Four young African Elephants bunch up togethr at a waterhole to drink and socialise. Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Make the most of your trip to the parks with the inside scoop on photo opportunities from conservationists Peter Chadwick and Arne Purves. Pictures courtesy of African Conservation Photodestination

The Wild Card parks offer incredible opportunities for photography – from vast landscapes and majestic big game to delicate flowers and eye-catching insects. Just ask nature photographers and conservationists Peter Chadwick and Arne Purves.

Both of them know South Africa’s protected areas intimately, having worked for conservation authorities such as CapeNature and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Over the years, Peter and Arne have amassed an impressive database of images, discovered the best places to take pictures and learnt what makes for a great shot. Now they are sharing their hard-won lessons with other photographers and nature lovers. On African Conservation Photodestinations, an online guide to photography in parks and reserves, they’ve brought together their experience, travel knowledge and inside information.

Pin cushion anthers and stamens, Bredasdorp, Western Cape, South Africa

Pin cushion anthers and stamens, Bredasdorp, Western Cape, South Africa

The Photodestination listings provide site-specific tips and advice on capturing images at locations from Namaqualand to the Drakensberg. For each destination there are beautiful pictures that are sure to inspire you. You’ll also find useful advice such as recommended gear, photographic tips and the best time to photograph. Before I left for my recent trip to Namaqua National Park, I had a look at the scenes Peter captured during his time there. Check out the photo tips for Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve in KZN, a real gem for photographers and families.

Peter and Arne have personally visited and photographed all the destinations listed, so you know you’re getting an accurate picture. The site is enlivened with maps (each listing is geo-referenced) and there are profiles of community guides. “We want to encourage travellers to make use of local knowledge and expertise when visiting these areas and thereby support local social economic development.”

A Kruger Park sunset.

A Kruger Park sunset

Over the years we have realised the importance of showcasing the splendour and fragility of our natural environment. We want to raise the profile of conservation issues in South Africa and inspire other photographers, birders, conservationists and outdoor lovers to protect our natural heritage.

– Peter Chadwick

Wild asked Peter about his approach to photographing in parks.

What sort of planning do you do before visiting a park for photography?

Researching your destination is important as this tells you what to expect from a habitat and species perspective and therefore prepares you for the type of photographic images you will likely get. Once I have read up the initial information about a park, I sketch out an image wish list, looking at times and routes that I will follow. This allows me to focus on the special components that the particular park can offer. A great tool that I use is the Photo Ephemeris app. This brings up a map of my intended destination and shows sunrise, sunset and path of the sun, as well as providing a wealth of other photographic information.

Which has been your most challenging shoot in a Wild Card park?

Each location brings its own challenges and this adds to the excitement of a trip, as it pushes my ability to still take iconic images. For me, inclement weather probably poses the biggest challenge, limiting suitable lighting conditions for photography. 

One of my more difficult shoots was when I attempted to photograph a trio of black rhino while on foot in extremely dense bush in one of the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife reserves. The rhino were within 10–15 metres and yet I still could not see them. They were also very aware of my presence and thundered closer on several occassions. In this case, it is important to recognise when to pull out and avoid getting the shot. No image is worth taking if it unduly disturbs the subject or places either party in danger. Ethical wildlife photography is a non-negotiable for me!

Photographers delighted in snapping this flap-necked chameleon in the Kruger.

Photographers delighted in snapping this flap-necked chameleon in the Kruger.

Which park(s) do you most enjoy photographing and why?

South Africa is blessed with such an incredible diversity of protected areas and parks that all offer something different. The normal answer to this question would probably be the Kruger National Park or the Kalagadi Transfrontier Park, but I really feel we need to explore and enjoy all the smaller and often lesser known locations. Here we will find amazing landscapes, species and experiences that go far beyond just viewing the Big Five. For example, walking in one of CapeNature’s fynbos reserves can bring more diversity – and enjoyment! – than spending time in one of the better known reserves.

What are the must-have items in your camera bag?

  • Plenty of extra memory cards – you never have enough.
  • Spare and fully charged camera batteries. The battery in your camera will be guaranteed to go flat at the most crucial moment!
  • I always carry a torch, sunscreen, a windbreaker, a full water bottle and a couple of extra energy bars for when things become exciting and I spend more time out than originally anticipated.
  • Finally, a soft cloth is a must to keep camera lenses clean and to wipe away dust, rain or salt spray from your camera.

Get more photo tips from African Conservation Photodestination.