Site guides, location guides or park guides as they are called, all serve the same purpose – to provide guidance and advice in the place of a physical tour guide. For those of you who prefer self-drive safaris or who cannot afford a guided photo safari then a site guide is the way to go. You purchase the site guide as a downloadable eBook and either print it out or refer to it on your laptop, iPad or Kindle.
If you take some of the photographer’s guide eBooks, they provide details about specific southern African national parks especially for photographers. They have been written by wildlife photographers who have spent years photographing in the parks, so you are in effect buying their collective years of experience.
The eBooks include details such as lodge and waterhole maps, what time of day to visit each waterhole, what animals you are most likely to see at or around each waterhole, where to park your vehicle, what photographic equipment and techniques will be most effective, best drives in each area and various photographic lessons.
If you take a travel guide for the city of Paris for example, the maps will show you various points of interest such as the Eiffel Tower and when you get to the spot, the tower is guaranteed to be there. The variable, however, will be the weather and people – it may be sunny, overcast or raining and there may be no people or many people, so you will have to adapt your photographic style to the situation.
Just like the tourist guide books, park site guides show you exactly where the waterholes and other points of interest are but the variables are the animals and the weather and in order to find some of the more elusive animals a visitor should combine information sources.
In order to get great photographs a visitor must take the following steps:
1. Find the animal/s,
2. Position themselves to make best use of the light,
3. Use the right photo equipment.
The site guides provide you with specific advice on points 2 and 3 and an indication of animal hot-spots. Most animals need water daily so the waterholes tend to act like magnets, attracting herbivores that are the predator’s food-source but even so, predators are territorial, so they patrol large areas of land looking for food, marking the territories and looking for mates.
If you cannot find the animals there is nothing to photograph, so it is important that a visitor gets this first part right and this is where combining intelligence comes into play. The visitor, after reading the site guide, will have an idea of where certain animals are most likely to be but he then needs to combine this with current data, which is achieved by reading the sighting books or sighting boards that can be found in all the camps that show daily sightings and by talking to other visitors and staff members to find out what they saw where.
By doing this, they will build an accurate picture of what area the predators are in today and then that afternoon and/or the next day they will know what area to patrol in order to stand a better chance of finding the animal.
The important thing with site guides is to have the right expectations and remember that national parks are not big zoos where visitors can drive to each waterhole and find the animals waiting for them. There is very little excitement at a zoo and the wilderness offers the anticipation and thrill of the unexpected! A site guide is just that – a ‘guide’, that should be combined with a few other sources of information, and not a guarantee.