued a special N$400 night entrance ticket that allows you to stay and shoot the trees all night long.