We live in one of the most beautiful and diverse places in the world and with the diverse continent we call home, a multitude of photographic opportunities await. Marette Bennett of Refined Edges Wildlife Photography and Training put together some decision-making tips that can help you when choosing a photographic travel destination.
Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld once said: “What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever.” How true is this? With camera in-hand we get to capture a moment to relive it later when the memories start to fade. That is why it is important to really think about what, how and where you want to capture memories.
What do you want to photograph? Do you want to stick with a specific topic or are you looking to expand your gallery? Some photographers only shoot birds and/or wildlife, some only flowers and elements in nature, some only landscapes and cityscapes, etc. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that – everyone has their passion and preference. Other photographers, like me, will always look to expand their photographic portfolio. I absolutely want to capture everything out there and I love a new challenge!
Variety and uniqueness are important factors to consider while deciding on a photographic destination. For example: quiver trees can only be found in a small section in the arid parts of Southern Africa so if that is your poison, your topic points you in a clear decision-making direction. Similarly, for red sand dunes or true wild horses you will have to travel to our neighbouring Namibia.
Bucket list trips
Maybe you have destinations on your bucket list you’ve dreamt of visiting, regardless the photographic possibilities. If this is the case, research the area and local photographers and what they photograph beforehand.
This will help you to not waste time once you arrive at your destination, trying to figure out what to shoot. You have to determine what the reasons are for your specific dream destination – for example, if it’s the culture and the people, find the best places to capture these images (such as markets). If it’s the birdlife, find the best locations and invest in an experienced guide that can assist you in finding the rare bird you are looking for. The next decision you have to make is how much time you want to spend as tourist and as a photographer at your bucket list destination. It’s important to not only experience it through a lens!
Seasons, the weather and migration
It’s very important to consider the season and what the weather is like before you book a trip. Extreme heat or heavy rains will spoil your photographic experience. During the summer months in some regions the vegetation gets so dense that you will only see something if it crosses the road. Midsummer heat can also result in heat waves, leaving your images blurry and soft.
Droughts also play a roll. I’ve been to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe when it was almost dried up and subsequently suffered from heat stroke after – without any great photos! On the other hand, I’ve been to the falls when it was in flood, and the mist/spray from the falls was more than what any camera could handle. During droughts animals congregate around waterholes and the photo opportunities are amazing. During the extreme drought seven years ago, we visited Swaziland and carcasses littered the ground – while a sad sight, the circle of life captured with strong vulture images reminds us of this trip until today. I have not seen so many vultures since.
The changing of seasons can also offer great photo opportunities, for example the beautiful autumn colours around Clarens, in the Free State. Winter changes Lesotho’s mountains into mini Swiss Alps covered in snow. Some photographers watch the winter weather carefully and head to Sutherland when temperatures drop and it becomes a winter wonderland.
Migratory animals and birds will also determine your timing and planning of a photographic trip. The great migration in the Masai Mara draws hordes of photographers every year. While it’s commonly believed that August and September are fairly safe times to guarantee impressive sightings, it remains a risk since the wildebeest and zebra move at their own pace – depending on rainfall and weather conditions – and completely undeterred by your photography dreams. The colourful migratory birds visiting our shores in summer are often the determining factor for planning my photographic trips. Impala lambing season gives you the opportunity to capture cute new baby faces and will have you planning a trip to Kruger National Park from November to January.
Time and budget
Your photographic topic and destinations choices will be limited by your budget, time available and the gear you have. Your budget will definitely determine your destination.
The current price of fuel will limit the distances you travel. However, never be completely put off by an expensive destination because of a limited budget. Remember, you can cut costs by camping and cooking your own meals. Get a few photographer friends together and share the fuel and accommodation costs.
Your topic choice and destination will also be determined by the gear you have. You might have gear for travel and scenery photography, but it will not be sufficient for photographing beeeaters in the Caprivi. Your gear might have a long reach and be perfect for wildlife, but you will struggle to capture the moon landscapes in Namibia.
Over the last decade, I have invested in gear for every scenario. If you are only starting out and your gear is still limited, you can rent cameras and lenses from several photographic shops around the country. Renting of gear also gives you an opportunity to see if you like photographing a certain genre before committing to buying more equipment.
Packing your camera bags could be for the essentials needed for the destination and subjects you want to photography. Or you pack your bags, like I do, with everything – a tad of FOMO (fear of missing out) indeed!
Traveling and carrying photographic gear around is risky. You want to avoid traveling alone and to dangerous
places. Do your research on the safety of a destination before you book a trip. There is still safety in numbers, so consider teaming up with other photographers. A good idea is to carry pepper spray in your bag. Also plan you route with safety in mind.
Envision what you want to photograph and go find it. You can get inspiration from fellow photographers and travelers. Not every destination has to break the bank. Consider daytrips in and around your hometown. I’ve found great photo opportunities at several plant nurseries and nature reserves in and around Pretoria. Find out where bird sanctuaries and botanical gardens are. Weekend markets, concerts and festivals also offer opportunities to capture products, people, and lots of colour. The most important thing is to get out there and capture those moments, before they are gone forever.