This week we continue our travelogue series to cover my 2019 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, as we leave the deserted diamond mine town of Kolmanskop, for an afternoon in another deserted mine at Elizabeth Bay.
Unlike Kolmanskop, which is deteriorating relatively gracefully, the buildings at Elizabeth Bay were built using bricks made with seawater, so the salt is causing the bricks to erode away quicker than the mortar that holds the walls together. You can see this in action at the far end wall of these laborer’s quarters. On the other side of that wall, the South Atlantic Ocean constantly crashes against the shoreline.
Once again, I used my favorite one-point perspective for this shot, aligning the far end of the building square on to the camera, as I find this increases the tension in the shot, and these rooms lend themselves to that in my opinion. I find it ironic that people that were reportedly making good money slept in such meager quarters, and probably left what little belongings they brought with them on that plate above the bed areas, only to be replaced by the dust of the crumbling plaster from the walls that once sheltered them from the sea winds. My settings for this photo were f/14 for 0.6 seconds at ISO 100, and I was using my Canon EF 11-24mm lens at 12 mm.
This next shot is more for documentary purposes, but I wanted to show you what some of these houses look like from outside. As you can see, the bricks are fairing the weather much worse than the mortar, and many of the buildings are simply collapsing as the bricks fail to support them. Because of this, we are obviously careful about which buildings we go inside. Needless to say, I didn’t feel comfortable venturing inside of this one.
Now outside, I was able to increase my shutter speed to a 1/50 of a second for this shot, but left my aperture at my favorite f/14 and ISO at 100, with my focal length adjusted to 20 mm.
Although the back of the next house I visited is crumbling pretty badly, it’s worth venturing in, as this is the building that Freeman Patterson photographed and used a photo similar to this on the cover of his Odysseys book.
I cropped this to a 4:5 aspect ratio, to remove the windows to the right and the door to the left. I’ve shot it with them in the past, but figured I’d just concentrate on the wall and the table with the bottles this year. Back inside for this, my shutter speed was 0.5 seconds, and my focal length was 15 mm, with the rest of my settings unchanged.
Corroded Luderitz Jetty
Following an afternoon in Elizabeth Bay, we drove back to Luderitz, and a few of us got out of the vehicle a short walk from the hotel, to photograph the corroding jetty that you see in this next image. I look at this every year, but there was a bit of color forming in the sky on this evening, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to do some long exposure work to smooth over the sea and allow the clouds to move a little.
I shot from a few different angles, but prefer this one, as for some reason I really like those bent over metal spikes on the block in the bottom left. The rest of the structure is also severely corroded, and I don’t imagine this will be there for many more years, with some of those beams looking as though they’re going to fall away at any time.
If I recall correctly, I was using a six-stop neutral density filter, which took around a 0.5-second exposure out to one minute to capture the movement of the waves and sky. I was also carefully applying downward pressure on my tripod because the wind was blowing quite strongly, and my camera would have moved otherwise. I actually opened up my aperture to f/10 for this shutter speed too, as I didn’t want to risk going any longer while applying pressure. My focal length was 47 mm, now shooting with my Canon RF 24-105mm lens.
The following morning we started one of our long drive days, which is a great way to see Namibia, and the roads are now much better than they were when I first started visiting Namibia, though most of this day is on dirt tracks. We stopped for a number of photos along the way, but we’ll skip to the next highlight, which is Deadvlei, from our first visit the following morning.
I’m sure you’ve seen this sort of image before, but I still love shooting these, and the magic never seems to fade as the sun climbs, illuminating the sand dune, but the shadow of the dune to our backs keeping the clay-pan and foreground camel thorn trees in the shade, making them almost silhouettes. It’s really hard to find something new when there are limited trees that can be framed up with adequate separation between them, but this year, I decided for my first shot that I’d allow the two trees to the left to overlap, so that I could put all five of them in that group on the left, and this makes me feel like there is a priest on the right, giving them a sermon, although he might also be holding up two fingers, making a peace sign.
My settings were ISO 100 for 1/25 of a second at f/14, and I was using my Canon EF 100-400mm lens at 200 mm. I find that longer focal lengths are essential to get separation between the trees because a wider angle includes other trees too easily. The sun only illuminates the background dune perfectly like this for a few minutes, so once I have a couple of frames of each composition, I run between a few other possibilities. On this morning I got five or six shots that I was really happy with, although I won’t share them all today.
Bands of Color
One other thing that I do like to do is to play with the bands of colors that form as the sun climbs, as we can see in this image, with the blue sky, darker dune, orange dune, a slither of brightly lit clay, then the clay basin still in shadow with the camel thorn trees.
The fun thing about this shot is that it actually shows you how much the trees in the previous image that we looked at were compacted. The three trees on the far right of this image are the third, fourth and fifth trees from the left in the previous image. The tree in between the other two trees just to the right of the center of this shot, is the tree on the right side of the previous image, and the tree that is overlapping the smaller tree in the third group from the left here is the back tree of the two on the left of the previous image.
You really wouldn’t think that they were as spaced out as this, but it goes to show just how much using long focal lengths can compact the elements of a scene. In the previous shot, you’d think that all of the trees are within a few meters of each other when they are actually more like thirty meters apart. My settings for this shot were ISO 100 for a 1/30 of a second at f/14, and a focal length of 158 mm.
Deadvlei Sand Storm
After our morning shoot in Deadvlei, we drove back to our lodge and got lunch, then after a little bit of downtime, we went back out and took a walk across the plain to photograph one of the sand dunes. We do this again at the end of the second day in the park, so I’ll share a photo from that shoot later, but before that, I’d like to share a couple more shots from Deadvlei from our second visit.
As we left the lodge on our second morning, there was a good wind blowing, and it got gradually stronger as the sun came up while we were waiting for that magic minute in Deadvlei. Having decided on our first composition, as we sat and waited for the silhouettes to form, every so often a strong gust of wind would whip up the sand and dust so much that it almost completely whited-out the background, so that the orange color of the background dune became almost a very pale pinkish-orange, as you can see here.
I like this because I’ve never seen shots like this from Deadvlei, so we had been presented with something very special, almost as if it was in payment for us being sand-blasted every few minutes. There were a few relatively uncomfortable moments as banks of sand swept through Deadvlei, but when they give you shots like this, it’s absolutely worth it. I also really like how the texture of the trees is so much more visible in these shots, and that soft colored background is a beautiful additional element. My settings for this image were ISO 100 for 0.8-seconds at f/14 and a focal length of 312 mm.
Also, to illustrate the stark contrast between the white background image and our main objective, here is the exact same photograph around 40 minutes later, as the sun reached the bottom of the background sand dune, increasing the contrast once again.
These three trees are the same as the right three in the main photo from the previous day, and I’ve shot this same composition many times now, but I do enjoy having this image from various cameras, and I have to say that this version from my Canon EOS R camera is absolutely stunning when viewed at 100%. My settings for this were an 1/80 of a second shutter speed at f/14, and a focal length of 321 mm. I increased my ISO to 400 to get this slightly faster than my usual shutter speed, because of the wind. I wanted to avoid camera shake if a gust of wind caught my camera at the critical moment.
I’d like to share one last shot from Deadvlei before we move on. Once again, the high winds presented us with another unexpected bonus, as the sand from the brow of the sand dune that causes the shadow in the valley was backlit by the low morning sun, looking almost like the corona coming off of the surface of the sun itself.
I’ve processed this to increase the contrast, using the tone curve and levels sliders to darken down the sand, allowing the smoking sand to look like fire, but there is still enough texture in the sand to see what it is. My settings for this shot were ISO 100 for a 1/50 of a second at f/11, and a focal length of 360 mm.
Fiery Sand Dune
As I mentioned earlier, we repeated the previous day, by driving back to our lodge for lunch, and after a bit of downtime headed out to walk to the face of a sand dune, and here you see it looking almost a fiery red with the last moments of sunlight before the sun went down. The wind is blowing the sand around the surface of the dune here, and of course, the contrast between the East and West sides of the dune causes the East side to go into almost full black.
There are actually two Camel Thorn trees in this shot, but I positioned the second behind the one you see here to minimalize the elements in the frame as much as I could. I like to keep things as simple as possible. After this, we walked back to our vehicle, to a Gin and Tonic and some snacks provided by our amazing guide, and then had a nice drive back to the lodge to spend our third night in this very special part of Namibia.
That’s out ten photos for this episode, so we’ll stop there, and pick up the trail again next week as we head over to Walvis Bay where once again the weather gave us an unexpected bonus, enabling us to photograph the flamingos in a beautiful morning mist, so please stay tuned for that.
The Martin Bailey Art Gallery is Live!
Before we finish, I’d like to quickly mention that I have just flicked the switch to go live with a brand new website Martin Bailey Art, which is a new fine art print and wall art store, containing much of my best work, all available to buy as anything from fine art prints, to canvas, metal and even printed onto wood, as well as some budget media, if you’d like to own something but need to keep the price down, although these third party prints are all quite reasonably priced. There is also a 20% discount for first-time orders if you fill out the popup that will display when you first visit, so please take advantage of that if you find something that you like, including many of the photographs that we’ve looked at today. You can find the new site at www.martinbailey.art. I hope you like what you find there! If you are looking for one of my photos that isn’t available, by all means, drop me a line, and I’ll upload it for you to pick up a print.
Complete Namibia Tour & Workshops 2020 and 2021
I’d also like to mention that in addition to the places that we have left for my 2020 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, I have now started to take bookings for 2021, and you can find details of each tour at https://mbp.ac/namibia2020 and https://mbp.ac/namibia2021 respectively.
We continue our travelogue series today, walking you through my 2018 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, as we spend a magical few hours in Deadvlei, photographing the beautiful silhouetted camelthorn trees.
If you’ve been following the podcast for a while, you’ll have heard me talk about the magical few minutes that happens most mornings in Deadvlei, as the sun rises above the large sand dune to our backs, and we are treated with a beautiful natural contrast of light and shade, that you can see in the first photo for today (below). This is a popular photograph to shoot since National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting put Deadvlei on the map, but as I work with my group here each year, it’s easy to see that composing a nice shot in Deadvlei isn’t as easy as you might think.
Of course, you can just look at what everyone else has done here, and copy that, but I never look at images of places that I visit beforehand, so I start with a clean slate on my first visit, and then I know that at least everything I come home with is original to me. I talked about this concept in depth if episode 571, “Be a Creator Not a Collector of Photographs” so check that out if you are interested.
My main consideration when composing a scene is that I generally want separation between the main elements of the photograph. Plus, I generally don’t want to crowd my photograph with too many elements. There is literally only one place that you can stand to get this photograph without including parts of the trees to the left and distant clutter to the right starting to creep into the frame.
It’s lovely to work this location though, and even though I’m visiting twice a year at the moment, the magic never goes away, as the sun works its way down that dune in the background, and creates that perfect line of shadow across the clay pan for just a minute or two.
My settings for this shot (above) were ISO 100 at f/16 for a 1/15 of a second, and a focal length of 200mm with my Canon 100-400mm Mark II lens. As usual, I am exposing to the right, so just ensuring that the sand dune is exposed as far over on the histogram as possible, and then the rest of the shot just takes care of itself.
Cluster of Trees
You really have to work to find pleasing compositions though, and with the time being so short, it’s worth scouting out a few additional options to shoot quickly after your main shot. With just about all of the shots that I can find under my belt already though, I now just quickly grab a few other shots, like this one (right) where I flipped my camera into a vertical orientation and cropped in very tightly on this group of four trees.
You can probably tell that the two trees at the back are the same as the left-most trees from the first shot, so I’d just moved across to my left a little, and zoomed in to 300 mm.
I allowed the tree to the left to overlap with the background trees a little while maintaining some separation between the rightmost two trees, and I quite like the results. However, you can see that the light is already just starting to illuminate the left side of the clay pan, forming a pale yellow line between the orange dune and the darker foreground, and this was just three minutes after my first shot, so you can tell how little time we really have to get these shots.
Bands of Color
The great thing about Deadvlei though, is that you can keep having fun with the light as the sun gets higher, playing with things like the various bands of color, as I did in this next photograph (below). I cropped this down to a 16:9 ratio, to emphasize the horizontal bands, and remove a little bit of excess sky that didn’t do much fore me.
With the sun getting higher still now, my shutter speed was at 1/50 of a second now, still at ISO 100 and f/16 though, and at this point I was using my 24-105mm lens at 70mm. With five distinct bands of color, light, and shade, I quite like the overall striking look of this image, although the following image (below) is somehow more appealing to me, as we simply get to enjoy seeing how the trees look in full sunlight.
We also do still have four bands of color, which I like to see. You’ll also notice that I’m still trying to get some separation between as many of these trees as possible, just to keep things simple to look at. My settings here were the same as the previous image except that my shutter speed had changed to 1/60 of a second, just a third of a stop faster.
Oryx in the Shade
When photographing in the Deadvlei and Sossusvlei area we head back to the lodge for lunch and a few hours rest before heading back out. The sun is very harsh at midday, and no real shadows either, making the photography a bit difficult. We aren’t the only ones that head for the shade at midday though, as you can see in this next photograph (below) with an Oryx that had decided to keep cool under a small camelthorn tree in front of a sand dune.
The dark patches that you can see on both the face of the dune, and the right side of it, are not shadows, but deposits of iron. If you run a magnet over the sand in these places you can quickly get a handful of what are essentially iron filings. They also add a nice bit of texture to the sand, but not to be confused with shadows. The other thing that you’d notice if you can zoom in on the original photo to 100%, is that at midday, the sun is so hot that it causes the air to shimmer, like a mirage, so the Oryx is actually a little bit distorted, as is everything behind it up to the base of the dune. This is another reason why shooting at midday isn’t such a good idea in the desert.
Dune 35 at Sundown
On our way out of the lodge in the afternoon, we had some nice wildlife encounters, but I think I’ll save the wildlife until we get closer to the Etosha National Park probably starting from the end of the next episode. Our main goal was to walk out to dune number 35, which is named so because it’s 35 kilometers from the entrance to the park. We walked out a couple of kilometers to the point from which I made this photograph (below).
We get about this distance to the dune rather than using a longer lens from further away, because there is a third switch-back in the top of the dune, that I personally don’t like to include, and this is the point at which it disappears. We then photograph the trees and generally work the scene until the sun goes down far enough to plunge the left face of the dune into shadow, for this kind of photograph. My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/15 of a second shutter speed at f/14, and a focal length of 120 mm.
Back to Deadvlei
On my tours, I generally try to give my guests at least two opportunities to visit the same location, so that we can improve on our shots, especially when there is only a finite amount of time to make something work, like the two minutes of magic in Deadvlei each morning. The second visit is often optional, and two of our guests decided to climb the dune that causes the shadow in Deadvlei on our second visit, but the rest of the group went back in for a repeat of the previous morning. I photographed one of my favorite compositions again, as you can see in the next photograph (below).
I tried really hard this year to find some new compositions at Deadvlei, and although I do have a number of images that I like, I really just enjoy these simple two tree images, that are all about the contrast between the trees and the background dune. I actually removed a few clumps of grass from the dune in this photo, in Capture One Pro of course, just to clean it up a little bit. I’m not a photojournalist, so I’m happy to do that when I feel it will improve the overall aesthetic quality of the image.
We didn’t spend as long as the first day in Deadvlei on our second visit, but as we started to walk out, despite it having been a pretty calm morning up to that point, there was a gust of wind swept through the basin, carrying a bank of dust with it, and within five minutes, we were in the middle of a full-on sandstorm. It was difficult to walk into the wind at some points, and the sand hurt a little if you didn’t turn your head away from it.
I Love Air I Can See
This, of course, isn’t a bad thing. As I often say, I love to photograph scenes when there is something in the air to make the atmosphere visible. Beit rain, snow, mist or sand, I always find it really appealing to be able to see the air, as we can in this photograph (below) just before we got back to our safari vehicles after the thirty minute walk out from Deadvlei.
I’ve actually done some pretty aggressive level adjustments to bring out the details and layers in this photograph, as the original was much paler, with the sand almost completely whiting-out the scene. I’ve also run a subtle gradient down the top 20% of the frame or so, and reduced the exposure up there by around half a stop, just to darken it down some, for better balance with the rest of the image. Because my camera was being buffeted by the strong gusts of wind, I increased my ISO to 400 and used a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second at f/14, to ensure that I didn’t get any camera shake.
Light and Shade
As is often the case though, these morning sandstorms don’t last long, and by the time we’d arrived at our lodge shortly before lunchtime, we wouldn’t have known there’d even been a storm. We headed back out in the middle of the afternoon again, this time heading for dune number 37, which is a little closer to the road than dune 35, and worked the light and shade once again, as you can see in this image (right).
We had hoped for a more defined line along the crest of the dune, but the angle of the sun didn’t give us that with the current shape of the crest. Still, I like the subtle gradation along the line that we did get. I also really like how the wind has caused the large troughs on the lighter side of the dune here.
The late afternoon sun also really highlights the ripples in the sand at the base of this photograph, so I moved my watermark to the top of the frame instead, so as to avoid messing that up.
I have increased the shadows with the levels and tone curve quite a bit to make the dark area much darker, for a more striking image, but the orange face is pretty much straight out of the camera. Again, I was exposing to the right to ensure the image was as bright as possible in the light areas, and I can do whatever I want with the darker areas once I have captured all the detail in this way.
I also obviously made a conscious decision to crop in very tightly on this dune. I shot the whole thing as well, and it’s nice, but my favorite shots are zoomed in much closer, like this. I just find this kind of image more appealing most of the time. It takes a moment to figure out what you are looking at for some people, and I think we find an image more rewarding to look at when the content of the image isn’t immediately obvious. My settings for this image were ISO 100 for a 1/40 of a second at f/14, and a focal length of 200 mm.
I’ve done something similar, going in very tight, with the last image that we’ll look at for today too (below). This is, of course, the same sand dune, but a little over to the left, so as to include the beautiful camelthorn tree that stands there.
Again, I’ve used the levels and tone curve to darken the shadows, but the sand itself is pretty much as the camera recorded it, with the exception of adding +15 saturation, to just bring back some of the saturation that I lose by exposing to the right. I can also just reduce the exposure slider to get a similar effect, but that affects the entire image, and I want to avoid that. My settings for this image were ISO 100 for a 1/25 of a second, as the sun got closer to the horizon, and an aperture of f/14 at 158 mm.
Contemplating the Place and Moment
I really enjoy photographing these desert scenes. There is something very soothing and thought-provoking about being out in the desert, with really nothing for miles and miles around, except for sand dunes and camelthorn trees, and the occasional Oryx, Ostrich or Springbok wandering around. After our second afternoon photographing these dunes, we were treated to some drinks at our vehicles. We were initially all talking about how wonderful it was to be there, and about the shoot itself, among other things, then our guide suggested that we stop talking for a minute, and just disperse to simply contemplate the place and the moment.
This was a wonderful experience. It’s often nice to just lower the camera and experience the moment, but setting aside time to really just look out across the vastness, feeling the warm desert air being gently pushed aside by the cool post-sunset breeze, and I’m sure that most of the group, myself included of course, just felt incredibly fortunate to have been able to travel to and experience such a wonderful place. It also makes you appreciate just how tiny we are in the greater scheme of things. Even as we looked back at our vehicles from the dunes they were hardly visible in the landscape, but compared to the entire valley between the dunes were all just so completely insignificant and I think it does us good to feel that from time to time.
Complete Namibia Tour 2019
OK, so we’ll wrap up there for this episode, and continue our journey to visit the Himba people for an amazing cultural experience next week. 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, as well as a swanky new animated page header. It really is an amazing tour, so give it some thought. 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
Today we continue a travelogue style account of my recent trip to Namibia, with my friend Jeremy Woodhouse and his group. Of my 145 final selects, I did get around to uploading a tighter 80 photo selection to my portfolios site (and I’ll put a link into the show notes) if you are interested in taking a look. For this episode though, I’ve selected another ten favorites to take a look at.
Picking up the trail on May 10, after we left the gas station as Aus, where we’d photographed the children that we looked at, at the end of last week’s episode, we headed due north, and I started to get my first taste of Namibian wildlife, with this shot of two Oryx that posed for us at the side of the road. This wasn’t a wildlife centric tour by any means, but that didn’t stop me hoping to capture some shots like this as we traveled.
Two Oryx, Two Bushes
Rather than a super action-packed wildlife shot though, I really like this for the humor and composition. I found it quite funny that they both stopped almost parallel to the road, and the one on the left had a bent horn, and there was also the two bushes in the distance almost perfectly spaced as though emulating the Oryx’s positions. As I’d find later, the Oryx generally walk away from you when they see a vehicle too, so it turns out we might have been a bit lucky to have had them just pose for us like this as well.\r\n
A Word on Exposure
\r\nAs you know, I shoot in Manual mode a lot, mainly because I shoot so much in snow scenes, and I just find it easier to take control of the exposure, as opposed to messing around with Exposure Compensation, which I find totally frustrating. Unless you want to over-expose the snow on purpose to get a nicely exposed subject, like the darker snow monkeys I shoot so much, once you have your exposure set for the white snow, you can pretty much just forget about it until the light changes.
In Africa, with there being so much more neutral tone in the scenes, I’d honestly expected to shoot in Aperture Priority, also using Auto-ISO, and maybe sometimes tweaking the Exposure Compensation to keep my histogram over to the right, recording the highest quality pixels with minimum noise. As you can see in this scene though, the light colored background is really quite bright, and even when it was darker, in the end, apart from a few occasions where Aperture Priority just made more sense, I found myself falling back to what I know, and used Manual Exposure almost exclusively.
To keep my histogram to the right, I was still exposing my shots to around 2/3 or even a full stop, sometimes even higher than the camera’s meter thought the scene should be based on an Evaluative meter reading. I know a lot of people say that they prefer Aperture Priority because it stops them from having to think about exposure, but I really just use less brain cycles working in Manual.
Moving on though, I like this next shot (right), more for the story it tells of our journey. We traveled hundreds of kilometers on this type of gravel road, and although it’s pretty noisy to drive on, our excellent guides propelled us along these roads at 100km/hour speeds and more, and I never once felt concerned for my safety. The two plumes of dust you see in the distance here is a car that had just passed us, and the second car in our party.
As we drew close to our lodge for the next four nights, we passed through what would usually have been a waterhole had their been a decent rain this year, but although the lack of rain and waterholes meant much of the wildlife was scattered around, the vegetation left here had kept a small heard of Springbok close by.
My first real close-up look at the Springbox revealed them to be what I would consider one of the most beautiful antelopes I’ve ever seen, with their ribbed and beautifully curved horns, long faces and beautiful big eyes. I remember feeling totally happy as I cranked my ISO up to 2500 for this shot, made with the 300mm and 1.4X extender, and the aperture set at f/5, to nicely blur the background.
This day had been mostly a travel day, to get us close to a beautiful place in the Namib Desert called Sossusvlei. We had four nights in the delightful Kulala Desert Lodge. Most of the accommodation throughout the tour was good, this spot and the last lodge we stayed in were by far the best. Although I’d been sharing a room with one of the participants that I’d hooked Jeremy up with for this tour, I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I had a room to myself here. Well, I say room, but they were incredibly well made tents.
The windows were just strong netting, with canvas flaps on the inside, that could be rolled up to let air in to keep cool during the hot days, or rolled down to keep the cold air out once the sun went down, and the temperature plummeted each evening. There was electricity in the rooms, and a nice bathroom that all by itself stayed cool during the day, and warm at night, and I had a large complimentary yellow gecko living in my bathroom, to keep me company for the duration.
The main reason for us being in this area was to visit Deadvlei, meaning literally the Dead Marsh, aptly named because a sand dune had blocked the flow of water off to an oasis, leaving a dried up clay pan and a bunch of camel thorn trees, to provide a stark foreground for the beautiful orange-red walls of the dunes as the morning light illuminates them before it hits the valley floor. This is the place that Frans Lanting made famous when shooting for the National Geographic. The color and light contrast between the trees and dune walls is so great at dawn, that people thought Lanting’s images were paintings, or at least had been messed with, until he was able to provide a back story to explain the phenomenon.
I would end up going back to Deadvlei two days later, and we’ll look at an image showing this better later, but first, from my initial visit, here is a shot showing the sky, dune in shadow, illuminated dune, clay pan in sunlight, and the clay pan in shadow, forming five distinct bands of color highlighting the camel thorn trees. The shadow is made by the large sand dune to the left of me as I faced this scene.
Deadvlei Camel Thorn Trees
The first morning was a little bit frantic, as entry to the park is limited, and we literally flew along the track down to where we’d park the car to walk the last kilometer into Deadvlei, as the sun was almost in position to start the display. I got some nice shots, but improved on them on my second trip here a few days later, so we’ll move on for now.
The sand dunes in this area really are a sight to be seen. They look pretty cool on the map too, as we can see in this screenshot from the Map module in Lightroom, the river bed punctuated with the tips of the sand dunes actually looks like an elephant’s trunk, and the mouth of the river as it opens up to the right looks like the elephant’s face. There’s even a little smily mouth. All its missing is its tusks, so let’s think of this as a happy baby elephant. On this map by the way, Deadvlei is the left-most place-marker, with the number 20 in it.
Smily Elephant at Sossusvlei
The yellow place-marker on the map is dune number 12, where I shot this next image. This is close to the tip of the dune, with a strategically place acacia tree, composed here to be almost central to the dune. You can see how I also placed the dark cap of the shadow side of the dune directly above the tree here. You can control how much of the shadow and where it falls in relationship to the foreground and the tree by moving around, and here I was literally taking my ideas for the composition from classic photos of Mount Fuji in Japan. This is why I subtitled this image Akafuji, meaning a red Mount Fuji, sometimes seen at dawn and more often at dusk, as the light of the sunset hits the sides of the iconic mountain.
Namibian Dune (Akafuji)
Centralized or bulls-eye composition can sometimes look a little clumsy, but sometimes it just works, so should never be ruled out as a compositional tool. I’ve uploaded other shots from this spot to my portfolios site too, and you can see that the amount of shadow to the left and the deepness of the red in the sand is greatly enhanced as the sun hits the horizon. This shot is one of my favorites though, as it was early enough that the shadow of the tree was not yet on the face of the dune, which kind of spoils it just a little, in my opinion.
As I mentioned earlier, at night, the temperature in the Namib Desert drops considerably, to the point that you do indeed need those light down jackets that I showed you in the Preparation/What’s in the Bag Video that I released before leaving for Namibia. Not only is this a nice change after the almost oppressive heat of the day, but this, and the lack of humidity and light polution, presented us with the clearest view of the night sky that I’ve ever seen, and you can see here, in this photo of the Milky Way.
Our Galactic Home
This is a slightly zoomed in shot, looking out across the spiral arm of our galactic home, made with the 24-70mm lens, wide open at f/2.8. Although it’s visible with the naked eye once you move away from any lights and turn off your head-lamp, I did still have to increase my ISO to 3200 and shoot wide open for 25 seconds to get this shot. The noise with the 5D Mark III isn’t worth thinking about at this ISO though, and all I’ve done to enhance this is to reduce the black slider in Lightroom to -12, and added +50 Clarity, to make it pop a little. Note that I chose 25 seconds because this is when the stars just start to elongate a little, but they still look like disks, not a failed star-trail shot.
Dune 17 Form and Lines
These are actually the same settings that I used for a thousand frames on three evenings that we were traveling, which resulted in three roughly 25 second long timelapse videos of the milky way and a few other distant galaxies moving across the night sky. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to use the video yet. I’m thinking to use them as part of a slideshow of photographs punctuated with video snippets, to present my Namibia experience as a whole, which I’ll hopefully get to in the next few weeks. If that takes very long to get to though, I’ll just throw them up onto YouTube and let you know before too long. I want you to see these time-lapses because they’re pretty impressive.
After a dawn shoot and breakfast the following day, May 12, a few of us from the group took an hour out to climb dune number 17. Although pretty tiring, because you slide back half a step for every step forward you take, it was a wonderful experience. I only took my 5D Mark III with the 24-70mm lens attached, but it turned out to be a good choice.
I shot this image at 38mm, stopped down to f/14 for 1/80 of a second at ISO 100. This is one of those shots that I didn’t really think much of at first, but since returning home have fallen head over heals in love with. My initial thinking was to compose this to show the line of the ridge of the dune on which we were standing, but then show how it lead to the mid-ground, then the distant dunes, and I included a bit of the sky for balance. It wasn’t until later though that I really started to appreciate this for the textures in the foreground sand, the shadows to the left, the leading lines and then the texture and tonal variation in the face of the distant dune.
Although I worked pretty hard to get up this dune, and we walked right around, down almost into the basin, and then back up around, destroying the pristine beauty of this dune later, I really didn’t appreciate this photo until the emotion of the day had died down. Usually, if we work hard for a shot, we want to like it initially, and then sometimes they just fizzle out. For some reason, this was the reverse.
At the end of this day, we shot a different dune. Maybe number 11, but no-one could say for sure. If you take another look at the map (above) it was shot to the right of the yellow number 7, which we believe was dune number 12. A little bit further from the road than dune 12, this one presented a slightly different opportunity, with the tree starting to be buried in the sand. As the sun went down it accentuated the ripples in the foreground, although they were messed up to a degree by the shadow of another tree.
Tree in Boiling Sand Dune
The wind got up a little too, blowing sand off the ridge of the dune, which was also illuminated by the sun against the darker shadowed background. There was also a beautiful illuminated tip that I placed in the top left of the frame, kind of balancing the image out, with a patch of bright orange in both the right side and this top left corner.
Next, here’s a shot from the porch of my lodge, with the moon rising in the sky with venus, as the last light of another day faded along the horizon. I always find it interesting to see that you can sometimes see the part of the moon that is usually dark, especially in such clear skies as we had in Namibia. I played with this scene for a few frames, but found that when I exposed for the bright part of the moon, the part in shadow and the faint light on the horizon disappeared.
Moonburst (look closely!)
I toyed with the idea of shooting one image for the bright part of the moon, which would be quite a fast exposure, as it’s basically just reflected sunlight, then masking it over a second shot, showing the darker part of the moon and the horizon. Then I started to wonder if I could use the brightness of the moon to create a sunburst effect. Because I was shooting at 70mm, I knew I’d have to stop down some to create the effect, so I went to f/11 and increased the ISO to 800, to give me a shutter speed of 8 seconds. I didn’t want to go any longer than 8 seconds, because if I’d gone longer at this focal length, I’d have started to see too much movement in the moon. You might have to click on the photo to view it at its largest, but the result is a very definite and quite pleasing moonburst, so I was happy with that.
The following morning, I got my second crack at Deadvlei. I’d actually booked on a balloon flight, which I was quite looking forward to, but I hadn’t been told that the other option was a return to Deadvlei, but luckily, I was able to cancel the balloon trip, and we headed out a good thirty minutes earlier than before, with special permission to get into the park early.
I’d studied my images from the previous trip, and although I was happy with them, I had a few ideas that I wanted to work on with my second chance. Remember that I don’t study other peoples’ photographs before trips, as I don’t want to spend time looking for scenes that would exist in my head. I did recall the Lanting photo that I’d seen a number of years ago, but my memory wasn’t clear enough to spoil my creativity. This time though, I’d got my visit of two days earlier in my mind, and some ideas that I wanted to work on, and I recall spending a quite frantic 20 minutes or so rushing around the clay marsh basin, looking for my angle.
I’d over-thought the scene on my first visit, and really wanted something very simple. I prefer to have the trees fully included in the frame, not cropped off, and this can make finding a good spot difficult. I finally settled on a spot just to the right of Jeremy, and found three trees that I could isolate, and that had a relatively clean background. As you can see in the resulting image, there is a little clump of vegetation on the horizon line, and a bump on the right edge of the frame which I’d have liked to not be there, but I can live with them. You can see here though, how the timing is crucial, so that you get a line of illuminated sand as a backdrop, but then a perfect line of darker shadowed foreground at the start of the clay pan.
The interesting thing with this composition is that after all my deliberation, when I got home and looked up Frans Lanting’s famous shot again, I see that the left two trees in my shot are the two right-most trees in the Lanting shot. Whether he was aware of it or not, Jeremy was probably shooting pretty much exactly the same shot as Lanting. I haven’t seen his photos yet, but I’m curious to see what he came away with. Either way, I’m very happy with the results of my second visit to Deadvlei.
I actually have a stash of new Breathing Color papers sitting next to me as I write this, and I’m looking forward to making time later this week to profile these papers, and print this, and a few other favorites from Namibia, to see how they look. These are actually new papers and canvases to the Breathing Color line, so I’ll let you know how they fare once I’ve finished this travelogue series. This episode actually puts us at almost half way, so I reckon we’ll be running for another two weeks, possibly three, but I know some of you miss the travelogue style episodes, so hopefully this is worth doing.
I’d also like the mention that the music we’re being played in and out with for these episodes is used with kind permission from the staff of the Kalula Desert Loge, where we stayed for the four days while in the area we’ve looked at today. Every other night they sang and danced and mesmerized their guests. Another amazing experience that I won’t forget in a hurry, especially with the help of my iPhone video from which I took the music.
We’ll sign off now for this week though, and I’ll be back next week, as we pick up the trail with a little more wildlife, and some photos of the intriguing and beautiful Himba people. Remember, my best 100 shots from the trip are now uploaded to a portfolio page here.
Today we conclude this three part travelogue of a brief trip to India, looking at some environmental portraits and architectural silhouettes. Before we get started, if you are listening to this soon after it’s release, it may well be Christmas Day, so Happy Christmas! If you’re catching up later, I hope you had, a very Happy Christmas, and wish you a wonderful New Year.
So, we left off last week having looked at the pictures of the Taj Mahal. I spoke about some history of the place as well as some technical mistakes I’d made during my shooting due to lack of sleep, which might also lead me to believe that I don’t yet know that particular piece of equipment like the back of my hand. If I did, I would still have been able to use it while effectively on auto-pilot. During the last 45 minutes or so in the Taj complex the guide went back to the gate where I’d got my first glimpse of the mausoleum made of white marble that is the symbolic centre of the complex and what most people think of as the Taj Mahal. I should just mention that having a guide was great to get some history of the place while wandering around, but I’d say it’s not 100% necessary if you are only going to be visiting the Taj Mahal.
I’d requested a guide because my original plan was to arrive at the Taj before dawn and shoot for a few hours, then leave the complex, to go back to the hotel and get breakfast, then check out and do some street photography in the area during the day, then come back to the Taj as the sun dropped in the sky leading up to sunset, and shoot a little more during this warm light and as the sun went down. Well, as I said before, the travel time over here was not two hours as I had heard, but 5 hours, so I was incredibly tired having had just 90 minutes disturbed sleep, and I also now had to leave the area much earlier in the day to have time to get back to Delhi airport for the evening flight out of India. So the guide was not as useful as I’d original expected. Having said that, I’ll give a few details of how this guide thing works, for the sake of those of you that may have a chance to make it over here some day. Firstly, note that the car I was riding in was booked in advance and has a driver. If you want to travel by car in India, I do not recommend getting a renta-car and driving yourself. Driving in India is a skill that although not impossible to master, which is pretty obvious because millions of Indian people are doing it every day, but it is very different to any other country that I’ve visited. The lane markings carry very little importance apparently. A two lane road will frequently be used by three or four cars side by side, depending on the size of the lanes, and when travelling at any speed outside of the cities, many of the drivers just meander between the lanes as they feel fit. The odd cow walking towards you in the opposite direction is a strange site at first, and trucks and cars tend to use the opposite side of the road to get to their destination sometimes as well. So basically if you’re in thick traffic, it’s incredibly thick, and carries the risk of being bumped or bumping into someone else with every manoeuvre, and when you are travelling at a decent speed, there’s the risk of being knocked off the road by someone changing lane without any thought of anyone else on the road, or being hit head on by a large truck or cattle coming in the opposite direction on your side of the road. This is really not doing this experience justice though. I actually really enjoy it in a strange kind of way, so I don’t want to put you off at all. But I just want to say, get a driver with your renta-car. Without trying to put anyone down in any way, it is just a hundred dollars or so a day for a car with a driver, and they are professionals, and more importantly they’re Indian, which means they’re used to it. One thing to note and this information is from Indian friends, so you can trust me, a generous tip for a driver that has stayed with you for a day or so would be around 500 rupees, which is about $15. Some Indian people have told me this is too much. They say that it will spoil the driver and make them expect more in future, so you could go with around 300 or 400 rupees, but I myself think that 500 is although a touch on the generous side, a nice thank you.
Now, the important thing though, and I must say I’ve not overcome this issue myself yet, is to try and get a driver that speaks good English. I did not book this driver directly myself, and I don’t know if this was requested, but the driver on my trip this time did not speak very good English. Another thing that I will bear in mind for future trips as well, and again, I’m not confident that this will be possible, but if you are not going to have a separate guide, it would be great if there was some way to find people that understand the needs of a photographer shooting in India. Later in the day on my way back to Delhi, I asked the driver if we could stop in some crowded market areas to take some photos, and he basically said it was not a good idea. Now because of his bad English, I don’t know if he’d understood my question, and seriously thought it was not a good idea, or if he had simply not understood my question. I was far too tired to argue though, and spend most of the five hour drive back gaping out of the window in a haze, or totally asleep. But getting someone with good English and that can stop in areas of interest and then maybe get out of the car and walk with you, will be a big help.
Moving on to the guide, the guides for the Taj Mahal do not get a wage. They used to be paid by the renta-car company, but booking and payment problems caused them to decide as a group that they would no longer be booked or paid by the renta-car company. Now, the driver calls a guide from a list of numbers he has, usually on the day, so our guy got a call at 4:30AM, and then the guides come out to work with you. They don’t get paid, but I went to great length to find out from the guide what a fair amount to pay him would be. Now, this guy is only human and is possibly, actually probably inflating the amount to an extent. He told me that people who do not enjoy the tour will pay just $15 dollars or so, which as I said earlier is 500 rupees. But people who really found the tour and the history etc. interesting, would give him $25, $30 or $40 dollars, which is between 850 and 1,400 rupees. The latter seems excessive by India standards, and I doubt that this is what you should pay, but if you are really happy with the service and information you receive, when you consider how much you are probably earning in your own country, and how much you spent getting out here, it might be a good guideline. This is for each member of the party by the way. So if you are in a group, each member would pay what they feel comfortable with and not just chip in a few rupees each to make a thousand say. The more of you in the group, the harder the guide has to work, so I think this is only fair.
Look at my Finger!
Anyway, let’s move on to what happened after I’d returned to the hotel for breakfast before parting with the guide, and then I’ll tell you how much I gave him. So once I’d eaten and checked out of the hotel, the guide asked if I’d like to see some traditional marble craftsmen, inlaying semi-precious stones into the marble, in the same way as some that can be seen in the 1185 of the archway on the front of the mausoleum at the Taj. This sounded like a great opportunity to get some environmental portraits, so I jumped at the chance. He also said we could look at some sapphire cutting and carpet weaving workshops. All trade and products that the area of Agra is famous for. First, we arrived at the marble inlaying workshop and this is where I shot the first three images we’ll look at today. The first of which is number 1193. This is not a favourite shot of mine from the trip. I’ve really included it so that we can see the round plate like marble in to which the craftsman is carving hollows into which the stones will be inlaid. This guy proudly showed me how resting his finger on the marble as a fulcrum for the carving movement is gradually wearing his finger and fingernail away. The problem with this image and the BKSecret, long term member and contributor at the Web site points out in his comment, the guy is looking into thin air. I shot around 8 frames of this guy, some showing his finger and most just working, and in all of them, he’s looking into thin air. This was actually to the point that I wondered if perhaps he had an eyesight problem, but had he not been able to see, I’m sure they would have made a point of how miraculous it was that he could do this job without his eyesight. I had been shooting him at F4, again with the 50mm F1.4 lens, but I closed the aperture down a little to F5.6 for this shot as I was going to focus on his finger, and wanted to get his face more in focus than F4 would have allowed. I’d raised the ISO to 400, as I was indoors but shooting with available light. This gave me a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second.
To his right was another craftsman, grinding the semi-precious stones that would be inlaid into the marble that the first guy was carving notches into. We can get an idea of the sort of thing they are making if we look at the octagonal table top leaning against the wall behind the subject in image number 1194. This time I went back to F4 and focused on the subjects eyes, because I wanted to capture that pensive look on his face as he ground this tiny piece of stone. I didn’t think we need to see the hand clearly in focus for this shot, as we get enough information without it being, and I didn’t want to get the background any more in focus than this either. It was pretty much a coincidence that the table behind the subject was creating kind of a halo around his head. This was not intentional, but I thought it was kind of cool when I looked at the shot later. Note again that as with the first two portrait shots we looked at in part one of this series, I dropped the saturation back down to normal for these portrait shots so as not to overdo the skin tones and this guys yellow sweater also was way too loud with my normal Velvia type settings. The extra stop of aperture had slightly more than doubled the shutter speed for this image to 1/60th of a second, again at ISO 400.
After this, I was lead through a door at the back of the workshop, and this is where they try to sell you their wares. This is also where I warn you about this kind of establishment. The first thing I heard on going through to the showroom is that there is no obligation to buy anything. Then I got a nice display of how Coca Cola will not damage the marble tables even if left on for 24 hours, and then watched it quickly wiped off in about 24 seconds. It’s also where I was told that the table tops could be shipped to anywhere in the world. This is where I made my first stance in saying that I didn’t want a table top, and was rebuffed another explanation that there is no obligation and that I was to just enjoy looking at their goods. As we went through the showing, saying no to everything, the size of the wares got smaller and smaller, and the price got lower and lower. They start off trying to sell you something that you would need a second mortgage for, and they finish up with a grumpy look on their face as they show you $200 ring case. They also apparently have a magic ball or some kind of divining system that will accurately tell you the taste of every man in the worlds wife.
Now, I’m being a little sarcastic here, but I’m English, which means sarcism is in my blood, so please forgive me, but I want to impress on you, that they will give you a very, very hard sell. I was getting pretty frustrated, and told the owner of the establishment that he had no way of knowing that my wife was going to love the ring box that he held in his hand, swearing that she would. He moved on to show me another ring box and said, this one is even cheaper. It was at this point where I was very close to snapping and said that it was not the price. I simply could not see anything that my wife would like. I asked for him to shut up while I looked to see if there actually was something that I wanted to buy for her, because I know her, and he doesn’t. As I looked around further, I actually did find a small box that was not overly ornamental, and figured that it would make a nice gift, and that there was a good chance my wife would like it. Because I was now pretty annoyed with the shop owner, I told him I’d buy it for a price much lower than the one on the piece, and he went for it without hesitation. Now frustrated for not saying an even lower price, I paid the money and left the showroom.
As I came out, the guy in the yellow shirt from the last shot had been replaced by another guy in a yellow shirt, who we can see in image number 1195. This time, rather than looking extremely pensively at his work, the young man stared right at the camera for a number of seconds. This allowed me to get a relatively nice portrait with his big eyes staring right back at me. There was now another guy sitting behind him to the right, so I had to come around to the front more, but I kind of like this angle too, and it accentuates the grinding wheel and the stick used to drive it as they are closer to the camera and therefore more out of focus at F4, which is the aperture I was still shooting at. I gave each of these guys 20 rupees each at this point for posing for me. Note that in the street, I would probably not do this. I find it can be insulting to offer small payments for shots, and prefer to buy something from the person I’m shooting if they are selling something. For example the last time I visited India and shot some young boys with who was probably their Dad at a banana stall, and I bought a few bananas from them. This sort of thing is much better I think, and keeps their pride intact.
Thinking about it, I was reminded of this during the walk out from the Taj earlier in the day. A small boy selling post-cards was dogging me all the way out of the complex. He was asking for 100 rupees for his post cards. Now, I never buy post cards. Most of the time, I’ve just shot a bunch of images that I will use to remember the experience, so I simply don’t need them. So I made the mistake of saying, “Look, I don’t want your post cards, but here’s 20 rupees”. The point I was making was get out of my hair. With this though, the young boy pulled a face, looking as though he’d been insulted and shook his head. I realized that I had indeed insulted him. I’d made a mistake that I try very hard not to do in life, and that is to make a decision to do something based on my own set of values and cultural background. This was not some whippersnapper from England or Japan, who would have been selling these for some pocket money to buy some sweets or a toy. This was a young businessman, with pride in his wares, and probably with a responsibility to take home a certain amount of money to help his family eat. I’d hurt his feelings and insulted him by offering him money, and I felt bad, and regretted doing so. Following a profound moment of realization though, I still didn’t need his post cards, so told him again told him “no” and continued to walk back to the electric car to take us back to the car.
After the inlaid marble workshop and shop, the guide took us to a jewel shop. Then he asked if we wanted to go to a carpet shop. I was now fed-up with people trying to sell me stuff, and I knew for a fact that I did not want a carpet, so I refused. One more piece of advice based on this is that these guides seem to be tied up with a number of shops and will try to take you around a number of them. If you don’t want to buy anything, or don’t want to spend the time looking, just refuse from the start. I didn’t realise what was going on at first, as I’d heard that we were going to visit a craftsman’s workshop. I was excited about this from a photography perspective, but I don’t like the pressure to buy stuff that I don’t want. I’m sure it would have been put me in an uncomfortable situation to get out of there without buying something had I not found something I thought my wife would appreciate, so unless you are prepared to put your foot down and get past the hard sell, I suggest you just don’t visit.
So, as I said, the original plan was to do some street photography here, but it turns out that Agra doesn’t really have a market area like most towns. At least that’s what the guide told me and a drive around in the car seemed to reinforce this. As it was going to take five hours to get back to Delhi and it was almost lunch time, I decided to let the guide go and head back. I paid him 1,000 rupees for his services. I know from what he’d told me earlier that he probably expected more. I based this price on a number of things. Firstly, he’d gotten up really early to get to the hotel at 5:40AM, and he’d been very patient and helpful as I was shooting in the Taj Mahal complex. I was grateful for both of these things. However, he didn’t help to find any good areas that I might be able to do some street photography, and actually just seemed to be leading me away from this as a possible way to spend some time. I was also not happy at the way he wanted to take me to all of the shops to buy things. Although I was relatively happy at the two place I did visit, and I got some nice portraits from one of them, I felt as though I was being railroaded a little here, and this made me feel uncomfortable, so I thought I’d pay him a good price, but not overly generous.
So we started the drive back to Delhi, and as we made progress, I was having difficulty keeping my eyes open. I decided to head back early so that we could stop off at a few places of interest on the way, and I also wanted to stop the car and shoot in some market places at some point. The fatigue from lack of sleep was really getting to me though, and I remember seeing a few places that would have been interesting to shoot had I been fresh and awake, but I really just couldn’t get serious about doing this in my current state. A few hours into the drive, and I noticed the driver was definitely getting tired and feared he would fall asleep at the wheel. I told him we could stop for a break at any time, and he seemed to understand and agree, but he pushed on for another hour or so, then he stopped at a road side eatery for lunch at around 2:30PM. It is customary for the driver to eat alone at these sort of places, but I asked him if he’d like to eat with me, and he accepted. I ordered some chicken curry and nan, with some rice, and he ordered some dahl. It was nice just to sit in the warm afternoon and look around at the people passing by. About the time I’d stopped eating and was thinking of going back to the car, a camel train trundled past, so I grabbed my camera and got a few shots.
One of them that I’d like to look at here is image number 1197. Here we can see the camel pulling a large cart with a white canvas covering the load. I don’t know what is under the canvas, but I figured it was some kind of crop or maybe wool or something. In this shot I was lucky to get the camel framed in its entirety and the man sitting driving the cart is in very typical dress, the white robes that you see a lot in India. I zoomed in to 120mm with my 70-200, as I was not so interested in getting the load in. I was more interested in portraying the man large enough to almost be an environmental portrait, but also include the camel totally. This seemed to be about the best composition to achieve this. As they were walking past though, I had to be pretty quick in my thinking. One regret is that I wished I’d opened up the aperture a stop to F4, instead of the F5.6 that I did shoot this at. I was shooting at ISO 400 and getting a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, so I didn’t need the extra stop for a faster shutter speed, but F4 would have helped to take the background a little further out of focus to allow us to concentrate more on the camel and the driver. Still, I quite like this shot though. The man is large enough in the frame to be able to make out his expression as he looks back at me photographing him. For added interest, I was lucky to actually have the camel turn its head and send a glance my way too.
After this we continued the drive towards Delhi. Having gotten a few hours of broken sleep to this point, I’d asked the driver at lunch if we could stop at some market that we might drive through. Now, I still don’t know if he fully understood me, which is one of the reasons that I say you should try to find a driver that speaks good English, but he didn’t look very happy at this question. I asked if he thought this was a bad idea, and he said yes. The guide had also told me if I go shooting in a market place, I should be careful of my camera equipment and keep my wallet safe. I decided to take the drivers advice for now, but intended to ask him to stop anyway if I saw something I really wanted to shoot. The reality is that once I got back in the car, I really couldn’t stay awake long enough to keep my eyes open for a market place or anything else of interest. I regret this the most from the trip. If I’d known it was going to take 5 hours to drive out to Agra, I think I would have extended the trip by a day, and stayed in Delhi on Friday night, then set off on Saturday morning to arrive early in the afternoon and shot the Taj Mahal on Saturday afternoon until the sun set. Then I would have gone back to the hotel, probably nice and tired from the travelling and shooting, and got a great nights sleep on Saturday. Then I could have gotten up all fresh early on Sunday morning, and shot the dawn shots that I did get, and make my way back to Delhi with enough energy to keep my eyes open to find places to do some street photography. This coupled with spending the necessary amount of time to at least try and get a driver that speaks good English and understands the desire of a photographer to stop in various places would have made for a much more satisfactory excursion.
Ruins at Qutub complex
As it was, I visited one more place just outside of Delhi, in a town called Mehrauli. We’ll take a look at two more images from this trip before closing. Both of which were shot at the Qutub complex, and the first is image number 1198. When I arrived here at just before 5PM the sky was starting to warm up as the sun went down, and it was around this time that I shot this domed roof through the ruins. It’s a relatively simple shot, but quite effective I think. I was lucky to have a couple of birds sitting on top of the ruins for added interest, but the dome and the orange sky are the key elements. To the left of this the ruins actually fall off abruptly, so framing here was important. I didn’t want light to appear along the left side, keeping the only light in the bottom of the frame coming through the archway. I compensated the exposure to the tune of minus one stop to make sure the sky stayed warm and the ruins almost a silhouette. The aperture was F11 so that the dome would be almost in focus and this gave me a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second at ISO 400.
I actually at this point didn’t think the sky was going to get any more colourful, so stopped shooting and took a minute to call home and tell my missus that I was almost back to Delhi and everything was fine, apart from the fact that I was just really tired. As I spoke for a few minutes, the sky did start to become an even richer orange, and the cloud formation was pretty nice too, so I cut the call short to shoot image number 1199. For this I used the 24mm TS-E lens, this time using it correctly, as I’d had my moment of embarrassed realization in the car already, and I was able to correct the perspective for the large tower known as Qutub Minar that we can see almost in the centre of the frame here. Apart from correcting the perspective some, there’s not really a lot to say about this image other than that I paid attention to the where the dome and ruins came in the frame in relation to the foreground trees, all of which are silhouetted against this really nice sky. I didn’t need any exposure compensation here, but this is probably more coincidence than anything else. TS-E lenses often make us have to compensate exposure without challenging lighting as the camera has a hard time metering through the TS-E lenses once you start to tilt or shift them. I shot this at F8 for 1/100th of a second, again at ISO 400 as I was still hand holding. I actually carted my tripod half way around the world for the Taj shots and ended up not being able to use it there because of the restrictions, and now, I was still just too tired to take my time shooting these scenes.
I headed to the Delhi airport after this and a few hours later I was on a plane heading for Bangkok. I was on the cancellation list for a morning flight back from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a firm booking for 11PM the following night if there were no cancellations. When I left Tokyo a few days earlier for my business trip that preceded the Taj trip, I was thinking that it would be great if there were no cancellations so that I can spend some time in Bangkok too on my way home. When I got to Delhi airport, I have to admit I was no longer interested in going. I approached the check in desk hoping to find there’d been a cancellation and there hadn’t. I was to fly for five hours or so through the night, and again have time to see a part of another country. I had a choice of spending the whole day from morning to late in the night in the lounge at the airport, catching up on some sleep and email etc. or leaving the airport and taking a look at Bangkok. I had to decide now, as I would check my luggage all the way through to Tokyo if I didn’t intend to leave the airport. I was tired and really just worn out, but I figured it would be better to leave the airport and regret it, rather than staying in the airport and regretting it even more. I find the regret following not doing something much harder to get over than the regret for doing something that didn’t go as well as we’d hoped.
So, once again, after just 4 hours disturbed sleep on a 5 hour flight to Bangkok, I was launched into the city for around 7 hours shooting. I may talk more about this once I’ve gone through my photos more, but I didn’t get many good shots at all. Two images from a quick scan through the shots that stand out are both of Buddhist statues. I don’t think I’ll have enough shots to do a Podcast on the trip though, so I’ll just tell you briefly that, I once again hired a guide to show me around. I visited a number of temples, and had a ride on a boat for an hour or so and then went for lunch. After lunch I was once again taken to a few shops by the guide, reaffirming my thoughts that these guys will always try to get you to part with your money in some way. This supports the country though so I definitely don’t want to say this is a bad thing, but something to be careful of. I had one meal in Bangkok which was this lunch, and a few hours later I started feeling pretty ill. I ended up parting with part of the lunch at the airport, and the rest of it on the flight home that night. I ended up not be able to eat anything else on the flight or on the rest of the journey home and arrived back at my Tokyo apartment at 10AM on Monday morning hardly able to carry my luggage and camera bag. I slept for 8 hours straight until 6PM, then got up for four hours before sleeping for another 8 hours. I felt a bit off all day Tuesday as well, but then I was fine. I don’t know if it was the lunch that made me ill, or some water that I might have swallowed when splashed by some catfish while on the boat. Either way it was probably caused more by the fact that I was just way too tired to stay fit. Not a great experience, but as they say, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
So that concludes the three part travelogue of my brief trip to India in December 2006. I love India and I can’t wait to go back at some point. I’ll definitely try to make time to do more planning myself next time to avoid getting into the same state as this time but still, I came out of the experience with some great memories and a fair amount of nice shots. I hope you’ve enjoyed me sharing them with you.
So that not only conclude the travelogue, but also concludes the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast for 2006. It’s Christmas day today, so a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you. Thanks for listening throughout this year and I hope you’ll continue to listen through 2007. Thanks too for all of your contributions in the Forum and the member’s gallery. You guys make the site a great place to hang out, and I look forward to spending the next year and hopefully many more with you too. So once again, Merry Christmas, and I’ll speak to you again next year. Bye bye.