Namibia: Tips for a Photography Road Trip Across Southern Africa

Namibia: Tips for a Photography Road Trip Across Southern Africa

Preparation is key when it comes to planning a trip to Namibia — a true land of extremes that can only be fairly described using hyperbole. As beautiful as Namibia is, to get the most out of your trip, you need to be prepared and well organized. Here are my tips for bringing back the best wildlife and landscape photographs from a trip across Southern Africa. 

Drive, Don't Fly

Most flights into Namibia land in Windhoek, the capital. There are a handful of direct flights from Europe, or you can fly through Johannesburg. By choosing to fly through Johannesburg, you can rent a car in South Africa and drive to Namibia. It’s a long journey — a minimum of two full days — but you’ll get the chance to see the wonders of southern Namibia, which is an area that doesn’t make many itineraries.

Namibia is an experience enhanced by self-drive. If you fly from one place to the next, you'll miss the spirit and scope of the land. Namibia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, and the distances are vast. To make the most of your time, a detailed itinerary is vital to determining how long you’re going to spend on the road.

If you’re staying in any of the off-the-beaten-track lodges along the Hoanib Valley or Skeleton Coast, a 4x4 is critical. You will have to navigate riverbeds, salt roads, and sand roads, some very deep. Visiting the shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast requires driving on deserted beaches. There, you’ll need a vehicle with high clearance and robust tires. Even if you’re not heading into remote areas, a 4x4 is encouraged; the storms we drove through in Etosha, the country’s prime national park, would have pushed a sedan or saloon car to its very limits.

Nobody wants to get stuck in the muck. You can't really get out for a push in places like this.

If you’re going to Sossusvlei, particularly Dead Vlei, for sunrise, you’ll need to drive yourself or hire a guide. The tour buses don’t leave the main car park until after sunrise. The trail beyond the main car park to get to Dead Vlei is best described as a sandbox, not a road, so make sure you’re comfortable driving a 4x4 and understand how to drive in sand. If you deflate your tires a little, you’ll get better grip, and it’s less likely you’ll dig yourself down to the axles. Once you’ve deflated your tires for the sand, make sure you have a pump to inflate your tires again for when you’re heading back out on the tarmac.

Finally, don’t rely on picking up a map in Namibia or on accessing the internet while you’re on the road. The country is not as well signposted as you might think, and cellular service is spotty at best. A lot of the shipwrecks along the Skeleton Coast are very difficult to find. Even online maps won't point you to particular wrecks. So, bring a map that you’ve marked up or take screenshots of online maps showing verified satellite views of the ships you're looking for.

Camera Equipment


Like much of Southern Africa, Namibia's wildlife viewing is based around waterholes. In Etosha, many waterholes are positioned far from the trail, and since you can’t drive off the track, at least a 300mm lens is critical to capture wildlife portraits. If you have the budget, consider bringing an extender as well. I took a Canon 300mm or 400mm f/2.8L alongside a 1.4x III extender. Combining this with the megapixel count of the new Canon mirrorless well let you crop in tight for portraits of distant animals, such as this tired cheetah.

If you are bringing a 300mm or longer lens, don’t try to handhold your shots. Brace yourself on something solid — a bean bag will help you to balance large lenses on your vehicle’s window or door frame.

Rain Covers

Be sure to bring rain covers to protect your cameras from the rain and from the sand.

Those fine particles aren’t friends to the electronics in your equipment. Rain covers will also help if you end up in a storm, which is likely during the rainy season. See my reviews of rain covers, here and here.


One of Africa’s largest reserves, the NamibRand Nature Reserve, lies in a designated dark sky preserve. Conditions here demand a tripod and intervalometer to get steady and dynamic time-lapse shots. Newer cameras, again, have built-in intervalometers, which make packing much easier.


Read up on the rules if you’re going to bring a drone. All drones must be registered with the Namibian Civil Aviation Authority and certain hotspots, such as Dead Vlei, have very restrictive rules. I’d love to have had a bird’s-eye view of the dunes and dead camel thorn trees, but you need to enjoy these places without breaking the rules. This shot was taken over the Salt Works in Walvis Bay, with permission of the landowner. 


Consider bringing a sound recorder if you have room in your bag. The sounds of the massive seal colony and crashing waves at Cape Cross or the singing dunes at Sossusvlei are things you’re going to want to remember. If you’re shooting video, it’s certainly worth getting some properly recorded audio to overlay your images. Namibia is notoriously windy, so splurge on a DeadCat windshield; this will make all the difference by deadening the sound of the blow.

Camera Settings

Wildlife is always much quicker than it appears. Even slow-plodding elephants cover much more ground than you'd expect, never mind a quick-walking cheetah.

Double check your shutter speed; you should be shooting moving animals at fast speeds, around 1/1,600th of a second. Anything slower is going to drastically reduce your keeper rate. Likewise, consider stopping down. I realize that soft bokeh is all the rage, but at a shallow depth of field like f/2.8, a cat’s eyes will drift in and out of focus as they breathe. Consider stopping down to ensure tack focus. If you're able, get closer to eye level through a window instead of a pop-up roof. This will help the background blur out even if your aperture is stopped down a little. 

Planning and Itineraries

I know that we all try to cram as much in as possible, but consider spending more than one day at each location, as this will give you time to scout out your best shots. For example, I’d suggest getting two permits for Kolmanskop, the ghost town that is now being taken over by the dunes. Wandering around at sunrise or sunset will be difficult if you haven’t scouted in daylight and so don’t know where you’re going.

Likewise, if you have the opportunity, try to visit these incredible locations at different times of the day. Sossusvlei, for instance, deserves a visit in the early morning and the late afternoon. The turn of a few hours makes it feel like a totally different place.

What Images to Look For

Namibia is home to many uniquely adapted desert animals, such as desert adapted elephant, lion, and giraffe.

Try to capture the animals in their environment to differentiate your images from those taken in other spots on the continent.

As noted, and unlike east Africa, Namibia’s wildlife viewing is centered around waterholes. If you don’t immediately see something, resist the urge to drive from hole to hole, be patient. From my perspective, this is one of the most important skills related to wildlife photography. The animals need to drink, and eventually, they will come to the holes for water. Driving in circles means you’ll spend time on the trails when you could be setting up in wait for the animals, and you could miss your opportunity. If you can, talk to a local expert about which holes are seeing the most action during your visit. It’s also not a bad idea to consider hiring a wildlife guide or spotter to make sure you’re at the right locations.

While driving, consider stopping to take images of signs and roadside attractions. These b-roll images will help to tell the story of your trip as much as a prized lion or elephant shot.

Editing Midday Sun

When you get to the editing stage, try out a black and white edit to accentuate textures. It's always great to shoot in the hours around sunrise and sunset, but you're still likely to be out midday. Sure, the landscape and wildlife are colourful, but you might be surprised at what the sun’s strong contrast can illuminate in black and white.

A Few Notes on Namibia's Fragility

Namibia’s most stark and beautiful places are fragile, so consider your impact.

  • Stay on the roads or approved tracks to avoid destroying lichen that could be thousands of years old.
  • The trees at Dead Vlei aren’t props. Don’t touch or lean on them; IG is full of fools doing this. At 600+ years old, they will break.  
  • Don’t graffiti or leave marks in the ghost towns: these places aren’t playgrounds. Respect the environment as it is, without shoveling or throwing sand about to get "the shot." Leave these fragile places as you found them. 
  • Finally, be mindful of where you stop to get out. Even the desert has lions and other dangerous wildlife.

All images provided by let us go photo.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

Log in or register to post comments

I found Namibia to be very bright and mostly clear. I’ve been in rainy and dry season. Even the rainy season is quite bright.
What’s the widest aperture at 400mm? Including the built in TC?
All that too be said, I wouldn’t be worried about the sand unless there is wind. Which is universally present on the coast.

You’ll be fine. I’m often stopping down to 5.6 for anything that’s moving or breathing heavy anyway.

If possible, I try to have a second body with a something closer to 50-70mm. You never know when something is going to sneak right up and surprise you.

I've been to Namibia (and much of southern Africa) quite a few times. It's a magical place. This is a good article with excellent advice.

That’s kind, thanks Simon. Magical is the right word!

Going to look for your images now.

Thanks Mark. I have a very small online presence.

Hi Guys. I am a wildlife photographer based in SA, but we travel extensively in and around sub-Saharan Africa.

Without trying to steal any thunder or hijack this article etc, while the advice furnished in this article is great, photography in Namibia can be quite challenging without the right equipment, and knowledge.

I would advise anybody planning a Namibian trip, to stick to seeing as much of Namibia as you can in the time you allocate. It is vast, and diverse, and some of the most amazing landscape scenery ever. You can spend months exploring, so don't over-do trying to see as much as you can, in the shortest time. Rather take your time to work some areas, in close proximity of each other,, and you will get more out of your trip. *Yes, it is a foregone conclusion that the "magic and soul of Africa" will bite you, and you will come back over, and over again... 😜

The natural topography of the mountainous regions will reveal breath-taking geological aberrations to make your eyes stand out! It also varies substantially by the time of day that you see the same places...

Take your wide angle lenses, as well as mid zooms and long zooms. (I am a Sony shooter so I use 1.4xTC's on both my go-to rigs A1/100mm-400mm GM +1.4x TC, and my second rig next to that is another A1 / 600mm f4 GM +1.4xTC. My third body is an A9 Mkii alternating my 24mm-70mm f2.8 GM Mkii, and 70mm-200mm f2.8 GM Mkii....* 75% of all my images are captured using the A1 / 100mm-400mm GH +1.4xTC... I would also take a 24mm-70mm or 24mm-105mm as your go to kit, and use two bodies fixed...Don't change lenses in the field... That place is hugely dusty, and you can hold both on your lap at all times. Never set your camera down. The terrain can be hectic, and you don't need to break anything... Two bodies will provide the redundancy in case one fails or is damaged.

There is so much to know, about luggage limitations, clothing, seasonality etc, and if anybody would like to know more, I have written numerous articles on varying subjects for 1st time visitors to sub-Saharan Africa. I help lots of people with their planning, and don't ask for any financial reward, so it won't cost you anything... It's a "pay-it-forward" thing that I get a huge kick from doing, in the knowledge that somebody will benefit from years of trial and error which we went through 😁

You are most welcome to DM me, with your email address and questions you may have, and I will do my best to provide you with intelligent answers... Enjoy - Tim