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
We pick up the trail at dawn on our sixth photography day, when we were back in Deadvlei, for a second shoot with the iconic dead camel-thorn trees against the red dune background. I showed you my first day’s images from this spot last week, and I also mentioned that it’s getting really hard for me now to find a new composition.
The minimalist photographer in me wants to compose my images with minimal elements to provide impact, but the trees in Deadvlei are between 600 and 700 years old, so it’s not like we get new trees growing to provide new photo opportunities. I’d spent a lot of time the previous day looking for something new, and found a pair of trees that I was OK with, but then I went back and photographed the original pair that I’d shot on my first visit in 2013. I have been trying to get 50-megapixel versions of my old favorite images anyway, so that was nice to do, but now I needed to shoot something new.
I settled for a composition that I’d actually framed up and then given up on the previous morning. As you can see in this first photo for this week (below) the image is quite busy in some ways, with eight trees, instead of my usual two or three. I also don’t like the way the four trees on the left side all overlap, but there isn’t any way to avoid this because if I move sideways, either way, other trees creep into the sides of the frame and I lose the separation between the four right trees.
Having said that, overnight, this composition had started to grow on me. There was, of course, a sense that I had to abandon my search for a new composition with fewer trees. I spent more time on this second morning looking again, but as I’d expected, I came up dry. Like I say though, thinking about this composition overnight, it had started to grow on me, so I decided to go with this, and I’m now relatively happy with the results.
I also often find that with these images, there is an expanded version that brings in an extra element to enhance or tell a slightly different story. This first image is about a gathering of beings, as though they are meeting to talk about something. The largest tree on the right is perhaps talking to the others, maybe just gossiping or telling them something a little more sinister.
In this next image, I zoomed out a little from 360 mm to 278 mm and included an extra tree to the right. I entitled the previous images The Gathering, and I’ve called this one The Sermon. They aren’t a set necessarily, but with this image, I almost feel as though the gathering in the previous image was a group of townspeople waiting for the ninth tree in this image. Now they are listening to whatever that tree has to say.
It isn’t obvious, but the largest tree in this shot and the small crooked tree to the right of the main group, then the right-most new tree in this shot is actually the three trees from the shot I made in 2013 and the one that I shared with you last week from the previous day on this trip. That will probably illustrate how a different angle can create a totally different image.
Tree and Dune #40
After our morning shoot in Deadvlei, we took a steady drive back to the lodge, and had a few hours rest during the mid-day heat, then headed back out again at 3 pm to photograph the next dune along from the one we shot on the previous afternoon.
The dunes are numbered by the distance from the gate to the national park. The previous day we’d shot dune number 35, and on this day we traveled another five kilometers along the road to dune number 40.
This one is closer to the road, though still a bit of a walk out until you get to a point where you can photograph something like this image (right) with the camel thorn tree at the base and just the dune in the background.
There was some thin cloud cover on this day, so the contrast between the dark side of the dune and the light side wasn’t so great. You can still see the sand blowing off the right side though, over the crest of the dune.
My settings were f/11 for a 1/50 of a second at ISO 400. I was using a slightly higher ISO so that my shutter speed didn’t get too low, partly because of the wind, but also, in this case, so I didn’t blur the movement of the sand too much. 1/50 of a second will show a little bit of movement in that sand, but 1/13 or so if I’d used ISO 100 would have probably shown the sand a little bit too smoothed over, and perhaps start to reduce the definition.
The following morning, a number of the participants did a helicopter ride, and I’d planned to do a balloon ride with a few other participants, but the wind was blowing in the wrong direction on this day, so our balloon didn’t go up. The helicopter did though, and those guests got some amazing shots.
After we gathered the group back together at 9 am we started our long drive to Walvis Bay, where we’d spend one night before driving up the Skeleton Coast towards Sesfontein. We made a number of stops along the way of course, and one that turned out to be nice and productive was the Zeila Shipwreck.
As we approached, with the morning mist still quite thick, our driver asked if it was worth going because the weather was so bad. Of course, my answer was hell yes! As you can see from this next image, we were able to photograph the Zeila not only in somewhat rough seas but with a bit of mist too. I’ve increased the contrast quite a bit, so the mist isn’t heavily apparent, but I think you can still get a sense of story from this image (below).
Zeila Shipwreck in Mist
I don’t get too hung-up about trying to create a sense of story in my images, opting usually for the goal that I want my images to invoke some kind of an emotion in the viewer. But, when you have story staring you in the face, it’s definitely worth working with. A shipwreck sitting in a calm sea on a sunny day doesn’t really have any more story than, OK, it’s a shipwreck.
A shipwreck in mist with rough seas tells you so much more about why the ship ran ashore in the first place. Of course, it’s a fine line though. I left only a hint of the mist with my processing because I wanted to show the definition of the ship and the waves. The original picture has much heavier mist, but that led to less clarity.
I shot this with my Canon 24-105mm Mark II lens at 105 mm, with an aperture of f/14 and an ND filter to give me a 1.3 second exposure at ISO 100. I did some much longer exposures as well which I also like, but I like the texture left in the sea at just over a one-second exposure.
Zebra Dust Trail
We continued our journey, photographing a number of other things along the way, and arrived at Sesfontein as the sun was getting close to the horizon. Just outside town, we noticed some zebras in the beautiful warm light, and I got a few frames. One with three zebras, and this shot, with just a lone zebra, creating a dust wake as he chases after the group.
Zebra at Dusk
We would spend three nights in Sesfontein to give us access to a number of Himba settlements. The Himba are a wonderful semi-nomadic people and incredibly photogenic due to the ochre cream that they make and spread on their skin, and their distinctive hair and various decorative items that the women generally wear.
Himba Girl Two Years On
The following morning, we headed to the nearby Himba village for a wonderful cultural experience that often becomes the highlight of the tour for many people. As we talked to the Himba, via our interpreter guides, of course, I asked if the girl that I’d photographed in 2015 was still in the village. I showed photographs of the girl in Episode 489 but you can initially see her in this photograph (below) on the right, looking over at her own photograph on my iPhone.
Two Years Older
I didn’t get a photograph of it, but the look on her face as she realized that the photo was her was priceless. The Himba don’t have mirrors, so their mental view of themselves isn’t as strong as in other cultures. The rest of the group initially seemed more interested in the photo, because they have of course seen this girl from their own perspective as she’s grown.
I asked the girl if I could photograph her again, and she agreed to go inside one of their huts so that I could repeat my previous images. I got one of her looking towards the light, which is one of my favorite images from my 2015 trip, but as we’re already going to be showing 11 images today, we’ll skip that one.
Here (right) you can see her looking very proud, and if you compare her to the images from two years ago, you’ll see that she’s pretty much lost that childlike roundness from her face, as she grows into a beautiful young woman.
To photograph these photos inside the hut, I crank my ISO up to 5000. This is one of those times when I take great pleasure in blowing one of the most spoken 5Ds R myths clean out of the water. People love to come up with excuses to not like high-resolution cameras, and one that I hear about the 5Ds R the most is that it has terrible high ISO performance.
I can assure you, that if you expose to the right, and ensure you are recording good quality image information, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. For these images, I was shooting at f/5.6 for a 1/80 of a second shutter speed, and at ISO 5000 this gives me images in which the white on the girl’s neckband was just starting to blow out, becoming slightly over-exposed. The rest of the image is actually quite a lot brighter than what you are seeing here. I darken it down in post for this effect, but the point is, if you are careful with your exposure, you will not see any noticeable grain, even in a photo like this, at ISO 5000.
I couldn’t resist also asking this girl to give me a smile, as you can see in this photograph (right). Of course, as I only speak a few words of her language, everything is relayed by mannerisms. When I want her to smile, I lower my camera and give her a big smile.
I was also surprised by how much this girl has grown in two years. When I photographed her before, she was standing in the hut, making her about the same height in the hut that you see in these photos, but when I asked her to stand this time, her head was almost touching the roof, and her face was out of the light from the doorway.
I initially asked her in words to kneel, but she didn’t understand. I then touched my own knees, and then the floor, but she didn’t understand that either, so as a last resort, I lightly touched one of her knees, then touched the floor, and she understood that.
It can be difficult, and of course, as a middle-aged man in a confined space with a young girl you have to be careful what you do, but with thought, it’s possible to relay posing instructions to a degree.
As a thank you for these photographs, in addition to taking supplies to the village, I bought one of this girls trinkets, as they set up a stall to sell us their wares after we’ve photographed them. My current wish is that I’ll be able to photograph this girl as she grows, and hopefully one day be able to photograph her children as well. I think that would be an amazing project to watch grow.
Later in the day, we revisited the village to photograph the Himba bringing their goats back into the corral. I have lots of frames but thought I’d share this one (below) which I found a little bit comical. The Himba lady looks like she’s saying “Really!” as the goat rears up to butt another. The hand and body posture just struck a funny chord with me.
Really? You’re Going to Butt Him?
For this shot, I’d set my ISO to 800, so that I could freeze the motion in the goats with a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second at f/11.
Giraffe on the Plains
On our way out to Purros the following day, we passed through some beautiful countryside. To me, the countryside in Namibia often isn’t quite complete without a beautiful animal in it, so I was happy when we found this giraffe strolling across the plains, looking like it doesn’t have a care in the world (below).
Giraffe on the Plain
It was nice to see so much foliage out on these plains as well. It’s often a lot arider than this. I photographed this scene at f/8 with ISO 200 at 1/400 of a second, at 400mm. I was trying to keep a relatively fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the giraffe and also matching my focal length with my shutter speed helps to avoid camera shake.
We drove over to another Himba settlement near Purros and had another wonderful cultural experience. Most of the women were down at the river gathering firewood when we arrived, but we were able to photograph the children until they came back.
Once back, they needed a few minutes to put their traditional headwear on, before we started to photograph them. My favorite image from this shoot is this one (right).
Unfortunately, I don’t know if this is the ladies baby, but I thought the show of affection with the kiss was beautiful, and a lovely moment to capture. The Himba people don’t openly show their feelings, so this warm and caring gesture was a nice surprise.
This was actually in the doorway of a hut, so I had my ISO set to 1600 for a 1/125 of a second exposure at f/8.
There were a number of people in the village in regular clothes as well, and it makes me wonder how much longer these people will continue to live in traditional dress on the whole. At this point, we are not able to tell them that we are going, and most of the villagers are always in traditional dress when we turn up, so I’m sure it’s still very much a part of their culture, but I imagine as Western values and amenities become more available, we’ll start to see more people in regular clothes in their villages.
The Himba people are photographed often during trips to Namibia, so I don’t necessarily have anything unique here, but I do feel incredibly fortunate and privileged to be able to photograph these people, especially if they do start to lose their current grasp on their rich culture.
We’ll wrap it up there for today, and next week we’ll pick up the trail as we head into the Etosha National Park for the last four days of the trip. I have 257 images from Etosha in my final selection, and my first pass through these to select images that I’d like to show you resulted in a collection of 76 images. I’ve tried to whittle this down to just ten, but I got to 24, so we’ll probably run for two more episodes to complete this travelogue series in a total of five parts.
Complete Namibia Tour 2018
If you would like to join me in Namibia on my 2018 tour, please do check out the details and you can book from the tour page at https://mbp.ac/namibia. For another culturally rich tour, you might also consider my Morocco trip from the end of October 2017, which you can find at https://mbp.ac/morocco.
It’s been almost two weeks since I returned from Namibia, so I’m in that space now where the trip is gradually fading into memory, enabling me to be a little bit more ruthless in my edit, removing more images, but due to the variety of subjects we cover on this trip, and just the richness of this beautiful country, I’ve still got heaps of images in my final selection, so let’s talk first about the state of my edit, and then we’ll move on to look at today’s ten images.
My Final Edit
After working on my images on and off during last week, I initially managed to complete my second pass to whittle down the 1,028 images that were left after my first pass, to a more manageable 496. I was happy to at least get below 500 at this point but I continued working until I got my selection down to 419. I might be able to get this down a little further before I actually copy these images to my Finals folder, but it’s pretty much my last call on my 3-star selection.
My Rating System
For me, 3-star images are ones that I am happy to let people see and will submit to my stock agency, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are my absolute favorites. For example, some are slight variations of the same subject. I might have two different head positions of an animal. Both have merit, but I don’t necessarily want to keep both of them in my favorites. Or I might have a vertical version of the same subject. This always works well with stock imagery.
So, at this point, I went through the 419 images and selected my 4-star images, of which there were 191. Four stars for me means that I like them enough to add them to my Apple Photos app so that I can actively show people them as I travel around. These will take preference over the three stars when I’m selecting images to illustrate articles etc.
At some point, I’ll go through my 4-star images and select a small number of my photos to add to my Namibia portfolio. These will become 5-star images, my portfolio-worthy rating. I reserve 2 stars as a way of marking my “originals” in as much as I sometimes have to take an image into Photoshop and do some work on it, and when I bring that back into Capture One Pro, I make the original raw file a 2-star, and make the Photoshop version a 3-star image or higher.
My 1-star rating means it was once selected for consideration during my editing process, but then got demoted out of the selection. This is just my way of keeping tabs on something that I once liked, but it lost the battle to stay in my “Finals” group. I also like to keep tabs on these images, because they are my first port of call if I have to go back to my original shoot folders looking for something else.
We ended the first part of this travelogue series at lunch time on day three, as we finished our second shoot at Kolmanskop. Like Kolmanskop, Elizabeth Bay is an abandoned diamond mine community, with a couple of differences. The first being that in 2005 the Namibian Government in partnership with De Beers expanded the original diamond mine and started mining again. Because of this, we go through very strict security when entering Elizabeth Bay.
The other difference is the way the buildings are corroding. I imagine that it’s because of the sea air, but in this first image for today (below) you can see from the brickwork at the end of the building that the bricks are corroding more quickly than the mortar holding them together, making for some very strange shapes, as we’ll explore.
Elizabeth Bay Labourers’ Quarters
The partitions that you can see lining each side of this room are where the laborers slept. We heard one story that these laborers were slaves, but we were given an explanation of the old mine before we photographed it, and were told that the laborers were actually paid very well, so I’d like to believe that story instead. Either way, it couldn’t have been much fun sleeping in those partitions, but as a way to make a good living, if that’s what it was, I can imagine people were able to put up with it.
Again here, I’ve used the one-point perspective that I talked about in last week’s episode, as I really like the drama that this creates. I’ve allowed the light from the windows to overexpose a little, but I don’t mind that. My settings for this image were an aperture of f/14 at ISO 100 for a 0.8 sec exposure. I was using my Canon EF 11-24mm f/4 lens at 12mm, to get more of the room in, but also to emphasize the converging lines.
You can also see how the buildings are corroding in this external view of one of the buildings in Elizabeth Bay (below). As with many of the buildings, this one is partially collapsed, and if you look at the brickwork, in some areas the mortar is still there, but the bricks have corroded away.
Elizabeth Bay Abandoned Mine
As you can see, although the houses at Elizabeth Bay are mostly newer than Kolmanskop, the sea air really has taken its toll much more, and most of them are just not safe to go inside. Kolmanskop is getting that way, but it has a few more years in it yet I’d say. My settings for this image were f/14 with a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second at ISO 100.
This next photo is of a building that’s bearing up a little better on the sheltered side, and this is also the room that you’ll see on the cover of Freeman Patterson’s Odysseys book. It’s hard to resist shooting this iconic image, even though they all look the same because you have to shoot through a window, giving the same angle essentially (below).
It was actually cloudy when we arrived at Elizabeth Bay, so I was hoping to photograph the houses without the strong light coming through the windows, but it cleared up pretty much while we were getting our talk about the place, so we’re stuck with bright windows again, and I’m not one for doing two exposures and blending them together. It’s just not me. The settings for this photo were f/14 for 0.3 sec at ISO 100.
This last photo from Elizabeth Bay (below) is of one of the larger buildings at the start of the town, and as you can see I placed the sun through one of the gaps in the corroded building, to form a starburst. I converted this to black and white in Capture One Pro. I just felt like these external photos suited black and white more, as the sandy color wasn’t really adding much to the feel of the image, and they are more about the graphical shapes of the buildings.
Elizabeth Bay Building Corrosion
I shot this at f/14 again, with a 1/250 of a second shutter speed, at ISO 100. This was one of the first times I’ve done a starburst shot with the new Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS Mark II lens, and I’m very happy with how clean it is. Although I heard some people giving this new lens a bad rap, I’ve still had no problems with it at all, and continue to love the image quality and versatility.
The sun set as we headed back to our hotel for a second night in this area. As we started our drive towards Sossusvlei the next morning, shortly after passing Kolmanskop, I couldn’t resist stopping our vehicles for a walk up the hill at the side of the road for this scene (below).
The light was streaming through the clouds in sunbeams, catching the tops of the distant hills and sand dunes so beautifully we just had to stop. I’ve enhanced this a little in Capture One Pro, to add contrast to the dunes, and I’ve also run a graduated filter down the top third to darken the sky a little more and accentuate the sunbeams, but this is closer to how I recalled this magical scene.
My settings were f/11 at 1/320 of a second, at ISO 100. I moved away from my usual f/14 landscape aperture because I was hand-holding my 100-400mm at a focal length of 286mm, so I needed a slightly faster shutter speed.
We stopped for a number of photos along the way to Sossusvlei, but we’ll jump to the following morning now, and look at my images from the first visit to Deadvlei for this tour. We arrived well before the sun started to illuminate the sand dune behind the dead camel thorn trees, and I spent quite a lot of time walking around trying to find a composition that I have not already photographed and found that it’s getting difficult to do so.
Here’s my main photo for this first shoot (below) and it’s growing on me a little, but I prefer some of my previous compositions. I was attracted to this because it felt as though these two trees were like hands reaching out from the dried up clay pan, almost in desperation.
If you haven’t seen this type of photo from Deadvlei before, there are a few minutes each morning when the sun starts to climb over a sand dune to my back while shooting this, and there comes a point when it is only illuminating the dune and does not yet light up the clay pan, so we can make these beautifully surreal, almost silhouette-like photographs. My settings for this were f/14 for 1/20 of a second at ISO 100.
The line of light moves quickly along the edge of the clay pan, but if you are quick, you can get a few different compositions in before the phenomenon ends, so I ran along and grabbed this second shot, that some of you may recognize (below).
Deadvlei Silhouettes 2017
I didn’t check against my original photo, but this is an almost complete replica of my first Deadvlei Silhouettes image from my first visit in 2013, which you can see in episode 373 if you are interested. The trees to the left are exactly the same as they were four years ago, but unfortunately, the tree to the right is missing a branch from its left side. These trees are between 600 and 700 years old and don’t decay because it’s so dry in this basin, so I imagine someone has fooled around grabbing hold of the third branch, and actually broken it off, which I find incredibly sad.
Checking Focus in Live View
At f/14, the orange dune in the background isn’t completely sharp in these images, but it wouldn’t get much sharper if I stopped down to f/22, but then, of course, we start to see diffraction creep in, which makes everything in the image softer, so I like to avoid that. To me, the important thing is that the two trees are sharp. The trees to the left here are just slightly behind the tree to the right, so I like to check my depth of field.
To check my focus and depth of field in situations like this, I initially focus on one of the trees, then go into Live View and zoom in to 5X, and hold down the Depth of Field Preview button near the bottom right side of the lens mount on my camera. I check both trees to see if they are in focus, and if one is not, with the Depth of Field Preview button still pressed, I manually adjust the focus until it just becomes in focus, and then go back and check the other tree, to see if it’s still sharp. If it isn’t, I adjust the focus back a little and then check the other tree again. The actual focus may be somewhere between the trees, but as long as they are both sharp, I’m happy.
Although it’s quite rare, there were some beautiful clouds while we were in Deadvlei on this first morning, so I capitalized on that with the following image (below). Here you can see the trees in normal light, and get a feel for what the clay basin actually looks like illuminated as well. Anthropomorphizing as I often do, I saw the main tree in this shot as a Sorcerer, perhaps casting his spells on the other trees.
I tried a circular polarizer filter on this as well, to see if it would help me to deepen the blue in the sky, but I didn’t like the results. The sky became too dark, and the foreground also became dark as I exposed for the white in the clouds, so I went back to no filter for this image, which I shot at f/14 for 1/60 of a second at ISO 100.
After our morning visit to Deadvlei, we went to another sand dune for a while, then went back to the hotel for lunch, and to grab a few hours of welcome rest. Then, later in the afternoon, we headed back out again to photograph Dune #35. The dunes in Sossusvlei aren’t actually numbered, but people identify them by the distance from the entrance to the national park. The one you can see in this photo (below) is 35km in.
Intimate Dune #35
This dune is quite a walk from the road, perhaps around 2km, so when we looked back towards our safari vehicles from the base of this dune, they were smaller than ants. This does enable us to get quite intimate though, especially with my 100-400mm lens, used at 400mm as I did here.
The sun was perhaps 20 minutes from going down at this point, so the acute angle of the sun had started to highlight one side of the ripples in the sand, and the shadow forming on the other side gives beautiful definition.
In this final photo for today, shot at 158mm from a little further back, you can see a larger section of the same dune, and if you look closely can perhaps make out a bit of sand blowing off the crest.
I was using a circular polarizer filter for these images, partly to darken the blue in the sky, and I also found that the bright side of the dune not only became more vibrant, but the dark side became darker, which works well for this image.
I actually darkened the shadows just a little bit more using the Luma Curve in Capture One Pro, to increase the overall contrast.
I shot both of these last two images at f/14, for a 1/40 of a second exposure at ISO 400. I increased my ISO rather than doing a slower shutter speed because the wind was blowing quite strongly in gusts across the plane, and I didn’t want to risk it moving the camera during the exposure.
Just below the base of this image, there are some trees, which I also included in some of my shots, some of which I really like as well, but in order to keep these episodes to my usual ten photos, we’ll start to wrap it up there for this week. We’ll pick up the trail again next week starting from our second dawn shoot in Deadvlei, perhaps a shot or two of Dune #40, and then we drive up the Skeleton Coast to Walvis Bay and then on to Sesfontein, where we photographed the beautiful Himba people.
Complete Namibia Tour 2018
If you would like to join me in Namibia on my 2018 tour, please do check out the details and you can book from the tour page at https://mbp.ac/namibia. If you can’t wait until next year, you might also consider my Morocco tour from the end of October 2017 as well, which you can find at https://mbp.ac/morocco.
This week I share a slideshow of photographs from my first two visits to Namibia with Jeremy Woodhouse, which contains around 80 photographs and a number of short videos to depict this beautiful land and her amazing people.
This episode is a little late because I got caught up in creating the music for this slideshow. I got tired of fighting copyright claims for music that I have paid a license fee for, first with YouTube and now also on Vimeo, so I’m trying to create my own music when possible, but it’s time-consuming, and this one ran away with me for a few extra days.
Anyway, it’s ready now, in glorious 4K video, so grab a coffee, kick up your feet, and have a watch when you have 8 minutes to spare. The music still isn’t perfect, but it’ll have to do for now, as I’m out of time to work on it anymore. Don’t forget to click that little full-screen button either (the four little arrows pointing outwards, between HD and Vimeo below) to enjoy this in full resolution.
To build the slideshow I used Boinx Software’s FotoMagico 5 Pro, which has just been updated to version 5 and now fully supports 4K video, and I think this is probably the most stable new release of FotoMagico that I’ve used so far, so it was an absolute pleasure to work with. You can buy FotoMagico from the Boinx Software web site or the Apple App Store.
I’ll do a video on using FotoMagico 5 Pro either next week or shortly after, so stay tuned for that if you are interested. For now, I hope you enjoy the slideshow.
If you enjoy the photography and see yourself shooting in Namibia, I’m running a 17-day tour and workshop in Namibia in June 2017, and there are a few places left if you’d like to join us. Visit https://mbp.ac/namibia for details and to book your place.
This is part three of a series of travelogue-style episodes to walk you through my recent visit to Namibia, co-hosting an amazing photography tour with my friend Jeremy Woodhouse. We pick up the trail on August 14, after a long drive from Luderitz, where we visited Kolmanskop and Elizabeth Bay, to the Sossusvlei area, with the magnificent red dunes.
We only had time to visit one dune after our drive, and we made that Dune 45, which is one of the most well know dunes in the area. We noticed what was probably an oryx skull on the west side of the dune, and although this is quite far away and small in this first photo for today (below), with the resolution of the 5Ds R, I was actually able to capture a lot of detail, and shot this, as it would make a wonderful feature in a large print.
I was also attracted to the patterns made by the wind in the surface of the sand, and as the sun was already below to horizon on the other side of the plane, the color of the sand was a little muted, but in my opinion looks stunning without the bright contrast that direct sunlight would have added. Click on the image to view it as large as possible, although I think this is really going to have to be seen on a big screen or in print to be fully appreciated. This was actually a 2 second exposure at f/10, ISO 400.
You may recall me mentioning last week that one of my goals at some of the locations that I was revisiting after my 2013 trip, was to recapture some of my old 5D Mark III images at the higher 50 megapixel resolution of the 5Ds R. This was most apparent as I visited the beautiful Deadvlei on August 15, the following morning. I decided that my highest priority for this morning was to repeat my 2013 Deadvlei Silhouettes image, almost identically, but fixing a couple of issues that I wish I’d done in the original.
Here, for your reference, is the old version too, so that I can point out what I did. The main thing that I wanted to fix was to remove the clump of vegetation on the right side, in the clay basin of Deadvlei, and remove that clump of lighter vegetation in the sunlight on the bottom right corner of the dune. To do this, I moved further back and zoomed in, to create a narrower field of view. I shot my 2013 photo (below) at 145mm, whereas I shot my 2015 version at 200mm.
You’ll also notice that the clay basin is darker in my old version, which I actually prefer. I think the light was perhaps a little harsher in May, in 2013, giving a greater contrast between the brightly lit dune and the clay basin that was still in shade, which is of course what causes the contrast in both images. This lasts just a minute or so each morning, so there is only really time to get one or two good photographs each day, before a line of white clay starts to appear along the back edge, and the scene is gone.
I should also mention that I did not compare what I was framing up this year with my 2013 version. I was actually surprised how similarly framed these both were, but I get that’s what comes from looking at a photo so many times over the last two years. I was also surprised by how little the trees have changed. In fact, they seem identical in every way still. The original was shot at f/11, ISO 100 for 1/30 of a second, and this years image was shot at f/14, ISO 100 for 1/15 of a second.
Once that magical yet frantic minute has passed, the pace of shooting gets more relaxed, and we start to look for other opportunities before heading back to our vehicles for breakfast. One other shot I’d like to share from this time is of these two people up on the dune on the East side of Deadvlei. Here we see the sun just coming over the top of the dune, so you can see what it is that caused the basin of Deadvlei to remain in shadow.
I of course shot this because of the people though, and didn’t realize until I looked at the image on the computer, but as the sun is shining through both legs of the person to the left, I’ve got this funky shaped star burst, with parallel lines running through each point of the star, which I thought was fun. To give you an idea of how far away these people were, this was shot at 400mm, at the long end of my 100-400mm lens. Still at f/14, with a shutter speed of 1/320 of a second, at ISO 100.
Towards the end of the day, we visited Dune 45 again, as the sun dropped down close to the horizon, as this enables us to capture the beautiful contrast between the east and west sides of the dune, as you can see in this photograph (below). Although I like the lack of strong contrast in the first image we looked at today, the red late afternoon sun does enhance the color of the orange/red sand of the dunes, giving it this almost fiery appearance.
Believe it or not, I have not increased the saturation in the sand at all in this photo. I exposed the image to the right, for the best quality image, then reduced the Exposure slider in Lightroom to -0.35, and reduced the Blacks slider to -72, and increased the Clarity to +30. Under the HSL Saturation panel, I also increased the Saturation of of Aqua to +13 and Blue to +100, to give the sky a bit of a boost, as it was very pale, but otherwise, the saturation hasn’t been touched. This was shot at f/14, ISO 400 for a 1/50 of a second, at 100mm.
I shot this next image, a closer view of the tree at the base of Dune 45, after the sun had gone below the horizon, so I did boost the saturation a little on this one to make it match the last photo a little more. I increased the Red slider to +19 and Orange to +71.
Note that I’m not choosing the sliders and adjusting them. I’m clicking on that little round button at the top left of the Saturation panel, then clicking on the orange of the dune and dragging my mouse upwards, to increase the saturation of the colors I’ve clicked on. This was shot at f/14 for 1/25 of a second at ISO 800. I was using a tripod, but it was quite windy, so I decided to increase the ISO rather than using a longer exposure, to avoid the wind shaking my camera during the exposure.
The following morning, on August 16, we went back into Deadvlei at dawn, to make this next image, my new photograph of the dead camel thorn trees for this trip (below). I found these two similar trees that I could line up in this way, with the more distant tree kind of under the branch of the nearer tree. I like the interplay between the two trees more in this shot, compared to my original image, as there seems more of a relationship between the two here. I think I still prefer my original image from here, but this is still a nice addition to my Namibia library I think.
I have actually made this image available as high-resolution desktop wallpaper, and it will be the October 2015 monthly wallpaper that I send to subscribers, so if you’d like a copy for your desktop background, you can either buy it for $3 or get it for just $2 as part of our yearly subscription, which is just $24 per year.
This was shot at f/16 for 1/15 of a second at ISO 100, with a focal length of 349mm, so almost at the full extent of my 100-400mm lens. That reminds me, I should mention that although I took the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens with me to Namibia, I almost always reached for the 100-400mm instead. Although I found that the 70-200mm f/2.8 is sharp and works well with the 5Ds R, I’m really enjoying being able to zoom past 200mm, in return for losing that 30mm between 70 and 100mm.
I’ve decided to only take the 100-400mm with me to Iceland next week, and I’ll leave the 70-200mm at home. I’m actually now thinking that I’d love it if Canon would release an update to the 24-105mm f/4 lens, as this would enable me to travel with just three lenses, the 11-24mm, a 24-105mm and the 100-400mm, giving me a huge range of focal length without any areas missing. Of course, I’ll still travel with my 200-400mm 1.4X Extender lens when wildlife is the focus, but for mainly landscape trips, 11-400mm in three lenses is a nice combination.
Towards the end of August 16, we went to a dune that I believe is number 35, although I seem to recall us referring to it as dune 43. Maybe it has both names, as the numbering seems to be all over the place. 43 would be the number of kilometers from the entrance gate to the area, and it is about 2km down the road from 45, but one of our guides referred to this as 35, so I’m going to use that for now.
You have to leave the park before sunset, and the location from which we shot this photo is a good kilometer from the road, so we had to time this to give us enough time to get back to our vehicle, and wait as long as we could to get as much of the east side of the dune in shadow as possible before we had to leave. I shot this at f/14 for 1/50 of a second at ISO 200, with a focal length of 135mm.
The following day, we drove most of the day again, to Walvis Bay, and had a few hours of photography as the sun neared the horizon. Being on the coast, Walvis Bay is cloudy a lot of the time, so I timed, this shot for when there was a bit of sun shining through, creating almost a silhouette of the flamingoes resting at the end of the day (below).
Shots like this may appear random, but I think it’s still important to select your moment for any shot, so in addition to the lighting, I chose this moment because of the flamingo on the far left on the front row. He raised his head, making that beautiful reverse S shape, and put his right leg forward as he started to walk, so that was my moment.
This was shot at f/11 for 1/1000 of a second, at ISO 250. I had my shutter speed this fast so that I was prepared for the flamingoes flying as well, but there was only a few small groups that flew at this location, before we decided to call it quits and head back to our hotel, where we’d spend the next few nights in this area.
The following day, we were met by two local guides that would drive us over dunes and along the beach to Sandwich Harbor, where there is a Ramsar Convention protected lagoon, with a large population of flamingoes that call it home. This is a unique location because you can photograph the flamingoes flying with sand dunes as their backdrop, as you see in this photo (below). I increased my ISO to 1250 to get a fast shutter speed of 1/800 of a second at f/8 for this image.
We didn’t have long at this location, so I was happy to capture this next image, as a huge number of flamingoes took flight, almost filling the frame, along with a line of flamingoes along the bottom of the frame (below). I shot this at 400mm, the long end of my 100-400mm lens, now with the ISO at 1600, still at f/8 for a 1/800 of a second exposure.
Shortly after this, there was a huge blast off of flamingoes, which I missed because of what might be a compatibility issue between the 5Ds R and the GP-E2, which is a GPS unit that I attach to the flash shoe of my camera to geotag my images as I shoot them. I shot a few frames, then checked my exposure, as I always do, and noticed that they were all over exposed.
I checked my settings and the shutter speed was now at 1/200 of a second, and not 1/800 of a second, where I’d set it. At first I thought I’d caught the dial and changed it by mistake, but when I set it back to 1/800 and half pressed the shutter button, it went straight back to 1/200 of a second. This of course is the fastest sync speed for a flash, so I went into my menu and found that the flash was turned on, so I turned that off, but it came back on again.
It shouldn’t have been on anyway, because there was no flash in the camera, but then I noticed that the batteries in my GP-E2 had died. I took the GP-E2 unit off the camera, and was able to set my shutter speed back to 1/800 of a second, and this time it stayed there. By this time, the flamingoes that had filled the sky for a minute or so were all gone, and I’d missed possibly an even better opportunity than my last shot.
I changed the batteries in my GP-E2 and put it back on the camera, and all was good, except that I’d missed my shots. This has never happened in the past with my 5D Mark III or other bodies, and really should not happen at all. You should be able to put anything into the flash shoe, and unless it electronically reports to the camera that it’s a flash, this should not happen. I’ve reported it to Canon, and they will investigate further, but I thought I’d let you know in case you also use a GP-E2 with the 5Ds, and run across this problem too.
I usually like to keep the number of images that we look at in each episode to a maximum of ten, but here is one last image that I shot on this day, and it makes sense to include it here before we move on to next week’s images. As we drove back over the dunes on our way back to Walvis Bay, we noticed an ostrich, so we stopped the car, and as a few of us got out to photograph him, he ran up the dune and across our paths, enabling me to shoot this photograph (below).
He was running at a good pace, so there is a little bit of motion blur, as my shutter speed was at 1/400 of a second, but I like the action of this as he runs, and kicks up the sand behind him. I had my aperture at f/8 and ISO at 1250 for this image.
The following day, August 19, we had another long drive, up the Skeleton Coast, and across from Torra Bay to Sesfontein. We photographed a few Himba people at sunset, but arrived at our hotel for the next few nights after dark, so we’ll skip this day and pick up the trail next week on August 20, with some portraits from the first Himba village that we visited during our tour.
Last 36 Hours of the 5DayDeal!
Before we finish, I’d like to mention that at the time I release this Podcast, there are still 36 hours to get your 5DayDeal Complete photography bundle, if you haven’t already picked it up. The bundle contains more than $3,300 worth of photography tools and training, for just $127, and you get to help charity at the same time. I know it sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. There are no catches, just an amazing deal, so go to https://mbp.ac/5dd3 and pick up your Complete Photography Bundle today if you haven’t already. The sale finishes at noon PST on Sept 15, and then it’s gone forever. If you missed this, sign up for my newsletters, and I’ll ensure that you hear about the next one in time.
Music by the Staff of the Kulala Lodge in Sossusvlei – Thank you!