Complete Namibia Tour 2018 Travelogue #5 (Podcast 625)

Complete Namibia Tour 2018 Travelogue #5 (Podcast 625)

This week we conclude our 2018 Complete Namibia Tour travelogue series, with our Wildlife Extravaganza in the Etosha National Park, literally completing the photography of the main photography genres that Namibia offers visitors.

When I put this epic trip together and called it the Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, I was very conscious that I wanted to make Etosha a part of it, and I am so pleased that I made this decision. Without Etosha on the Itinerary, you generally leave Namibia with a feeling that you didn’t do her wildlife justice. The thing is, there is wildlife across most of Namibia, and we had some beautiful opportunities before getting to Etosha, but you never feel that you’ve really done Wildlife until you spend at least a few days in this beautiful national park.

As I mentioned last week, we actually start our Etosha experience in a lodge with a private reserve adjacent to the park. The animals actually come and go as they please to an extent because neither the owners of the reserve nor the Etosha wardens can keep the animals from breaking down segments of the fences. The great thing about the private reserve though is that the guides know the place and the animals like the back of their hands. I don’t want to play down the knowledge that our two main guides and drivers for the trip have. They know the entire country like the back of their hands, but when in a small reserve, its often a good idea to take the game drives that they offer, as they can be very productive. 

A Lion’s Fierce Yawn!

At the end of last week’s travelogue, I shared a photo of a lioness that I’d shot accidentally in 3D, and that was literally one of the first images that I shot as we started our first game drive with the lodge after lunch on our first day at Etosha. A few minutes later we came across a male lion lying in some beautiful long golden grass, as you can see in the first photo that I wanted to share for today (bel0w).

Fierce Yawn
Fierce Yawn

In my first few shots of this majestic young lion, he was just sitting in the grass. That’s great because it gives me a moment to check my exposure, but then as they often do, he rolled his head back and gave us a great big yawn! If you know lions you can probably tell it’s a yawn, but it also might look like an almighty roar. I love the detail in his mouth with those huge teeth and the rasps on his tongue. To focus I had been careful to not catch the blades of grass in front of the lion, as that would leave the main subject soft.

Back Button Focus

At some points, I think I manually tweaked the focus to ensure that he was sharp. Because I use the back button to focus after I’ve manually tweaked the focus, I can simply not press the back AF button again, and because I have also disabled auto-focus on the shutter button, the camera doesn’t try to focus again as I release the shutter. This is one of the most useful aspects of using back button focus. You can switch between manual and autofocus just by pressing or not pressing the AF button.

In fact, if you are in a continuous focus mode, AI Focus on a Canon camera, you also have access to continuous focus, by keeping your finger on the AF button, or One Shot focus, by pressing the AF button to focus then releasing it. It’s like having three focusing modes without changing anything on the camera. My other settings for this shot were ISO 1600, to get a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second at f/8, and I was using my Canon 100-400mm Mark II lens at 400 mm. 

Rich Dyson

We’ll briefly hear from the co-host that I invited to help me with this year’s tour in the recorded comments that I’ll play you later, but I wanted to quickly give a shout out to Rich Dyson before we move on. Rich lives in Edinburgh, Scottland, and I’d traveled with him before on my own tours. Rich impressed with his professionalism and knowledge of photography, so I asked him to help out on this trip. I want to mention this now for a couple of reasons, but I was reminded of Rich at this point because when I showed this photo to Rich, he said: “You know when you show people this someone will pull you up for the grasses over the lion’s face.”

My reply to this was not really repeatable here, but the sentiment behind it was that if you can only see the grasses in front of the lions face in a shot like this, then you really need to develop a better appreciation for the artistic side of photography over the technical. This wasn’t directed at Rich of course, but anyone that might say that. I’m thinking people at a camera club, who have to find something negative to say because they aren’t able to talk in a positive way, and I think there are way too many people like that out there.

Anyway, before that develops into a full-on rant, I wanted to add that Rich was really good at helping people in our group that was struggling with some of the more basic aspects of photography. I often tend to start at a higher level and need to see some glazed over eyes before I realize that I’m talking over someone’s head, but Rich does short courses starting from beginner level in Edinburgh and is really good at it. Of course, he can help advanced photographers too, so if you live in or can get to his neck of the woods, and want a bit of help with your photography, get in touch with Rich Dyson at richdysonphotography.com.

The Scowl

Literally, just moments after I shot the previous image, as the lion closed his mouth, I got this next image (below) which looks to me like a scowl now, again, not really like a big frightening yawn! There is still grass in front of his face. More now than before in fact, and yes, I notice it, but I think these two photographs go beyond that and guess what, this is the sort of environment that lions like to rest in.

The Scowl
The Scowl

I don’t usually post two images of the same subject, but I’ve been going back and forth between these two photos for the last few weeks, and I simply can’t decide which one I prefer, so I decided to share both of them. They are both cropped very slightly, maybe 7% of the width of the image, so at 50 megapixels, the detail is absolutely incredible. I’m looking forward to getting fully caught up on business so that I can have an afternoon printing some of these photos out and just pouring over them. Having said that, I also now export my images at full size to the Apple Photos application, and because I have the 4K Apple TV, I can view them on my 55-inch 4K television as well, and they are really powerful images to see at that size and with this amount of detail. My settings were, of course, the same as the previous photo. It was not even a full second later. The EXIF data shows them as being shot at exactly the same time.

A Whittling Struggle

At this point, talking out loud as I prepare to record this episode, I’m struggling to whittle down my final selection of images to talk about. I like to keep each episode to ten photos, and I currently still have 14 in my selection, and that was a struggle. I could have easily done more episodes on this wildlife section of the trip alone, but I think we should move on next week, so there are some difficult decisions to make. What I’m going to say for now is that I will also be updating my Namibia Portfolio, and will no doubt include some of the images that I have to cut from my selection here, so if you are interested in seeing the larger body of work, please check out my portfolio at https://mbp.ac/namibiaportfolio or by following the Portfolios link in the menu above.

Edge Case

So, still pained by the photo I’ve just deleted from my selection, let’s take a look at some shots from a visit to a waterhole in Etosha on our second day there. I’m always amazed at the variety of different species of animals that visit some of the waterholes in Etosha, but trying to show them all in a single photo often doesn’t work for me. Although I like to show animals in their environment, especially when the environment is a beautiful landscape, when that isn’t the case, or when there is too much noise, I prefer to get in close and show the subjects in more detail, with as few distractions as possible.

When there are hundreds of zebra at a waterhole though, it can be somewhat difficult to decide exactly where to place the edges of your frame, as was the case with this next image (below). Although I’ve cropped this image on the top and bottom making it a 16:9 aspect ratio, the side edges are exactly as I framed this in the camera, to kind of make a point.

Burchell's Zebra at Waterhole
Burchell’s Zebra at Waterhole

I’m relatively happy with the framing of this image, especially on the left side, but I will probably clone out the bit of a nose poking into the frame just below the young zebra’s head in the middle of the left edge. The right edge is more complicated, and although I considered cropping in to just after the nose of the head in the bottom right corner, because I slightly crop his eye, and there is another zebra just above him with only half a head, I actually found that the chaotic right edge looks better than the cleaner one that I created, with the temporary crop that I tried. I guess that comes from the feeling that there is a continuation of the herd. My settings for this were ISO 800 for a 1/800 of a second shutter speed at f/14, and a focal length of 400 mm.

Elephant Skinship

At the same waterhole, 30 minutes later, I shot this next image (below) of two elephants bonding by rubbing their trunks together. Again, I went in tight on the composition, to reduce the image to what I feel are its necessary elements. This means that I have some animals across the top of the frame that are cropped off, but I opened up my aperture to f/9 to stop them from being too in focus. They still bother me a little bit, but the main subjects hold my attention enough for the blurred animals at the top of the frame not to be too much of an issue. I kind of like the zebra in the center of the frame, although it does fight for attention a little.

Elephant Bonding
Elephant Bonding

I have gone back and forth on this and many of my images as to whether or not I convert them to black and white. I think I prefer the zebra shot earlier in black and white, but this morning I went back to color with this image, as I like the earthy warm tones. With landscape photography, I generally know when I shoot the image if I will convert it to black and white or not, but for me, it’s not so clear-cut when it comes to wildlife. I generally have to convert it and then live with the black and white image for a while before I can fully decide. My settings for this image were ISO 800 for a 1/2000 of a second at f/9 and a focal length of 400 mm. I went to 1/2000 of a second because the elephants were jumping around a fair bit and I didn’t want them to be blurred.

White Rhino

That afternoon, we went back out for a game drive with the guides from our lodge and were treated with some more amazing opportunities. They asked us what we’d like to see, so we requested White Rhinoceros, as we knew there were some in their reserve. Sure enough, after an hour or so driving around, we were presented with a group of seven White Rhinos! I got some shots of the entire group, but here is one of my favorites shots, showing one of the Rhino in great light, allowing us to see the amazing texture in its thick skin, and there is a second Rhino looking in from behind the first (below). 

White Rhinos
White Rhinos

Also, as the bushes and trees in the foreground added a nice oval frame to the image, I added a vignette in Capture One Pro, darkening down the edges by almost two stops, and that helps to draw our eyes to these magnificent creatures. It is of course really nice to get to photograph Rhinos that have not been dehorned in an attempt to prevent poaching. It turns out that a dehorned rhino still has half a horn that can be gouged out if you are an unscrupulous poacher, so that isn’t as effective as they’d hoped anyway. It was a real treat to see these animals though, in such numbers and with their young as well. My settings for this were ISO 1000 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/10, and only 148 mm, so you can tell how close we were to them.

Wide, Not White

Another thing to note is that these animals are called White Rhino based on a bit of a mistake, more than being related to their color. The White is a misunderstanding of the word “wide” which was used to describe the shape of their wide mouths. The White Rhino is a grazer, which eats grass and other low foliage from the ground. You can see how wide and square shaped their mouths are in the previous image. 

In the following image though (below) we see a Black Rhino from the following day in Etosha, and you can perhaps make out his much more triangular shaped pointed mouth. The black rhino is a browser rather than a grazer which means he uses his hooked lips to eat leaves, branches, and roots. As the naming is based on a misunderstanding, these two rhino are also now sometimes referred to as the square-lipped and hooked lipped rhinoceros. You maybe can’t tell from these two photos, but the White Rhino is also up to almost double the size of the Black Rhino.

Black Rhinoceros
Black Rhinoceros

I had no trouble deciding on whether to stay in color with these images. With the rhino being basically large living grey-cards, they really lend themselves to black and white photographs, especially when the surroundings aren’t adding much color-wise. I think the conversion really helps to see the texture in their skin too. I added just over a one-stop vignette to this image as well, for the same reason as the previous image. I’m actually thrilled that we were able to photograph the two types of rhinoceros in Etosha, both with their horns as well. I had shots of them from last year, but none with horns. Now, of course, I fully support any attempt to stop the poaching of animals in Africa, but these were very special photography opportunities, that I was very grateful for. My settings for this shot were ISO 800 for a 1/800 of a second shutter speed at f/11, and I had my 1.4X Extender fitted to my 100-400mm lens for a focal length of 560 mm.

A Journey of Giraffes

The next photo (below) is another image that I have decided to overlook an imperfection for the greater good. As we headed for our lodge for the second two nights we’d spend in Etosha, we stopped to photograph this “journey” of giraffes. I love that collective noun for giraffes on the move. A Journey! How cool is that!? The imperfection might not be obvious in the web-sized image, but as with the Oryx image I spoke about in episode 623, the heat is causing the air to shimmer like a mirage, so the giraffes are actually all wobbly. We can, of course, see exactly what they are, and depending on how you look at it, the shimmer might even add to the story by showing us that the air is hot.

A Journey of Giraffes
A Journey of Giraffes

I toyed with the idea of cropping this down to a 16:9 or even 2:1 aspect ratio, but the foreground isn’t distracting, and I placed the giraffes at the top of the frame to emphasise the fact that they were in the distance, as well as minimize the boring pale blue sky, so I think I’m going to leave this in the original 3:2 ratio crop, at least for my base copy. I may crop it for specific uses later, but that goes for all of my work really. My settings for this image were ISO 800 at a 1/1000 of a second, at f/11, and a focal length of 400 mm.

Elephant at Waterhole

I’m really quite happy with the next image (below) as I’ve been hoping for a shot of an elephant looking straight back at me from the waterhole for a number of years. I’m particularly happy that the waterhole looks relatively natural because from a few paces to the right of the frame here the concrete edge of the waterhole starts to become visible and doesn’t look nice at all. I would have liked to have a bit more of the elephant’s reflection in the water, but this waterhole is very narrow, so if I pulled back any more, you start to see the bank on this side. Still, I like the way the elephant’s ears are spread out a little, but that he’s not really in a defensive pose. 

Elephant at Waterhole
Elephant at Waterhole

I decided to convert this to black and white because I think it adds to the mood, and as with the rhino shots, it helps us to see the texture and detail in the skin of the elephant. I also think the shadows look better in black and white, and with the lack of color, I think we depend on the contrast between the shadows and the highlights a little more. My settings were ISO 800 for a 1/800 of a second at f/11, and a focal length of 271 mm. I have cropped in on this slightly in post.

Cheetah Family

The following day we heard from a few people and also checked the sighting log at a nearby park office, and there had been multiple sightings of both a family of cheetah and leopards in the same area. After looking around for a while, we figured that the leopard sighting was probably someone somehow mistaking the cheetah for a leopard, but we did indeed find the cheetah. In fact, despite us driving along the area of the sighting for a while, on our second pass, our driver and guide found the mother sitting on the edge of the salt basin so far away that literally no-one in the car would have thought it was any more than a stick or small bush. Surely enough though, I shot a photo of it at 400mm and zoomed in to 100% on my camera, and confirmed it was indeed a cheetah. In my photo, it was probably around 20 pixels tall.

We waited for a while, but she was obviously not going to come close enough for us to photograph her for a while, so we decided to go and get lunch, and hoped that she’d come back to the shade of the closer trees as the midday sun got the better of her. We also knew that she had to be hiding her cubs somewhere, and that may well have also been the shadow of the trees that we could see. This turned into a bit of a test of the group’s patience, as after lunch she did come a little closer to the road, and we started to see her with the three cubs that had been sighted, but we weren’t really able to get any great shots for a number of hours. We voted, in our car, and a little bit of persuasion on my part led to my group staying, and the second vehicle went off to try and find something else to shoot.

Personally, I’m pleased we stayed, because there were a few beautiful shots for the making shortly before 4 pm, as the cheetah family became a little active, as you can see in this photo (below). We can see the mother looking out vigilantly for any possible predators that might threaten her cubs, but also here we can see all three of the cubs up and about, with one of them catching some nice light on his face as he leans against the low bow of the tree. There were very few moments when all three cubs were visible like this, along with the mother, so I’m really pleased to have been able to shoot this.

Cheetah with Cubs
Cheetah with Cubs

The other thing that I really like about this shot is that it’s also a relatively nice landscape image, with the golden foliage and camelthorn trees, and the plain in the distance just visible through the trees. At 400 mm there was also an element of luck, as this image is clear of the shimmer that we sometimes see from the heat, but a few of my other images of these cheetahs were a bit wobbly from the heat, so I was really relieved to see that this one was fine. My settings were ISO 1600 for a shutter speed of 1/2500 of a second at f/8. I was set at a high shutter speed because the mother was also obviously hungry, and there were springbok in the area, so I wanted to be ready if she gave chase. 

One of the great things about photographing in Etosha is that people are very open with their sighting information. They will sometimes stop and ask us what we’ve seen, but quite often if someone has seen something cool, they’ll just stop as they drive past and let us know. After we’d got what I believe were the best shots to be made of the cheetah, with of course the risk of missing a chase for a Springbok, a car stopped and told us that there were some elephants at the waterhole 10 minutes down the road from where we were, so we decided to go and check that out.

Dust Bath

When we got there, the elephants were moving away from the waterhole, but one had stopped, and with one foot up on a rock or dirt mound, was picking up dust in his trunk and throwing it up onto his back, having a dust bath (below). With the sun behind the elephant, it was almost a silhouette shot until I opened up the shadows in post, but that also gave me some great backlight for the dust, highlighting against the side of the elephant, so I was happy with the camera angle.

Elephant Dust Bath
Elephant Dust Bath

We can also see a few springbok on the plain in the background, and that distant shimmer, a telling sign that we’re in Africa, even though it was towards the end of the day in the middle of the Namibian winter. It’s actually a really comfortable time to visit, as it gets hot, but not uncomfortably hot, and the mornings and evenings are actually quite cold, so we generally don’t have any problems sleeping etc. Anyway, my settings for this image were ISO 800 for a 1/1600 of a second exposure at f/11, and a focal length of 400 mm.

Our Galactic Core

OK, so that’s our ten photos Etosha National Park wildlife photos, but I wanted to share one last bonus image that I shot on our last night in the park before heading back to Windhoek to fly home. One of the great things about being in the desert is when there is no moon, the Milky Way looks spectacular. Before I went to bed, I decided to shoot a few frames of the sky, and although I shot some wide angle images with my 11-24mm f/4 lens, with the lights of the lodges at the base of the frame, I actually much prefer this image, shot with my new Canon 85mm f/1.4 lens, to just singled out a small portion of the Milky Way (below).

Milky Way Galactic Core
Milky Way Galactic Core

The f/1.4 lens is actually so bright with its wide aperture, that you can see the stars through the viewfinder, which is nice, as I have only ever done astrophotography with f/2.8 and f/4 lenses in the past, and especially at f/4, you just can’t do that. I took a few shots as I refined my framing, to show this portion of the Milky Way, and having checked on the NASA website after getting home, it seems that I had actually framed up the center of our galaxy, the Galactic Core, where there is a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A-star, just slightly below and left of the center in this image.

The 500 Rule

Because I was able to see the points of the stars, I was able to focus manually until they were sharp, and I simply decreased my shutter speed over a few frames until I got to 5 seconds, which was the point where I could see that the stars were almost perfectly round, instead of being elongated by the rotation of the earth. Although I’ve heard of the 500 Rule I have to admit that I didn’t really know what it was, until I spoke about the photo the following day with a member of the group who is into astrophotography, and I learned that to get the shutter speed for an image of the stars without them becoming elongated, you simply divide 500 by your focal length. Some people use 600, but 500 divided by 85, my focal length, is 5.88 seconds, and because I’d actually seen a little bit more elongation of the stars at 6 seconds, I was happy that I’d used 5, and that the calculation gave me confirmation that I was pretty much spot on. 

Participants’ Comments

As I mentioned, the following day is really a drive back to Windhoek, where we spend one more night, before everyone flies home, so that really brings us to the end of this travelogue series. As usual, though, no trip would be complete without doing a roundtable with my digital recorder, to get a brief comment from each member of the group, which I have embedded into the audio and you can listen with the player at the top of this post.

As I mentioned at the start of this travelogue series, this really was a great group, and it’s lovely to hear their comments again now, just over four weeks after the tour finished. Of course, I’m fortunate that I have been able to travel with hundreds of really nice people over the eleven years that I’ve been running my tours now, but it’s not often that everyone gets along quite as well as this group did. It’s not just me, but really, everyone seemed to click beautifully, making it a pleasure to travel with these people.

Complete Namibia Tour 2019

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. It really is an amazing tour, so give it some thought and I look forward to getting a chance to travel with you in this beautiful land.

Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop 2019

Show Notes

Check out the 2019 (or future) Namibia tour here: https://mbp.ac/namibia

Visit Rich Dyson’s website here: http://richdysonphotography.com

Music by Martin Bailey


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Complete Namibia Tour 2017 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 578)

Complete Namibia Tour 2017 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 578)

Having just completed my Namibia tour, today we start a series of travelogue style podcasts to walk you through our adventures as we circumnavigated this beautiful country.

The Complete Namibia Tour starts with landscape photography, then we do a bit of cultural photography as we photograph the Himba people, then we finish with wildlife, as we move on to the Etosha National Park.

Editing Namibia

I shot a total of 5700 images, with just over 1,200 of these from the first 7 days during which we focus on landscape work. I shot 640 during the two days that we photographed the Himba people, and the remaining 3860 images were from the last four days of wildlife work. With our first day in Etosha resulting in almost 2,000 of those images.

I arrived home late on Tuesday evening last week, and I had a ton of work to catch up on, so I wasn’t able to release a podcast last week as I’d hoped. In fact, it took me until yesterday to just complete my first pass through my images marking everything that I wanted to look at again with 3 stars.

To make it easier to whittle down my selection, since I started using Capture One Pro a year ago, I create a Smart Album that automatically picks up 3-star images from all days of the tour. When I finished my pass through the final day of the tour, I had 1,128 three-star images. That means I’d selected one in five of my images, or twenty percent, and that’s quite high, especially when shooting wildlife, so that’s a tribute to how productive the trip had been.

I spent the rest of Sunday editing down my selection while tweaking the look of the images a little as well, but by the end of the day I still had 1,028 images in my selection, so I moved on to selecting the first ten that I will talk about today. I’ll finalize my selection over the coming week.

The Quiver Tree Forest

After the first night in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, when the group of 10 participants for this tour began to get acquainted, although eight of them were people that I’d traveled with before, we drove until shortly before sundown to our first location, which is the Quiver Tree Forest near the town of Keetmanshoop. We arrived in time to shoot a few images of the Quiver Trees with the warm light before sunset hitting their trunks, giving them a shine like real gold. I won’t share a photo of this here because they aren’t really anything special.

For me, the magic starts at the Quiver Tree Forest after the sun has gone down. The first part of this is the warm glow on the horizon after sunset, which makes a beautiful backdrop for the trees silhouetted against the red to blue gradation sky, as you can see in this first image for today (below).

Dusk Quiver Trees

Dusk Quiver Trees

As I look for a composition in the Quiver Tree Forest, I’m looking for a number of things. The first, of course, is a nicely shaped tree to become my primary subject. Then I start looking for secondary subject trees, that I can also place in pleasing spots around the frame. I can’t move the trees of course, but by changing my position I can alter the relationship between the trees.

As I do this, the third thing that I’m highly conscious of is the separation between the trees. Ideally, I like to get separation down to the base of the trunk of my main tree, but that wasn’t possible with this composition, although I did shorten my tripod legs to get the camera low enough to get good separation between the trees branches and the distant trees. I was also consciously ensuring that I had space either side of the main trees on each side of the frame.

My settings for this image were ISO 100 at f/14 for a 6 sec exposure. I was using my Canon 24-105mm Mark II lens.

Milky Way

The moon was going to be out in the evening while we were at this location, so we didn’t go back to do some astrophotography until 4 am the following morning when there’d be an hour or so after the moon had set before Astronomical Twilight kicked in.

Astronomical Twilight is when there is enough light in the sky to stop you from being able to see the stars so well. Up to that point, the sky is basically black, which enabled us to make photographs like this one of the Milky Way behind a silhouetted Quiver Tree (below).

Quiver Tree and Milky Way

Quiver Tree and Milky Way

I really enjoyed this hour of shooting, as me and my group were the only people in the forest, and everyone was calling out to each other to time their light-painting to avoid ruining each others’ shots. I too did some light painting, but I’m not a huge fan of the results. In trying to keep the number of images I show to a minimum, I have left out some of the wider shots as well, with more trees along the bottom, as I really like this look, with the one tree almost like a stencil, cutting out its own shape from the star-filled sky.

I was using my Canon 11-24mm lens, mostly very wide, but I zoomed to 24mm to enlarge the tree and Milky Way for a few last frames, of which this is one. I processed the image in Capture One Pro, adjusting the white balance slightly, and increased the contrast to 10 and saturation to 15, and with a Luma Curve, I darkened the black of the sky slightly, while increasing the brightness of the mid-tones, making the Milky Way a little brighter. I also increased the Clarity and used an Adjustment Brush to brush in more Clarity just over the Milky Way to make it pop a little more.

My settings were ISO 3200 at f/4 for 20 seconds. This is pretty much my standard setting for shooting the Milky Way. If you use an f/2.8 lens, you can go with an ISO of 1600 instead, for similar results. The important thing is to focus the lens correctly before shooting, rather than simply cranking it around as far as it will go, as this will usually take the focus past infinity. I manually adjust the lens to the line marking Infinity, then zoom in and check that the stars are sharp in a test shot, before proceeding to shoot. As you can’t really see to frame your image, you generally need to do a few test shots anyway to get your composition right.

Giant’s Playground

After photographing the Milky Way for an hour, we drove down the road a little way to photograph the Giant’s Playground as the warmth of the sun started to illuminate the horizon, as you can see in this photo (below). I shot this shortly before six o’clock, and if I recall, the sun was going to rise at around 6:25, about thirty minutes later, so this is a beautiful time of day for this kind of photography.

Giant's Playground at Dawn

Giant’s Playground at Dawn

Like the first image that we looked at today, the smooth gradation from deep orange to blue is something that really appeals to me. I’m not much of a sunrise person, in as much as I really don’t find images of the sun’s disk that appealing, but this thirty minutes earlier light is pretty special if you have something like these rock formations in the foreground to add interest.

You might notice a little bit of digitization or steps in the gradation of this image on the web sized photograph because I compress these images quite aggressively on the Website for SEO purposes. Try clicking on the image to see the larger version which may be better, but if not, you’ll just have to trust me that the original is totally smooth. My settings were f/14 for 3.2 sec at ISO 100.

Kolmanskop

We went back to our lodge for breakfast after this, then drove over to the coast and the town of Lüderitz, where we’d spend the next two nights, giving us access to the deserted diamond mine community at Kolmanskop and the deserted part of the active mine at Elizabeth Bay. We’ll move on to Elizabeth Bay images next week, but for today, we’ll concentrate on my Kolmanskop work from the afternoon of day two and morning of day three.

There is actually currently a bit of controversy in Namibia over a proposed change of the town name Lüderitz to its original name with the beautiful Nama language clicks. The proposed new name is, as far as I can remember, pronounced !Namiǂnüs, where the exclamation mark is one kind of click, and the equals symbol with a vertical bar through it, is an IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbol for a palatal or alveolar click. I know I’m probably butchering this pronunciation, but that’s the best I can do.

So, as I mentioned, Lüderitz or !Namiǂnüs is our base to get to the deserted diamond town of Kolmanskop, which to me is mostly about the sand inside the deserted houses. In this first image (below) you can see that the sand in this building has reached the light switch. I love to find buildings where the doors can be lined up like this, giving a greater sense of how the sand is reclaiming these buildings.

Kolmanskop Doors

Kolmanskop Doors

As it was the afternoon, there are some patches where the bright sunlight is catching the sand and the door frames, and I generally try to expose my images so that this is just blowing out slightly, and then I bring that back under control in Capture One Pro. I especially like this room because the blue and the color of the sand are complimentary colors, and we can see splashes of color on three more walls as the eye moves through each of the rooms visible. My settings for this image were f/14 for 0.5 sec at ISO 100.

Light Rays

Light Rays

I owe this next shot to my friend Jeremy Woodhouse who kindly showed me this room when I traveled to Namibia with him for my first two visits.

This room (right) is at the end of a larger building but totally closed off from the rest, so you have to sneak in through the bottom panel of a broken door to get to this. In the afternoon the light streams in through the holes in the corrugated steel over the window, and if you throw sand against the wall, it makes the beams of light stand out like this.

I initially made the same mistake as I did when I shot this four years ago, which was to stand in my own light through the doorway, and that leaves a shadow on the wall on the far right side. Luckily I noticed I was doing that and reshot a few more frames before moving on.

In some ways, I actually like the eery feel of the shadow, but I think I prefer the cleaner blue wall instead.

I shot this at f/14 with a 2 sec exposure at ISO 100. Again, I adjusted my exposure until I was just starting to overexpose the spots of light on the floor and in the hole in the window, and then brought them back under control with the sliders in Capture One Pro

I went on, continuing to photograph the deserted buildings for the rest of the afternoon, and found myself at the school at the very end of the town, before making my way back towards the entrance again. I will share a shot of the school to finish with today, but we’ll finish this first afternoon with a shot from one of the larger buildings near the entrance (below).

Kolmanskop Hall at Dusk

Kolmanskop Hall at Dusk

I like this room at this time of day, as the late afternoon sunlight coming in from the door and windows to the left really warm it up visually. I’d love it if there weren’t so many footprints in this room, but unfortunately, we can’t stop people from walking through it, especially as there are two doors, and curiosity generally seems to win out. This was a 4 sec exposure again at f/14, with ISO 100.

Sand Dune Inside Room

Sand Dune Inside Room

There are a few rooms at Kolmanskop that have no roof, so the light shines through gaps in the slats between the first and second floor, making for very beautiful graphical images.

I’d shot one of these during this first afternoon, but the sun was too far over in the sky, so I decided to go back the following day.

I also rediscovered a beautiful room that I photographed during my first visit in 2013 but didn’t find during my 2015 visit. I made a beeline for this room again the following morning, on our second visit to Kolmanskop for this year, as you can see here (right).

At this time though, the angle of the light through the slats was a little too acute, so the slats were only illuminating the walls. I shot this image, then went for a walk around, with the intention of coming back later when the sun would perhaps be at a more cooperative angle.

Unfortunately, shortly after I shot this image, the mist from the sea rolled in, and the sun was gone for the rest of the morning.

That helps in some ways because it reduces the contrast in some of the rooms, so I reshot a lot of images from the previous day, but I was a little sad to not get a nice high-resolution version of one of my favorites images from Kolmanskop in this miniature sand dune house. Still, I don’t dislike this image, which I shot at f/14 for 0.5 sec at ISO 100.

As the mist rolled in I was actually making my way up to the second and probably more famous slat-roofed house, so that shot was not possible on this trip either, but here is a photograph of the room next to that famous room, as once again, I really like the multiple doors and piled-up sand in this one (below).

Sand Piled High

Sand Piled High

I also like the remains of the wallpaper on the walls in this image and the way the varying degrees of roof collapse give each room a different brightness, making the layers between the rooms much more prominent. You can literally spend days in Kolmanskop just walking from building to building making this kind of photograph. My settings here were f/14 for 0.1 sec at ISO 100.

This next photograph is a reshoot of an image from the previous day because the mist had reduced the contrast. There were large splashes of bright light on the sand in my first shot, so I was happy to be able to reshoot this with more muted colors and less harsh highlights (below).

Kind of Blue

Kind of Blue

The door to this room is jammed closed by the sand, but if I recall, I shot this through a missing wooden panel, so I’m pointing the camera upwards from a kneeling position, as you might be able to tell from the perspective. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I do find this sort of photograph ver appealing, with the sand gradually reclaiming these houses back to the desert, and the beautiful colors on the houses. I shot this at f/14 for a 2 sec exposure at ISO 100.

I shot many buildings at ISO 400 as well on this second morning, to avoid camera shake from the high winds, but on close inspection, the ISO 100 versions were all fine too, so my Really Right Stuff tripod isn’t losing its edge, even after ten years of the heavy use I’ve given it.

I found myself back at the old schoolhouse at the far end of town by mid-morning. The people that now run Kolmanskop as a tourist attraction market it as a Ghost Town, and of course in many ways that’s a good description. Many of the buildings have an eerie feel, but none, even the darkest closed-off rooms, actually scare me like the schoolhouse does. I don’t know if it’s just because I don’t like schools, but I always get the creeps when I walk through the large hall to the entrance to this corridor, and never feel quite right as I make photographs like this one (below).

Kolmanskop School Corridor

Kolmanskop School Corridor

I actually chose this shot over my photo from the previous day, because the morning light coming in through the windows to the right give this image a much warmer, more inviting tone. They also nicely illuminate the broken glass in the middle of the corridor. But the hair on the back of my head just stood up again as I looked at this image. For some reason, it just gives me the heebie-jeebies. As you might have guessed, I shot this at f/14, with a 0.2 sec exposure, at ISO 100.

One Point Perspective

Another reason for the tension in this image, is, of course down to my decision to employ this centralized one-point perspective composition that Stanley Kubrick used extensively in his movies to create tension and drama. I have shot Kolmanskop like this a lot during my three visits, and just really enjoy this look, as spooky as it is.

Anyway, we’ll pick up the trail in the next episode as we visit Elizabeth Bay after lunch on this third day of the tour. I’ll hopefully have a better idea of how many episodes this series will become at that point, but I think we’ll be looking at probably four episodes, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

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.

Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop 2018

Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop 2018


Show Notes

Details of Namibia 2018 tour: https://mbp.ac/namibia

Video of examples of Stanley Kubrick’s one-point perspective videography: https://youtu.be/flq0t4jrqJQ

Music by Martin Bailey


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