This week we continue our journey around Namibia, as we leave Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, and head north, to Walvis Bay, then on to the wonderful Himba people near Sesfontein further north still.
Before we continue with this travelogue, I’d like to mention that for many years, on request from a number of listeners, I have been calling out my camera settings with most of the images that I share, but over the last few days, I’ve implemented a new Lightbox plugin on my website that enables me to share the shooting information automatically with all images that include that information. I know that this won’t help if you are only listening, so I will continue to call out these settings when it is important to understand a technique or why the image is the way it is, but when it’s not so important, I’m not going to call this out any more moving forward.
So, if you ever look at one of the images that I’m talking about and wonder what the settings were, please just click on them to open up the Lightbox, and the information should be there. Because I have been consciously ensuring that this information is embedded in my images since I started the podcast in 2005, this new Lightbox seems to be successfully displaying the settings from the very start, so this change brings new information to pretty much every image I’ve ever uploaded.
Walvis Bay Flamingoes
Also, keep in mind that posts are always available with a short-link using the episode number, so to see the shooting information for the images we’ll talk about today, for example, you’ll need to go to https://mbp.ac/668. We’re going to start with a couple of shots from Walvis Bay, as the sun dropped low in the sky over the South Atlantic Ocean. I needed a fast shutter speed of 1/5000 of a second to keep the incredibly bright water in check for these shots, but I like the effect with the flamingoes silhouetted against the glistening water.
I’m a little bit disappointed that there was a third flamingo overlapping with the two that did a courtship dance, but I only saw them do this once, and that third guy wasn’t going anywhere, so I guess I have to store this one away in my pile of shots that I know I can do better, given enough opportunities. I think that’s how we get better though. If everything just worked out perfectly every time we raised the camera, photography would be a pretty boring pursuit.
I’m occasionally teased on my workshops for saying that I’m not a sunset person, or sunrise person, and I guess I should actually try to find a way to word it better to avoid confusion, but the longer version is, that I find just a sunset, or just a sunrise, with no additional elements of interest in the frame, to be incredibly boring. If however, there is something that can be included to add to the interest of the image, I will still shoot a sunset or sunrise on occasion, and this photo is one such occasion.
As the sun reached the horizon, me and a number of my participants were searching along the beach for some flamingoes that would add interest, and hopefully lift their heads up, but on this first of our two evenings to try this, it didn’t really happen. I also needed to be closer to the surface of the water too, but without a head up high, I preferred this shot, with the flamingoes walking along in the water, looking for a suitable spot to spend the night. Once again, I was left wanting more, but that’s what makes this so fun and challenging, and I do like this second shot a lot as well, although it’s always nice to aim higher.
Flamingoes in the Mist
Having talked so much about the Cranes in the Mist that I shoot during my Hokkaido Winter Wildlife Tours, it almost feels like I’m cheating by mentioning Flamingoes in the Mist, but this is exactly what we were treated to the following morning while we were in Walvis Bay, as you can see in this next image. The morning mist softened the light beautifully, almost like the flamingoes were sitting in a huge soft box for us. Of course, mist doesn’t hang around if there is any wind, so the surface of the water was also very smooth, giving us some very nice reflections. It wasn’t mill-pond smooth, but for the Atlantic Ocean, it was pretty close, and probably the smoothest I’ve seen it at this spot, so this was a very nice bonus for me and the group.
I had to chuckle to myself as well because our local driver and guide had been concerned as we talked about Walvis Day in one of our planning discussions because he thought the mist would cause us problems. Even though he understands photographers’ needs, I think people often fail to understand how much of a blessing a bit of mist can be photographically. Of course, a few years ago, it would indeed have been more of a problem, because even at f/8 I had to crank up my ISO to 3200 to get this shot, and even though I’m using my Expose to the Right techniques to keep the grain down, ISO 3200 would have been a problem until a few generations of cameras ago.
As we started to photograph in the mist, I honestly thought it would burn off quickly as the sun rose, but it hung around for a few hours, giving us countless opportunities, including some flamingo fly-ins in the mist, but I’ll save those shots for another time, so that we can keep the pace going.
Flamingoes with Rectangular Sun
This next shot is also an almost there image, as I’d wished that I could have gotten at least one flamingo with its head up into the sun’s disk, but this is as good as it got for me, as we photographed them at sunset on our second day in Walvis Bay. I was envious of one of my guests that did indeed get a head against the sun’s disk, but that’s how it goes. We can’t win them all, and of course, for me, my guests getting great shots is a win of a different kind, so it still makes me very happy.
I do still like this shot a lot as well. The articulated LCD on the Canon EOS R enabled me to hold the camera right down on the sand just in front of the waterline, so I have that huge swath of red sky reflecting in the out of focus water in the bottom third of the shot. I also found it necessary to tweak the focus manually to ensure that the band of focus fell perfectly across where the flamingoes were. By the time these few started to lift their heads up, the sun was a bit too far down, and the one on the left with his head the highest isn’t even over the sun, but it’s a close one, and definitely not so bad that I feel I should throw it out.
The Zeila Shipwreck
The following morning, we left Walvis Bay for an epic drive up the Skeleton Coast, to Palmwag, where we’d stay for a future two nights. An hour or so into our drive takes us by the Zeila Shipwreck, which is always worth a stop. This is one of the few spots on this trip were we use an neutral density filter, and if I recall, I grabbed my three-stop ND to take my shutter speed out to one second. I love photographing waves crashing at one second, as it is just long enough to register the movement of the water, but it still leaves enough texture and form in the sea for us to be able to actually see what it is doing.
You can see what I mean with those waves crashing against the stern of the Zeila, and also the shape of that wave that is rolling in front of the vessel in the middle of the frame. And I also really like that long line of one-second-surf along the beach. I was also timing my images to get mostly wet sand along the beach as well, which means a wave has just come a way up the beach and is now drawing back out. Because of all of these timing considerations, for this type of image I generally use a cable release as opposed to a two-second timer, because it’s much harder to get it just right when using a timer.
Actually, now that I’m using the Canon EOS R, I have switched from using my old cable releases to Canon’s BR-E1 which is a Bluetooth Wireless Remote Control. I really like this little remote release, as it’s small and easy to carry around, although I almost lost it at our last lodge because it’s so small it had slipped under the lip of a coffee tray in my room. Luckily one of the members of the staff found it during a scan of my room and caught up with us at our vehicle before we left, so he earned a nice tip that morning, and I didn’t have to buy a new remote control. It did make me think though that I need to put a lanyard on it, to make it more obvious where it is, and maybe also just hang it around my neck rather than keeping it in my pocket most of the time.
The Himba People
Namibia is having a very severe drought this year, and although that is terrible on many levels that I won’t go into now, we had been worried because we’d heard that the Himba people that we usually visit during this trip had gone nomad searching for water for their goats. Luckily though, as we made our way up to Palmwag which is a couple of hours south of where they live, we did get confirmation that they had returned, so we were now finally able to look forward to visiting them.
If you’ve been following my photos from Namibia over the years, you’ll know that I have been photographing one young girl literally since she was a small child, and this year I was blown away to find that she’d transitioned from the two plaits that are a mark of the young Himba girls, to the many plaits coated in ocher clay, as you can see in this photograph of her. I’m going to put the two images of this young lady that I’d like to share side by side, for formatting purposes.
I was actually worried following last years tour that I might not be able to photograph this girl again, because she was busy tending the goats, and it seemed to inconvenience her to come and be photographed. This year though, in her new regalia including the large shell that signifies that she’s now eligible to marry, she has truly transformed into a young woman, although still so young that she isn’t allowed to speak in a loud voice like her older sisters.
The second photograph that I’m sharing of her was a gift, maybe a prize for my diligence with the camera. We literally only spend a few minutes at a time with these people inside their huts, and I had just asked her to sit slightly differently, and as she rocked forwards, she paused for a brief moment, and I got a glimpse of an expression that I’d not seen before, and find enigmatic and thought–provoking, as though she herself is in deep thought. It was, of course, just a fleeting moment, but I think this is probably one of my favorite photographs of her to date, so I’m happy that I kept tuned in and caught this expression when I had the chance.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L lens
I’d also like to mention before we move on, that I shot these images using the new Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L lens, which is absolutely stunning! The 85mm f/1.4 lens that I used here last year is nice, but it’s a bit too long a focal length to work inside these huts, plus, the nearest focus distance is a little on the long side as well. The new RF 50mm can focus as close as 40 cm compared to 85 cm for the EF 85mm f/1.4 lens, and that is a huge bonus.
The image quality is out of this world, and to be honest, I have always wanted a 50 mm f/1.2 lens from Canon that actually works. I wanted to like their EF 50 mm f/1.2L lens but the design was a joke, with the focus shifting to the point that it back-focused at close range, which made it pretty much unusable for me. I actually bought the EF 50mm lens twice, hoping to get a good copy, clinging at straws really, but neither worked, so I had to send them back. I’m very happy to say though that the RF 50mm f/1.2 L lens does not have this problem, so it’s great to finally have a working wide aperture prime at this focal length in my camera bag.
The Himba Dance
After spending a number of hours with the Himba people they danced for us, as you can see in this next image. I am always conscious of the need to avoid making this kind of cultural experience a tourist experience, but the feeling that I get is that they truly enjoy this dancing, and having visited so many times, I know that when they don’t want to do this, they just don’t, so it feels like a nice authentic experience.
I switched to my Canon RF 24-105mm lens for this shot, so that I could zoom out a little, to 35mm. I like the dynamism with the dust being kicked up by the lady dancing, and to freeze that, I increased my ISO to 1250 and my shutter speed to 1/1250 of a second. It’s really hard to pick just one shot of this, as I have hundreds, but the dust and the child walking into the frame are fun, and I like the expressions on the faces of the people standing around the dancing lady.
Later in the day we arranged to go back to the settlement to photograph the Himba people bringing their goats back to the coral. Again, I have lots of shots to chose from, but in the weeks following the trip this one has become a favorite, as it shows the regalia and the hair of the Himba ladies as well as the young girls, and how they have their hair. The goat herding is also an important part of the Himba way of life, and I feel so privileged to be able to document it as we do on my Complete Namibia Tours.
In case you are wondering, we do help these people out by buying some of their souvenirs, which has become an important part of their culture as the tourist industry gradually grows nearer, and more importantly, we go to the nearby town and buy them a lot of provisions that they would otherwise find difficult to get back to their settlement. I feel as though we do right by these people that kindly let us into their lives, and I treasure the experiences that we are able to share with them each year.
Greater Kudu and Bottle Tree
As we drove back to our base one of the guests noticed this Greater Kudu on the top of a rocky hill at the side of the road, so we stopped for a few last shots as the warm evening sun catches the basalt rock providing a striking backdrop for this magnificent antelope.
I’d usually be more concerned about having the small tree in front of the Kudu, but having that Bottle Tree to the right is a nice bonus, and in my opinion outweighs the negative aesthetic of the thin tree trunks over the kudu.
As I mentioned earlier, Namibia is having a terrible drought this year, meaning that the wildlife was behaving differently, and in many ways, we were lucky to see as much as we did. We saw people cutting the grass at the sides of the roads in some areas so that it could be sold and transported to other areas for farmers to feed to their livestock. Our guide told me that it’s a difficult choice for the farmers though, as many of their animals will probably die later this year anyway. I can’t imagine what it would be like to raise livestock in a country like Namibia where the climate can literally wipe out your livelihood with the drop of a hat. Then again, before moving to Japan, I couldn’t imagine living somewhere where earthquakes and tidal waves can sweep aways 10s of thousands of lives just as easily, so I guess it’s what you get used to, but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept, and doesn’t stop me feeling for the people and animals of Namibia as they work through this particularly hard year.
Despite the drought though, the Etosha National Park was still amazing, and next week I’m going to try and whittle down the thirty or so images that I still have in my selection to a final ten images, so that we can finish this series and move on to something else.
Complete Namibia Tour and Workshop 2020 and 2021
In the meantime, if you might be interested in joining me for either my 2020 or 2021 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, I have a few places still left on both tours, and you can find details of each tour at https://mbp.ac/namibia2020 and https://mbp.ac/namibia2021 respectively.
Today for the first time in a while, I’m going to walk you through my thinking as I made a number of photographs during my extended stay in Okinawa recently, after completing the first Pixels 2 Pigment workshop that I did down on that beautiful island.
I flew into Okinawa on August 2, on the tail end of two tropical typhoons that had threatened to keep me from making the flight. The weather wasn’t great for most of the nine days we’d spend there, but as usual, that’s often not a bad thing from a photography perspective, as we’ll see.
Before I left for Okinawa I’d done a search on 50opx for shots from photographers on the island, and one of the things I saw a lot of that I decided I wanted to shot was the stone jetties that we can see in this first image (below). I saw a lot of these throughout the week, but as luck would have it, I noticed this one from the car as we pulled into the town of Onna, where we’d be staying.
(Click to enlarge images then navigate back and forth with your mouse or keyboard arrow keys.)
I’ve been doing long exposure shots for a long time now, and Okinawa was to be no exception. Here I used my Hoya NDx400 and NDx8 neutral density filters stacked together. For those that might not be familiar with neutral density filters, they basically cut down the amount of light that enters the camera through the lens without changing it’s color at all. The NDx400 cuts out nine stops of light, and the NDx8 cuts out three stops of light, so that gives me a total of 12 stops of darkness, which is necessary to get reasonably long exposures in bright daylight conditions.
If you click on the thumbnails at the bottom of this blog post, you will open the images in a viewer that includes the shooting information, and you can see that this image was shot at f/22 for 100 seconds. The shutter speed without the neutral density filters would have been 1/40 of a second. When using this amount of filtration, I generally compose the image and find the “ideal” exposure without the filters initially, then count out my long exposure based on these exposure settings.
My math is terrible, so I literally just double up the base number until I reach the new exposure. Here for example I would have doubled 1/40 to 1/20, then 1/10, 1/5, 0″4, 0″8, 1″6, 3″2, 6″, 13″, 25″, 50″, then finally reaching 100″ for the correct 12 stops reduced exposure. Another tip here though, as you can see, the camera makes slight adjustments as it moves through the shutter speeds, as in 6″ doubles to 13″ not 12″. I often use the camera, clicking the wheel three times per stop until I get down to something close to 30 seconds, which is the longest exposure I can set on the camera before going into Bulb mode. Then I just double the last few steps for the final exposure.
You can also just ignore the cameras incremental steps, and just double up especially as you will be setting the actual number of seconds on your remote timer, and you aren’t tied to camera increments at that point, but using the camera’s increments helps to get a more accurate exposure and prevents you having to tweak too much, which you don’t want to be doing too many times with long exposures.
Artistic decisions that I made when composing this shot were to include the horizon of the sea to put the stone jetty into context, but the jetty was the main subject, so I didn’t need to include much of the sky. I got down a little lower than than eye level, to give us some good detail in the stone, but didn’t go so low that I lost the angle on the jetty. Of course the camera was tilted down for this perspective and shot at 51mm with my 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens.
While I was waiting for a few long exposures of the jetty to run their course, I grabbed my 100mm Macro lens and shot one of the myriad of hermit crabs that were everywhere on the beach at this spot (below). I tried to track and follow this little guy without interrupting his busy day, but he was either scooting all over the place trying to get out of my way, or hunkered down in his shell while I was too close for comfort.
I eventually just picked him up, and placed the shell down on the sand positioned so that the crab would be facing me like this if he came back out of his shell. And sure enough, after just a few seconds the shell started to raise up and I grabbed a series of frames of which this was one of the last. I actually created an animated GIF image of the entire movement, which I posted on Google+. Here’s a link to that in case you are interested.
There were also some almost transparent crabs that had made little burrows in the sand and I spent some time on all fours using the Angle Finder C to look down into the viewfinder rather than crooking my neck, but while I was over the whole the little buggers didn’t come out. I could see another crab coming out and doing his thing out of the corner of my eye as I waited for one, but then when I moved over to the other burrow, he stayed put and the first one started coming out again.
I was with my wife and had agreed that mornings and late afternoon would be mine for photography, but I wouldn’t spend too much time photographing during the day, so after a while I gave up on this. Had I had more time I’d probably have set my camera up on a tripod and left it focussed on the burrow, then moved away and triggered the camera remotely when the crab came out, but it wouldn’t have been fair to have started all that on my wife’s time.
After these first few photos, we had the Pixels 2 Pigment workshop, that I reported on last week, and then between Monday and Thursday the following week, we continued to head out, often traveling around craft and glassware shops during the day as my wife enjoys them, and then I’d stop every so often on our travels and most evenings, trying not to use up too many of my photography time points.
On the Tuesday, I’d arranged to go and interview Shawn Miller, the underwater photographer that I spoke to in Episode 347, but we were out driving before that and I spotted the white pier at the Busena Marine Park, and just had to stop and get a few shots.
Busena Marine Park Pier
The seas were rough, with perhaps 5 to 7 meter waves, some crashing into the white structure that you can see at the end of the pier in this image (above). I wanted to do a long exposure, but if I went out to a minute or more, I felt as though the effect would smooth the water out a little too much, and we’d lose the sense of the rough seas, so I just used the NDx400 for nine stops of neutral density, and this gave me a 30 second exposure at f/16, ISO 100. I felt this maximized the rough look of the waves and left some texture in the water, which is what I wanted.
Note how I used the rule of thirds here and put the horizon along the top third. I also included the little outcrop of rocks on the far right, showing us that the land was close there, but I didn’t go so wide as to include the wall that started just to the right of the rocks. I often find a hint of what is there is enough. As I’ve said before, photography and composition is often more about what you leave out of the frame, than what you include.
This shot was actually quite a close call as to whether or not to do a black and white conversion, because the sea was a beautiful emerald green, but the black and white won out, as it added some beautiful contrast and enhanced the texture in the water, which is what I was after. In this next photo though (below) which I called “Sleeping Dragon”, I decided to keep the color, as this was less about the texture in the water, and more about the rock texture, and the yellow sand and emerald green sea became supporting actors, and their color helped to tell the story.
This was a 55 second exposure, again using only the NDx400, and ISO 100 at f/16, and the photo is straight out of the camera, which by the way was the EOS 5D Mark III. All photos we’re looking at today were shot with the 5D Mark III except the hermit crab, which was shot with the 1D X.
This next photo is probably my favorite shot from the trip. On August 8, David Orr and Shawn Miller met us at the hotel, and took us out for the day. As we drove along the east coast of Okinawa heading north, as soon as we saw the waves crashing against this rock in the sea, we all sprang up in our seats and started looking for somewhere to park David’s car.
Rocks at Sukuta
I started off shooting this with my NDx400 and I think also the NDx8 for 12 stops of darkness, but again, the really long shutter speed was not working here. It made things too smooth. I observed the waves for a while and realized that the length of time the water was in the air before it started to fall down again was about one second, so I used just the NDx8 to get a one second exposure.
I usually shoot with LiveView and a two second timer, but that made timing more difficult, and as I was already in LiveView which automatically means Mirror Up mode, I just used my Remote Timer as a shutter release switch to trip the shutter, while keeping my hands away from the camera. The result is the water is recorded in the air just long enough to record the movement, but retain a lot of texture and the clouds have hardly moved as well.
Here is the color version as well, straight out of the camera, so that you can see how much more powerful the black and white image is. The color version is nice, and that emerald green sea is hard to throw out, but the black and white version just works so much better in my opinion.
Rocks at Sukuta (color version)
After the beautiful rocks in the sea at Sukuta, we drove a little further along the coast and David showed me the rock in the sea that he has a beautiful photograph of, that he printed at the workshop. There was a line of islands in the background from the near side of the beach where we stopped, so I walked down to the end of the beach to get a better angle. When I got there, there was still land in the background, so I unzipped the bottom half of my trousers, took my shoes and socks off, and waded around the outcrop.
Tree & Rock
The water was deeper than I thought it would be though, so I ended up with sea water coming up to my crotch, and I’d forgotten about the wallet in my pocket, which ended up sodden. I also stood in an ants nest for the whole time I was shooting some long exposures, as I needed to get as close to the other side of the outcrop as possible to stop the rocks to the left getting too close to the larger rock. Standing in the ants nest was probably not the most intelligent thing to do as I didn’t know if there were any poisonous species down here, but I kept looking down and checking my legs, and they didn’t seem interested in climbing on and stinging me.
I think it was all worth it for this shot (above), but I got told off by my wife when we met up with them later. She’d gone on ahead with David’s wife, and she was not pleased when I showed her the contents of my wallet which were all brown now from the tanning in the leather. I sat in the sun wafting the notes around for a while though, and we were pretty much good to go.
Here’s a shot of me walking back down the beach after wading out around the outcrop of land, courtesy of Shawn Miller. Don’t laugh at my pasty white legs, OK!? 🙂
So here’s the last shot we’re going to look at today, which was from the second to last stop of the day. The sun was just starting to turn the sky a little orange as it neared the horizon, and although there was no sunset to speak of, it was casting a faint pink tone across the water, as we can see here.
These rocks were pretty nondescript, but I eyed them as I walked along the coast looking for interesting subjects, and once again figured that a long exposure might make something of the scene. This was exactly 60 seconds, with the NDx400, and I really like the affect of the lined up rocks just sticking out of the sea. It looks to me like an alligator just below the surface with the spikes on its back poking up through the surface. You can clearly see these rocks in the sea from this Google map.
We had a great time, and I’d like to once again thank David and Shawn for taking us out for the day, and to David’s wife Naoko, and Pete Leong’s wife Haruna, for coming out with us too and keeping my wife Yoshiko company while us blokes dragged our feet making photographs.
We both had a wonderful time down in Okinawa, thanks to the wonderfully kind people down there, both old and new friends, as well as the locals, who seem to so naturally go out of their way to help total strangers.
Next week I’ll probably bring you a review of the new Really Right Stuff 5D Mark III L-Plate and the totally redesigned L-Plate for the EOS 1D X, as well as my new TVC-34L Versa Series 3 Tripod in a Really Right Stuff love-fest Podcast. That will be the last regular Podcast before I leave for the US to continue on my Pixels 2 Pigment workshop tour. During September and October I’ll try to bring you episodes and interviews from the field, as time allows, so do stay tuned for these future episodes, but I apologize in advance for what will undoubtedly be a someone irregular release schedule.
Note too that I was on TWiP+ this week with Frederick Van Jonhson, as well as my monthly co-host slot on the regular This Week in Photo Podcast which will be released tomorrow. Both were a lot of fun, so do check those out as well, at thisweekinphoto.com.