The Kalahari is a prime spot for photographers. Mainly because photography in the Kalahari yields better results than many other places in the African wilderness.
So, what exactly distinguishes photography in the Kalahari from photography elsewhere?
– Crisp desert air
– Openness of desert savannah
– Good photo subjects on offer
– Thunderstorms in summer
– Low visitor numbers
I also discuss what equipment needed for quality Kalahari photography at the bottom of the page.
Crisp desert air
“Hazy? I am not sure I understand what that means…”
This is the typical reply you will get if you mention the hazy air almost constantly experienced in Cape Town, to a Kalahari resident. Why? Because the air here is crisp and clear.
Crisp desert air assures that photography in the Kalahari delivers high quality, sharp pictures. Period.
Openness of desert savannah
When talking to a fellow nature photographer while we were in the Kalahari, we discussed photography in the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park of Botswana. Northern Botswana is one of my favourite photography destinations, so it came as quite a surprise when this experienced photographer said he disliked this area because of the dense bush and its effect on nature pictures.
The Kalahari is an open, arid semi-desert, so no dense bush will interfere with your photography in the Kalahari. This is one of the main reasons why the Kalahari is a favourite among photographers.
Good photo subjects on offer
The Kalahari does not boast the big five, and this is quite understandable as it is a dry desert region. However, it offers you a very good chance for high-quality lion, cheetah and leopard sightings. The latter does require some luck, as always.
Some believe that the dry Auob riverbed between Twee Rivieren and Mata-Mata offers you the best chance of witnessing a Cheetah kill in the whole of Africa. However, lion numbers have increased in the past ten years, leading to a decrease of Cheetah numbers.
Apart from the big cats, you have a chance of seeing the African Wild Cat and the Caracal. The other main predators are Spotted Hyena, Brown Hyena, Black backed Jackal, Cape Fox and Bat-Eared Fox.
The birdlife is superb. Especially the Birds of Prey! These are plentiful and good sightings are almost guaranteed. We saw four different owl species, not to mention all the Eagles, Kites and Hawks.
The plains mammals also offer you good photo opportunities. Oryx or Gemsbok, Springbok, Blue Wildebeest and Red Hartebeest are plentiful. More importantly, they are constantly in good view. If you spend some time with these herds you will witness something special.
Thunderstorms in summer
During the time of our visit, there were thunderstorms on most afternoons, and even some mornings as well. This made for great dramatic skies in my landscape pictures (for pictures, see Kalahari Landscapes). This is a big plus for photographers for obvious reasons.
Low visitor numbers
In summer it gets so hot that the general public prefers to stay away from the park. This means that if you have an air-conditioned car, and can face some high temperatures, you will be one of very few visitors in summer. Visitors at this time are in any case mostly photographers.
The low visitor numbers also help prevent the notorious lion traffic jams that are so common in the Kruger National Park. One morning we had a kill site right next to the road with 7 lions, including Blondie, the enormous black-maned male. Yes, Blondie is not so blond anymore… I think there was about ten cars through five hours. Now that’s what I call low traffic! Needless to say, I took some marvellous photos.
What equipment to take
I took my Canon digital SLR camera, my favourite telephoto and wide angle zoom lenses, and sturdy camera support for inside the vehicle and a tripod (although you can only use it in rest camps and picnic spots). This setup proved sufficient for photography in the Kalahari, although I sorely missed a long prime telephoto lens. I bought the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM since, and have not regretted my decision for one second…
My telephoto zoom, a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM proved to be a good choice except for a few shots where a longer effective focal length would have been preferred. However, I must warn you that it is not the sharpest lens, and if you are a fan of razor sharp images, steer well clear of this lens.
The 100-400mm lens offers 640mm effective focal length (efl.) on my camera (as a result of the 1.6x crop factor), and at times I wished I had an efl. of about 1 000mm to 1 200mm. It would be nice to have had a long prime with a converter. Photography in the Kalahari is great, but it would be even greater with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens coupled with a Canon Extender 1.4x II. Serious focal length!
Camera support inside your vehicle is very important for photography in the Kalahari, as you will not be allowed to leave your car and use a tripod except in the camps. I use a door bracket and a tripod head, and also the humble beanbag. These are highly recommended.
Obviously, if you are a digital photographer you would want to take sufficient memory cards and a laptop or other storage device. Since photography in the Kalahari yields such good pictures, I can assure you you will want to take plenty of pictures. I took almost 2 000 photographs in six days!
If you are a serious nature photographer, and like African subjects, you should seriously consider visiting the Kalahari. If there ever was a perfect fit for photographers, this is it!