I’m currently coming to the end of my preparation to travel to Namibia for my first visit in three years and my first tour & workshop in two and a half years. I’m excited and am currently hoping that we can all get to Namibia and kick off the tour without issues. As I prepared, I realized that I was probably doing a few things through experience that might help others, so I will share my thoughts in this post and podcast.
One of the first things that I wanted to relay is based on the fact that I had a small hole form in the screen of my old 13-Inch MacBook Pro towards the end of a Namibia tour a few years ago, which I put down to probably a grain of sand that found it’s way onto a key and was then pressed against the built-in display for a while, maybe during transit by car, as we moved between locations. An easy thing to happen, and I ended up getting the screen replaced a few years later as part of a routine repair with Apple, but the hole annoyed me for a few years, so I’d prefer not to get another.
Protective Film for Display
To hopefully help avoid this sort of thing happening, despite me not liking to use a protective film on my displays, I bit the bullet and bought a good quality protective film and applied it to my new 14-inch MacBook Pro screen. It was made of relatively thick and strong plastic so it was easy to apply, and although I did get a few pieces of dust between the film and screen, I was able to peel off the film, remove the dust, and reapply it without messing anything up. Pushing the few air bubbles that formed to the edge of the film removed them, leaving me with a well-protected screen that I can hardly tell has a film applied at all. If anything, it’s just a little bit shinier than the original screen, but otherwise, I’m very happy with it. If it doesn’t work, and I end up with a damaged screen again, I’ll let you know, but I’m pretty confident that it will just save me from any further problems with the screen.
MacBook Pro Case
The other thing I always do when I travel is put a protective case on my computer. This is also from experience. During a voyage to Antarctica in 2011, I gouged a nasty trough into the outside of my first MacBook Pro, which was an old 17″ model, and it annoyed me so much that I ended up switching it out before the four years that I usually like to keep a laptop for. Since then, I have always used a protective case. I usually only need to buy one case, and it lasts me for the lifetime of the computer.
This time I decided to coat my new MacBook Pro with something a little fancier by having the cover printed with one of my Namibia photos, as you can see in this photo. I got mine from a company here in Japan called Yotsuba-Insatsu, and I can highly recommend them if you live in Japan. Otherwise, it will probably be more cost-effective to look for a company that prints these cases in your own country.
The next thing I bought in preparation for this and future trips was a set of four Apple AirTags. This was not based on my own experience but rather that of a client who was recently traveling in South America when they came across a car with a flat tire, but it turned out to be a scam. The people with the supposed flat tire robbed them and took their camera bags, but luckily they had AirTags in the bags and were able to get the bags back and bring the hoodlums that robbed them to justice. When I heard this story the first thing I did was order a pack of four AirTags.
I opted to have my AirTags engraved so that I could tell them apart, and didn’t realize that this would cause them to be shipped from Shanghai, so they were caught up in the Shanghai lock-down for exactly a month, but they did arrive a few weeks ago, in time for my trip, so I’ll be placing one of these in each of my bags and my large duffle bag, which I use instead of a suitcase for Africa trips because they are easier to stow in the limited storage space of our converted Land Cruiser.
The AirTags are very easy to set up. When you pull out the plastic tab allowing the button battery inside of them to make contact and power up the AirTag, you automatically see a few setup screens on your iPhone and can then track the items on a Map using the Find My Device app. You also get an alert if you leave your AirTags behind, which will be useful should that happen without me realizing it.
Other incidental items I’ll be packing include a rechargeable LED lantern, as we occasionally find ourselves with power outages, and I figured that dropping a lantern on our dining table would be nicer than pointing my flashlight up at the ceiling, as I’ve done in the past. It’s a slightly bulky item, but it’s pretty light, so it won’t be much of a burden, even if we don’t need it. It doubles as a regular flash-light, and there is a built-in alert light that flashes rapidly or in an SOS pattern should you find yourself in trouble, in the dark, in the middle of Africa… Hopefully, the lions and hyaena know the code too.
There are, of course, lots of other things to take along, such as mosquito spray for my skin and my clothes, and sunscreen etc. but these are par for the course, so I’m not going to list everything up. I did want to share a quick what’s in the bag photo before we finish though, as I am really happy with the downsizing that Canon has enabled me to do over the last three years or so, as I’ve transitioned to mirrorless.
What’s in the Bag?
As you can see, I am no longer putting the battery grip on my cameras. I do miss them sometimes, especially for wildlife work, where I sometimes find myself holding the camera in portrait orientation with my finger on the shutter button, waiting for an opportunity. Otherwise, though, I’m enjoying the lighter and smaller format and the overall reduced bag weight. Here are two photos, one showing the main gear I’m taking, and a second showing it inside my MindShift bag from ThinkTank. As I’ve used this bag over the years I’ve found that getting at my gear can be a little awkward, but it’s a good size for this trip, so I’m going with this again, at least for this year.
As it may not be obvious, from left to right in the bag photo, we are looking at the Canon EOS R on my RF 100-500mm lens, and I have the tripod ring turned to face the bottom of the bag to support the lens if the bag should get jolted. Next to that, you see the RF 24-105mm lens, and the 50mm f/1.2 lens is deeper in that section with the lenses kept from banging together with a protective separator. Next, we see the Canon EOS R5 fitted to the RF 15-35 mm lens. This is an f/2.8 aperture lens, so will be great for astrophotography, as well as the houses at Kolmanskop, the old diamond mine ghost town that we visit near the beginning of the tour. In the top section, which is the far right of the bag in this photo, you can see a Patagonia pouch into which I’ve placed my two Extenders and my set of extension tubes, which I take along in place of a macro lens, should I need to get any close-up photography.
Along the back edge of the bag, you can see my 14-inch MacBook Pro, which will be in its case for the trip, but just dropped in as it is for this photo. I take a second bag for my computer with all of the cables etc. but that goes into my large duffle bag for the journey, and I put the laptop into that for the duration of the tour. More and more airlines seem to want you to board with just one carry-on, which is now possible with the downsizing I’ve done. Of course, there are a lot of other small items like memory cards, hard disks, camera straps, ND filters, and my tripod, but for now, I’ve just included my main camera gear.
We’ll leave it at that for this episode. I’m flying out tomorrow, all being well, and I have unfortunately not had time to pre-record any episodes to release while I’m away, so unless I get some downtime to record a few messages as I travel, I’ll be back with several rapid release updates about the trip in the last week of June. See you on the flip side!
Today we conclude the 2019 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop travelogue series, as we head into the Etosha National Park for a final four days ending this year’s tour. As I mentioned last week, Namibia is having a pretty nasty drought this year, so the wildlife dynamic was somewhat different from a typical year, but I’m a firm believer in being presented with fresh opportunities when something is taken away from us, and Etosha this year was no exception, as you’ll see in some of today’s ten images.
Young Rhino Squabble
We started our Etosha experience with a game drive in our lodge’s private reserve, which is actually adjacent to the park, and they explained to us that they had made a decision to bring in some grass to feed their White Rhino population. They were worried about our reaction to this, but the way I see it, there are enough rotten humans out there taking these magnificent creatures away from us, that I’m totally OK with the good guys helping them to stay alive during this hard year.
You can actually see the grass in this image, with a young male Rhino getting feisty, and throwing his weight around with an older, more cautious, female Rhino. The last of the evening sun was still falling on the scene at this point, giving us that beautiful golden light, and I increased my ISO a little to 1600 to give me an 1/800 of a second exposure, which helped to freeze that line of grass that the Rhinos kicked up in their squabble.
Feisty White Rhino
As the sun continued on its path taking it below the horizon, the light lost its color, making this next image almost completely black and white. This is the same young male Rhino, who just kept running around, kicking up dust, and generally giving the other young Rhino a hard time.
It’s great to see these animals with their horns, as many reserves are dehorning them in a bid to keep poachers away, although there is now some debate about the effectiveness of this practice. Seeing these animals with their horns though is one of the major benefits of using the lodge that we stay at for the first two nights at Etosha. Of course, I support any measures that the people take in the fight against poachers, as long as it doesn’t involve rich people with guns.
Zebra in the Dust
In this next image from inside the Etosha National Park the following day, you’ll see that some parts of park were completely baron of any grasses for the animals. This same area was a grassy plain last year, so the animals are struggling, but the dust that these zebras kicked up adds a lot of atmosphere to this shot in my opinion.
This is one of the bonuses that I believe we were presented with, in place of the grasses that can also look very beautiful. I processed this is such a way that the dust is actually a little brighter than it was in reality, giving it a slight glow, complimenting the graphically stunning zebra. I just love it when there is something that helps us to see the air in a photograph. It really does literally add “atmosphere” to an image. The processing was just a few deftly tweaks to the Tone Curve in Capture One Pro. Nothing difficult, but very effective, in my opinion.
Another thing that I like to do is to get in close and try to make semi-abstract images of the young zebra among their parent guardians. I generally don’t like to cut off elements in the frame as I’ve done with the other zebra in this shot, but when the subject is so obviously the young zebra here, I think the tight crop can also work, even though the main subject is also cut off along his behind and back legs.
Note too that I was using an aperture of f/11 for most of these shots, to give myself a slightly wider depth-of-field than most people use for wildlife, giving separation between the animals, while enabling me to get a 1/1000 of a second shutter speed here, with ISO 1600. These are my golden settings for most of the work we do in Etosha, as I like that depth-of-field for wildlife. You might also notice that the zebra here are backlit, which some people will shy away from, but using the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro or Lightroom enables us to see nicely into the darker areas of the frame without making it look unnatural, and I love the rim-light on this young zebra’s back.
On our third day in Etosha, we drove through the park, from the East to the West side, and as you can see, there was more vegetation on this site. With that, many of the animals had made their way across the park, although water was still scarce, causing animals like these springbok to walk across the plains to the scattered waterholes.
In the background of this shot, you can hopefully make out a very faint pale-gray body of land behind the horizon of grass. That is the large salt flats of a now mostly dried up lake across the North of the park. The tree is also a relatively rare thing to see, with just a few of them out on these plains alone like that, so I thought it made a nice additional element.
I actually have a few other frames with many more Springboks in them, but I prefer this one with the spacing between fewer animals. It might not come across in the web-sized image, but I’ve had this shot as my desktop background on my iMac Pro since I got home and I really like the atmosphere, as though I’m back in Etosha, looking out across the plains.
Note that I changed my aperture to f/14 for this shot, to get just a little bit more depth of field, although at 234 mm that doesn’t give me pan-focus. I used a tool called RawDigger to check my focus distance and see that I was focussing around 110 meters out, and I can tell from my Photographer’s Friend iOS app that at f/14, that still has a limited depth-of-field of around 100 meters. My app also tells me that I would need to stop down my aperture to f/36 to get pan-focus, where everything from my focus area to infinity is sharp, but my lens doesn’t stop down that far, and I’d be struggling with diffraction at that aperture too. It’s really not an issue of course, as I feel that the distant subjects like the animals and lone tree being slightly out of focus, help to show us what the image is about, and provide a better sense of depth than we’d have if everything was totally sharp.
A moment or two after I shot the previous image, the last of these Springbok probably decided that we were a possible threat, and ran across the road behind our vehicle. I was able to photograph one of them in the air as it leapt probably the best-side of five meters in a single bound.
This is another reason why I like to keep my camera set up with a relatively fast shutter speed. Moments earlier I’d stopped down to f/14 for a little more depth-of-field, and because I shoot in Manual mode most of the time, I didn’t have time to change this as this Springbok took flight, but I had still kept my shutter speed relatively fast at an 1/800 of a second, in case something like this happened.
Bonus 3D Image
Although I like to keep my episodes down to ten images, I’m going to throw in a bonus image here, as I was also able to photograph another image pair while we were still moving as our vehicle came to a halt, resulting in enough parallax shift between the two images to be able to view in 3D. If you are able to go cross-eyed at the right distance, to the point that the two images align in the just the right way, please do give this a try. The distance that you need to be from your screen depends on the person and the size at which you are viewing the image. If you open this image in a wide browser window, you should be able to get it pretty big, and try moving your head closer and further away.
It can be tricky, and only around 50% of the people that I show these images to can actually align them perfectly to get a 3D image, but if you are able to go cross-eyed, please do give it a try. The degree to which you cross your eyes is also really important, but you can possibly actually see the images start to align as you adjust your eyes, until they fall into place. Note that I also added my logo, and had a bit of fun placing it in the foreground of the image, so that it looks like it’s almost in line with that foreground bush in 3D space.
The Lion Sleeps Today
Around mid-morning on our final full day in Etosha, we came across a pride of Lions that were having a bit of a rest. Another bonus of the dry weather is that this grass would usually be substantially higher, blocking our view of this mighty cat as he slumbers like a kitten. I think this is probably one of my favorite shots from the trip, simply due to serenity and peacefulness that I see in this image.
I’ve done a bit of cloning to remove some large dark clumps of vegetation from the foreground, and a rock in the background, and I’ve also brought out the shadows a little. I see from my EXIF data that I had the 1.4X Extender fitted to my 100-400mm EF lens, although I was only zoomed in a tad, to 420 mm. I’ve continued to be very happy with the performance and image quality of the EOS R as I’ve shot my entire Namibia tour with two of these wonderful new mirrorless cameras from Canon.
A Lion’s Pillow
A very close second favorite image from the trip is this shot of another lion that was using a fallen tree as a pillow for his morning nap. You can tell by the way his mouth has failed open that this lion was complete out of it, totally relaxed and unthreatened. He did wake up for a few minutes, and I have some shots of that too, but then he went straight back to sleep again for a while longer.
The vegetation in this shot was a little too busy to try and clean up, so I left this one as it is, but again, opened up the shadows a little with the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro. Although it’s nice to get action shots or dynamic poses, I have to admit, I’m often more attracted to photos like this, that give us a little bit of insight into what you might consider the private life of these awesome animals.
The Lion Awakes
If my memory serves me correctly, and there’s no telling if it does or not, I believe the lion in this next shot is the first one that we looked at, that was sprawled out in the grass when we found this pride. In fact, I seem to remember photographing the one using the log as a pillow right up until we drove away from this spot, so I think I’m correct.
Here again, we were on the shadow side of the subject, but the Shadows slider served me well, enabling us to see this almost regal-looking lion as he peers at something in the distance. I love how the color of his eyes matches his mane and also the grasses in the background of this shot. It’s not hard to imagine why Lion’s are the color they are when you see them in their environment like this. I had opened up my aperture to f/10, to allow the background to go a little softer in the shallower depth of field. I was also still using my 1.4X Extender fitted to the 100-400mm lens, but for this shot, I had zoomed in as far as it will go, to 560 mm.
Shortly after the lions, we passed by a waterhole with some elephants having a drink. This one was the last one to leave, and for some reason was purposefully stirring up the dark-gray mud from the bottom of the waterhole and drinking that.
Once again, I went back to my Etosha f/11 for this shot, and as you can see, that gives me a nice amount of blur in the background while keeping the entire elephant sharp. Speaking of which, I love the texture of this elephant’s skin and I had initially enjoyed the contrast between the gray the warm-colored background, but I eventually settled on this black and white version, which I feel reduces the photograph down to its more essential elements, rather than having my attention grabbed by background color.
So, that brings us to the end of the 10 photographs for this episode, and to the end of the travelogue series. As usual, at the end of the trip, I recorded a few comments from the participants, which I’ll play to you now. You’ll need to listen to the audio with the player at the top of this post to hear what each participant said about the trip.
This week we continue our travelogue series to cover my 2019 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, as we leave the deserted diamond mine town of Kolmanskop, for an afternoon in another deserted mine at Elizabeth Bay.
Unlike Kolmanskop, which is deteriorating relatively gracefully, the buildings at Elizabeth Bay were built using bricks made with seawater, so the salt is causing the bricks to erode away quicker than the mortar that holds the walls together. You can see this in action at the far end wall of these laborer’s quarters. On the other side of that wall, the South Atlantic Ocean constantly crashes against the shoreline.
Once again, I used my favorite one-point perspective for this shot, aligning the far end of the building square on to the camera, as I find this increases the tension in the shot, and these rooms lend themselves to that in my opinion. I find it ironic that people that were reportedly making good money slept in such meager quarters, and probably left what little belongings they brought with them on that plate above the bed areas, only to be replaced by the dust of the crumbling plaster from the walls that once sheltered them from the sea winds. My settings for this photo were f/14 for 0.6 seconds at ISO 100, and I was using my Canon EF 11-24mm lens at 12 mm.
This next shot is more for documentary purposes, but I wanted to show you what some of these houses look like from outside. As you can see, the bricks are fairing the weather much worse than the mortar, and many of the buildings are simply collapsing as the bricks fail to support them. Because of this, we are obviously careful about which buildings we go inside. Needless to say, I didn’t feel comfortable venturing inside of this one.
Now outside, I was able to increase my shutter speed to a 1/50 of a second for this shot, but left my aperture at my favorite f/14 and ISO at 100, with my focal length adjusted to 20 mm.
Although the back of the next house I visited is crumbling pretty badly, it’s worth venturing in, as this is the building that Freeman Patterson photographed and used a photo similar to this on the cover of his Odysseys book.
I cropped this to a 4:5 aspect ratio, to remove the windows to the right and the door to the left. I’ve shot it with them in the past, but figured I’d just concentrate on the wall and the table with the bottles this year. Back inside for this, my shutter speed was 0.5 seconds, and my focal length was 15 mm, with the rest of my settings unchanged.
Corroded Luderitz Jetty
Following an afternoon in Elizabeth Bay, we drove back to Luderitz, and a few of us got out of the vehicle a short walk from the hotel, to photograph the corroding jetty that you see in this next image. I look at this every year, but there was a bit of color forming in the sky on this evening, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to do some long exposure work to smooth over the sea and allow the clouds to move a little.
I shot from a few different angles, but prefer this one, as for some reason I really like those bent over metal spikes on the block in the bottom left. The rest of the structure is also severely corroded, and I don’t imagine this will be there for many more years, with some of those beams looking as though they’re going to fall away at any time.
If I recall correctly, I was using a six-stop neutral density filter, which took around a 0.5-second exposure out to one minute to capture the movement of the waves and sky. I was also carefully applying downward pressure on my tripod because the wind was blowing quite strongly, and my camera would have moved otherwise. I actually opened up my aperture to f/10 for this shutter speed too, as I didn’t want to risk going any longer while applying pressure. My focal length was 47 mm, now shooting with my Canon RF 24-105mm lens.
The following morning we started one of our long drive days, which is a great way to see Namibia, and the roads are now much better than they were when I first started visiting Namibia, though most of this day is on dirt tracks. We stopped for a number of photos along the way, but we’ll skip to the next highlight, which is Deadvlei, from our first visit the following morning.
I’m sure you’ve seen this sort of image before, but I still love shooting these, and the magic never seems to fade as the sun climbs, illuminating the sand dune, but the shadow of the dune to our backs keeping the clay-pan and foreground camel thorn trees in the shade, making them almost silhouettes. It’s really hard to find something new when there are limited trees that can be framed up with adequate separation between them, but this year, I decided for my first shot that I’d allow the two trees to the left to overlap, so that I could put all five of them in that group on the left, and this makes me feel like there is a priest on the right, giving them a sermon, although he might also be holding up two fingers, making a peace sign.
My settings were ISO 100 for 1/25 of a second at f/14, and I was using my Canon EF 100-400mm lens at 200 mm. I find that longer focal lengths are essential to get separation between the trees because a wider angle includes other trees too easily. The sun only illuminates the background dune perfectly like this for a few minutes, so once I have a couple of frames of each composition, I run between a few other possibilities. On this morning I got five or six shots that I was really happy with, although I won’t share them all today.
Bands of Color
One other thing that I do like to do is to play with the bands of colors that form as the sun climbs, as we can see in this image, with the blue sky, darker dune, orange dune, a slither of brightly lit clay, then the clay basin still in shadow with the camel thorn trees.
The fun thing about this shot is that it actually shows you how much the trees in the previous image that we looked at were compacted. The three trees on the far right of this image are the third, fourth and fifth trees from the left in the previous image. The tree in between the other two trees just to the right of the center of this shot, is the tree on the right side of the previous image, and the tree that is overlapping the smaller tree in the third group from the left here is the back tree of the two on the left of the previous image.
You really wouldn’t think that they were as spaced out as this, but it goes to show just how much using long focal lengths can compact the elements of a scene. In the previous shot, you’d think that all of the trees are within a few meters of each other when they are actually more like thirty meters apart. My settings for this shot were ISO 100 for a 1/30 of a second at f/14, and a focal length of 158 mm.
Deadvlei Sand Storm
After our morning shoot in Deadvlei, we drove back to our lodge and got lunch, then after a little bit of downtime, we went back out and took a walk across the plain to photograph one of the sand dunes. We do this again at the end of the second day in the park, so I’ll share a photo from that shoot later, but before that, I’d like to share a couple more shots from Deadvlei from our second visit.
As we left the lodge on our second morning, there was a good wind blowing, and it got gradually stronger as the sun came up while we were waiting for that magic minute in Deadvlei. Having decided on our first composition, as we sat and waited for the silhouettes to form, every so often a strong gust of wind would whip up the sand and dust so much that it almost completely whited-out the background, so that the orange color of the background dune became almost a very pale pinkish-orange, as you can see here.
I like this because I’ve never seen shots like this from Deadvlei, so we had been presented with something very special, almost as if it was in payment for us being sand-blasted every few minutes. There were a few relatively uncomfortable moments as banks of sand swept through Deadvlei, but when they give you shots like this, it’s absolutely worth it. I also really like how the texture of the trees is so much more visible in these shots, and that soft colored background is a beautiful additional element. My settings for this image were ISO 100 for 0.8-seconds at f/14 and a focal length of 312 mm.
Also, to illustrate the stark contrast between the white background image and our main objective, here is the exact same photograph around 40 minutes later, as the sun reached the bottom of the background sand dune, increasing the contrast once again.
These three trees are the same as the right three in the main photo from the previous day, and I’ve shot this same composition many times now, but I do enjoy having this image from various cameras, and I have to say that this version from my Canon EOS R camera is absolutely stunning when viewed at 100%. My settings for this were an 1/80 of a second shutter speed at f/14, and a focal length of 321 mm. I increased my ISO to 400 to get this slightly faster than my usual shutter speed, because of the wind. I wanted to avoid camera shake if a gust of wind caught my camera at the critical moment.
I’d like to share one last shot from Deadvlei before we move on. Once again, the high winds presented us with another unexpected bonus, as the sand from the brow of the sand dune that causes the shadow in the valley was backlit by the low morning sun, looking almost like the corona coming off of the surface of the sun itself.
I’ve processed this to increase the contrast, using the tone curve and levels sliders to darken down the sand, allowing the smoking sand to look like fire, but there is still enough texture in the sand to see what it is. My settings for this shot were ISO 100 for a 1/50 of a second at f/11, and a focal length of 360 mm.
Fiery Sand Dune
As I mentioned earlier, we repeated the previous day, by driving back to our lodge for lunch, and after a bit of downtime headed out to walk to the face of a sand dune, and here you see it looking almost a fiery red with the last moments of sunlight before the sun went down. The wind is blowing the sand around the surface of the dune here, and of course, the contrast between the East and West sides of the dune causes the East side to go into almost full black.
There are actually two Camel Thorn trees in this shot, but I positioned the second behind the one you see here to minimalize the elements in the frame as much as I could. I like to keep things as simple as possible. After this, we walked back to our vehicle, to a Gin and Tonic and some snacks provided by our amazing guide, and then had a nice drive back to the lodge to spend our third night in this very special part of Namibia.
That’s out ten photos for this episode, so we’ll stop there, and pick up the trail again next week as we head over to Walvis Bay where once again the weather gave us an unexpected bonus, enabling us to photograph the flamingos in a beautiful morning mist, so please stay tuned for that.
The Martin Bailey Art Gallery is Live!
Before we finish, I’d like to quickly mention that I have just flicked the switch to go live with a brand new website Martin Bailey Art, which is a new fine art print and wall art store, containing much of my best work, all available to buy as anything from fine art prints, to canvas, metal and even printed onto wood, as well as some budget media, if you’d like to own something but need to keep the price down, although these third party prints are all quite reasonably priced. There is also a 20% discount for first-time orders if you fill out the popup that will display when you first visit, so please take advantage of that if you find something that you like, including many of the photographs that we’ve looked at today. You can find the new site at www.martinbailey.art. I hope you like what you find there! If you are looking for one of my photos that isn’t available, by all means, drop me a line, and I’ll upload it for you to pick up a print.
Complete Namibia Tour & Workshops 2020 and 2021
I’d also like to mention that in addition to the places that we have left for my 2020 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, I have now started to take bookings for 2021, and you can find details of each tour at https://mbp.ac/namibia2020 and https://mbp.ac/namibia2021 respectively.
Last month I completed my fifth epic Complete Namibia Tour, and today we are going to start a series of travelogue-style episodes to walk you through the tour step by step. As is often the case, I’m selecting my ten images for each episode as I go, so I’m not sure how many weeks this will span yet, but it will probably be three or four episodes, and for those of you that like travelogue shows, I think you’ll enjoy this.
As usual, we kick of the tour in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, getting acquainted with the guests on the first evening, then starting our drive down to Keetmanshoop the following morning, to get into the Quiver Tree Forest mid-afternoon. The Quiver Tree Forest is a magical place, but as much as I try, I never like the daylight photos from there, as they just seem to mediocre compared to the sunset or night time shots that we get there.
Here is one of my favorite shots as the sun dropped below the horizon, and this is a slightly different take on what I’ve done in previous years. I just liked how the tree on the right helped me to frame the shot, although it did not lend itself to the separation that I usually like to try and get among the other Quiver Trees in the distance but I think it still works.
I think the soft pink tones in the sky and also the warm light of late dusk illuminating the trunk of that right tree help to give us some more information about the trees when most of the others are almost completely silhouetted. At this point, my settings for this shot were 0.6 seconds exposure at ISO 100, with an aperture of f/14, at 35 mm. I was, of course, using a tripod, and all of the images that I’ll share in these travelogues were shot with one of my two Canon EOS R cameras. I was also using my Canon RF 24-105mm lens for these first two images.
As the sun got deeper below the horizon, I shot a few final images with the warm glow just along the bottom of the frame, transitioning gradually to the indigo of twilight at the top. Here too I abandoned my desire to keep each tree separated in order to get these many different quiver tree forms in the frame, including many of the trees which were flowing.
My shutter speed for this shot was now down to 13 seconds at ISO 100, still at f/14, and now using a slightly wider focal length of 27 mm. It’s always fun running around the Quiver Tree Forest trying to find compositions that I feel work as the sky gradually turns red. Unfortunately, this year, there was no cloud cover, so the sunset had nothing to reflect onto, making it somewhat uneventful. However, that was probably a good thing, as I’d planned for us to be at the Quiver Trees when there is a new moon this year, and that gave us the opportunity to come back into the forest after dinner, for some astrophotography.
The Milky Way with Jupiter
As you can see from this next image, the clear skies did help us to get some pretty neat shots of the Milky Way with the quiver trees silhouetted in the foreground, and the timing of our trip actually placed Jupiter right in the Milky Way, shining bright to the left of the Quiver Tree in this image.
The 340 Rule
You’ve probably heard people talking about the 500 Rule or the 600 Rule, which is intended as a guideline calculation to help you avoid elongation of the stars discs in your images of the night sky, caused by the rotation of the earth. Basically you divide the focal length that you’ll shoot at by 500, so dividing 500 by the 17mm I used for this shot, we get 29.4 seconds.
Well, I imagine this is affected by where you are on the planet, as I imagine the movement of the earth affects the stars more when we are closer to the equator, so just south of the Tropic of Capricorn in June, I find the ideal formula is to actually use what I suppose should be termed the 340 Rule. In fact, at 20 seconds at a focal length of 17 mm, the stars are just starting to elongate, so you may even need a shorter shutter speed if you really want to get circular discs. This works for me though, and I’m pretty happy with this year’s Milky Way photo, especially with the cameo from Jupiter.
The Giant’s Playground
The following morning, we got up bright and early to head out to the Giant’s Playground looking to capture this kind of image, again a silhouette, but this time of the comical faces that we can find in the dramatic rock formations of the Playground. It’s literally like giants have placed these rocks so that they look like faces. If you were in the UK in the 70s and 80s you’ll probably recognize the late Bruce Forsyth with a trilby hat on looking up at Venus from his pile of rocks, Shrek is also peering up at Venus from just right of center, and of course, the baboon or Easter Island statue is pretty prominent on the left side of the frame.
My settings for this were a 6-second exposure at f/14, with ISO 100 and a focal length of 70 mm. Once again, I continued to shoot some images once the sun started to come up, but they really don’t do as much for me as these dramatic silhouettes, so we’ll skip them.
After breakfast, we drove through the morning to the Atlantic shore, just short of Luderitz, our base for the next two nights, and we spend the afternoon in Kolmanskop, the deserted diamond mine town, that is gradually being reclaimed by the desert. Although I have somewhat skeptical views on trying to create “something different” as discussed in episode 571, I do like to try and find things that I have not photographed before, especially as I visit many places time and again on my tours, and I was happy to find the room that we see in this first image from Kolmanskop, which I found for the first time this year.
Maybe the owners of Kolmanskop are gradually clearing the entrances to some of the rooms that are still in relatively good condition, as the roofs cave in on other buildings, gradually taking them out of commission, or maybe I just missed it, but I did enjoy this room, with its vertically striped moss-green wallpaper. I also liked the half-sheet of corrugated steel on the floor, and as I’ve mentioned before, I generally like to allow the light from the windows to glow like this, rather than trying to let the viewer see outside, as I feel this adds to the mystery of the image. My settings for this were a 1-second exposure at f/14 with ISO 100 and a focal length of 24mm.
One shot that I pretty much repeat without change every year is this image of the school corridor, from the furthest building from the entrance to the town. There’s just something about the one-point perspective that I use for this shot that continues to appeal to me. I also pay attention to getting the camera at just the right height and position to enable me to get wall on either side of the frame and to get the windows vertical throughout the shot, so I don’t have to correct the image with the Keystone tool in Capture One Pro.
The contrast between the inside and the outside world here is actually not so high, so with a tweak of the sliders in Capture One I can actually bring the highlights down to show you the buildings outside for this image, but I prefer not to. I just like that glow, as I mentioned earlier, and really don’t think that we have to see outside unless it helps us to tell a deeper story. For me, in these shots, quite often the mystery is more important. My settings for this shot were a shutter speed of 0.4-seconds, at f/14, ISO 100 at 40 mm.
As I shoot Kolmanskop, some of the rooms that we peer into have direct sunlight pouring into them, and although that can be effective, it can also introduce too much contrast, so I make a mental note to revisit the room the following morning when the sun is on the other side of the building. I’d just walked away from the room in this next shot when the sun went behind some clouds, so I quickly walked back with a few of my guests, so that we could shoot it while the window of opportunity lasted.
I really like this room, so full of sand, yet still in relatively good condition. For this shot, we literally have to just shoot through a broken panel in the wooden door, which will never be opened again with all this sand pushing back against it. For this perspective, I also used my Canon EF 11-24mm lens, almost wide open at 12 mm, being careful to get the back wall square in the frame, but allowing the wide lens to cause all of these great diagonal lines of the side walls and ceiling. I also like how we can see into the second room with its healthy amount of sand against its blue wall as well. My other settings were f/14 for a 4-second exposure, this time at ISO 400, because the wind was gusting a little, and I didn’t want to risk a longer exposure.
The following morning we went back to Kolmanskop and were presented with a foggy start of the day, as the sea mist made its way inland, engulfing the deserted town for our first hour. We got a number of shots of the mine manager and accountant’s houses in the mist that were interesting, but perhaps not quite interesting enough to share here.
Indoor Sand Dune
After the mist cleared, the sun once again became strong enough to create these slithers of light on the walls in one of the rooms where the roof has caved in, and the upstairs floor-boards have decayed away, leaving the slats of the first-floor ceiling exposed. This building is another favorite, with an indoor sand dune that almost seems like it might have been the “in” thing to do at one point in history, like keeping a bonsai tree or doing indoor fireworks at a party.
Once again I am playing with the lines in the walls caused by my wide angle of 12 mm, causing the angles to open out from the vertical lines in seemingly random order, accentuated perhaps by the roof of the room to the right caving in, forming another completely unexpected angle. My other settings were a 0.4-second exposure at f/14, ISO 125.
View From the Hospital
I mentioned earlier that I like the glowing windows unless there is a story to tell by being able to see outside. Well, this is probably the first photo I’ve shot at Kolmanskop where I felt there was a story to be told by being able to see out of the window. I went through one of the rooms in the hospital and found a corridor at the back with windows that looked out across the desert, with some of the distant buildings of the entrance to the Elizabeth Bay diamond mine, that we would visit later this day.
As I looked at the scene from these windows, I thought of all the people that must have sat in this corridor looking out across the desert, just as I was, and perhaps some with ailments that may have made them long to be able to go outside, despite it being one of the most hostile environments on the planet. To tell this story, I exposed for outside, rather than inside, and then increased the brightness of the inside with the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro. This gives us enough information to see the now failing walls, but also the flourishes above the border painted on the walls, showing us how proud the people running and staying inside this hospital were of their architecture. My settings were 1/125 of a second at f/16, ISO 100 and my lens was wide open at 11 mm.
Doors and Slats
The last image from Kolmanskop that I’d like to share from this visit is this one, of another favorite building, where the roof and upstairs floor-boards are missing, but at the right time of day, provide this wonderful display of diagonal slithers of light throughout the building.
I, of course, lined this up so that the doors in the other rooms of the house are in view, but also went vertical to emphasize all of the gaps in the slats in the ceiling and the slithers of light on the floor. With the camera horizontal, in landscape orientation, you get a bit too much of the dark walls either side of these slithers or light, so I prefer portrait orientation here.
I kind of like the door that someone has stood up against the wall, as an extra element of interest, but I was happy with it not there as well. I guess this is something different that moves me so little that I really don’t care either way.
My settings for this were 1/50 of a second at f/14, ISO 100, with a focal length of 19 mm. Again, the wide angle is helping to accentuate all of these lines making for a very graphically pleasing shot, although I do realize that some people struggle to understand what’s happening in this image, at least to begin with.
OK, so that brings us to 10 images, and the end of this first episode in the series. Next week we’ll pick up the trail as we head into Elizabeth Bay, where this is still a diamond mine in production, which means strict security as we enter and leave, although our goal is to visit the run-down houses and buildings in the old mine that has been closed for some fifty years or so now.
Complete Namibia Tour 2020
Note that we have filled the first vehicle for this tour in 2020, so the tour will go ahead, but we do now have spaces in the second vehicle, so if you’d like to join me, please check your schedule and book your place at https://mbp.ac/namibia2020 as soon as you can. The lodges and other service providers in Namibia force us to lock in on our numbers very early, and once we are locked in, we can’t take any more people, so time is of the essence, as they say.
As you’ll see during this travelogue series, this is a truly epic tour in which you will see and photograph many of the highlights that Namibia has to offer, and I’d really like to share it with you on my sixth visit.
We finished last week with a photo of a pride of weary looking lions. The male with a mane had a scared face and was really quite thin. There were three young male lions sitting on the ground near him, and the solitary lioness was sitting atop a small hill to the left of the scene from our perspective.
Weary Lion Pride
It was the lioness that initiated a move, as she stood and walked down the hill, and crossed the road between our two safari vehicles. This first photo for today (below) is just before the road came into the frame from the right. As you can see, the three young male lions quickly stood and followed closely behind.
Lioness Leading the Way
The lioness was the only one of the five lions that was not so thin that you could easily see all of her ribs. Our guide guessed that she was probably only hunting small animals, and was at this point only providing for herself. All four of the males didn’t look as though they even had the strength to hunt along side her, but as it’s often the lionesses that do most of the hunting, this pride seemed to be in a pretty dire situation.
I shot this at 400mm with my 100-400mm Mark II lens, and I had my aperture set to f/14 to get a bit of depth of field, but as you can see, at 400mm it’s still relatively shallow. My shutter speed was 1/500 of a second at ISO 640.
Our Safari Vehicles
The lioness led the pride to a waterhole, and the oldest male seemed to almost reluctantly follow. Here we see him walking across the road (below) with that safari vehicle to the right being my group’s second vehicle. I like this documentary photo, as it shows how we shoot, with the roof raised like that as well as through the open windows.
Lion in the Road
It also shows how close we were to these lions as they passed between the vehicles, and how scrawny this male had become.
As soon as this male had crossed the road, we drove around to the waterhole ahead of them and photographed them walking across the planes. Here (below) is a photograph of the lioness and the three young males drinking. You can see how thin the males are especially from the ribs and back leg of the left-most lion.
Lions Drinking at Waterhole
We also heard from our guide that it is not often you’ll see lions drinking at a waterhole. They generally get enough fluids from the blood of the large game that they eat. As he was also guessing that they were not getting any large game, this all works together to paint a rather glum picture for this pride. I had attached my 1.4X Extender to the 100-400mm lens now, and shot this at 560mm, at f/10, with a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second at ISO 400.
Lioness in Landscape
After a drink, the lioness jumped across the water between the larger water hole that you see in this photo (below) and where they’d had a drink, a little closer and to the left of the frame here, and she walked across and settled in the long grass.
Lioness at Waterhole
I can’t help thinking that as she looked out across the plane she was somewhat concerned about the fate of her pride. She may also just be wishing that a lame zebra would walk up and sit down for her to easily kill, or wondering how much longer she has to wait for the rest of the pride to die so she can go off and start a new life. Either way, it was a somewhat sad experience to watch this pride.
For this image, I had intentionally pulled back to include more of the environment, with the salt flats visible along the top of the frame, and that beautiful old tree to the left. There are some beautiful scenes in the Etosha National Park, but they really come alive when you can capture them with a majestic animal like this lioness in the frame as well.
Giraffes in Eden
After lunch, we visited an idyllic waterhole with lush grass on the banks and found some Giraffe and Zebra waiting for us, and some Springbok and Impala in the background. This scene looked almost biblical to me, with the animals seeming to take their turns to visit the water and drink, and the somewhat harsh, yet still beautiful light.
Giraffe and Zebra at Waterhole
I used my 1.4X Extender again for this, for a 490mm focal length, at f/11 and a 1/500 of a second shutter speed at ISO 400.
In this next image, we can see the trouble that the Giraffe go to just to get their heads down to the water to drink (below). I have a number of photos in which the Giraffe is actually drinking, but this to me shows the struggle a little bit better.
With it being daytime the Giraffes were much less nervous than the first one we’d seen drinking at night behind our lodge. I imagine the open space around them here also helps, as they can see any potential predators much better, and being in the group, they can rely on the others to raise the alert. I shot this at 450mm at f/14 for a 1/500 of a second shutter speed at ISO 640.
We move on now to our last full day in Etosha, and a shot of this beautifully colored bird called a Lilac-breasted Roller. This guy was just sitting up in a tree, so we stopped for a quick photo. I used my Extender again here and cropped in on the image a little bit, but I still have a larger photo from my 5Ds R than I would if I’d used my old 7D Mark II with its crop factor.
Because I shoot from the front seat of our safari vehicle, I had to lean over in a pretty awkward position to see through the driver’s side window for this shot, and as luck would have it, the moment I pulled back to take a short breather, this guy flew away. It would have been nice to get him as he flew, and I believe one of the ladies in my vehicle got him, and that’s great for her, but for me, that’s the way it goes.
We saw a number of Black Rhino during our time in Etosha but were able to photograph the one drinking and then flehming as you see here. Flehming, or the flehmen response is seen in a lot of mammals apparently, as they deeply inhale the air trying to detect pheromones and other scents.
Black Rhino Flehming
I actually chose this shot to share with you not just because of the flehmen response, but because it’s one of the only shots that doesn’t really show off the fact that this Black Rhino has been dehorned. From a photography perspective, it’s not great that the Rangers are forced to cut off the Rhino’s horns, but it’s a lot better than seeing the Rhino killed by poachers for that same horn.
Be a Rhino Hero!
Apparently a there are three Rhino’s killed by poachers every day for their horns, so at this rate, they’ll be extinct within a decade. Earlier this year a guy named Matt Meyer cycled 2,000 miles from Washington to New Mexico pulling a life sized model of a Rhino, to help raise awareness and money that will be sent to three charities that are directly helping to save the Rhino.
The ride has now finished, but they are still collecting, so if you’d like to make a donation, you can head over to rhinoride.org and donate any amount via credit card, PayPal or wire transfer.
Later in the day, we were driving along and saw a Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk in a tree, but as we slowed down to stop and photograph it, the Goshawk took to the wing and pounced on something in the brush. Our driver drove along a little further than he’d intended, and in hindsight, I vaguely recall raising my camera and trying to capture something as we slowed down again to see what was happening.
I photographed the Goshawk feeding on what we found to be a skink that he’d caught, but as I was concentrating on trying to photograph him feeding, I didn’t chimp to see if I’d caught any action as we pulled up. By the time I’d got back to the lodge later, I’d totally forgotten that I’d even tried, so I was pretty amazed when this photograph (below) popped up on my screen as I went through my images.
Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk Catching Skink
For a moment I was totally confused, trying to figure out how this image got on my memory card. I wondered if someone had photographed it using my camera as a joke, but my camera was in my hand or on my knee the whole time. Then I started to recall the split second reaction to raise my camera as we saw the Goshawk swooping into action. I think I’d ruled out the chances of actually capturing anything because it all happened so quickly and the car was breaking quite heavily to bring us to a stop as I photographed this.
Needless to say, I was pretty happy that my autopilot did a good enough job to get focus on the Goshawk as it jumped up into the air, then dropped the skink and some foliage that it had also grasped, before catching the skink again and eating it in front of us.
It’s a pity that the hawks face is in the shadow of its wing, and there is no catchlight in its eye, but I’ll live with that for this otherwise pretty cool action shot. Luckily I’d already got my camera set to 1/1000 of a second shutter speed at f/10, ISO 800, and my focal length for this image was 248mm.
The last three images that we’ll look at today to conclude this series of images from this year’s Complete Namibia Tour are from two separate elephant encounters. This first image was from the morning, as an elephant came out of the brush to pose for us for a little while before moving on (below).
Elephant with Curled Trunk
This is probably one of my favorite single elephant shots of the trip, as he almost displayed his trunk for us, with his ears flapping out wide as well. The light was a little harsh, but in a good direction, so I was pretty happy with this. My settings were f/11 for a 1/500 of a second at ISO 400, with a focal length of 188mm, so he was pretty close by.
Saving The Baby Elephant
For our last shoot in Etosha, we visited another waterhole about an hour from our Lodge, in the hope of seeing some more elephants. When we arrived there were no elephants, so my heart sunk for a moment, but as we stopped the vehicle and started to wonder what to do next, a huge heard of elephants came out of the bush to our right, walked across the front of our vehicle and made their way to the waterhole on our left.
It was a pretty amazing sight, and we got lots of great photos as they crossed. Although once the group was at the waterhole the light wasn’t great, coming from the back-left of the scene, I thought this next image was relatively interesting (below).
Baby Elephant Being Rescued from Waterhole
We heard a splash at first and then a lot of trumpeting as the elephants rallied around to help pull a baby elephant that had fallen into the waterhole back out. This image shows how the two cow elephants wrapped their trunks around the baby to help it out, and you can also see the concerned poses of the other two elephants to the left of them, and the dust that they kicked up in the rush to help.
With the high level of social interaction that you see in elephants, I almost felt that the commotion was at least to a degree a display of concern, showing the mother of the baby that the other elephants were ready and able to help. That’s probably my twisted mind at work as well, but it felt that way. My settings for this image were f/11 at 1/400 of a second, at ISO 800, with a focal length of 278mm.
We stayed with this group as they drank and wallowed in the mud for a while, and then, they all left, this time walking past what would have been the back of our vehicle if we’d stayed in the same place that we’d been as they arrived. We’d actually moved as they started to leave, to get a better line of sight and turn the vehicle around, allowing us to photograph shots like this (below).
Baby and Mother Elephant in Long Grass
The herd must have been between 30 and 40 elephants strong, and it was amazing to see so many babies too. The long golden grass provided a beautiful environment for this photo, which turned out to be the final photo that I selected, not only to share with you but from all of my Final selects from this trip.
The following morning we had a relatively short drive through the park to an exit that would start us on our drive back to Windhoek, for one last night before we all flew home. As the gate came into view, we jokingly asked our guide for a Leopard shot to finish with, and as if by magic, a Leopard actually walked across the road in front of us, and as we stopped, it walked into the brush.
I got a few shots of its behind, and a few from the side but there was grass in front of its face. One man in the group got a relatively clear shot from the back of the vehicle, which was great, and a final treat as we left the park.
That night, at our final lodge, I took my digital recorder around the table and recorded a message from nine of the ten participants and my friend Heath Carney, a talented photographer from Australia who I’d asked to assist me on this tour. One of the participants wasn’t feeling great and had skipped dinner. We were all a little conscious of the fact that there were so many other people in the room, and the group was pretty tired from our 17 days on the road, so it wasn’t the best time to record, but here’s what they had to say…
[Listen with the audio player at the top of the post to see what the participants had to say about the tour.]
Complete Namibia Tour 2018
I had an absolutely amazing time on this trip, and as we’ve now filled the first vehicle for our 2018 Complete Namibia Tour, I’ll be heading back next year. At the time of recording, we still have four places left, so if you might like to join us, please do check out the details and you can book from the tour page at https://mbp.ac/namibia.