Last month I completed my fifth epic Complete Namibia Tour, and today we are going to start a series of travelogue-style episodes to walk you through the tour step by step. As is often the case, I’m selecting my ten images for each episode as I go, so I’m not sure how many weeks this will span yet, but it will probably be three or four episodes, and for those of you that like travelogue shows, I think you’ll enjoy this.
As usual, we kick of the tour in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, getting acquainted with the guests on the first evening, then starting our drive down to Keetmanshoop the following morning, to get into the Quiver Tree Forest mid-afternoon. The Quiver Tree Forest is a magical place, but as much as I try, I never like the daylight photos from there, as they just seem to mediocre compared to the sunset or night time shots that we get there.
Here is one of my favorite shots as the sun dropped below the horizon, and this is a slightly different take on what I’ve done in previous years. I just liked how the tree on the right helped me to frame the shot, although it did not lend itself to the separation that I usually like to try and get among the other Quiver Trees in the distance but I think it still works.
I think the soft pink tones in the sky and also the warm light of late dusk illuminating the trunk of that right tree help to give us some more information about the trees when most of the others are almost completely silhouetted. At this point, my settings for this shot were 0.6 seconds exposure at ISO 100, with an aperture of f/14, at 35 mm. I was, of course, using a tripod, and all of the images that I’ll share in these travelogues were shot with one of my two Canon EOS R cameras. I was also using my Canon RF 24-105mm lens for these first two images.
As the sun got deeper below the horizon, I shot a few final images with the warm glow just along the bottom of the frame, transitioning gradually to the indigo of twilight at the top. Here too I abandoned my desire to keep each tree separated in order to get these many different quiver tree forms in the frame, including many of the trees which were flowing.
My shutter speed for this shot was now down to 13 seconds at ISO 100, still at f/14, and now using a slightly wider focal length of 27 mm. It’s always fun running around the Quiver Tree Forest trying to find compositions that I feel work as the sky gradually turns red. Unfortunately, this year, there was no cloud cover, so the sunset had nothing to reflect onto, making it somewhat uneventful. However, that was probably a good thing, as I’d planned for us to be at the Quiver Trees when there is a new moon this year, and that gave us the opportunity to come back into the forest after dinner, for some astrophotography.
The Milky Way with Jupiter
As you can see from this next image, the clear skies did help us to get some pretty neat shots of the Milky Way with the quiver trees silhouetted in the foreground, and the timing of our trip actually placed Jupiter right in the Milky Way, shining bright to the left of the Quiver Tree in this image.
The 340 Rule
You’ve probably heard people talking about the 500 Rule or the 600 Rule, which is intended as a guideline calculation to help you avoid elongation of the stars discs in your images of the night sky, caused by the rotation of the earth. Basically you divide the focal length that you’ll shoot at by 500, so dividing 500 by the 17mm I used for this shot, we get 29.4 seconds.
Well, I imagine this is affected by where you are on the planet, as I imagine the movement of the earth affects the stars more when we are closer to the equator, so just south of the Tropic of Capricorn in June, I find the ideal formula is to actually use what I suppose should be termed the 340 Rule. In fact, at 20 seconds at a focal length of 17 mm, the stars are just starting to elongate, so you may even need a shorter shutter speed if you really want to get circular discs. This works for me though, and I’m pretty happy with this year’s Milky Way photo, especially with the cameo from Jupiter.
The Giant’s Playground
The following morning, we got up bright and early to head out to the Giant’s Playground looking to capture this kind of image, again a silhouette, but this time of the comical faces that we can find in the dramatic rock formations of the Playground. It’s literally like giants have placed these rocks so that they look like faces. If you were in the UK in the 70s and 80s you’ll probably recognize the late Bruce Forsyth with a trilby hat on looking up at Venus from his pile of rocks, Shrek is also peering up at Venus from just right of center, and of course, the baboon or Easter Island statue is pretty prominent on the left side of the frame.
My settings for this were a 6-second exposure at f/14, with ISO 100 and a focal length of 70 mm. Once again, I continued to shoot some images once the sun started to come up, but they really don’t do as much for me as these dramatic silhouettes, so we’ll skip them.
After breakfast, we drove through the morning to the Atlantic shore, just short of Luderitz, our base for the next two nights, and we spend the afternoon in Kolmanskop, the deserted diamond mine town, that is gradually being reclaimed by the desert. Although I have somewhat skeptical views on trying to create “something different” as discussed in episode 571, I do like to try and find things that I have not photographed before, especially as I visit many places time and again on my tours, and I was happy to find the room that we see in this first image from Kolmanskop, which I found for the first time this year.
Maybe the owners of Kolmanskop are gradually clearing the entrances to some of the rooms that are still in relatively good condition, as the roofs cave in on other buildings, gradually taking them out of commission, or maybe I just missed it, but I did enjoy this room, with its vertically striped moss-green wallpaper. I also liked the half-sheet of corrugated steel on the floor, and as I’ve mentioned before, I generally like to allow the light from the windows to glow like this, rather than trying to let the viewer see outside, as I feel this adds to the mystery of the image. My settings for this were a 1-second exposure at f/14 with ISO 100 and a focal length of 24mm.
One shot that I pretty much repeat without change every year is this image of the school corridor, from the furthest building from the entrance to the town. There’s just something about the one-point perspective that I use for this shot that continues to appeal to me. I also pay attention to getting the camera at just the right height and position to enable me to get wall on either side of the frame and to get the windows vertical throughout the shot, so I don’t have to correct the image with the Keystone tool in Capture One Pro.
The contrast between the inside and the outside world here is actually not so high, so with a tweak of the sliders in Capture One I can actually bring the highlights down to show you the buildings outside for this image, but I prefer not to. I just like that glow, as I mentioned earlier, and really don’t think that we have to see outside unless it helps us to tell a deeper story. For me, in these shots, quite often the mystery is more important. My settings for this shot were a shutter speed of 0.4-seconds, at f/14, ISO 100 at 40 mm.
As I shoot Kolmanskop, some of the rooms that we peer into have direct sunlight pouring into them, and although that can be effective, it can also introduce too much contrast, so I make a mental note to revisit the room the following morning when the sun is on the other side of the building. I’d just walked away from the room in this next shot when the sun went behind some clouds, so I quickly walked back with a few of my guests, so that we could shoot it while the window of opportunity lasted.
I really like this room, so full of sand, yet still in relatively good condition. For this shot, we literally have to just shoot through a broken panel in the wooden door, which will never be opened again with all this sand pushing back against it. For this perspective, I also used my Canon EF 11-24mm lens, almost wide open at 12 mm, being careful to get the back wall square in the frame, but allowing the wide lens to cause all of these great diagonal lines of the side walls and ceiling. I also like how we can see into the second room with its healthy amount of sand against its blue wall as well. My other settings were f/14 for a 4-second exposure, this time at ISO 400, because the wind was gusting a little, and I didn’t want to risk a longer exposure.
The following morning we went back to Kolmanskop and were presented with a foggy start of the day, as the sea mist made its way inland, engulfing the deserted town for our first hour. We got a number of shots of the mine manager and accountant’s houses in the mist that were interesting, but perhaps not quite interesting enough to share here.
Indoor Sand Dune
After the mist cleared, the sun once again became strong enough to create these slithers of light on the walls in one of the rooms where the roof has caved in, and the upstairs floor-boards have decayed away, leaving the slats of the first-floor ceiling exposed. This building is another favorite, with an indoor sand dune that almost seems like it might have been the “in” thing to do at one point in history, like keeping a bonsai tree or doing indoor fireworks at a party.
Once again I am playing with the lines in the walls caused by my wide angle of 12 mm, causing the angles to open out from the vertical lines in seemingly random order, accentuated perhaps by the roof of the room to the right caving in, forming another completely unexpected angle. My other settings were a 0.4-second exposure at f/14, ISO 125.
View From the Hospital
I mentioned earlier that I like the glowing windows unless there is a story to tell by being able to see outside. Well, this is probably the first photo I’ve shot at Kolmanskop where I felt there was a story to be told by being able to see out of the window. I went through one of the rooms in the hospital and found a corridor at the back with windows that looked out across the desert, with some of the distant buildings of the entrance to the Elizabeth Bay diamond mine, that we would visit later this day.
As I looked at the scene from these windows, I thought of all the people that must have sat in this corridor looking out across the desert, just as I was, and perhaps some with ailments that may have made them long to be able to go outside, despite it being one of the most hostile environments on the planet. To tell this story, I exposed for outside, rather than inside, and then increased the brightness of the inside with the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro. This gives us enough information to see the now failing walls, but also the flourishes above the border painted on the walls, showing us how proud the people running and staying inside this hospital were of their architecture. My settings were 1/125 of a second at f/16, ISO 100 and my lens was wide open at 11 mm.
Doors and Slats
The last image from Kolmanskop that I’d like to share from this visit is this one, of another favorite building, where the roof and upstairs floor-boards are missing, but at the right time of day, provide this wonderful display of diagonal slithers of light throughout the building.
I, of course, lined this up so that the doors in the other rooms of the house are in view, but also went vertical to emphasize all of the gaps in the slats in the ceiling and the slithers of light on the floor. With the camera horizontal, in landscape orientation, you get a bit too much of the dark walls either side of these slithers or light, so I prefer portrait orientation here.
I kind of like the door that someone has stood up against the wall, as an extra element of interest, but I was happy with it not there as well. I guess this is something different that moves me so little that I really don’t care either way.
My settings for this were 1/50 of a second at f/14, ISO 100, with a focal length of 19 mm. Again, the wide angle is helping to accentuate all of these lines making for a very graphically pleasing shot, although I do realize that some people struggle to understand what’s happening in this image, at least to begin with.
OK, so that brings us to 10 images, and the end of this first episode in the series. Next week we’ll pick up the trail as we head into Elizabeth Bay, where this is still a diamond mine in production, which means strict security as we enter and leave, although our goal is to visit the run-down houses and buildings in the old mine that has been closed for some fifty years or so now.
Complete Namibia Tour 2020
Note that we have filled the first vehicle for this tour in 2020, so the tour will go ahead, but we do now have spaces in the second vehicle, so if you’d like to join me, please check your schedule and book your place at https://mbp.ac/namibia2020 as soon as you can. The lodges and other service providers in Namibia force us to lock in on our numbers very early, and once we are locked in, we can’t take any more people, so time is of the essence, as they say.
As you’ll see during this travelogue series, this is a truly epic tour in which you will see and photograph many of the highlights that Namibia has to offer, and I’d really like to share it with you on my sixth visit.
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
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