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
This week we continue our travelogue series covering my 2018 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, as we spend a morning in Kolmanskop and an afternoon at Elizabeth Bay, another deserted diamond mine town, before driving on to Sossusvlei.
Kolmanskop Day #2
With this year’s tour being so productive, it’s been difficult to whittle down my images past a certain point, and even today, although I try to limit each episode to 10 photographs, I ended up with 12 to talk about this week, so that we can move on to Sossusvlei and Deadvlei next week. Because I haven’t been to the big houses on the hill at Kolmanskop for a few years, I decided to walk up there early on the morning following our first visit for this year.
As you can see, there was plenty of light flooding into this space from the missing roof, and because the light wasn’t really high contrast, I was able to easily balance the inside and outside of this space with the Levels, Highlight and Shadow sliders, and a slight Luma Tonecurve in Capture One Pro.
I also positioned my camera at a height that allowed me to get the vertical beams in the space vertical, which I like to do when possible, and when it makes sense to do so. I shot this with my Canon 11-24mm f/4 lens wide open at 11mm. My aperture was f/14 at ISO 100 for a 1/10 of a second shutter speed.
Door on the Floor
This is one of the few buildings that for some reason is being cleaned, and is in pretty good condition, as far as derelict houses in the desert go. I find it interesting though that things like the back door that has come away from its hinges are just left flat on the floor, as you can see in this next image (right). There is sand around, and you may be able to make out a mound of sand two rooms deep in this photograph, but the door is just off.
Due to the low angle, and the fact that I wanted to get just the door without the door frame, I do have a little bit of outwards lean in the verticals in this shot, but this is one of those times where I just choose to roll with it. I can correct this in Capture One, but I lose too much of the image, and it really doesn’t bother me.
My main composition consideration here was getting the door straight and symmetrically aligned with the bottom corners of the frame. My settings for this shot were a shutter speed of 0.5 seconds at f/14, ISO 100 and a focal length of 18mm.
I think I have it correct in saying that the next house I visited was the accountant’s residence back in the day. It’s funny that the accountant seems to have a slightly better plot of land than the manager, with an unencumbered view across the dunes at sunset.
This next photo is the bathroom from this house, which as you can see, still has some beautifully well kept black and white checkered tiling on the floor (below). The walls are also still in very good condition, although the metal in the room has all rusted quite badly. It’s interesting to see how the various materials deteriorate at different rates. My settings for this image were a 1.6-second exposure at f/11, with ISO 100 and a focal length of 12 mm. If you are wondering why I didn’t use my usual f/14 for this shot, it was basically because people were walking around the house, and I could feel a slight vibration, but more just because I could.
With a lens at 12 mm and an aperture of f/11, if you focus at just over a meter or three feet in front of the camera, everything from 60 cm or 2 feet to infinity is in focus anyway, and that’s information from my Photographer’s Friend app in Pixel Peeper mode, so the reading is a little harsher than traditional calculations. So, although I like to shoot at f/14 for landscapes, there really isn’t much reason to do so in a situation like this, as I was standing up and nothing in the scene was so close that it would not have been in focus.
Note that here too, I am not at all concerned that the window is completely overexposed. I was asked by email last week if ever do HDR to reduce this contrast, and my answer is no. I know that some people like to do that, or sometimes just merge two exposures, one for the inside and one for the outside exposure, but I really just don’t think that’s necessary for my own photography. Not only are most of these windows quite dirty, preventing us from seeing much outside anyway, I actually quite like using these windows simply as a light source. They glow, and in my opinion help to keep the image somewhat minimalist just as they are.
I guess there are just many things about photography that I just decide not to care about. I’m sure there are people out there that cringe when they see my overexposed windows, but I really just simply do not care. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it, I’ve made a conscious decision to leave them as they are. In this next photo of the school corridor, which is actually at the other end of Kolmanskop from the accountant’s house, you can see a little bit of detail outside, and if I wanted to, I could bring that under control a little more in Capture One Pro, but I really just don’t like the look of the photo when I do that. I prefer the glow that these windows bring to the photograph (below).
In this image, I’ve positioned my camera at such as height that I could get the vertical frames of the windows straight. I’ve also used my favorite one-point perspective composition here, with the window at the end of the corridor positioned perfectly in the center of the frame, to add tension and drama. I moved that dark frame on the floor a little more into the scene as well. It was closer initially and would have been cut off by my framing had I left it where it was. As you can tell, I’m constantly giving attention to certain details when it makes sense to do so, and completely letting go when it doesn’t.
This last photo from Kolmanskop is one of my favorite rooms, and most of the group had gathered here shortly before lunch, hoping for a chance to make this kind of photograph (right).
Before lunch, the sun wasn’t quite high enough in the sky to get light shining through the slats in the ceiling like this, so I was pretty pleased that I’d decided to start our Elizabeth Bay visit from 2 o’clock, as that gave us an hour after lunch to work this scene. Actually, it was probably a bit less, as it was a Namibian lunch, as in it took quite a long time for our food to arrive, so I think it was about ten past one when we got back there.
I love this look though. You have to really work to figure out what you are looking at, especially as you try to fathom what’s happening with the multiple doors in the bottom right corner. And of course, all of the highlights and shadows add additional directions that our eyes try to follow throwing off our perception of what we are seeing even more.
Compositionally I was conscious here that I wanted to be in a position where I had as much of the slat shadow covered walls in the frame as possible, as well as being able to see through the first do to the others in the rooms further back, and this was just about the best position to achieve that. My settings were a 1/50 of a second shutter speed at ISO 100, back to f/14, and a focal length of 22 mm.
After photographing the slatted room, we made our way down to our safari vehicles just outside the gates to Kolmanskop and waited for our guide to arrive and accompany us through the tight security on the entrance to Elizabeth Bay.
We were entering to visit a second deserted diamond mine there, but there is still an active diamond mine that we pass on the way, so the checks are quite serious. This year, for the first time, every member of our group was breathalyzed. This worried me at first, as a few people had drunk a beer with their lunch, but there were no problems. I guess they are checking for high levels of alcohol rather than traces.
The way that the houses in Elizabeth Bay are decaying is different from that of Kolmanskop. As Elizabeth Bay is right on the coast, sea air is literally dissolving the bricks, leaving the mortar in place, as you can see in this photograph (below). Note how the cement is left sticking out in the foreground building, but also if you look at the distant building in the center of the frame here, you’ll see how the roof is gone, and the walls are decaying almost looking like lace with some of the bricks completely gone now.
As is often the case, there was a good sea breeze blowing. I often make recordings of various sounds with a digital record that I carry around, and I tried to make a recording of my footsteps crunching in the sand as I walked between the buildings, but because I didn’t put my wind protector over the mics, the recording is mostly wind noise, although a nice audible reminder of the day. My settings for this shot were 1/100 of a second shutter speed at f/14, ISO 100 and a focal length of 35 mm. I was using my Canon 24-105 Mark II lens now.
This next photograph was from inside a room that has a painted wall that Freeman Patterson made famous by using his photograph of it on the cover of his book “Odysseys Mediations and Thoughts for a Life’s Journey“. That book was first published in 1998, so twenty years ago now, and although the wall looks a little bit worse for wear, the table is still in place, and that kind of shows us that things are changing slowly in some respects.
In the past, I’ve shot this building through the window which is just to my left as I made this photo, but this year, I actually entered the building from the front door, which we’ll look at in a moment, although I didn’t realize it was the house with this room until I walked through the door to the left. My settings for this image were a 0.4-second shutter speed at f/14, ISO 100 at 17 mm.
This next photo (below) is the same building from the outside, and you can see just how badly the building is actually decaying from the sea wind and elements. Compositionally I kept the top of the frame close to the top of the building, as I didn’t want to include too much of that clear cloudless sky, but I like the amount that I have, as it is a good indication of the dry conditions that we associate with the desert that surrounds this abandoned town.
I also, of course, wanted to include more of the bricks and sand in the foreground, as these add to the overall story of desolation and decay in Elizabeth Bay. My settings for this shot were 1/60 of a second at f/14, ISO 100 at 20 mm. I switched back to my 11-24mm lens after that first shot in the bay, and although I was carrying both lenses on the separate 5Ds R bodies, I seem to gravitate towards the wider lens for this location.
In this next photo we can see that the end of one of the laborer’s quarters buildings has now almost completely fallen away, leaving us with a clear view down to the beach (below). This is good to show how close the sea is, giving us a better idea of why these buildings are decaying so quickly. It does make me wonder though, as with Kolmanskop too, just how many more year’s these buildings will last. The room with the mural painted on the wall is almost unchanged in 20 years, but everything else makes me think that we’re probably only looking at another five to ten years for most of these buildings.
Another contradiction that this photo calls to the fore is whether or not the people that slept in these tiny compartments really were laborers or slaves. The people that run the tours tell us that they were laborers that were well paid, which they may have been, but our local guide tells us that the work was so hard that these so-called laborers were chained at night to stop them from escaping, and that sounds much more like a slave to me. My settings for this shot were a 1/60 of a second shutter speed at f/14, ISO 100 and a focal length of 18 mm.
Drive to Sossusvlei
I had a few more images to look at from Elizabeth Bay, but we’ll skip those as it’s going to take too many episodes to get through this trip if I don’t. Let’s quickly look at three more images, taking us to 12 for today, just to illustrate what happened the day after this, as we made our way north, to Sossusvlei. On our way out of Luderitz were we’d spent the previous two nights, we stopped briefly to photograph the old abandoned train station at Garub (below).
I like the desolation, almost desperation of this abandoned train station. Although the train line itself is still operational, trains just don’t stop here anymore. You may be able to tell too that I’ve cropped this down to a 16:9 aspect ratio. Again, I’m really just not a fan of blue skies, and as there wasn’t much in the foreground either, I just chose this more cinematic aspect ratio to reduce both of these elements, and I also think that this helps to add to the sideways motion of the train line. My settings were 1/125 of a second at f/14, ISO 100 and a focal length of 105 mm.
We drive through some beautiful countryside on this day, and it’s always nice to be able to capture a bit of wildlife in this kind of habitat, as I did with this pair of ostriches (below). As there were two birds, I actually should have kept my aperture a little bit smaller for this shot, but I had opened up to f/10, because the birds were moving around, and I wanted a faster shutter speed because I was hand-holding my 100-400mm Mark II lens for this, extended out to 400 mm.
The male ostrich is slightly soft because of this, but he has a nice catch-light in his eye which kind of makes up for that. My shutter speed was at 1/800 of a second at ISO 400, so I could have gone to ISO 800 at f/14 for greater depth of field, so I consider this to be a bit of a failure, although I quite like the shot.
Our last photo today is of a male Oryx with his harem, and all of them looking back at our vehicle, probably wondering why we’d just screeched to a halt in the middle of the desert (below).
We can identify the male as the second from the right in the group, because he’s thicker set, and has thicker horns for fighting, and also, our guide told us that the mail Oryx have a thinner dark stripe on their underbelly, compared to the thicker stripe that you see on the two female oryxes on both sides. I really just thought this was a fun shot with all of them grouped together like this, looking back at us in wonder. My settings for this were f/8 for a 1/1000 of a second at ISO 800, and a focal length of 400 mm. This aperture was fine in this instance because there’s no real distance between the four animals, so they are all in sharp focus.
OK, so we went two images over, but that takes us to the end of our fourth day on the road, as we arrived at Sossusvlei to make our way to our lodge for the next three nights. Next week we’ll take a look at some photos from Deadvlei, with the silhouetted camel thorn trees against the brightly lit sand dunes at dawn, and some of the other picturesque dunes in the area.
Complete Namibia Tour 2019
If you might like to join us on this tour from June 2 to 18, 2019, please check out the tour page at mbp.ac/namibia2019. It really has matured into an amazing tour, and 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
Just back from this year’s Complete Namibia Tour, today we start a series of travelogue-style episodes to walk you through our antics as my group and I traveled this majestic land.
I’m going to come right out and say, that I believe this year’s Namibia tour was probably one of my best tours to date, if not these best. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to travel with many wonderful people over the years, and everyone on this group seemed to click with each other, which makes my life as a tour leader very easy, and the photographic opportunities that we were presented with on this trip were incredible too.
We start in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, then drove down to a place called Keetmanshoop, for one night, to photograph the Quiver Tree Forest there. On our way, we stopped to eat our packed lunches on the grass in front of a supermarket, and I had a very humbling experience that I’d like to share with you before we start to look at some images.
Namibia has quite a high percentage of unemployed people, and very little by way of benefits to help those without work. As a group, whenever we have food left in our often too large lunch packs, rather than wasting it, we collect it together and give it to people that we meet on the road. We did just this on our first lunch stop, and after our guides had handed one man some food, I found a few other uneaten apples and sandwiches, so I walked over to this man to hand these over too.
As I approached him, I saw that his hands were both already covered in yellow grains from the cornbread that we’d given him. As I reached out to hand him the apples and sandwiches, he opened his mouth, showing me his teeth also covered in yellow grains, and this is usually something that I am not keen on looking at. He gave out almost a scream of delight, and threw his hands out to his sides, then extended them forwards to accept the food.
I have never been so happy to see the food inside a person’s mouth. It was a beautiful sight! But at the same time, incredibly sad and humbling. I could hardly believe that we could make a man so happy simply by giving him a meal, and I was immediately reminded of the hardship that many people face just obtaining the food that they require to simply stay alive. We are so fortunate to live in a world where the next meal is almost a given, and I also feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to witness this humbling experience first-hand as we traveled in Namibia.
We did, of course, continue to collect what we didn’t eat, and I noticed that not only were people that were obviously struggling to get a meal accepting the food but even officials working on some of the remote national park gates etc. would gladly take what we could offer them. Please don’t think that this is coming from some sort of an aloof perch, handing down our scraps. Everyone that we can help on this tour is treated with utmost respect, often with our local guides passing the food discretely to the recipients. This is actually another reason why I felt so fortunate to have been able to have had the experience I just mentioned during our first lunch, as I don’t normally pass the food directly.
Quiver Tree Forest
Anyway, moving on to our first shoot, we checked in at the nearby lodge in the afternoon of day one and made our way to the Quiver Tree Forest. We shot for a couple of hours to give the group a chance to stake out some nice places to shoot the sunset, and here is my shot to show you what it was like (below). I’m not much of a sunset person per se, but when we can get something nice and unique like the quiver trees in the frame, as well as the fiery African sky, it’s hard to resist.
I enjoy doing these silhouette images, looking for a spot with a nice main tree, then also trying to get some nice separation between the trees in the background, as well as a clear edge on either side of the frame. I was shooting with my 24-105mm lens at 27mm and struggled quite a bit to get a nice line of trees without too many bushes, like the one you can see below the right-most quiver tree. Still, the sky is lovely and it was an enjoyable shoot. My other settings were f/14, and a 0.2-second exposure with ISO 100.
Moonlit Quiver Trees
Because of availability of some of the key lodges, this year I was not able to align our visit to the Quiver Tree Forest with a new moon, which would have allowed us to shoot the Milky Way, but there was going to be an almost full moon, which I was hoping to use to good effect. Rather than going back to the lodge for dinner then coming back out, I negotiated a late dinner, to give us an extra hour in the forest as the moon rose.
The result was this next photograph, with the moon illuminating the low cloud cover, but the stars also clearly visible shining through the clouds (below). We can also see how the moonlight had lit the base of some of the foreground trees, making them not quite silhouettes, but I like being able to see that extra bit of detail.
I shot this with my 11-24mm lens at 17 mm. Now, of course, shooting by moonlight, my shutter speed was 25 seconds at f/4, and ISO 1600. At 17mm you can’t really use a longer shutter speed, because the stars start to elongate if you do, and I didn’t want that. This is why I chose to use a high ISO and wide aperture instead of a longer exposure. There is still some nice movement in the clouds though, and I really like being able to see stars in the relatively bright sky. It definitely makes up for not being able to shoot the Milky Way here this year.
The Giant’s Playground
The following morning, we visited the nearby Giant’s Playground before breakfast, to photograph the boulders silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky, as you can see in this photograph (below). I like looking for faces in the rocks, and pretty much did a repeat of one of my favorite photos from this location, with the boulders on the left looking a little like the Moai Statues, and there is a large chinned man bottom right, and a portly somewhat Shrek-like face in the bottom center of the frame.
I shot a few frames as the sun got closer to the horizon, and this was the one that had the most intense color. I really like the perfectly clean gradation between the orange and the blue here. My shutter speed was 1.3 seconds again at f/14, at ISO 100 and a focal length of 85mm.
After breakfast back at the lodge, we checked out and drove through the morning to Kolmanskop, the deserted diamond mine town, where the desert is gradually reclaiming the houses. This first image (below) is one of my favorite scenes, and one of my first shots, as I showed some of the participants where this particular house was. This small indoor sand-dune has been there for five years now, since my first visit in 2013. This house is actually faring better than some, which are starting to succumb to the desert more quickly than others.
I really love the color contrast in this room, with the pastel blue being almost exactly the opposite color to the orange sand on a color wheel, and that’s something that we are almost programmed to find appealing. This was a two-second exposure at ISO 100, a focal length of 28mm and you guessed it, an aperture of f/14. That’s my go-to aperture when there is no reason to change it. It gives me enough depth of field at this focal length to get everything in the frame sharp.
Playing with Color
I continued playing with the color in these beautiful old houses, working with a similar palette this time, with the orangey-brown walls similar to the color of the sand. There was also a hint of blue and teal coming from the left and right rooms at the end of this sand-filled corridor. Quite often, to shoot these images, I simply get far enough into the room to get past the doors to the sides near the entrance, just enough to give me a clear shot of what I consider to be a much cleaner scene, with fewer distracting elements.
I also have a vertical orientation shot of this image with an old light-shade hanging down from the ceiling included, and I think I prefer that shot, but the blog formatting works better with landscape orientation images, so that’s what I’m sharing at this time. I shot this at 24mm, f/14 for 0.8 seconds at ISO 100. I pretty much always stick with ISO 100 unless there is a reason to change it as well. I’m not afraid to increase the ISO of course, routinely shooting up to ISO 6400, but with no real wind requiring me to speed it up, ISO 100 it was.
Something that I saw much more of this year was houses where the ceiling has literally just collapsed into the downstairs rooms, as we can see in this photo (below). I imagine this is mostly caused by the weight of the sand that accumulates on the floor upstairs, especially as the roofs succumb to the elements allowing more sand in. Here once again though, I enjoyed the contrast between the blue walls and orange sand.
My shutter speed for this image was 4 seconds at ISO 100, so we can tell that the afternoon light was getting a little darker by the point. Again, my aperture was f/14 and my focal length for this shot was 30 mm.
Next, I want to share one of the few photos I’ve made of the exterior of the buildings at Kolmanskop. I don’t do this often, as I generally prefer the colors of the interior, as well as the spectacle of having sand-filled rooms, but this particular scene caught my eye, as we wandered from building to building. As you can see, the sand also builds up against the outside walls sometimes, and I thought this straggly tree made for a nice element along with the window and sand (below).
I like cropping in tight like this, but here I was also forced in tight because I didn’t want to include the frame of the door just to the right of this scene. I’m not a big fan of the grasses creeping into the frame on the bottom right edge, but I might spend a few minutes to clean that up at some point. It doesn’t bother me enough to spend that time today as I try to get caught up on work. My settings were a 1/13 of a second exposure at f/14 and a focal length of 62mm. I changed my ISO to 400 for this shot, as there was a bit of a breeze that may have caused camera-shake a longer exposure.
Another Collapsed Ceiling
As I mentioned, I noticed more collapsed ceilings this year than before, and here is another example of this (below). The roof seems pretty much intact here though, so I’m not sure what caused this ceiling to cave in. In this photo, I do like the contrast between the still intact wash basin and sand and the collapsed roof. The fact that the walls are still pretty nicely decorated adds additional elements of contrast.
Back in the shelter of the building again, away from the breeze, I had returned my ISO to 100 and shutter speed back to 4 seconds, at f/14, and now shooting with my 11-24mm lens again, at 14mm.
The Ice Factory
Towards the end of the day, as I made my way back towards the entrance of Kolmanskop to our cars, I stopped at another favorite room, the relatively well-kept Ice Factory (below). I had earlier thought this was just a workshop of sorts, but there is a sign on the door that says Eisfabrik, which I believe means an ice factory or to manufacture ice.
With the sun almost on the horizon on the other side of this building, there was virtually no sunlight making its way into this room by the time I photographed it, so my shutter speed was 20 seconds at f/14, ISO 100 and again using my 11-24mm lens, this time at 12mm. As I would have been standing in the precious light coming through the doorway, I moved down the steps and out of the way during my exposure. There’s no point in blocking my own light.
We’re going to end this first episode with this, my last photo from day two, as the warm light from the sun illuminated a side room at what I seem to recall being the old bakery, and here I was again using the one-point perspective composition that I talked about last year. I love the drama and tension this kind of composition adds to a photograph (below).
Again, I had to move to the side to avoid blocking my own light and leaving a shadow on the right wall in this image. We can also see the marks on the sand in the foreground of this shot from a recent relatively rare heavy rain that they had, a few weeks before we arrived. This seems to have dripped through the ceiling of this building. My settings here were a 25-second shutter speed at ISO 100, f/14 and my lens wide open at 11 mm.
We’ll leave it there for today, as we’ve reached the usual 10 photos at which I like to limit my posts. I’m quite pleased to have been able to make time each evening to pretty much catch up on my selection process and most of the processing that I wanted to do on my images before finishing the trip. As we’ll see, we end this trip with four nights at the Etosha National Park shooting wildlife, and that presents a bigger problem due to the number of images we shoot compared to landscape work, but I was still pretty much able to complete my preliminary selections before I started my flight back to Tokyo.
After getting a few hours sleep on my way from Johannesburg to Dubai, then a few more hours at the start of my flight from Dubai to Tokyo, I was able to work on my images and selection process for a further six hours on the plane, and that enabled me to just relax a little over the weekend, and spend some quality time with my wife. It was really nice to come into my studio this morning with all of this work done and just get straight into selecting the images that I’ve talked about today.
I haven’t selected the images for the remaining episodes of this travelogue yet, so I don’t yet know how many parts this will take, but I have a massive 363 images in my final selection, so I think we’re looking at around four, perhaps a five-part series to cover this trip, and we’ll continue to part two next week.
Complete Namibia Tour 2019
If you might like to join us on this tour from June 2 to 18, 2019, please check out the tour page at mbp.ac/namibia2019. It really has matured into an amazing tour, and 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
It’s been almost two weeks since I returned from Namibia, so I’m in that space now where the trip is gradually fading into memory, enabling me to be a little bit more ruthless in my edit, removing more images, but due to the variety of subjects we cover on this trip, and just the richness of this beautiful country, I’ve still got heaps of images in my final selection, so let’s talk first about the state of my edit, and then we’ll move on to look at today’s ten images.
My Final Edit
After working on my images on and off during last week, I initially managed to complete my second pass to whittle down the 1,028 images that were left after my first pass, to a more manageable 496. I was happy to at least get below 500 at this point but I continued working until I got my selection down to 419. I might be able to get this down a little further before I actually copy these images to my Finals folder, but it’s pretty much my last call on my 3-star selection.
My Rating System
For me, 3-star images are ones that I am happy to let people see and will submit to my stock agency, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are my absolute favorites. For example, some are slight variations of the same subject. I might have two different head positions of an animal. Both have merit, but I don’t necessarily want to keep both of them in my favorites. Or I might have a vertical version of the same subject. This always works well with stock imagery.
So, at this point, I went through the 419 images and selected my 4-star images, of which there were 191. Four stars for me means that I like them enough to add them to my Apple Photos app so that I can actively show people them as I travel around. These will take preference over the three stars when I’m selecting images to illustrate articles etc.
At some point, I’ll go through my 4-star images and select a small number of my photos to add to my Namibia portfolio. These will become 5-star images, my portfolio-worthy rating. I reserve 2 stars as a way of marking my “originals” in as much as I sometimes have to take an image into Photoshop and do some work on it, and when I bring that back into Capture One Pro, I make the original raw file a 2-star, and make the Photoshop version a 3-star image or higher.
My 1-star rating means it was once selected for consideration during my editing process, but then got demoted out of the selection. This is just my way of keeping tabs on something that I once liked, but it lost the battle to stay in my “Finals” group. I also like to keep tabs on these images, because they are my first port of call if I have to go back to my original shoot folders looking for something else.
We ended the first part of this travelogue series at lunch time on day three, as we finished our second shoot at Kolmanskop. Like Kolmanskop, Elizabeth Bay is an abandoned diamond mine community, with a couple of differences. The first being that in 2005 the Namibian Government in partnership with De Beers expanded the original diamond mine and started mining again. Because of this, we go through very strict security when entering Elizabeth Bay.
The other difference is the way the buildings are corroding. I imagine that it’s because of the sea air, but in this first image for today (below) you can see from the brickwork at the end of the building that the bricks are corroding more quickly than the mortar holding them together, making for some very strange shapes, as we’ll explore.
Elizabeth Bay Labourers’ Quarters
The partitions that you can see lining each side of this room are where the laborers slept. We heard one story that these laborers were slaves, but we were given an explanation of the old mine before we photographed it, and were told that the laborers were actually paid very well, so I’d like to believe that story instead. Either way, it couldn’t have been much fun sleeping in those partitions, but as a way to make a good living, if that’s what it was, I can imagine people were able to put up with it.
Again here, I’ve used the one-point perspective that I talked about in last week’s episode, as I really like the drama that this creates. I’ve allowed the light from the windows to overexpose a little, but I don’t mind that. My settings for this image were an aperture of f/14 at ISO 100 for a 0.8 sec exposure. I was using my Canon EF 11-24mm f/4 lens at 12mm, to get more of the room in, but also to emphasize the converging lines.
You can also see how the buildings are corroding in this external view of one of the buildings in Elizabeth Bay (below). As with many of the buildings, this one is partially collapsed, and if you look at the brickwork, in some areas the mortar is still there, but the bricks have corroded away.
Elizabeth Bay Abandoned Mine
As you can see, although the houses at Elizabeth Bay are mostly newer than Kolmanskop, the sea air really has taken its toll much more, and most of them are just not safe to go inside. Kolmanskop is getting that way, but it has a few more years in it yet I’d say. My settings for this image were f/14 with a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second at ISO 100.
This next photo is of a building that’s bearing up a little better on the sheltered side, and this is also the room that you’ll see on the cover of Freeman Patterson’s Odysseys book. It’s hard to resist shooting this iconic image, even though they all look the same because you have to shoot through a window, giving the same angle essentially (below).
It was actually cloudy when we arrived at Elizabeth Bay, so I was hoping to photograph the houses without the strong light coming through the windows, but it cleared up pretty much while we were getting our talk about the place, so we’re stuck with bright windows again, and I’m not one for doing two exposures and blending them together. It’s just not me. The settings for this photo were f/14 for 0.3 sec at ISO 100.
This last photo from Elizabeth Bay (below) is of one of the larger buildings at the start of the town, and as you can see I placed the sun through one of the gaps in the corroded building, to form a starburst. I converted this to black and white in Capture One Pro. I just felt like these external photos suited black and white more, as the sandy color wasn’t really adding much to the feel of the image, and they are more about the graphical shapes of the buildings.
Elizabeth Bay Building Corrosion
I shot this at f/14 again, with a 1/250 of a second shutter speed, at ISO 100. This was one of the first times I’ve done a starburst shot with the new Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS Mark II lens, and I’m very happy with how clean it is. Although I heard some people giving this new lens a bad rap, I’ve still had no problems with it at all, and continue to love the image quality and versatility.
The sun set as we headed back to our hotel for a second night in this area. As we started our drive towards Sossusvlei the next morning, shortly after passing Kolmanskop, I couldn’t resist stopping our vehicles for a walk up the hill at the side of the road for this scene (below).
The light was streaming through the clouds in sunbeams, catching the tops of the distant hills and sand dunes so beautifully we just had to stop. I’ve enhanced this a little in Capture One Pro, to add contrast to the dunes, and I’ve also run a graduated filter down the top third to darken the sky a little more and accentuate the sunbeams, but this is closer to how I recalled this magical scene.
My settings were f/11 at 1/320 of a second, at ISO 100. I moved away from my usual f/14 landscape aperture because I was hand-holding my 100-400mm at a focal length of 286mm, so I needed a slightly faster shutter speed.
We stopped for a number of photos along the way to Sossusvlei, but we’ll jump to the following morning now, and look at my images from the first visit to Deadvlei for this tour. We arrived well before the sun started to illuminate the sand dune behind the dead camel thorn trees, and I spent quite a lot of time walking around trying to find a composition that I have not already photographed and found that it’s getting difficult to do so.
Here’s my main photo for this first shoot (below) and it’s growing on me a little, but I prefer some of my previous compositions. I was attracted to this because it felt as though these two trees were like hands reaching out from the dried up clay pan, almost in desperation.
If you haven’t seen this type of photo from Deadvlei before, there are a few minutes each morning when the sun starts to climb over a sand dune to my back while shooting this, and there comes a point when it is only illuminating the dune and does not yet light up the clay pan, so we can make these beautifully surreal, almost silhouette-like photographs. My settings for this were f/14 for 1/20 of a second at ISO 100.
The line of light moves quickly along the edge of the clay pan, but if you are quick, you can get a few different compositions in before the phenomenon ends, so I ran along and grabbed this second shot, that some of you may recognize (below).
Deadvlei Silhouettes 2017
I didn’t check against my original photo, but this is an almost complete replica of my first Deadvlei Silhouettes image from my first visit in 2013, which you can see in episode 373 if you are interested. The trees to the left are exactly the same as they were four years ago, but unfortunately, the tree to the right is missing a branch from its left side. These trees are between 600 and 700 years old and don’t decay because it’s so dry in this basin, so I imagine someone has fooled around grabbing hold of the third branch, and actually broken it off, which I find incredibly sad.
Checking Focus in Live View
At f/14, the orange dune in the background isn’t completely sharp in these images, but it wouldn’t get much sharper if I stopped down to f/22, but then, of course, we start to see diffraction creep in, which makes everything in the image softer, so I like to avoid that. To me, the important thing is that the two trees are sharp. The trees to the left here are just slightly behind the tree to the right, so I like to check my depth of field.
To check my focus and depth of field in situations like this, I initially focus on one of the trees, then go into Live View and zoom in to 5X, and hold down the Depth of Field Preview button near the bottom right side of the lens mount on my camera. I check both trees to see if they are in focus, and if one is not, with the Depth of Field Preview button still pressed, I manually adjust the focus until it just becomes in focus, and then go back and check the other tree, to see if it’s still sharp. If it isn’t, I adjust the focus back a little and then check the other tree again. The actual focus may be somewhere between the trees, but as long as they are both sharp, I’m happy.
Although it’s quite rare, there were some beautiful clouds while we were in Deadvlei on this first morning, so I capitalized on that with the following image (below). Here you can see the trees in normal light, and get a feel for what the clay basin actually looks like illuminated as well. Anthropomorphizing as I often do, I saw the main tree in this shot as a Sorcerer, perhaps casting his spells on the other trees.
I tried a circular polarizer filter on this as well, to see if it would help me to deepen the blue in the sky, but I didn’t like the results. The sky became too dark, and the foreground also became dark as I exposed for the white in the clouds, so I went back to no filter for this image, which I shot at f/14 for 1/60 of a second at ISO 100.
After our morning visit to Deadvlei, we went to another sand dune for a while, then went back to the hotel for lunch, and to grab a few hours of welcome rest. Then, later in the afternoon, we headed back out again to photograph Dune #35. The dunes in Sossusvlei aren’t actually numbered, but people identify them by the distance from the entrance to the national park. The one you can see in this photo (below) is 35km in.
Intimate Dune #35
This dune is quite a walk from the road, perhaps around 2km, so when we looked back towards our safari vehicles from the base of this dune, they were smaller than ants. This does enable us to get quite intimate though, especially with my 100-400mm lens, used at 400mm as I did here.
The sun was perhaps 20 minutes from going down at this point, so the acute angle of the sun had started to highlight one side of the ripples in the sand, and the shadow forming on the other side gives beautiful definition.
In this final photo for today, shot at 158mm from a little further back, you can see a larger section of the same dune, and if you look closely can perhaps make out a bit of sand blowing off the crest.
I was using a circular polarizer filter for these images, partly to darken the blue in the sky, and I also found that the bright side of the dune not only became more vibrant, but the dark side became darker, which works well for this image.
I actually darkened the shadows just a little bit more using the Luma Curve in Capture One Pro, to increase the overall contrast.
I shot both of these last two images at f/14, for a 1/40 of a second exposure at ISO 400. I increased my ISO rather than doing a slower shutter speed because the wind was blowing quite strongly in gusts across the plane, and I didn’t want to risk it moving the camera during the exposure.
Just below the base of this image, there are some trees, which I also included in some of my shots, some of which I really like as well, but in order to keep these episodes to my usual ten photos, we’ll start to wrap it up there for this week. We’ll pick up the trail again next week starting from our second dawn shoot in Deadvlei, perhaps a shot or two of Dune #40, and then we drive up the Skeleton Coast to Walvis Bay and then on to Sesfontein, where we photographed the beautiful Himba people.
Complete Namibia Tour 2018
If you would like to join me in Namibia on my 2018 tour, please do check out the details and you can book from the tour page at https://mbp.ac/namibia. If you can’t wait until next year, you might also consider my Morocco tour from the end of October 2017 as well, which you can find at https://mbp.ac/morocco.
This week I share a slideshow of photographs from my first two visits to Namibia with Jeremy Woodhouse, which contains around 80 photographs and a number of short videos to depict this beautiful land and her amazing people.
This episode is a little late because I got caught up in creating the music for this slideshow. I got tired of fighting copyright claims for music that I have paid a license fee for, first with YouTube and now also on Vimeo, so I’m trying to create my own music when possible, but it’s time-consuming, and this one ran away with me for a few extra days.
Anyway, it’s ready now, in glorious 4K video, so grab a coffee, kick up your feet, and have a watch when you have 8 minutes to spare. The music still isn’t perfect, but it’ll have to do for now, as I’m out of time to work on it anymore. Don’t forget to click that little full-screen button either (the four little arrows pointing outwards, between HD and Vimeo below) to enjoy this in full resolution.
To build the slideshow I used Boinx Software’s FotoMagico 5 Pro, which has just been updated to version 5 and now fully supports 4K video, and I think this is probably the most stable new release of FotoMagico that I’ve used so far, so it was an absolute pleasure to work with. You can buy FotoMagico from the Boinx Software web site or the Apple App Store.
I’ll do a video on using FotoMagico 5 Pro either next week or shortly after, so stay tuned for that if you are interested. For now, I hope you enjoy the slideshow.
If you enjoy the photography and see yourself shooting in Namibia, I’m running a 17-day tour and workshop in Namibia in June 2017, and there are a few places left if you’d like to join us. Visit https://mbp.ac/namibia for details and to book your place.