Just back from this year’s Complete Namibia Tour, today we start a series of travelogue-style episodes to walk you through our antics as my group and I traveled this majestic land.
I’m going to come right out and say, that I believe this year’s Namibia tour was probably one of my best tours to date, if not these best. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to travel with many wonderful people over the years, and everyone on this group seemed to click with each other, which makes my life as a tour leader very easy, and the photographic opportunities that we were presented with on this trip were incredible too.
We start in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, then drove down to a place called Keetmanshoop, for one night, to photograph the Quiver Tree Forest there. On our way, we stopped to eat our packed lunches on the grass in front of a supermarket, and I had a very humbling experience that I’d like to share with you before we start to look at some images.
Namibia has quite a high percentage of unemployed people, and very little by way of benefits to help those without work. As a group, whenever we have food left in our often too large lunch packs, rather than wasting it, we collect it together and give it to people that we meet on the road. We did just this on our first lunch stop, and after our guides had handed one man some food, I found a few other uneaten apples and sandwiches, so I walked over to this man to hand these over too.
As I approached him, I saw that his hands were both already covered in yellow grains from the cornbread that we’d given him. As I reached out to hand him the apples and sandwiches, he opened his mouth, showing me his teeth also covered in yellow grains, and this is usually something that I am not keen on looking at. He gave out almost a scream of delight, and threw his hands out to his sides, then extended them forwards to accept the food.
I have never been so happy to see the food inside a person’s mouth. It was a beautiful sight! But at the same time, incredibly sad and humbling. I could hardly believe that we could make a man so happy simply by giving him a meal, and I was immediately reminded of the hardship that many people face just obtaining the food that they require to simply stay alive. We are so fortunate to live in a world where the next meal is almost a given, and I also feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to witness this humbling experience first-hand as we traveled in Namibia.
We did, of course, continue to collect what we didn’t eat, and I noticed that not only were people that were obviously struggling to get a meal accepting the food but even officials working on some of the remote national park gates etc. would gladly take what we could offer them. Please don’t think that this is coming from some sort of an aloof perch, handing down our scraps. Everyone that we can help on this tour is treated with utmost respect, often with our local guides passing the food discretely to the recipients. This is actually another reason why I felt so fortunate to have been able to have had the experience I just mentioned during our first lunch, as I don’t normally pass the food directly.
Quiver Tree Forest
Anyway, moving on to our first shoot, we checked in at the nearby lodge in the afternoon of day one and made our way to the Quiver Tree Forest. We shot for a couple of hours to give the group a chance to stake out some nice places to shoot the sunset, and here is my shot to show you what it was like (below). I’m not much of a sunset person per se, but when we can get something nice and unique like the quiver trees in the frame, as well as the fiery African sky, it’s hard to resist.
I enjoy doing these silhouette images, looking for a spot with a nice main tree, then also trying to get some nice separation between the trees in the background, as well as a clear edge on either side of the frame. I was shooting with my 24-105mm lens at 27mm and struggled quite a bit to get a nice line of trees without too many bushes, like the one you can see below the right-most quiver tree. Still, the sky is lovely and it was an enjoyable shoot. My other settings were f/14, and a 0.2-second exposure with ISO 100.
Moonlit Quiver Trees
Because of availability of some of the key lodges, this year I was not able to align our visit to the Quiver Tree Forest with a new moon, which would have allowed us to shoot the Milky Way, but there was going to be an almost full moon, which I was hoping to use to good effect. Rather than going back to the lodge for dinner then coming back out, I negotiated a late dinner, to give us an extra hour in the forest as the moon rose.
The result was this next photograph, with the moon illuminating the low cloud cover, but the stars also clearly visible shining through the clouds (below). We can also see how the moonlight had lit the base of some of the foreground trees, making them not quite silhouettes, but I like being able to see that extra bit of detail.
I shot this with my 11-24mm lens at 17 mm. Now, of course, shooting by moonlight, my shutter speed was 25 seconds at f/4, and ISO 1600. At 17mm you can’t really use a longer shutter speed, because the stars start to elongate if you do, and I didn’t want that. This is why I chose to use a high ISO and wide aperture instead of a longer exposure. There is still some nice movement in the clouds though, and I really like being able to see stars in the relatively bright sky. It definitely makes up for not being able to shoot the Milky Way here this year.
The Giant’s Playground
The following morning, we visited the nearby Giant’s Playground before breakfast, to photograph the boulders silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky, as you can see in this photograph (below). I like looking for faces in the rocks, and pretty much did a repeat of one of my favorite photos from this location, with the boulders on the left looking a little like the Moai Statues, and there is a large chinned man bottom right, and a portly somewhat Shrek-like face in the bottom center of the frame.
I shot a few frames as the sun got closer to the horizon, and this was the one that had the most intense color. I really like the perfectly clean gradation between the orange and the blue here. My shutter speed was 1.3 seconds again at f/14, at ISO 100 and a focal length of 85mm.
After breakfast back at the lodge, we checked out and drove through the morning to Kolmanskop, the deserted diamond mine town, where the desert is gradually reclaiming the houses. This first image (below) is one of my favorite scenes, and one of my first shots, as I showed some of the participants where this particular house was. This small indoor sand-dune has been there for five years now, since my first visit in 2013. This house is actually faring better than some, which are starting to succumb to the desert more quickly than others.
I really love the color contrast in this room, with the pastel blue being almost exactly the opposite color to the orange sand on a color wheel, and that’s something that we are almost programmed to find appealing. This was a two-second exposure at ISO 100, a focal length of 28mm and you guessed it, an aperture of f/14. That’s my go-to aperture when there is no reason to change it. It gives me enough depth of field at this focal length to get everything in the frame sharp.
Playing with Color
I continued playing with the color in these beautiful old houses, working with a similar palette this time, with the orangey-brown walls similar to the color of the sand. There was also a hint of blue and teal coming from the left and right rooms at the end of this sand-filled corridor. Quite often, to shoot these images, I simply get far enough into the room to get past the doors to the sides near the entrance, just enough to give me a clear shot of what I consider to be a much cleaner scene, with fewer distracting elements.
I also have a vertical orientation shot of this image with an old light-shade hanging down from the ceiling included, and I think I prefer that shot, but the blog formatting works better with landscape orientation images, so that’s what I’m sharing at this time. I shot this at 24mm, f/14 for 0.8 seconds at ISO 100. I pretty much always stick with ISO 100 unless there is a reason to change it as well. I’m not afraid to increase the ISO of course, routinely shooting up to ISO 6400, but with no real wind requiring me to speed it up, ISO 100 it was.
Something that I saw much more of this year was houses where the ceiling has literally just collapsed into the downstairs rooms, as we can see in this photo (below). I imagine this is mostly caused by the weight of the sand that accumulates on the floor upstairs, especially as the roofs succumb to the elements allowing more sand in. Here once again though, I enjoyed the contrast between the blue walls and orange sand.
My shutter speed for this image was 4 seconds at ISO 100, so we can tell that the afternoon light was getting a little darker by the point. Again, my aperture was f/14 and my focal length for this shot was 30 mm.
Next, I want to share one of the few photos I’ve made of the exterior of the buildings at Kolmanskop. I don’t do this often, as I generally prefer the colors of the interior, as well as the spectacle of having sand-filled rooms, but this particular scene caught my eye, as we wandered from building to building. As you can see, the sand also builds up against the outside walls sometimes, and I thought this straggly tree made for a nice element along with the window and sand (below).
I like cropping in tight like this, but here I was also forced in tight because I didn’t want to include the frame of the door just to the right of this scene. I’m not a big fan of the grasses creeping into the frame on the bottom right edge, but I might spend a few minutes to clean that up at some point. It doesn’t bother me enough to spend that time today as I try to get caught up on work. My settings were a 1/13 of a second exposure at f/14 and a focal length of 62mm. I changed my ISO to 400 for this shot, as there was a bit of a breeze that may have caused camera-shake a longer exposure.
Another Collapsed Ceiling
As I mentioned, I noticed more collapsed ceilings this year than before, and here is another example of this (below). The roof seems pretty much intact here though, so I’m not sure what caused this ceiling to cave in. In this photo, I do like the contrast between the still intact wash basin and sand and the collapsed roof. The fact that the walls are still pretty nicely decorated adds additional elements of contrast.
Back in the shelter of the building again, away from the breeze, I had returned my ISO to 100 and shutter speed back to 4 seconds, at f/14, and now shooting with my 11-24mm lens again, at 14mm.
The Ice Factory
Towards the end of the day, as I made my way back towards the entrance of Kolmanskop to our cars, I stopped at another favorite room, the relatively well-kept Ice Factory (below). I had earlier thought this was just a workshop of sorts, but there is a sign on the door that says Eisfabrik, which I believe means an ice factory or to manufacture ice.
With the sun almost on the horizon on the other side of this building, there was virtually no sunlight making its way into this room by the time I photographed it, so my shutter speed was 20 seconds at f/14, ISO 100 and again using my 11-24mm lens, this time at 12mm. As I would have been standing in the precious light coming through the doorway, I moved down the steps and out of the way during my exposure. There’s no point in blocking my own light.
We’re going to end this first episode with this, my last photo from day two, as the warm light from the sun illuminated a side room at what I seem to recall being the old bakery, and here I was again using the one-point perspective composition that I talked about last year. I love the drama and tension this kind of composition adds to a photograph (below).
Again, I had to move to the side to avoid blocking my own light and leaving a shadow on the right wall in this image. We can also see the marks on the sand in the foreground of this shot from a recent relatively rare heavy rain that they had, a few weeks before we arrived. This seems to have dripped through the ceiling of this building. My settings here were a 25-second shutter speed at ISO 100, f/14 and my lens wide open at 11 mm.
We’ll leave it there for today, as we’ve reached the usual 10 photos at which I like to limit my posts. I’m quite pleased to have been able to make time each evening to pretty much catch up on my selection process and most of the processing that I wanted to do on my images before finishing the trip. As we’ll see, we end this trip with four nights at the Etosha National Park shooting wildlife, and that presents a bigger problem due to the number of images we shoot compared to landscape work, but I was still pretty much able to complete my preliminary selections before I started my flight back to Tokyo.
After getting a few hours sleep on my way from Johannesburg to Dubai, then a few more hours at the start of my flight from Dubai to Tokyo, I was able to work on my images and selection process for a further six hours on the plane, and that enabled me to just relax a little over the weekend, and spend some quality time with my wife. It was really nice to come into my studio this morning with all of this work done and just get straight into selecting the images that I’ve talked about today.
I haven’t selected the images for the remaining episodes of this travelogue yet, so I don’t yet know how many parts this will take, but I have a massive 363 images in my final selection, so I think we’re looking at around four, perhaps a five-part series to cover this trip, and we’ll continue to part two next week.
Complete Namibia Tour 2019
If you might like to join us on this tour from June 2 to 18, 2019, please check out the tour page at mbp.ac/namibia2019. It really has matured into an amazing tour, and I’d love to travel with you in this beautiful land.
Start your day in the Giant's Playground
Start your day in the
In one of the most conservation aware countries in the world
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
From today, for a few weeks, I’m going to do a travelogue style account of my recent trip to Namibia. I have around 145 images in my final selection currently, so I’ll select up to 10 favorites each week, and talk you through them, including details of where we were, and what was going through my mind when shooting.
To get to Namibia, I flew from Tokyo to Hong Kong, then on to Johannesburg, South Africa. My plane arrived a little early, but the huge queue for immigration stole all of my leeway, but I still arrived at the meeting point only a minute late. As there was no sign of the group though, I ended up walking up and down Terminal B three times, before I finally found the group down in one corner. Everyone seemed in good spirits though, and we proceeded to board our plane to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
It was to be just under a two hour flight, and then we were met by our guides Jeremiah and Festus. Although we’d discussed switching cars occasionally, Jeremy Woodhouse, the group leader pretty much stayed in his car, and once I’d started to teach the folks in my car things, they said they weren’t going to let me switch either, so Festus became my guide for the duration. Both guides were incredibly knowledgeable, professional and fun to be with.
After a few minutes to settle into the hotel, we drove into the town of on the afternoon of May 6, and found Windhoek to be a booming city in the heart of Namibia, with new building springing up all over the place. The people mostly seemed happy and upbeat, and I would feel safe through pretty much my entire journey, though the young men selling trinkets or asking for money for some sort of imaginary charity, would prove an annoyance. They started really nice, but one guy, on realizing that I wasn’t going to pay him anything shouted for me to stay out of his country as he walked off, which I thought was a bit sad.
Slightly jet-lagged, and tired from 36 hours of straight traveling, we settled down for an evening meal of Oryx steak at our hotel, and then I woke up at 5am, and wrote a quick blog post to announce the release of the Craft & Vision digital magazine, PHOTOGRAPH Issue #3, that I saw had been released as I checked my email. As I wrote the post, my stomach started making some funny noises, and before long I realized that I’d eaten something that didn’t agree with me, and would spend the next day or so in a slightly frail disposition.
It wasn’t a show-stopper, but I recall spending most of the 500km drive as we made our way to our first major shooting destination just trying to sleep, and get well as soon as possible. The main roads were amazing, and we made good time, stopping a few times for gas and the toilet, and although I didn’t feel 100%, by the time we reached Keetmanshoop, I could tell that my being somewhat out of sorts wasn’t too serious, and I had a good time photographing the Quiver Trees up until sunset, as we can see in this first image.
Quiver Tree Sunset
The Quiver Trees are so called, because the branches are soft and easily hollowed out, and so they were used to make quivers to store arrows in, and not because the trees quiver. I didn’t initially find this spot that photogenic, and didn’t get any photos that I really liked from the first day, except this last sunset shot. The following morning, we went back, bright and early, and there was a beautiful slither of a waxing crescent moon, and a beautiful clear sky. This next image is probably my favorite from this morning, and although I’d skipped dinner the night before, I was feeling decidedly better on this second morning.
Quiver Tree Sunrise (with Moon)
In this photo you can see the slither of a moon to the left of the large quiver tree on the right. Although Ideally I’d have liked to place the trunk of that tree on the right in the space just to its left on the horizon, here I gave priority to maintaining a little bit of separation between the tree and the moon. Had I been able to move to the right a little more, I’d probably have gotten a little separation between the smaller trees on the left too, but I’m not going to sweat it too much. I still really like this shot. Once the sun came up though, I did start to pay more attention to separation, as the moon basically disappeared in the brighter sky.
Slats and Dune (Kolmanskop)
Once we’d finished our morning shoot, we had another couple of hundred kilometers to cover, as we made our way over to the port town of Luderitz, close to the abandoned diamond mining village, Kolmanskop. The name is actually Africans for Coleman’s Hill, which might make you think it was a coal mine, but the town was actually named after a guy called Johnny Coleman, who stumbled across the place in a sand-storm.
According to Wikipedia, In 1908 a worker named Zacharias Lewala found a diamond while working in this area and showed it to his supervisor, a German railroad inspector named August Stauch. After realizing that this area was rich in diamonds, lots of German miners settled in this area and started to exploit the diamond field.
Driven by the enormous wealth of the first diamond miners, the residents built the village in the architectural style of a German town, with amenities and institutions including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, skittle-alley, theater and sport-hall, casino, ice factory and the first x-ray-station in the southern hemisphere.
The town was abandoned in 1954, as the diamonds ran out, but the standard of the German architecture was so high, many of the houses are still standing, although the desert is slowly reclaiming them, as you can see in this photograph of a house that no longer has a roof, allowing the sun to shine through the slats in the decaying ceiling.
As the sun shines at varying angles as it moves across the sky through the day, the slats move across the walls, making beautiful patterns, complimented by the small sand dunes that you can find in many of the buildings, like the one we see here inside the back room. I used Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4 to enhance the detail on the walls, and if I recall, I used the Reflector Efex filter to bring out the golden color of the sand through the door.
The town is large, and you could literally spend a couple of days exploring. By noon I found myself in a darkened room with light pouring in through the gaps formed as rust ate its way through the corrugated steel nailed to the outside of the window. The sand had frosted the pains of glass left in the top of the window, but with the bottom windows shutters thrown open, I exposed for the bright light, allowing the internal wall to go totally black. I remember saying to Judy, a participant I was shooting with at the time, that if there were ghosts here, I really hoped that they knew how beautiful their houses were.
By the afternoon, there was a sand-storm blowing, and I ended up scratching my sun glasses, as I must have gotten sand between my glasses and my camera’s viewfinder, and I also ended up with a nasty scratch on the front face of my iPhone, probably from the sand too. I’m not one for mollycoddling my gear though, and to change lenses in a sand-storm, I simply shielded the camera with my body, changing lenses with my back to the wind and sand. I’m happy to say that after that, although I cleaned my sensor once during the trip, I didn’t really have a problem with dust. My lenses on the other hand are all a bit crunchy, and might need looking at, but nothing broke, and believe me, it’s not just this location, everywhere we went was dusty and sandy.
The next photo gives you a good visual on this, as we can see this room was well over half-full of sand, coming almost to the top of the door. Again, I used Color Efex Pro to enhance the detail and texture of the walls and sand, but I like the feeling here of the room being totally overwhelmed with the sand. I used my 16-35mm f/2.8 lens for this, but I used my 14mm and 24-70mm lens a lot through the day too. My lens range in total took me from 14mm to 300mm and included a 1.4X and 2X Extender, to take me out to 600mm, and on the whole, having used each lens I brought a lot, I was very happy that I lugged all of this gear to the other side of the world.
Sand Filled Room
The important thing to note as you shoot in this location is that you have to keep off the sand in the buildings. I’d have loved to seen what is in the other room, but climbing on the sand to take a look would ruin the room for the next photographer, so you just don’t do that.
I’m not one for looking at photos of places I’m going to visit before trips. This is partly because I’m usually so busy before leaving home for a while that I just don’t have time, but also because I don’t want to plant seeds of ideas that could paralyze me to other possibilities, as I fixate on finding the shots that I’d already seen. I like to just remain open to my own creativity. Having said that, there was one room here that I recall seeing in an old Michael Reichmann Video Journal, and this was paralyzing me to a degree, as I searched for it, just what I wanted to avoid.
The scene was a single door in a room, with sand almost up to the ceiling, similar to the last shot, but it was a much prettier room. One lady in the group, Nancy, had found the room during the morning, and told me where it was, but by the time I got there in the afternoon, the light was coming in through the windows behind the door, and the shot was lost. I’d actually poked my head in to the same building in the morning, and was kicking myself for not going in further, but I’d been trying to keep the sand clean for others.
Rays of Light
Although the shot was lost, as I photographed the room anyway, I was a little spooked by what I can only describe as the sound of a family at a dinner table, clanking their cutlery on the plates as they ate. After hearing the sound I went around to the back of the building from where I’d heard the sounds, and the rooms were all full of sand, and there was no way in, so by now the hair on the back of my head was standing up, convinced I’d just been haunted.
Towards the end of the afternoon, as I’d looked through most of the houses, and was starting to wonder what to shoot next, when Jeremy Woodhouse, the tour leader came running out of a house and called me in. He’d found this room with light pouring in through the rust holes in the corrugated steel, and we proceeded to through sand against the wall above the window, to accentuate these lovely rays of light.
The sand is so fine and light that it just seems to hang there for a while, so it’s perfect for this kind of effect. We shot the window from either side, and then played with a very faint shadow that we noticed on the wall beside the window, as we stood in the doorway, but this was my favorite shot, with the rays of light actually hitting the ground, although this does include the hand marks where we’d been scooping sand up to throw at the wall.
After we’d finished shooting in this room, Jeremy walked back around to the earlier building where I’d been spooked, and as we looked in through the window, as I relayed my story, the wind caught the corrugated steel on the window, and a nail loose in one of the holes started to clatter against the glass, making a sound just like cutlery hitting a plate. There were my ghosts, and I breathed a small sigh of relief under my breath.
One of the furthest buildings from the entrance at Kolmanskop is, I believe, a school, that we can see in this last photo. The wind was howling, and shutters clashing around as I worked the scene, and I was still a little spooked, so I recall laughing at myself from time to time as I looked around to ensure I was still alone, but these building really are magical. Again a little Color Efex Pro helped to bring out the texture here, but I tried to keep it as subtle as possible.
School Corridor (Kolmanskop)
There were a number of things that this location that I’d love to do differently if I ever get back here. There were certain rooms with the slats that look great at certain times of the day, and nothing much to look at, at other times. If I come back, I’ll create a map of where to go, at what time, because although I’m happy with what I got, this place has so much more potential, especially for a second visit.
Namibia Trip Map
I’m going to include a map here, from Lightroom, showing the locations at which we shot, with the little balloons and the number of images shot in each location. As with all the images, if you click on them, you’ll see a larger version, but to help you understand where we traveled, if you look at the map you’ll see a 35 in the middle just below where it says Namibia, and this is the first afternoon in Windhoek.
The Quiver trees were some 500km south of Windhoek, where it says 202, then Luderitz and Kolmanskop is on the coast to the east of there, where it says 355. The morning after we’d shot at Kolmanskop, we stopped for gas at a small town called Aus, just to the right of that, where you can see it says 210. There were some wonderful kids playing near the gas station here, and although I’d love to show you all of their photos, let’s just look at three of them before we finish today. The best of the rest I’ll put on my Portfolios page this week some time, so you’ll be able to check those out later too.
Here first is a very cool little boy with a great hat and wonderful attitude (below). All of the kids seemed very used to posing for photos, and this one had his pose down pat. Every time anyone pointed a camera at him, he’d fold his arms, and create a very stern cool look on his face. I managed to get him to crack his look into a wry smile for just a frame or two, which we can see here.
Jeremy Woodhouse is great with these kids, and as soon as we found some willing subjects, he’d heard them over to a spot in the shade, and the group would take turns photographing the ones we found interesting. The trick I found was adjusting them to a position where there wasn’t something sticking out of their heads, just common compositional practice, but then getting a nice look sometimes took a little more work.
Boy with Attitude
Unlike this little boy, there were some kids that just didn’t seem to know how to smile, and would just show their bottom teeth for example, but I’m sure if we made them laugh for real, they’d have beautiful smiles. The language was challenging for the smaller kids though, and it just didn’t always happen.
This group of five boys were great too, with their cool looks and body language. I called this Best Friends, because I got the distinct feeling that this is exactly what they were. We would buy sweets at the shop, and hand them to the kids for their trouble, trying not to overdo it, and spoil the experience for others by making them expect to receive something. Pretty much every time we stopped like this though, were were quite demanding, so I think it’s only right to offer a little something.
This last photo is of a little girl with an incredibly pretty face. Here again, she knew how to pose, and I got a distinct feeling that she has been watching TV and knew how to carry herself. Because we placed almost all of our subjects in the shade, they all have great catch-lights in their eyes too, in which you can always find a photographer looking back at you.
Young Namibian Girl
The trip was mainly cultural, so this kind of street portraiture will be a major theme, especially as we look at some shots of the Himba People that we visit, in a future episode, but as we traveled between locations, you’ll see on the map that we stopped along the way, grabbing shots of the wildlife as we went. There were also a few days towards the end where we concentrated on Wildlife, doing game drives etc. and I’m looking forward to showing you the results of those days too.
For now though, let’s wrap it up for today, and we’ll pick up the trail again next week, as we look at some of the wildlife that we saw along the way, and then some shots for Deadvlei, that wonderful dried up lake where the dead camel thorn trees make for beautiful graphic elements as the sun illuminates the red sand dune walls before it hits the dried up lake floor. If you haven’t seen these images before, you’re in for a treat as we look at these next week. If you’d like a sneak preview, there are already a few on my Google Plus profile, and as I say, I’ll start to upload some to my Portfolios pages this week too, once I’ve got this episode recorded and in the stream.