Photographing wildlife in Etosha

gnu wildebeest walking while a sandstorm rages in the distance Etosha Namibia photo safari

What equipment did I use for this tour?

Normally when we think of wildlife photography we think of very long lenses. Lenses with a long focal length (more than 300 mm) are definitely very useful, because they bring you ‘closer’ to the wildlife you’re photographing. This is especially true in National Parks, where you’re not allowed to leave the road. This article will show you however that a medium telephoto lens can still give you awesome wildlife photos. All photos in this article were taken with a Canon 6D and an EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM II.

With this lens you will not be able to fill your frame with just the head of an animal, but… you will be able to show the environment the animal lives in. I found that in Etosha many animals are close enough to the roads to get good photos of them.

The great thing about the lens I used is that the widest aperture is f/2.8 throughout the zoom range. This means that it is very luminous and you will be able to take photos even in low light without using a very high ISO. This way you can keep noise in your photos down and use faster shutter speeds.


black rhino drinking at waterhole okaukuejo camp Namibia night photography monochrome

Black rhinos coming to drink at the waterhole at night


What does Etosha look like?

Arriving in Etosha National Park for the first time is quite incredible. It really seems to be in the middle of nowhere. You can easily see why Etosha means ‘Great White Place’. The soil is a very light grey and more than soil it seems like crushed lime stone. And when you arrive on the edge of the pan the name becomes even more clear: a sea of white salt/sand that is so bright. It looks to be a harsh and inhospitable place. But nothing is further from the truth! This place is full of life and not only at the waterholes. In the dry season of course animals concentrate around the waterholes, so they’re easy to spot there. Most camps have a waterhole that is lit during the night, and sitting there after dinner is a great way to spend your evening.


There’s plenty to see away from the waterholes as well. This is one of the largest parks in Southern Africa and the landscape changes from one part to the other. There are areas with small trees, endless plains with low bushes and shrubs or just gravel and rocks, to pans of white salt and sand of which you can’t see the other side. The roads in the park are easy to drive yourself. You only need to keep track of the time, because you need to get back to the camp by sunset.

giraffe looking back Etosha Namibia monochrome photo safari
One last look before I go

What wildlife can you see in Etosha?

One of the first times we were in Etosha was only for two nights, but we had an exceptional time. We had conceded ourselves this photo tour in Namibia, our Christmas present, and we unpacked Etosha on Boxing Day.
We have seen many animals, except one species… elephants! It had been raining over the past days, so they probably moved away from the waterholes to eat and drink somewhere else.

The first morning drive had a great start. We saw a lion laying down quite far off the road, and thought we might have to wait for quite a while before he would get up and get closer. Lions do sleep most of the time like all cats. But he started roaring, got up and moved quickly towards us. Well not because of us of course, he had heard or smelled something else and headed over there. He never even looked at us, he just crossed the road and sooner disappeared in the distance.


lone male lion walking into the distance in Etosha Namibia photo tour monochrome
Roaring his way around

He was quite an old male and the tip of his tail was missing. We later heard from people in another car that there was a lioness in the area, so he was probably going to her. The roaring of a lion is very impressive, it can be heard very far and if you’re close you can almost feel it.

So this was an amazing beginning, but we saw many other animals. Even bat eared foxes and a leopard. Being there at the start of the rainy season (don’t get fooled by the adjective ‘rainy’, because even then rain is little around 130 mm a month) gives you the opportunity to see newly born animals. We spotted two jackal cubs that were left alone by their mother, so she could go out hunting. She probably told them to hide whenever something passed, but they were too curious! One got very close to the vehicle, while the other kept his distance. You could easily see they had different characters.

jackal cubs being curious amid low shrubs in Etosha Namibia photo expedition monochrome
Jackal cubs too curious to hide themselves

A herd of oryx on the edge of a pan under a threatening sky

We saw many oryx, maybe the most typical animal of Namibia. They’re very well adapted to the dry climate. Springboks and wildebeest are plentiful as well. As in most national parks, antelopes are the animals that you will see the most. They often move around in herds, so they’re easier to spot. Sometimes different herbivores move together, like springboks and wildebeest, or zebra and wildebeest.

oryx gemsbok walks past tree in Etosha Namibia during photo tour monochrome
Oryx walking slowly in the morning heat. You can see an elephant has torn a few branches from the tree on the left



Why come to Etosha?

Etosha is probably the number one wildlife destination in Namibia and rightly so. The park is very big, so you won’t feel crowed during game drives. The wildlife is magnificent! You can still find animals behaving naturally and basically ignoring you. They’re not scared of vehicles, so the will remain close to the road as you pass or stop, but they don’t come close to beg for food either. They just go their own way. For us this makes this park a top destination for a photo tour. And whether you’re a photographer or not, watching all the wildlife in their own territory is breathtaking.

As you have seen, also without a long lens, you can still have a lot of fun in Etosha during a photo safari. And I’m very satisfied with the photographs I came home with. I like it that I can show the animals in their environment. It becomes a mixture between wildlife photography and landscape photography as the photo above of the oryx perfectly shows.

Most of all I enjoyed seeing all these animals. For me the best thing of game drives is that you won’t know what you will see.  There is a sense of exploration, of adventure. This is not a zoo where they feed the animals at a certain time and you’re sure they will be there. The not knowing adds to joy of going to Etosha! I can’t wait to go back…

Would you like to explore Etosha with us? We have the perfect tour for you, where wildlife photography is a large part of the adventure. The other part is dedicated to landscape photography, but let’s talk about that in a different post.


2 thoughts on “Photographing wildlife in Etosha

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      David Kooijman says:

      Thank you Imran, we’re very happy you like our blog. In a blog of course we can only give you a little bit of information at a time. During our photo tours you will not only get the information, but you can use that information for your photography. So you’ll make even quicker progress. You’d be amazed. And besides… It’s lots of fun! 🙂

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