Every wildlife destination has a peak season which is theoretically the best time to visit. I say theoretically because in my mind your desired outcome – the experience you’re after and the type of images you want to create – needs to be the starting point around a discussion as to what the best time in any given area might be.
The Great Migration, for example, normally reaches it’s dramatic climax between July and October in the Mara but that doesn’t mean that visiting the Mara during the rest of the year will be a let down. On the contrary. Different times of year in the Mara will bring different scenes, different skies and very different photographic opportunities. It all just depends on the experience you want and what type of images you would like to create.
A week ago I was in Mana Pools and the incredible seasonal difference of the place was absolutely mind blowing. It was in a word… spectacular!
Now, before I show you some images from a very different Mana let’s just think about this. Mana Pools is known for the epic light, dusty sunsets and elephants standing on their back legs to reach for the Albida pods – their main source of food during the dry times – and this takes place in the winter months between June and October. Is it a great time to visit Mana? Hell yes! Will you get incredible images? Plenty! Will you love the experience? I have absolutely no doubt.
But… let’s think about it.
One of two things will happen once you’ve been to Mana Pools in the dry times.
You will get home with an incredible collection of images and you’ll want to go back immediately. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that and as I’ve said in many podcasts, going back to the same destination again and again is great if you’re looking to create a narrow but deep portfolio of an area or species. You’ll get to know the area, the little photographic hot spots and types of images you want to create which are all super valuable when you head to a destination. The only drawback on this would be that, and yes this is a bit of a double edged sword, your portfolio will be narrow but deep. Get it?
The alternative is that you will get home with an incredible collection of images and start thinking about what else you could add to your portfolio. Again, there is nothing wrong with that if you’re looking to create a much wider, but perhaps not as deep a portfolio. The choice really is yours but can you see what’s happening? Do you see the amazing choices you have and amazing photographic opportunities you can experience? Do you see that the same destination again and again can be awesome and that visiting different destinations can be just as amazing?
So back to my recent Mana Pools visit.
In the past I have only hosted private guided safaris in Mana during the dry winter months, because of the reasons mentioned above, and it was awesome. When we arrived in Mana this time, on 28 December, it was literally like arriving at a brand new destination. It was a green and lush paradise more which felt more like a fairytale than the harsh African environment it actually is.
Jono captured the following two images in Mana from virtually the same spot, one in October and one late December.
Apart from the incredible amount water and greenery the thing that was very visual was the Albida trees. In the winter months the trees are full of leaves and pods – hence their other name, Winter Thorn – and in the summer they are grey, ghostlike features which contrast starkly with he rest of the environment. Either way, they are one of the defining features of Mana Pools and whatever season you are visiting in will always be a strong compositional element in your images.
Here a few more examples of the different environments you can expect when visiting Mana Pools in the different season.
Mana Pools between July and October
Mana Pools in December and January
I am sure you will agree that the differences are obvious and dramatic but the beauty of the place during both season are undeniable. I was blown away by Mana Pools in the wet season and the cool thing is that my portfolio is now a little bit more diverse, and green, even though I visited a destination that I have been to many times in the past.
So when should you visit Mana Pools?
You’ll never be disappointed but in the end the best thing you could do is to have a good, honest look at your portfolio and what type of images you would like to create and add to that portfolio. The answer might then be just a little bit easier.
Moving forward I will definitely be including Mana Pools in the green season as a potential destination for private guided safaris and maybe, just maybe I might be running New Years safari in Mana. Having just spent the start of a new year on the banks of the Zambezi I can highly recommend it. Let me know if you’re keen and let’s chat about it.
Next week I will be sharing a video of an amazing day and incredible wild dog sighting we had in the green Mana. I’ll also be posting more of the images on my Instagram and website during the next few weeks so make sure to keep an eye open for more visuals from this incredible place.
Until next time,
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