Following on from the previous post about creating a slideshow using Boinx Software’s FotoMagico, although I was taken out of action for two days following my fourth COVID vaccination, I spent several additional days creating the background music for my slideshow, as I mentioned in that previous post. Slideshow music can be difficult because you don’t want it to be too prominent, but at the same time, it needs to compliment the images and content, so it takes more thought than simply sitting down to make a track just for the sake of it.
I’m not going to go into much detail, as this post is really at this point to point you to the video. Still, as the video starts, you’ll notice some simple Kalimba music, which is an African instrument that I have in one of my many plugins. I then spent some time finding chords that matched the subject matter, slightly sad sounding in places, mainly because of the feeling from the deserted diamond mines, and then I make it a little lighter with some flurries when necessary. We drop back to the Kalimba several times to break up the piano. After the initial Kolmanskop piano accompaniment, I switched to a hybrid traditional piano and electric piano played together. My wife thinks the flurries with the hybrid piano sound a little 70s or 80s, and she’s probably right because I was thinking Blade Runner as some of the notes and feeling of the music started to form.
Here is a screenshot of the final score in Ableton Live before I exported the music to embed into FotoMagico. If you click on the image, you’ll be able to see more detail if you are interested. Note that I designed the dark-teal theme for Ableton, as I don’t like the look of any of the actual themes provided with the software. The only additional thing to mention is that I also added some orchestral strings with brass and horns at various places, again, to add a little variation while changing the way I played some of the chords, hopefully making it a little less monotonous without having to compose and play each bar individually. This is to both save time and because too much variation can also get in the way of the slideshow if it starts to take the viewer’s attention.
I changed the timing a little, so although I’d say this would be around 18 minutes, the final video is 16 minutes and 30 seconds, which is still very long for a slideshow. This essentially represents most of my “keepers” from the trip, as the slideshow is designed to show you how much can be achieved during my 17-day Complete Namibia Tours. If you have time, do try to watch to the end, but I doubt with the number of images, it will be a video you’ll rewatch many times. Either way, though, if I can get my message across, that’s great. I hope you enjoy this. You can see this and over 100 other videos on my Vimeo Channel.
After our second night in the Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia, we went back to Deadvlei, for a repeat of our first morning here. I generally try to get us at least two days in all important locations on my tours so that guests can learn from the first day, including any mistakes that might be made, and correct them, or maybe just improve on the results from the first day.
As with the shot I shared in the previous episode, my main shot from the second day here was again a repeat of one of my previous shots. I love just being here, and sharing this location with my guests, so although I don’t necessarily need any more Deadvlei shots, it is nice to shoot here. I also enjoy updating my own images with shots from the new gear that is released over the years. If you want to hear more about why this scene looks the way it does, listen to the previous episode, which was number 781.
Again, at the end of this day, we went back out and walked to a dune, which I wanted to stress was also not Dune 45. Dune 45 has become the typical tourist trap, which you can drive right up to, and it’s generally covered in people or at best, their scattered footprints, so it’s far from the best dune to visit now, although one couple at our lodge tried to tell a member of my group that we had not visited the best dune. Bless them.
I particularly like the way the orange fades into the black shadow after the crest of this dune, and the gradation in the face of the dune in the bottom right corner. My settings for this shot were ƒ/14 with ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/10 of a second, so you can tell that we were very near to the end of the day, as the sun started to drop behind the smaller dunes on the opposite side of the valley.
After walking back to our vehicle, we had some gin and tonics, and before we’d gotten far into them, the post-sunset warm light once again caught the dune, so many of us couldn’t resist getting our tripod and camera back out to capture this shot, from the road, which showed the tree at the foot of the dune from such a distance that the dune looks massive behind it, and the contrast between the dark and light side of the dune was probably the best I’ve seen.
The following morning we drove further North to Walvis Bay, where we spend our middle two nights of the tour. This is almost like a holiday within a holiday, as we drop the pace of shooting a little and enjoy the wonderful hotel there. There are lots of flamingoes in the bay just across the road though, and a lagoon with other waterbirds in nearby, which we make the most of. Here (above right) is probably my best Flamingo sunset shot from our first night. It’s really hard to capture them actually doing much other than sleeping, so this was the best I got on this attempt.
The following morning we went back out at sunrise, although the sun actually rises behind the houses that line the beachfront road, this gives us some nice warm light to illuminate the flamingoes as they start their day. Here we see one of them as it started to fly. I had to crank my ISO up to 3200 to get a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second at ƒ/10, and a focal length of 700mm, so this was my 100-500mm lens with the 1.4X Extender at full extent.
After breakfast, we drove out to the nearby lagoons, where we found some great white pelicans. The group was often much larger than you see in this next image, but I prefer this as it’s a little less cluttered, and I really like the pattern of the chests of some of these birds.
As with some of the shots in the previous episode, I cropped this slightly, as the foreground required tight framing just under the birds, so the image was top-heavy, with the top not adding much to the image. This next image is an even shorter panorama aspect ratio, but this is actually two images stitched together in Capture One Pro, because this interesting group in good light were slightly wider than I could pull back to without removing my 1.4X Extender. Luckily the birds were very still as I got both frames so the stitch worked perfectly.
That evening, as the sun neared the horizon again, a couple on paddle-boards paddled their way along the coast a little distance from the flamingoes that we were trying to shoot against the sunset. I didn’t notice the paddle-boarders at first, but I did notice to my excitement that all of the flamingoes all of a sudden had their heads up, and although it’s not a perfect heart shape, I was able to get this shot against the sunset that I was relatively happy with.
To get this shot, so close to the water, I actually had the camera resting on its tripod foot sitting in the sand, and I was composing and focussing using the articulated LCD on the back of the camera. I wish the sun was a little higher and the heart shape could have been a little better formed, but this was the best I could get. I feel as though I’m close to getting something really special here now though, so hopefully next year.
The following morning we set off, once again heading North, this time up the Skeleton Coast, heading to Palmwag where we’d visit the Himba people, and hopefully continue to see wildlife as we drive around. Towards the start of our journey, we stopped at the Zeila Shipwreck, and I used a 10-stop and a 3-stop ND filter nested together for 13 stops of extended exposure, giving me a 51-second exposure, making the seat smooth over as you see in this image.
We did see some wildlife as we neared Palmwag, but the light was a little better the following morning, as we drove towards the Himba settlement, and I got this shot of an adult and small zebra on the plane at the side of the road. I like that they are obviously aware of us, but still, seem relaxed, and that the adult zebra has a really nice catchlight in its eye.
OK, so that’s our ten shots for part three of my Complete Namibia trip report. I hope you are enjoying tagging along. We will complete this series in part four, and I then plan on sharing a tutorial on how I’ll put together a slideshow of images just from this trip, along with some video clips that I shot mostly of the wildlife. I continue to be amazed by the Canon EOS R5, and how it gives me the ability to shoot video handheld, even with very long focal lengths.
Following on from last week, today we pick up the trail on my recent Complete Namibia tour on the second afternoon in Kolmanskop, the deserted diamond mind town. We have historically been able to do an afternoon, followed by a morning, which helps to get different directions of the sunlight on both days, but they have stopped doing afternoon visits into Elizabeth Bay, so we worked with what we had. It was still great, and most of the opportunities are still available to us.
I started with the Ice Factory, but I’ve shown so many images of that in the past I think we’ll skip it today. I continued by walking up the hill behind the visitors center, where we’d eaten lunch, and shot this next image in the fifth building from the end of the row. Still in relatively good condition, but also with some sand at the foot of the stairs, I like this composition, with the one-point perspective, and a certain amount of symmetry, but also the asymmetry with the stairs on the left coming up closer to the camera and then the banister running from the center along to the right edge.
My wife’s immediate reaction was, “And you, of course, walked up those stairs to get that photo?” probably thinking that I should have gone through them. I must admit, I was slightly nervous, especially as some of the steps gave out an unhealthy groan as I stood on them, but it all worked out OK.
Also, for those of you that are wondering why I allow the window to blow out that way, the reason is that I actually quite like the mystique of not being able to see outside. If I was trying to sell this house, working to architecture photographer’s rules, I’d do an HDR, but as art, I prefer this style of image. The only time you’ll see anything outside a window in my shots here is when the natural light or a little bit of tweaking in Capture One Pro enables me to show it. Otherwise, it’s white windows all the way.
The next image is an example of when we can see outside. The large expanse of missing roof in the Accountant’s House makes it easy to expose for both inside and outside, so we see blue sky and the Namib Desert running across the horizon, as well as the room at the back of the attic and the beams that we can still walk on to get around up here.
I don’t recall why, but I’d let my ISO creep up to 500 for these shots, so my shutter speed was set unnecessarily high at 1/320 of a second at ƒ/11 for this shot. It’s not an issue with today’s cameras, but I’m slightly disappointed in myself here because I’m usually more careful with my exposure. The results balance of course, but not being able to remember why I used these settings is a little bit annoying. I guess I’m not getting any younger though, so you’ll have to forgive me for not being able to keep up with myself from time to time.
Here’s another relatively famous shot from Kolmanskop, with the sand-filled room and the bathtub. I included the door to the room, open, yet stuck in the sand, because I find these jarred open doors really appealing. I don’t know where the bathtub was originally fixed, but it seems to be almost surfing the sand now, and the broken tree branch, looks almost like a piece of driftwood, afloat on the same sea of sand.
And here is a final shot from Kolmanskop for this series, and we see again, the door stuck in the sand, this time through a first door, with a second door in the background. We can also see here how the afternoon light was causing a bit of a problem with the highlights on the sand, but I do like the contrast between the light and dark, so again, I’m not too worried about this.
I was at least back on form with my camera settings by this point, with the ISO set to 100, for a 0.4-second exposure at ƒ/11. All of these shots were made with the Canon RF 15-35mm ƒ/2.8 L lens. Having bought this lens a couple of years ago to replace my EF 11-24mm lens when I switched to mirrorless, I hadn’t really given the RF lens much love until now, but love it I do, now that I’ve had a chance to really work with it. It’s an amazing lens, and although I thought I’d miss the extra 4 millimeters on the wide end, I really didn’t, so at this point, I am really happy with the decision to switch these lenses out. The extra aperture stop was also very welcome for the astrophotography that we do on this trip so all in all, a good decision.
We spend one more night in Luderitz, the city near Kolmanskop on the Atlantic coast of Namibia, then started our drive inland, then North to Sossusvlei, where we would spend the next three nights. We start to see a little more wildlife on that drive, and at one point, came across a matriarchal Ostrich looking after thirteen young Ostrich. The matriarch generally looks after all the young in their herd, with help from other females who may have contributed to the clutch. You can actually only see eleven of the thirteen chicks in this shot, as the other two were a little too far from the group for an effective shot.
I cropped this down to a panorama partly to emphasize the width of the group of young ostrich, but also because we were shooting over the top of a fence, so the birds were naturally placed quite low in the frame, and the top of the frame added no real interest, so I got rid of it.
We saw multiple birds on the way as well, and I was able to get this shot as what I believe to be a Greater Kestrel landed on the top of the fence at the side of the road. It’s not the best shot, but I like the warmth of the scene and the dynamic pose of the kestrel.
Pretty much in the same color palette, here we see an Oryx feeding in the long grass, and it was so nice to see all that grass during this drive. Namibia has just come out of a seven-year drought that has cost the lives of many farm animals as the farmers fought to find food and water for them. Some farmers paid out what money they had for food only to go on to lose the cattle anyway, as the drought worsened, so seeing the oryx standing in these huge open grass-covered planes was really reassuring.
We entered the Namib-Naukluft National Park with about an hour to spare, so we drove down into the valley to the first dry river bed, seeing a number of Oryx and Springbok on the way. Just oryx shots aren’t much to write home about, but I do like it when we are able to get them in a nice environment, like this one with one of the sand dunes in the background, and the warm light just before sundown bathing them all.
I shot this with the 100-500mm lens and the 1.4X extender for a focal length of 700mm. I’d set my camera up to be able to capture movement should it be required, so my ISO was at 1600 and my shutter speed 1/1000 of a second, at ƒ/11.
The following morning, up bright and early, we drove down to the car park near Deadvlei and walked into the iconic valley. There are now two new sand dunes that have formed in the mouth of the valley, so the walk gets the heart beating a little more than before, as do the additional corona pounds that I need to lose, but this spot is so worth the effort. After my three-year hiatus from Namibia, it also felt natural to go back to the first trees that I shot here for the first time in 2013, on my first visit.
For anyone that doesn’t get what’s happening here, there is about a minute each morning when the sun has risen to the point where it is illuminating the sand dune that you see in the top four-fifths of this photo, but there is a sand dune to our backs, which casts a shadow across the clay basin, throwing the basin and the petrified camel thorn trees into shadow. That contrast makes the trees go almost black and the almost white clay remains a mid to dark gray color. This location was thrust into the limelight by National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting, and although I wasn’t aware of Lanting’s beautiful work on my first visit, I was kind of proud to find that the left two trees in my shot feature prominently on the right side of his iconic image.
This final image for this episode was shot at the end of the same day, when we walked to one of the dunes with some trees at its base. This is one of my favorites because of the trees, and the way the left side of the dune goes into shadow as the sun nears the horizon. It also made a nice change to see a bit of cloud in the sky here, as we don’t see that too often. I cropped this to a 16:9 aspect ratio to work better with the wide screen, as the additional bit of sky I had in my original wasn’t really adding anything.
We’ll pick up the trail on our second morning in Deadvlei in a few days, as I am trying to pull in our three June episodes before the end of the month, so let’s catch up again in a few days.
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.
We continue our travelogue series today, walking you through my 2018 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, as we spend a magical few hours in Deadvlei, photographing the beautiful silhouetted camelthorn trees.
If you’ve been following the podcast for a while, you’ll have heard me talk about the magical few minutes that happens most mornings in Deadvlei, as the sun rises above the large sand dune to our backs, and we are treated with a beautiful natural contrast of light and shade, that you can see in the first photo for today (below). This is a popular photograph to shoot since National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting put Deadvlei on the map, but as I work with my group here each year, it’s easy to see that composing a nice shot in Deadvlei isn’t as easy as you might think.
Of course, you can just look at what everyone else has done here, and copy that, but I never look at images of places that I visit beforehand, so I start with a clean slate on my first visit, and then I know that at least everything I come home with is original to me. I talked about this concept in depth if episode 571, “Be a Creator Not a Collector of Photographs” so check that out if you are interested.
My main consideration when composing a scene is that I generally want separation between the main elements of the photograph. Plus, I generally don’t want to crowd my photograph with too many elements. There is literally only one place that you can stand to get this photograph without including parts of the trees to the left and distant clutter to the right starting to creep into the frame.
It’s lovely to work this location though, and even though I’m visiting twice a year at the moment, the magic never goes away, as the sun works its way down that dune in the background, and creates that perfect line of shadow across the clay pan for just a minute or two.
My settings for this shot (above) were ISO 100 at f/16 for a 1/15 of a second, and a focal length of 200mm with my Canon 100-400mm Mark II lens. As usual, I am exposing to the right, so just ensuring that the sand dune is exposed as far over on the histogram as possible, and then the rest of the shot just takes care of itself.
Cluster of Trees
You really have to work to find pleasing compositions though, and with the time being so short, it’s worth scouting out a few additional options to shoot quickly after your main shot. With just about all of the shots that I can find under my belt already though, I now just quickly grab a few other shots, like this one (right) where I flipped my camera into a vertical orientation and cropped in very tightly on this group of four trees.
You can probably tell that the two trees at the back are the same as the left-most trees from the first shot, so I’d just moved across to my left a little, and zoomed in to 300 mm.
I allowed the tree to the left to overlap with the background trees a little while maintaining some separation between the rightmost two trees, and I quite like the results. However, you can see that the light is already just starting to illuminate the left side of the clay pan, forming a pale yellow line between the orange dune and the darker foreground, and this was just three minutes after my first shot, so you can tell how little time we really have to get these shots.
Bands of Color
The great thing about Deadvlei though, is that you can keep having fun with the light as the sun gets higher, playing with things like the various bands of color, as I did in this next photograph (below). I cropped this down to a 16:9 ratio, to emphasize the horizontal bands, and remove a little bit of excess sky that didn’t do much fore me.
With the sun getting higher still now, my shutter speed was at 1/50 of a second now, still at ISO 100 and f/16 though, and at this point I was using my 24-105mm lens at 70mm. With five distinct bands of color, light, and shade, I quite like the overall striking look of this image, although the following image (below) is somehow more appealing to me, as we simply get to enjoy seeing how the trees look in full sunlight.
We also do still have four bands of color, which I like to see. You’ll also notice that I’m still trying to get some separation between as many of these trees as possible, just to keep things simple to look at. My settings here were the same as the previous image except that my shutter speed had changed to 1/60 of a second, just a third of a stop faster.
Oryx in the Shade
When photographing in the Deadvlei and Sossusvlei area we head back to the lodge for lunch and a few hours rest before heading back out. The sun is very harsh at midday, and no real shadows either, making the photography a bit difficult. We aren’t the only ones that head for the shade at midday though, as you can see in this next photograph (below) with an Oryx that had decided to keep cool under a small camelthorn tree in front of a sand dune.
The dark patches that you can see on both the face of the dune, and the right side of it, are not shadows, but deposits of iron. If you run a magnet over the sand in these places you can quickly get a handful of what are essentially iron filings. They also add a nice bit of texture to the sand, but not to be confused with shadows. The other thing that you’d notice if you can zoom in on the original photo to 100%, is that at midday, the sun is so hot that it causes the air to shimmer, like a mirage, so the Oryx is actually a little bit distorted, as is everything behind it up to the base of the dune. This is another reason why shooting at midday isn’t such a good idea in the desert.
Dune 35 at Sundown
On our way out of the lodge in the afternoon, we had some nice wildlife encounters, but I think I’ll save the wildlife until we get closer to the Etosha National Park probably starting from the end of the next episode. Our main goal was to walk out to dune number 35, which is named so because it’s 35 kilometers from the entrance to the park. We walked out a couple of kilometers to the point from which I made this photograph (below).
We get about this distance to the dune rather than using a longer lens from further away, because there is a third switch-back in the top of the dune, that I personally don’t like to include, and this is the point at which it disappears. We then photograph the trees and generally work the scene until the sun goes down far enough to plunge the left face of the dune into shadow, for this kind of photograph. My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/15 of a second shutter speed at f/14, and a focal length of 120 mm.
Back to Deadvlei
On my tours, I generally try to give my guests at least two opportunities to visit the same location, so that we can improve on our shots, especially when there is only a finite amount of time to make something work, like the two minutes of magic in Deadvlei each morning. The second visit is often optional, and two of our guests decided to climb the dune that causes the shadow in Deadvlei on our second visit, but the rest of the group went back in for a repeat of the previous morning. I photographed one of my favorite compositions again, as you can see in the next photograph (below).
I tried really hard this year to find some new compositions at Deadvlei, and although I do have a number of images that I like, I really just enjoy these simple two tree images, that are all about the contrast between the trees and the background dune. I actually removed a few clumps of grass from the dune in this photo, in Capture One Pro of course, just to clean it up a little bit. I’m not a photojournalist, so I’m happy to do that when I feel it will improve the overall aesthetic quality of the image.
We didn’t spend as long as the first day in Deadvlei on our second visit, but as we started to walk out, despite it having been a pretty calm morning up to that point, there was a gust of wind swept through the basin, carrying a bank of dust with it, and within five minutes, we were in the middle of a full-on sandstorm. It was difficult to walk into the wind at some points, and the sand hurt a little if you didn’t turn your head away from it.
I Love Air I Can See
This, of course, isn’t a bad thing. As I often say, I love to photograph scenes when there is something in the air to make the atmosphere visible. Beit rain, snow, mist or sand, I always find it really appealing to be able to see the air, as we can in this photograph (below) just before we got back to our safari vehicles after the thirty minute walk out from Deadvlei.
I’ve actually done some pretty aggressive level adjustments to bring out the details and layers in this photograph, as the original was much paler, with the sand almost completely whiting-out the scene. I’ve also run a subtle gradient down the top 20% of the frame or so, and reduced the exposure up there by around half a stop, just to darken it down some, for better balance with the rest of the image. Because my camera was being buffeted by the strong gusts of wind, I increased my ISO to 400 and used a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second at f/14, to ensure that I didn’t get any camera shake.
Light and Shade
As is often the case though, these morning sandstorms don’t last long, and by the time we’d arrived at our lodge shortly before lunchtime, we wouldn’t have known there’d even been a storm. We headed back out in the middle of the afternoon again, this time heading for dune number 37, which is a little closer to the road than dune 35, and worked the light and shade once again, as you can see in this image (right).
We had hoped for a more defined line along the crest of the dune, but the angle of the sun didn’t give us that with the current shape of the crest. Still, I like the subtle gradation along the line that we did get. I also really like how the wind has caused the large troughs on the lighter side of the dune here.
The late afternoon sun also really highlights the ripples in the sand at the base of this photograph, so I moved my watermark to the top of the frame instead, so as to avoid messing that up.
I have increased the shadows with the levels and tone curve quite a bit to make the dark area much darker, for a more striking image, but the orange face is pretty much straight out of the camera. Again, I was exposing to the right to ensure the image was as bright as possible in the light areas, and I can do whatever I want with the darker areas once I have captured all the detail in this way.
I also obviously made a conscious decision to crop in very tightly on this dune. I shot the whole thing as well, and it’s nice, but my favorite shots are zoomed in much closer, like this. I just find this kind of image more appealing most of the time. It takes a moment to figure out what you are looking at for some people, and I think we find an image more rewarding to look at when the content of the image isn’t immediately obvious. My settings for this image were ISO 100 for a 1/40 of a second at f/14, and a focal length of 200 mm.
I’ve done something similar, going in very tight, with the last image that we’ll look at for today too (below). This is, of course, the same sand dune, but a little over to the left, so as to include the beautiful camelthorn tree that stands there.
Again, I’ve used the levels and tone curve to darken the shadows, but the sand itself is pretty much as the camera recorded it, with the exception of adding +15 saturation, to just bring back some of the saturation that I lose by exposing to the right. I can also just reduce the exposure slider to get a similar effect, but that affects the entire image, and I want to avoid that. My settings for this image were ISO 100 for a 1/25 of a second, as the sun got closer to the horizon, and an aperture of f/14 at 158 mm.
Contemplating the Place and Moment
I really enjoy photographing these desert scenes. There is something very soothing and thought-provoking about being out in the desert, with really nothing for miles and miles around, except for sand dunes and camelthorn trees, and the occasional Oryx, Ostrich or Springbok wandering around. After our second afternoon photographing these dunes, we were treated to some drinks at our vehicles. We were initially all talking about how wonderful it was to be there, and about the shoot itself, among other things, then our guide suggested that we stop talking for a minute, and just disperse to simply contemplate the place and the moment.
This was a wonderful experience. It’s often nice to just lower the camera and experience the moment, but setting aside time to really just look out across the vastness, feeling the warm desert air being gently pushed aside by the cool post-sunset breeze, and I’m sure that most of the group, myself included of course, just felt incredibly fortunate to have been able to travel to and experience such a wonderful place. It also makes you appreciate just how tiny we are in the greater scheme of things. Even as we looked back at our vehicles from the dunes they were hardly visible in the landscape, but compared to the entire valley between the dunes were all just so completely insignificant and I think it does us good to feel that from time to time.
Complete Namibia Tour 2019
OK, so we’ll wrap up there for this episode, and continue our journey to visit the Himba people for an amazing cultural experience next week. If you might be interested in joining the 2019 tour from June 2 to 18, please check out the tour page at mbp.ac/namibia. Note that I’ve also updated the tour page over the last week, so it now contains some lovely comments from this year’s guests, as well as a swanky new animated page header. It really is an amazing tour, so give it some thought. I’d love to travel with you in this beautiful land.
Start your day in the Giant's Playground
Start your day in the
In one of the most conservation aware countries in the world