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.
We continue our Complete Namibia Tour travelogue this week, as we relax with the Flamingoes in Walvis Bay, then photograph a shipwreck on the Skeleton Coast before spending some time with the incredibly charming Himba People in Northern Namibia.
Having finished our three days in the majestic Sossusvlei area with the sand dunes and Deadvlei, we drove on to Walvis Bay to another beautiful lodge there. Based on feedback from last year, I had changed our itinerary to give us two days in this lodge, and the idea was to basically give the group a bit of a break, as this was the middle of the tour, and we’d already been working full on for more than a week. Because I realize that not everyone would want to just rest though, I arranged an optional drive in the sand dunes over to Sandwich Harbour.
Flamingoes at Walvis Bay
Over breakfast, looking across the road at the bay, we could see that the light catching the flamingoes was nice, so many of the group finished up quickly and grabbed our cameras. The first photograph that we’ll look at today (below) is from this little post-breakfast shoot, as I captured four flamingoes, still resting, although two of them did have their eyes open with nice catchlights from the morning sun.
I was using my Canon 100-400mm Mark II lens at its full extent of 400 mm for this shot. As the sun was just coming over the horizon, I increased my ISO to 800 to give me a 1/1000 of a second shutter speed at f/14. You might wonder why I’m shooting wildlife at f/14, but actually, of this group, only the nearest flamingo that I focussed on is fully sharp. The middle two are a little soft, and the one at the very back is even softer. I also still get some nice blur in the background sea at this aperture, so this works for me.
A Drive in the Dunes
As I suspected would be the case, every member of the group opted to join the excursion to drive out into the dunes, and we were picked up by the company that runs those tours in the middle of the morning. I had hoped for some flamingoes down in the lagoon at Sandwich Harbor, but that didn’t work out. Still, it was an amazing drive, mostly along the beach, with our drivers sometimes timing it so that we’d dart across a patch of the beach as the waves receded, but before they washed back in again. I have some video that I’ll put into a slideshow at some point, hopefully soon, but for now, here’s a bit of a documentary shot (below) to show you the dunes that we drove through to get back out after our champaign lunch in Sandwich Harbour.
The Dunes Near Sandwich Harbour
The tracks that you can see running through the valley in the dunes here are from our three cars, as we made our way to this point. We had to deflate the tires on the cars to make them spread out, giving us more traction in the sand. There were points where we drove down slopes probably up to 40° inclines, which might sound scary, but it’s actually a lot of fun in the hands of professional drivers, and everyone in the group seemed to have a great time, so it was a nice way to spend our R&R day. Plus, we did get some nice shots of the dunes, the beaches, and some close Black-backed Jackal shots, but they’re a bit too documentary to show here.
The Zeila Shipwreck
The following day, we started our drive north with a stop to photograph a ship called Zeila that ran aground in 2008 just south of Henties Bay. As is often the case on the Skeleton Coast, we were treated with some big waves that looked great in a well-timed long exposure of the wreck, as you can see in this photograph (below).
The Zeila Shipwreck
It was quite windy as we photographed Zeila, so there was some risk doing long exposures, and a few of my shots were indeed a bit shaky, but many of them worked out, thanks to my sturdy Really Right Stuff tripod and ball head. I used a neutral density filter from Breakthrough Photography for a five-second exposure at f/16, ISO 100.
I usually use a two-second timer when doing landscape work, so that I can move my hands away from the camera to avoid introducing camera shake, but for shots like this, when I need to time my exposure perfectly for the waves, I use a cable release instead, with no timer. That enabled me to time this shot for when there were two waves, one main one across the entire frame, and a second breaking on the right of the frame. I also time this so that the sea was washing fully up the beach too, as I prefer to see that as opposed to the darker sand.
The Himba People
As spectacular as the landscape and wildlife of Namibia is, one of the highlights of the trip is our visit to a Himba Settlement, and that’s what we had in store for day 11. We started out in the dark and shot a little wildlife along the way, and then arrived at the Himba Settlement mid-morning, as they started to warm up after the chilly night. As usual, we arranged a few shoots inside the huts, so that we could capture these wonderful people out of the harsh sunlight. I have a number of images that I like, but one of my main goals was to find and photograph the young girl that I’ve been photographing for a number of years now, as you can see in this image (below).
Himba Young Girl Portraits
The first of the two shots of the girl that I want to share was from a hut close to the fire where she was cooking some broth for the village breakfast when we arrived. Sitting out working as the sun came up, she had initially been wearing a beautifully patterned shawl, and the light coming through the door in this first hut was much strong than the hut that I’ve shot her in before because it was facing the sun more.
My settings for the first image were ISO 5000 for an 1/80 of a second at f/5, with the new Canon 85mm f/1.4 L lens now with Image Stabilization. I’ll talk more about this lens in a review that I’ll work on now that I have a few images with it, but I was very impressed with it. It’s smaller and lighter than the f/1.2 version that I have been using for years, and it is nice to have that image stabilization now. The focus mechanism is much faster now too, and the image quality is amazing. I need to do some more tests first, but I hope to release more on this lens in the coming weeks.
The second image (above right) of the young Himba girl is from the same hut that I’ve photographed her in before. Although we try not to each spend too much time with the subjects, I do have a number of nice shots of this girl again. In this image I had her look towards the doorway so that we get a nice view of her beautiful hair, as well as nice highlights across her face. With both images, I’ve actually darkened them down a little around the edges to create a bit of a vignette and draw our attention to her face more. My settings for the second image were the same as the first, except I’d opened up the aperture a little more to f/4.
After photographing them in the huts for a while, the Himba people sat in a circle and set up their shop, so that we could buy some trinkets from them, which is part of how we thank them for letting us invade their privacy. We also take them provisions, which our guides give them discretely. Usually, after the shop, we leave, but this year, they also treated us by dancing. They started off a little bit apprehensive, but once they got started, they danced for what was probably well over thirty minutes, so it was a wonderful experience.
I like this particular shot because I was able to capture the motion of the Himba lady as she threw herself around causing her hair and leather tassels on her dress to fly outwards from the centrifugal force.
I also like how the lady to the left has a baby on her back. Some of them actually danced around like this with babies on their backs, which is a tribute to how hardy these people are.
Because I wanted to freeze this motion, I selected ISO 1000 and a shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second, at f/8. I was shooting now with my Canon 24-105mm lens, so that I could zoom in and out as necessary to frame the shots how I wanted, and my focal length for this was 105 mm, so zoomed in as far as possible.
There were three young men that joined the group to dance, only one at a time mind, and in this next image (below) we see one of them strutting his stuff with one of the ladies and the rest of the group looking on. I’ve also left a little space to the right of the group in this shot, so that you can see the entrance to the hut. That’s the hut that we mostly use to photograph people in during our visits, so this photo should give you an idea of the size of the light source and show you the direction of the sun that we’re working with.
Himba Dancing in Group
I also have lots of iPhone video of the group dancing like this, and I’ll play a bit of the audio at this point in the audio which you can listen to with the player at the top of this post. Again, I’ll drop some of the video into a slideshow at some point, so I hope you’ll check that out later. My settings for this image were the same as the previous image except that I’d zoomed out to 56 mm to show the entire group.
After our morning session with the Himba, we ate lunch in the mountains nearby, and then drove to town and had a coffee and piece of cake, before heading back to the Himba Settlement later in the afternoon as I’d arranged for us to go back and photograph them herding their goats back into the corral. This next image (below) is one of my favorites, with the goats all marching towards their goal, with just one looking over at the crazy photographers wondering what we’re doing, and the Himba ladies in the background, almost, but not quite, in silhouette, with the shafts of sunlight catching the dust kicked up by the goats.
Himba Goat Herding
I’ve actually drawn an Adjustment mask over all of the dirt in the foreground on this image in Capture One Pro, and darkened it down a little, to better ground the image, but I also selectively desaturated a patch of orange that was caused by flare from the sun hitting the front of the lens as I shot this. With selective coloring, I was able to just use the same mask for both adjustments, without one really affecting the other very much, so it was a quick adjustment, exactly how I like them. My settings for this image were ISO 800 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/11, and a focal length of 35 mm.
Another shot that I like from the Himba settlement is this last one that we’ll look at (below) again from the goat herding session. The goats are all walking back out, as we actually ask them to drive the herd a second time to give us more opportunities, and this shot just does something for me. I love how the hardy babies are strapped to their mothers’ backs, but with both seem totally alert, looking around to take in what they can of the activity. It almost feels to me as though they are already checking out the work that they’ll do as part of the community in later life. In reality, it won’t be too many years until they really do start driving the goats and playing their part in the daily routines of the settlement.
Himba with Babies
I also like how this image gives us a bit of context, with the road that runs by the settlement visible, as is the small mountain further in the distance. Most Himba settlements that I’ve visited are at the foot of mountains, and I’m guessing that this is because they provide a slightly earlier respite from the heat of the sun in the summer months. My settings for this photograph were the same as the previous image but at 95 mm this time.
I really do enjoy these visits to the Himba people. It’s incredible to see how they live, and even just for the few hours that we get to spend with them, it’s really nice to get some insight into both the hardships and the beauty that I feel lies within their way of life. Again, it’s a humbling experience for both me and my guests to be able to interact so closely with these wonderful people.
To finish today, I want to have a bit of fun with a photo that I shot purely by chance. The day after we visited the Himba settlement, we drove through the morning to the first lodge that we would stay in for the first two of our four nights at the Etosha National Park. After lunch, we went for a game drive in the private reserve owned by the people that run the lodge and were presented with some amazing wildlife opportunities to kick off our Etosha experience.
I’ll share more images next week as we finish with a wildlife extravaganza, but I really want to share this image that I shot as we came across a pride of lions, with one lioness standing proudly on a dirt mound. I shot a few frames as our safari vehicle drew to a halt, and because we were still moving, I quite by luck captured two frames that had enough parallax shift in them to create a three-dimensional image, as if I’d shot it with two cameras slightly apart, simulating our two eyes.
I took the two images into Photoshop and aligned the layers perfectly, and cropped them slightly, then moved the two images so that they are side-by-side, as you can see in this photograph (below). I’ve uploaded this really large, so click on the image and open up your browser window as wide as it will go, or even go full-screen, then look at the images while going cross-eyed. It takes some people more time than others to see it, but you should see two images moving closer together as you go cross-eyed, and if you can adjust the amount that your eyes are crossed to match the parallax, you will see the two images perfectly align. Once they align, you’ll see an incredible three-dimensional image.
Proud Lioness in 3D
Once it clicks, you should not only be able to see the lioness standing in front of the background, but the mound and the trees at various depths all have their own layer in the photograph. I also drew a line from the background to the foreground, to get the positioning for my company logo, so that it sits on its own layer too in the closest foreground. That’s really just a watermark, as I’m putting this out there pretty large.
Anyway, I hope you can adjust your eyes to see it. If like me your eyes are set at a slightly different height you might also have to just tilt your neck to one side a little as well, but once you get used to it, you can snap your eyes in pretty quickly. The photo itself was shot at ISO 1000 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/11, and a focal length of 400 mm.
Complete Namibia Tour 2019
OK, so we’ll wrap up there for this episode, and conclude our journey in part five next week, as I pack the last three days of shooting in the Etosha National park into one last episode. If you might be interested in joining the 2019 tour from June 2 to 18, please check out the tour page at mbp.ac/namibia. Note that I’ve also updated the tour page over the last week, so it now contains some lovely comments from this year’s guests. It really is an amazing tour, so give it some thought. I’d love to travel with you in this beautiful land.
Continuing our travelogue style account of my recent trip to Namibia, I’ve selected the next ten favorites to take a look at today, and I’ll include a little background and my thought process while shooting. We pick up the trail on the morning of May 14, as we started to drive away from the Sossusvlei area.
As we crossed the riverbed, dry from lack of rain this year, the sun was almost on the horizon, and we stopped for one last sunrise in this beautiful area. If you follow my work, you’ll know that I’m not much of a sunrise person. Not because they’re early, I’m usually out and about while it’s still dark when on tours like this, but they just don’t do a lot for me unless there is something of interest that I can put in the foreground, and for this shot, I really liked the silhouette of this large tree by the river.
As I adjusted my composition, placing the sun in the space there on the left, framed by the branches of the tree, I noticed the balloon in the distance, probably the same balloon that I was due to be riding in the previous morning, before I changed my plans to go back to Deadvlei. I gave the balloon a second or two to be in a nice position framed by the trees to the right, then shot a few more frames, of which this is my favorite.
In my normal life, I am not up before dawn, and when long evening meals keep me out of my bed for longer than I’d usually like, I often don’t relish the thought of getting up at 4am or whatever while traveling either, but once I’m up, and when I look back on the fruits of a tour like this, I am always happy and feel fortunate to have watched the sun rise as we do. There’s something very special about watching a day start, and then using every hour to the full, until the sun goes down again.
A note on exposure before we move on, when shooting the sun, at sunrise or sunset, I generally expose so that the sun’s disk is just over-exposed but the area around it is not. The sun is so bright that if you adjust your exposure to the point that the sun is also well exposed, it looks a little unnatural. We can’t look directly at the sun with our naked eyes, without damaging them that is, so for a silhouette like this, I think overexposing the sun a little is fine. If I needed foreground detail, I might consider an HDR, but that doesn’t really appeal to me either. When I’m looking into a sun like this, I am just not able to study all the foreground detail without shielding my eyes from the sun, so I leave my photos like that too.
Another thing to note is that I generally use Live View too, rather than looking through the viewfinder. The sun is magnified through the lens, and can seriously damage your eyes if you look at it directly, so although I’ve done this, and will glance quickly if necessary, it’s always best to use Live View, to protect your eyes, and using Live View helps with composition etc. anyway, so it’s always nice to use.
A few hours into our long drive to Cape Cross on the Skeleton Coast, we saw a small group of Springbok at the side of the road, and as we stopped our car, one of them started to pronk, which is when they jump and hang in the air for a while. They do this in self-defense when they feel threatened apparently, so they’re usually running away from you when the do it, but I was happy to catch this springbok in the center of the frame here at full pronk.
Springbok at Full Pronk
Luckily I’d already got my 300mm lens with the 1.4X Extender fitted and ready, and I’d also been setting exposure so that when something like this happened, I’d be ready, so although this was a split second shot, I was ready for it, and it worked out.
After a long drive, as we passed through the town of Walvis Bay, we had a brief stop at a flamingo colony. I put the 2X Extender on the 300mm, and jumped straight into bird photographer mode. I was desperate to get something that I liked in the short time we had, and was happy to see that there were a lot of small groups of flamingo flying in and out of the area.
In this shot, I captured two of them as they flew right in front of me with the flock in the background, which I thought was quite effective. I also got a few others in small groups against the white overcast sky, which are OK, but this is by far my favorite. There was actually a third flamingo just coming into the frame at the bottom, but he was too close to include fully, so I cropped this to a 16:9 aspect ratio to get rid of him.
We still had some ground to cover though, so it was back to the cars, and we made our way, stopping just once more in the last few minutes of light to capture this shipwreck, maybe 40km outside of Cape Cross. I love doing long exposures of the sea, and it always works well if you have a static object to anchor the image visually, like this.
This was shot with the 70-200mm at 115mm, f/11 for a 60 second exposure. Because my Canon cameras only go to 30 seconds in Manual, I switched to Bulb mode and used my Remote Time cable release to time the 60 seconds. Because I usually work in Live View for landscape and still life shots, I often use the 2 second timer instead of mirror lockup, because you’re basically in mirror lockup anyway when using Live View, so I generally just set my remote timer to two seconds longer than I need the exposure. Here it was at 62 seconds, giving me the 60 second exposure I needed. Of course I use the two seconds to get my hands away from the camera, to allow any camera shake that I might introduce die down before the exposure starts.
Note too that here I left the edge of the shoreline along the bottom of the frame, to anchor the image. It might have worked without this, but I think it adds to the story to let the viewer see that this ship is aground not far from the shore. I did a couple of other shots straight after this, but the light faded so fast that the following shots, even doubling the exposure, really weren’t as nice as the first, so this is the one I went with.
The following morning, we spent a few hours at the seal colony at Cape Cross, but although I included a couple of seal portraits in my final selection of images, they didn’t do much for me, especially compared to the seals I’ve shot in Antarctica, so we’ll skip them today. By the afternoon, we’d made our way to northern Damaraland and to the Palmwag Lodge, where we’d spend three nights, and get to visit the Himba people, which was one of the highlights of the tour.
More to show you the terrain than the wildlife, this shot of a small group of zebras shows the basalt rock that evenly covered pretty much all of the open ground in this area. We’d do game drives out here a number of times, and sometimes we’d see zebra and oryx running on this stuff, which never failed to amaze me.
Zebras and Euphorbia Bush
Something else to note here is that the Euphorbia bush that we see behind the zebra here is apparently quite poisonous. The sap causes blisters on contact with the skin, and if it gets into your nervous system can kill you, so whenever we drove close enough for this stuff to brush against the side of the car, and possibly rupture, we closed the windows. It’s one of the favorite foods of the Rhino though. Apparently are able to digest the poison without any problems.
There were a few shots that I would have loved to get on this trip, including a closeup of an ostrich, which never happened, despite us seeing many of them. The other was a pair of zebra close enough to just get an almost abstract shot of their black and white stripes, but with their being no waterholes due to the lack of rain this year, the animals were usually just grazing, and never preoccupied enough to stop them from running away as soon as they saw us.
One of the few times when a zebra did take more than a few seconds to bolt off, was this one that regarded our vehicle for a while, before turning around and walking down behind the hill on which he was standing. This was from the following morning, May 16, and I actually quite like this, with the zebra in the shade, but with the background in full sun, providing a nice bright backdrop, but without the harsh light hitting the main subject.
This was also shot with the 300mm f/2.8 and the 2X Extender. If you are wondering about image quality with this combination, I can tell you that it works great with the 1D X, but not so good with the 5D Mark III, because the 5D is higher resolution, and basically out-resolves the glass. Lenses, or lens and extender combinations can only resolve light down to a finite point, often called the circle of confusion, and if the size of that point of light is the same or smaller than the size of the pixels or photodiodes on the sensor, the image will be sharp. If that point of light is larger than the photodiodes, which it is on the 5D Mark III, the image starts to look soft because the light spills over into the surrounding pixels. For this reason, whenever I needed to use the 300mm with the 2X Extender, I made sure I used it with the 1D X instead of the 5D.
We’d been tracking Lions that we wouldn’t see, but later that morning, as we were about as far as we could go before we had to go back to the lodge for lunch, we came across a large group of Chacma Baboons. They were on the other side of a gorge, which provided enough distance and security that a few of them came over to the edge and just sat looking at us, like this one, in an incredibly human pose.
Sitting Chacma Baboon
I never cease to be amazed at how much like us monkeys are, and this is no exception. He just walked up, and sat down almost like he was about to have a cigarette, or even pull out a cell phone and start to call a friend or check his email. The light was harsh at this point, shortly after 11am, so I used the adjustment brush in Lightroom to just brush in an extra two stops of Exposure around the eyes here. Otherwise they would just be dark pits, and you couldn’t see the eyes at all.
Because I shoot to the right though, meaning that the data in the histogram is almost touching the right shoulder, I can increase by around two stops without introduce any grain. Had I exposed this according to the camera’s meter, it would have been much darker and I’d have gotten a lot of grain around the eyes as I tried to brighten them. I may not have even been able to brighten them if the dark detail was totally lost in the shadows.
As we got close to the lodge on the way back for lunch, we found some elephant droppings and tracked them to an elephant eating some fresh grass just behind our lodge. We got really close, but he was so busy eating that he just didn’t look up enough for us to get a decent photo. Then, after lunch, I was amazed to find a second elephant feeding and drinking at the waterhole right behind my room at the lodge, as we can see in this photo.
Elephant at Waterhole
This was still shot at 420mm, the 300mm with a 1.4X extender fitted, but he was close enough for me to have to walk back a few paces to get him in the frame like this. In hind-sight, I wish I’d take the extender off, and show him in his environment a little more, as it was a beautiful waterhole. Sometimes the surrounds are as important as the subject, but when confronted with a beautiful animal like this, it’s difficult to pull back. I learned from this though, and fixed it later in the trip. Of course, sometimes I love to get in really close too, and just fill the frame with a part of the animal, but I didn’t have the lens power to do that on this trip.
I had wanted to avoid making sepia toned images on this trip, because I didn’t want to appear to be copying the beautiful work of Nick Brandt, which I of course don’t even come close to, but as much as I tried to like the straight black and white shots of elephants that I was processing, I just couldn’t live with them. I found the dull coloring of elephants was easily outshone by bright greenery around them, so wanted to convert to monotone, but I ended up giving in and working in sepia for all but one of my elephant shots and a couple of black rhino shots that we’ll look at probably next week or the week after. I only left one elephant shot in color, because it felt better than monotone.
Another incredible animal that I’d see in the flesh for the first time on this day was the Giraffe. We’d see more, and get really close to some of them later in the trip, but my first view of a giraffe in the wild was magical. It almost felt like the scene in Jurassic Park as brontosaurus and other dinosaurs roamed across a plain. These animals are mostly really composed, and walk so slowly and deliberately, towering over much of the vegetation, that the hair on the back of my head stood up as I framed and photographed this beautiful animal.
I’d get more giraffe shots as I say, but this is one of my favorites, as it gives a bit of a sense of scale, and also shows the surroundings. I was conscious not to crop that tree in the top right too, as I felt that needed to be there to balance the top part of the image. It would have felt awkward if that was cropped partway. It’s often difficult when faced with something as magnificent as this though. Like with the last elephant shot, it’s all too easy to just get caught up in the excitement of the moment, and forget about composition etc. but allowing that to happen all the time would leave you with nothing to show, despite all of your amazing experiences. I had to pinch myself many times on this trip, especially now we were seeing more wildlife.
On the morning of May 17 though, we’d break from the wildlife, for a highly cultural experience as we visited the Himba people. To close with though, here is a taste of that visit, with one of my first shots of some small children in the village.
We arrived shortly after dawn, and started to break off into small groups, to pose and work with the people of the village. Some shots were more posed than others, and although I’d rounded a few kids up for this one, the really small children couldn’t really be controlled, so I started to shoot what I could as they walked around.
As you can see in their eyes, this small one was a little bit bewildered, and couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, but the larger child was having a bit of fun with it. I just love this little one’s beautiful big eyes though, which as you might expect, contain the reflection of a large daunting photographer and the blue sky behind him.
In the most part, we had the subjects to move into the shade, because even at 7:30am, the sunlight was already very harsh and contrasty. I used my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens for the whole morning, and really did have a wonderful time with these people.
We’ll look at more photos next week, as I try to wrap this up with the last ten shots, although it might run into a five part series, because there’s still a lot to show you. Remember though, I do have my favorite Impressions of Namibia posted on my Portfolios web site, if you’d like to take a look at that rather than waiting for the last episode or two.
For this week’s Podcast episode, here’s a slideshow of images from three consecutive expeditions to Antarctica and South Georgia, in Nov-Dec 2012, while working with Aurora Expeditions. Grab a coffee, kick up your feet, and make sure you have audio turned up. Once you’ve watched this, I try to answer some of the questions you might have below.
Oh, and this is full 1080p HD video, so if you have enough bandwidth, hit the cog wheel and make sure you’re watching the highest quality, and go full screen. The usual Podcast feed will download an iPhone optimized version via iTunes if you are subscribed.
First off, before anyone asks, no, there was no ice in the sea on the way to South Georgia, this was my artistic license. The initial footage of us breaking through sea ice was shot in Antarctica a few weeks into the expeditions.
The big blue ship that appears at around six minutes is the Polar Pioneer, the ice strengthened Russian vessel that was home for the five weeks I spent on these expeditions. It wasn’t the first time I’d traveled in her, and it won’t be the last. She’s a beautiful ship, full of character and fond memories.
What was my role on board? I was running the Photography Option, with a group of 10 to 12 photographers on each voyage. We did lectures while on board, and travelled in the same Zodiac so that A) we could spend more time photographing than other Zodiacs, and I could work with the group to help them with their photography, and B) so we didn’t annoy the hell out of normal passengers, that don’t typically use such long lenses and spend so much time on their photographs.
Why did I make a point of calling out “The Albatross” at Cape Horn? Here’s what’s inscribed on a monument down there:
“I, the albatross that awaits for you at the end of the world… I, the forgotten soul of the sailors lost that crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the world. But die they did not in the fierce waves, for today towards eternity in my wings they soar in the last crevice of the Antarctic winds” – Sara Vial
Why did I include the shot of the dead elephant seal? Well, that’s life! Or death… I deliberated on this one, and I apologize if it shocked you, but these things happen. The first time we visited Elephant Island as we left the Antarctic Peninsula on the way back to Ushuaia, there were many baby elephant seals, maybe four or five weeks old, stuck in holes were they’d dropped through the snow, and couldn’t get out. We made a decision to help them, and released about 10 to 15, which hopefully lived. When we went back a second time, there were circles of dead pups, that had obviously dropped through the ice again, but no-one was there to help them this time. It’s saddening, even heart-breaking to see, but it happens all the time, and I felt fortunate to have witnessed this harsh truth, so I left this shot in.
The two shots after the dead seal are boilers or storage for whale blubber, at Deception Island. Something that we should not be proud of, but again, these are a legacy that we cannot ignore. There are a few shots earlier than that of wrecked ships. These are also old whalers that were run aground when they were no longer needed. It was apparently less expensive to just leave them down there than sail them back to their base countries to be broken down.
How did I get the end roll video? I lay on the anchor box at the front of the Zodiac, as expedition leader Don McFadzien navigated deftly around the sea ice. The resulting footage was bumpy as hell, as we roll over chunks of ice, but I stabilized the footage in Adobe After Effects, and the result looked almost as though we were flying over the surface of the sea, rather than sailing, that’s all.
What software did I use to create the slideshow? I used Boinx Software’s Fotomagico 4.2.1 to create the bulk of the slideshow, but although it’s easy to set out the slides and manipulate the animation/zoom effects, I can’t recommend this software to anyone, at all. It crashed constantly on my MacBook Pro Retina, and if I hadn’t invested so much time to begin with, I’m sure it would have been quicker in the end to just do the whole thing in Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro. I created the end credit roll in Premiere Pro, because there’s no way to do that kind of scrolling credit easily in Fotomagico. Also, aligning audio in Fotomagico is like pulling teeth. Very tedious and painful. Unless you want just a very quick simple slideshow, look for other software. [UPDATE: Boinx Software just released a free app called SandboxCleaner that they say will prevent FotoMagico and other video and photo related software from crashing. I’ll use FotoMagico again soon and update you if it appears to work. Fingers crossed!]
Can I buy any of the images in the slideshow? Of course! For commercial use, go to www.offset.com and search for “artist: Martin Bailey”. For now, you’ll have to request an invitation, as the service is not fully public yet, but once you are in, you can buy and use these images commercially at a very reasonable price point. For prints, I’ve also just updated my Portfolios site, with 100 of these photos available for viewing at your own pace, and I’ve added these image for print sale here, under Antarctica. In the meantime, if there is an image that you would like a print of, but can’t find, just contact me with the time that the image appears in the video, and a brief description, and I’ll get back to you.
Am I doing any more Photography Expeditions to Antarctica? You bet, but nothing I can talk about right now. Subscribe to our Tour & Workshop Newsletter to receive information as it’s released. We will never spam you or share your information with third parties.