Namibia Photography Hotspots
Simply put, Namibia is a photographer’s dream. It’s also a big, sparsely populated country so knowing where to go when you arrive can save you lots of time and money while optimizing your photography output. Namibia has the planet’s oldest desert, largest sand dunes, world-class wildlife viewing and many more attractions that you probably didn’t know about but should. If you have the opportunity to visit Namibia, here are 8 must-see locations that will make your photography trip a sure-fire success.
Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park in the north-central part of Namibia is renown for its amazing wildlife viewing and photography. It’s the most important wildlife sanctuary in Namibia and one of the largest savannah conservation areas in all of Africa. Elephants, zebras, black and white rhinoceros, lions, leopards, cheetahs, herds of springbok, giraffe, and wildebeest all call Etosha home in plentiful numbers.
The Park is at its prime during the dry months, which is approximately May through November, when the water holes draw the greatest concentration of animals, especially early and late in the day. The gates into and out of the Park are closed and locked at sunrise and sunset (to help thwart the pervasive wildlife poaching) so the holes nearest to the Okaukuejo, Namutoni, and Halali base camps are where you have the chance to work with the best light of the day.
This is one of the easiest wildlife parks to drive yourself, hopping waterhole to waterhole to find the best wildlife activity. You are not allowed to exit your vehicle at any time. Gates open at sunrise and close at sunset.
(Clockwise from Top Right) Giraffe silhouettes reflected in Okaukuejo water hole at sunset, Etosha National Park; zebras lining up for a late afternoon drink, Etosha National Park; a stately male lion in Etosha National Park; two elephants greet each other at the evening water hole, Etosha National Park; A parade of elephants in sunset light, Etosha National Park; a giraffe at sunset, Etosha National Park. All Images © Richard Bernabe
Namib-Naukluft National Park
Namib-Naukluft is a large National Park that stretches across much of Namibia’s southern coast. Within its boundaries are the world’s oldest desert and largest sand dunes. Sossusvlei, an area in the southern Namib, is characterized by enormous red sand dunes – the largest in the world. The dune complex is often referred to as Sosusvlei, although the name specifically applies to a hard clay pan located in the center of this region as well as one particularly large dune.
Deadvlei is another clay pan near Sossusvlei with dozens of stark looking camel thorn trees entirely surrounded by giant red sand dunes. The early morning and late evening light is best for photography when the warm, low-angled sunlight intensifies the dunes’ bright orange and red hues.
Access to the Sosusvlei and Deadvlei area is via the Sesriem gate with a forty-mile drive to the dunes. The final 3 miles (which includes immediate access to both Sosusvlei and Deadvlei) are accessable with a 4WD vehicle with high clearance only. The gate at Sesriem opens at sunrise and closes at sunset.
(Top Left) Tree art at Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Upper Right) The enormous dunes at sunset, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Middle Left) A dunescape in Sossusvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Middle Middle) A lone acacia tree is dwarfed by the edge of a giant sand dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Middle Right) Shadows are cast across the clay pan at Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Bottom Left) An oryx crests the edge of a sand dune and into the light, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Bottom Right) Tree art during intense dune light at Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. All images © Richard Bernabe
Quiver Tree Forest and Giant’s Playground
Near the southern Namibia town of Keetmanshoop sits a unique forest of “quiver trees”, one of the most fascinating photography destinations in Namibia. These are not actually real trees, but rather several different species of Aloe, which are large enough to be referred to as “quiver trees” by the locals, since bushmen once used the branches to make quivers for their arrows.
The plant’s distinctive candelabra-like shape creates ideal silhouettes against a colorful sunrise or sunset sky. The forest is also the perfect locale for night photography with static starscapes, star trails, and streaking clouds through a moonlit sky.
The Giant’s Playground is only a few miles from the quiver tree forest (and contains a respectable number of quiver trees as well) but In the surroundings of the forest there is another site of geological interest (itself a tourist attraction), the Giant’s Playground, a vast pile of large dolerite rocks.
(Top Left) Symmetry represented in the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop. (Above Right) he sunburst though the fork in a tree near sunset.(Bottom) The Milky Way hangs over the Quiver Tree Forest during a light painting night photography session, Keetmanshoop. All images © Richard Bernabe
Desert Horses at Aus
On the eastern edge of the Namib Desert near the town of Aus is a thriving population of feral desert horses, the only herd of feral horses in all of Africa. This group of about 90 -150 members has captured the imagination of Namibian tourists and photographers for years as they survive in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. Your best chance to see the horses is at the man made watering hole at Garub, early and late in the day.
(Above Left) Desert horses graze in a rare area of vegetation as the sun rises through the morning fog. (Above Right) A mare and foal in the barren desert landscape near Aus. All images © Richard Bernabe
Kolmanskop Ghost Town
Kolmanskop was once a bustling village built around a productive western Namibian diamond mine. Located just beyond the coastal city of Lüderitz, Kolmanshop is now a surreal ghost town, well preserved by the dry desert climate.
When diamond production ceased in the mid 1950s, the citizens of Kolmanskop abandoned the town and left the remaining structures to fend for themselves against the advancing desert sands. What’s left is well preserved today, if not partly overtaken by the desert in many places. The juxtaposition of the manmade and the visable forces of nature make Kolmanskop a favorite photography destination for visitors.
(Top Left) The well-preserved, colorful paint on the walls provides an interesting contrast with the overwhelming forces of nature that have overtaken the floor, Kolmanskop. (Top Right) Morning light streams through the doors of an abandoned hospital, Kolmanskop. (Bottom) A bright blue room housing an itinerant sand dune, Kolmanskop. All images © Richard Bernabe
Cape Cross Seal Reserve
Cape Cross Seal Reserve sits along the Southern Atlantic Ocean about 80 miles north of the coastal town of Swakopmund and just south of Namibia’s famed Skeleton Coast. What interests photographers the most is the fact that Cape Cross hosts the largest colony of cape fur seals in the world. Depending on the time of the year, more than 200,000 cape fur seals can be found congregating along the shores of Cape Cross to feed and fight for potential mates.
There is an elevated boardwalk that brings you literally face-to-face with many of the colony’s members. Althoguh your initial impulse might be to grab the longest telephoto lens you can find, there are creative compositional options at many different focal lengths, including a wide-angle perspective.
(Top Left) A backlit cape fur seal shows off its whiskers, Cape Cross Seal Reserve. (Top Right) A lone cape fur seal seems to pose in front of a back lit crashing wave, Cape Cross Seal Reserve. (Bottom) A wailing cape fur seal caught with electronic flash and a wide-angle lens, Cape Cross Seal Reserve. All images © Richard Bernabe
The Spitzkoppe Mountains are a group of smooth granite peaks and boulders that rise dramatically from the flat Namib Desert. The Spitzkoppe or Matterhorn of Namibia is the highest peak in the group at 5800 feet (1780 meters) iand can be spotted and recognized from many miles away.
In addition to the formidable mountains, Spitzkoppe is home to boulder fields and natural arches that can be the source of endless compositional variations. Early morning and late evening are the best times when the low angled sunlight lights of the orange rocks with brilliant color. To gain access to the area during the best light, the nearby campsite is the best lodging option.
(Above Left) Shadows dance across the glowing rocks at sunset, Spitzkoppe. (Above Right) The rock arches can be used to frame the Spitzkoppe Mountains, especially near sunrise and sunset when you experience the best color, Spitzkoppe. All Images © Richard Bernabe
Walvis Bay, a coastal city of 100,000 residents on the Atlantic Ocean, is an important deep-water port for Namibia’s economy. It also attracts an impressive array of wildlife because of it’s plankton rich waters. Southern right whales, pelicans, and two species of flamingos can be found in the area in large numbers.
Both the greater and lesser varieties of flamingos can be easily seen and photographed right from the center of town on the tidal flats. Morning is the best time when the the sun is at your back and it’s not obstructed by the marine layer hovering over the ocean in the west. Longer telephoto lenses are needed for close-ups but catching large flocks of birds with shorter telephoto lenses is also a good strategy as well.
(Top Left) A group of lesser flamingos taking flight from the tidal flats, Walvis Bay. (Top Right) Flamingos in the cool light of pre dawn, Walvis Bay. (Bottom) A trio of greater flamingos feeding on the tidal flats in the soft light of early morning, Walvis Bay. All Images © Richard Bernabe
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Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe.