Just back from this year’s Complete Namibia Tour, today we start a series of travelogue-style episodes to walk you through our antics as my group and I traveled this majestic land.
I’m going to come right out and say, that I believe this year’s Namibia tour was probably one of my best tours to date, if not these best. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to travel with many wonderful people over the years, and everyone on this group seemed to click with each other, which makes my life as a tour leader very easy, and the photographic opportunities that we were presented with on this trip were incredible too.
We start in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, then drove down to a place called Keetmanshoop, for one night, to photograph the Quiver Tree Forest there. On our way, we stopped to eat our packed lunches on the grass in front of a supermarket, and I had a very humbling experience that I’d like to share with you before we start to look at some images.
Namibia has quite a high percentage of unemployed people, and very little by way of benefits to help those without work. As a group, whenever we have food left in our often too large lunch packs, rather than wasting it, we collect it together and give it to people that we meet on the road. We did just this on our first lunch stop, and after our guides had handed one man some food, I found a few other uneaten apples and sandwiches, so I walked over to this man to hand these over too.
As I approached him, I saw that his hands were both already covered in yellow grains from the cornbread that we’d given him. As I reached out to hand him the apples and sandwiches, he opened his mouth, showing me his teeth also covered in yellow grains, and this is usually something that I am not keen on looking at. He gave out almost a scream of delight, and threw his hands out to his sides, then extended them forwards to accept the food.
I have never been so happy to see the food inside a person’s mouth. It was a beautiful sight! But at the same time, incredibly sad and humbling. I could hardly believe that we could make a man so happy simply by giving him a meal, and I was immediately reminded of the hardship that many people face just obtaining the food that they require to simply stay alive. We are so fortunate to live in a world where the next meal is almost a given, and I also feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to witness this humbling experience first-hand as we traveled in Namibia.
We did, of course, continue to collect what we didn’t eat, and I noticed that not only were people that were obviously struggling to get a meal accepting the food but even officials working on some of the remote national park gates etc. would gladly take what we could offer them. Please don’t think that this is coming from some sort of an aloof perch, handing down our scraps. Everyone that we can help on this tour is treated with utmost respect, often with our local guides passing the food discretely to the recipients. This is actually another reason why I felt so fortunate to have been able to have had the experience I just mentioned during our first lunch, as I don’t normally pass the food directly.
Quiver Tree Forest
Anyway, moving on to our first shoot, we checked in at the nearby lodge in the afternoon of day one and made our way to the Quiver Tree Forest. We shot for a couple of hours to give the group a chance to stake out some nice places to shoot the sunset, and here is my shot to show you what it was like (below). I’m not much of a sunset person per se, but when we can get something nice and unique like the quiver trees in the frame, as well as the fiery African sky, it’s hard to resist.
I enjoy doing these silhouette images, looking for a spot with a nice main tree, then also trying to get some nice separation between the trees in the background, as well as a clear edge on either side of the frame. I was shooting with my 24-105mm lens at 27mm and struggled quite a bit to get a nice line of trees without too many bushes, like the one you can see below the right-most quiver tree. Still, the sky is lovely and it was an enjoyable shoot. My other settings were f/14, and a 0.2-second exposure with ISO 100.
Moonlit Quiver Trees
Because of availability of some of the key lodges, this year I was not able to align our visit to the Quiver Tree Forest with a new moon, which would have allowed us to shoot the Milky Way, but there was going to be an almost full moon, which I was hoping to use to good effect. Rather than going back to the lodge for dinner then coming back out, I negotiated a late dinner, to give us an extra hour in the forest as the moon rose.
The result was this next photograph, with the moon illuminating the low cloud cover, but the stars also clearly visible shining through the clouds (below). We can also see how the moonlight had lit the base of some of the foreground trees, making them not quite silhouettes, but I like being able to see that extra bit of detail.
I shot this with my 11-24mm lens at 17 mm. Now, of course, shooting by moonlight, my shutter speed was 25 seconds at f/4, and ISO 1600. At 17mm you can’t really use a longer shutter speed, because the stars start to elongate if you do, and I didn’t want that. This is why I chose to use a high ISO and wide aperture instead of a longer exposure. There is still some nice movement in the clouds though, and I really like being able to see stars in the relatively bright sky. It definitely makes up for not being able to shoot the Milky Way here this year.
The Giant’s Playground
The following morning, we visited the nearby Giant’s Playground before breakfast, to photograph the boulders silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky, as you can see in this photograph (below). I like looking for faces in the rocks, and pretty much did a repeat of one of my favorite photos from this location, with the boulders on the left looking a little like the Moai Statues, and there is a large chinned man bottom right, and a portly somewhat Shrek-like face in the bottom center of the frame.
I shot a few frames as the sun got closer to the horizon, and this was the one that had the most intense color. I really like the perfectly clean gradation between the orange and the blue here. My shutter speed was 1.3 seconds again at f/14, at ISO 100 and a focal length of 85mm.
After breakfast back at the lodge, we checked out and drove through the morning to Kolmanskop, the deserted diamond mine town, where the desert is gradually reclaiming the houses. This first image (below) is one of my favorite scenes, and one of my first shots, as I showed some of the participants where this particular house was. This small indoor sand-dune has been there for five years now, since my first visit in 2013. This house is actually faring better than some, which are starting to succumb to the desert more quickly than others.
I really love the color contrast in this room, with the pastel blue being almost exactly the opposite color to the orange sand on a color wheel, and that’s something that we are almost programmed to find appealing. This was a two-second exposure at ISO 100, a focal length of 28mm and you guessed it, an aperture of f/14. That’s my go-to aperture when there is no reason to change it. It gives me enough depth of field at this focal length to get everything in the frame sharp.
Playing with Color
I continued playing with the color in these beautiful old houses, working with a similar palette this time, with the orangey-brown walls similar to the color of the sand. There was also a hint of blue and teal coming from the left and right rooms at the end of this sand-filled corridor. Quite often, to shoot these images, I simply get far enough into the room to get past the doors to the sides near the entrance, just enough to give me a clear shot of what I consider to be a much cleaner scene, with fewer distracting elements.
I also have a vertical orientation shot of this image with an old light-shade hanging down from the ceiling included, and I think I prefer that shot, but the blog formatting works better with landscape orientation images, so that’s what I’m sharing at this time. I shot this at 24mm, f/14 for 0.8 seconds at ISO 100. I pretty much always stick with ISO 100 unless there is a reason to change it as well. I’m not afraid to increase the ISO of course, routinely shooting up to ISO 6400, but with no real wind requiring me to speed it up, ISO 100 it was.
Something that I saw much more of this year was houses where the ceiling has literally just collapsed into the downstairs rooms, as we can see in this photo (below). I imagine this is mostly caused by the weight of the sand that accumulates on the floor upstairs, especially as the roofs succumb to the elements allowing more sand in. Here once again though, I enjoyed the contrast between the blue walls and orange sand.
My shutter speed for this image was 4 seconds at ISO 100, so we can tell that the afternoon light was getting a little darker by the point. Again, my aperture was f/14 and my focal length for this shot was 30 mm.
Next, I want to share one of the few photos I’ve made of the exterior of the buildings at Kolmanskop. I don’t do this often, as I generally prefer the colors of the interior, as well as the spectacle of having sand-filled rooms, but this particular scene caught my eye, as we wandered from building to building. As you can see, the sand also builds up against the outside walls sometimes, and I thought this straggly tree made for a nice element along with the window and sand (below).
I like cropping in tight like this, but here I was also forced in tight because I didn’t want to include the frame of the door just to the right of this scene. I’m not a big fan of the grasses creeping into the frame on the bottom right edge, but I might spend a few minutes to clean that up at some point. It doesn’t bother me enough to spend that time today as I try to get caught up on work. My settings were a 1/13 of a second exposure at f/14 and a focal length of 62mm. I changed my ISO to 400 for this shot, as there was a bit of a breeze that may have caused camera-shake a longer exposure.
Another Collapsed Ceiling
As I mentioned, I noticed more collapsed ceilings this year than before, and here is another example of this (below). The roof seems pretty much intact here though, so I’m not sure what caused this ceiling to cave in. In this photo, I do like the contrast between the still intact wash basin and sand and the collapsed roof. The fact that the walls are still pretty nicely decorated adds additional elements of contrast.
Back in the shelter of the building again, away from the breeze, I had returned my ISO to 100 and shutter speed back to 4 seconds, at f/14, and now shooting with my 11-24mm lens again, at 14mm.
The Ice Factory
Towards the end of the day, as I made my way back towards the entrance of Kolmanskop to our cars, I stopped at another favorite room, the relatively well-kept Ice Factory (below). I had earlier thought this was just a workshop of sorts, but there is a sign on the door that says Eisfabrik, which I believe means an ice factory or to manufacture ice.
With the sun almost on the horizon on the other side of this building, there was virtually no sunlight making its way into this room by the time I photographed it, so my shutter speed was 20 seconds at f/14, ISO 100 and again using my 11-24mm lens, this time at 12mm. As I would have been standing in the precious light coming through the doorway, I moved down the steps and out of the way during my exposure. There’s no point in blocking my own light.
We’re going to end this first episode with this, my last photo from day two, as the warm light from the sun illuminated a side room at what I seem to recall being the old bakery, and here I was again using the one-point perspective composition that I talked about last year. I love the drama and tension this kind of composition adds to a photograph (below).
Again, I had to move to the side to avoid blocking my own light and leaving a shadow on the right wall in this image. We can also see the marks on the sand in the foreground of this shot from a recent relatively rare heavy rain that they had, a few weeks before we arrived. This seems to have dripped through the ceiling of this building. My settings here were a 25-second shutter speed at ISO 100, f/14 and my lens wide open at 11 mm.
We’ll leave it there for today, as we’ve reached the usual 10 photos at which I like to limit my posts. I’m quite pleased to have been able to make time each evening to pretty much catch up on my selection process and most of the processing that I wanted to do on my images before finishing the trip. As we’ll see, we end this trip with four nights at the Etosha National Park shooting wildlife, and that presents a bigger problem due to the number of images we shoot compared to landscape work, but I was still pretty much able to complete my preliminary selections before I started my flight back to Tokyo.
After getting a few hours sleep on my way from Johannesburg to Dubai, then a few more hours at the start of my flight from Dubai to Tokyo, I was able to work on my images and selection process for a further six hours on the plane, and that enabled me to just relax a little over the weekend, and spend some quality time with my wife. It was really nice to come into my studio this morning with all of this work done and just get straight into selecting the images that I’ve talked about today.
I haven’t selected the images for the remaining episodes of this travelogue yet, so I don’t yet know how many parts this will take, but I have a massive 363 images in my final selection, so I think we’re looking at around four, perhaps a five-part series to cover this trip, and we’ll continue to part two next week.
Complete Namibia Tour 2019
If you might like to join us on this tour from June 2 to 18, 2019, please check out the tour page at mbp.ac/namibia2019. It really has matured into an amazing tour, and I’d love to travel with you in this beautiful land.
Start your day in the Giant's Playground
Start your day in the
In one of the most conservation aware countries in the world
This post is going to be a living document for a few weeks, depending on how much time, energy and connectivity I have. I’ve come up to Hokkaido, where I run my winter tours, for a 12 day trip with the first half being a reconnaissance trip for a possible new Landscape workshop that I want to put together for 2012. Then I will meet up with a friend that was to be on the whirlwind wildlife tour before I canceled it for lack of interest. There was no obligation for me to do this, but I also wanted to photograph the Eagles and Cranes here without the group that I’ll be coming back with in a few weeks time. As much as I love doing my Hokkaido Winter Wildlife Tours, and as much as I allow myself to shoot, I’m never photographing fully for myself on the tour. I’m always conscious of my group, as I should be, but this means that it’s actually been five years since I was in Hokkaido in the winter just for me, so here I am.
My plan is to pretty much circumnavigate Hokkaido over the next 12 days, as you can see in the below map. If you don’t know where Hokkaido is by the way, it’s the big island at the top of Japan, above Honshu. If you don’t know where Japan is, it’s the banana shaped island next to Korea and China!
Hokkaido Travel Plans
On January 26, 2011, I left my Tokyo home at 2PM, for a ferry from the port of Ooarai, in the Ibaraki Prefecture.This is basically Day zero, as the map above starts at Day 1, after the 19 hour ferry journey.
The roads were clear so the drive took just under two hours. I stopped at the convenience store just outside the port and bought dinner and breakfast, and a few tinnies, in case I needed some help getting to sleep in my bunk. I was in a Casual Room, which could have been inhabited by 12 other snoring blokes. Luckily there were only two others in the room, and I’m sure I snored louder than both of them.
My Bunk on the Ferry
There was no Internet connectivity, either wireless or by my Pocket Wifi, and for some reason, I felt really tired, so I just crashed out pretty much as soon as we set sail at 18:30. It was a weird night’s sleep. The rocking of the boat obviously encroaching into my dreams, as I kept dreaming that I was in the basket of a hot air balloon, weaving my way through streets, under the power cables etc.
I slept on and off, then got up at 6AM to see if the sun rise would give me any nice shots. The speed of the ferry combined with the already cold northern Japan winter air made me pleased that there wasn’t really anything on the boat to include with a sunrise in back, so I gladly went back to bed for three more hours.
After a while there was an announcement that the tallest brick Lighthouse in Japan could be seen to the left of the ferry, so I went back outside and took a few shots. Unfortunately the warmth of the sea water hitting the cold air meant that the air along the horizon towards the tip of Honshu were shimmering and so it wasn’t really much of a scene to capture.
Before I headed back into my room, I noticed a patch of sunlight pouring through a gap in some heavy cloud behind us, and having tried a few different compositions, quite liked this one.
I cut most of the light coming through the clouds off, but I thought I’d share my thought process here.
My car was filthy before I got started so I stopped at a gas station, filled up, and then had them wash my car while I was there. This can be a time consuming activity in Japan, especially when they also sell you $150 worth of Winter style windscreen wipers, that don’t freeze up as easily as my native Tokyo ones. I arrived at my hotel in Jousankei, marked Day 1 on the above map, just as the sun went down. I went out as it got dark, feverish to make some images, and got the following two by the river behind the hotel.
The warm light isn’t a sunset, it’s the lights from the hotel on the other side of the river, but what the hey! The below photograph is the larger scene. This is a typical hot springs hotel town here in Japan, but you gotta love those snow pillows! 🙂
Jouzankei Hot Springs
I wasn’t actually expecting to get anything worth sharing today, so I’m happy enough. It’s off to bed now, and up at 6AM for a sunrise. My trusty iPhone tells me that the sun will rise pretty much down this river, so I might get some naturally warm light around my snow pillows tomorrow. If not, it’ll be back in for an early breakfast then hitting the road. I have a long drive tomorrow, and the roads are icy and scary for us non-initiated.
OK, I didn’t have any Internet on Day 2, but I do on Day 3. The problem is, I’m making more photos now, so just going through them all and doing black and whites of the ones I want to do so with is taking a lot of time. I’ll see if I can give at least a quick update though.
It was overcast when I got up on Day 2, and with the mountains at the end of the valley, it became obvious that there would be nothing to reflect in the water in the river, so I switched the plan B, had breakfast as soon as they opened and hit the road.
When I got out to my car the thermometer told me it was -7 Celcius, which explains why my rubber floor mats had become almost as hard as plastic and pushed back against my foot as I pushed down on the accelerator. It was even more worrying as it pushed back when I hit the break for the first few times, but then it started to soften up as the car warmed up.
The main objective today was to get up to a place called Haboro, where I would spend the second night, and I estimated that I’d be able to stop for up to two hours of photography, if the roads remained clear. I wanted to get close enough to Haboro to make sure that I could actually get there though, without getting snowed in somewhere, so I fought the temptation to stop at a number of promising looking spots.
The first spot I did stop at looked promising, but didn’t turn into much. Then, as I drove through a small town that I believe is called Boro, I saw a lighthouse on a promontory. Lighthouses always add a nice feature in a shot, in my opinion, so I started to see if there was anywhere to shoot it from, and just as I was about to leave town, I found it.
Had there been no where to park, I’d have missed this, but luckily there was a small lane that led down into the harbor in the village, and it was wide enough to park and still allow people to get past.
I ended up stacking two ND8 and an NDX400 neutral density filter, almost 15 stops worth, for a 30 second exposure here (right). That and a little bit of Silver Efex Pro gave me a relatively nice shot, I thought.
After that, just past a town called Rumoi, I spotted some cormorants on some wave-breakers, and swung the car around again for this shot.
I love it when the sun is shimmering on the water like this, especially when there is heavy cloud near the horizon. A lot of the time if there isn’t heavy cloud, but it is cloudy, I’ll drop a neutral density grad over the top of the sky in Lightroom, but this one is natural.
I stopped a few more times, but then arrived at Haboro. I had a drive through the back roads, around the farms, and found some nice spots, but with no fresh snow and relatively clear skies, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Then as it got down, I headed into the harbor and did a few more long exposures, like the one below.
Boats in Haboro Port
I didn’t expect this trip to be so easy when it came to early starts, but because I hadn’t noticed anything that would warrant a dawn shoot, I decided to east breakfast at 7AM again and then headed out.
Hut on the Edge of Town (Haboro)
It had snowed about 15cm overnight, and was still snowing as I left the hotel. Having spent most of the last 10 years in Tokyo, I’m always a little dubious about driving in snow, but I had my $150 Winter windscreen wipers from the first day, so I felt confident! 😉
It was actually easier driving on fresh snow than on the nasty ice that get’s left around later, and it was well below freezing again, so there wasn’t much risk of the fresh snow being on wet ice, which is extremely scary.
The fresh snow changed everything though. I had around 130km to cover today up to Wakkanai, at the northern tip of Hokkaido, and again, with the snow, I intended to get a good way there before I started to photograph. Famous last words! I couldn’t get out of town. There were beautiful little snow covered things everywhere. I haven’t been able to get through all of my pics yet, so I won’t show you all of them but here’s one of my favorites from just outside of Haboro (right).
This sky is half real, and half Lightroom by the way. It was a heavy snow filled sky, but not heavy enough, so I helped it a little.
The drive up from Haboro to Wakkanai was amazing. This is a beautiful area. Unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the snow gave way to clear skies as I drove further north, until it was positively balmy towards the northern most tip of Japan. I stopped and made a few long exposures of Rishiri Island, but I’m not fully happy with them. The skies weren’t cooperating. Then, as I pulled into a small habor on the edge of town, I found this prehistoric frozen camel-horse, cow, thingy…
Prehistoric Frozen Camel-Horse, Cow
You gotta love driftwood!
I got the angle finder out and a 16-35mm, and aligned the sun with this guys back and grabbed a few shots. I had to make sure I had a catchlight in his eye too, or this wouldn’t have worked. 🙂
I then took a good drive around, looking for some of the other things I wanted to photograph, and did some more long exposures before heading for the hotel. I can’t decide which one to post though, so I’ll leave it for today. It’s already an hour later than I wanted it to be, so good night!
By the end of Day 3, I had a bunch of locations that I wanted to visit on day 4, but weather conditions would dictate which one’s I aimed for at dawn. As there was cloud cover, I decided to use the dawn light for a moody photo of some wooden frames that they use to hang and dry fish from near one of the harbors.
Fish Drying Frames
Now, for you Michael Kenna fans out there, before you come screaming to me that I’m copying his work, I know. I am specifically searching out some of the locations that he has shot on this trip, because I want the tour that I’m developing to appeal to people that like this sort of work.
I personally love these shots, and I am trying to bring my own feel to the images I’m creating. In fact, sometimes when I have some of the subjects or scenes framed and ready to shoot, I pass it over, because it’s too similar to something I have seen of Michael Kenna’s work. But, I’m not Michael Kenna, and I have no intention of trying to emulate his work. The subjects are the same, but they are represented how I want to.
So why the long winded explanation? Because the back of the frame to the left here, is the right of two frames that Michael Kenna shot in a very similar way. I know that some people will jump on me for this, but don’t bother. I know! 🙂
After I’d photographed these fish hanging frames, I drove around the harbor, and then around the Wakkanai harbor, and noticed a sea mist, so I broke out the 600mm and did a vertical pano for this shot.
Lighthouse with Sea Mist
The wind electricity generators in the background are on the other side of the Souya Harbor, which is where I headed after this, and found these eight boats perfectly lined up in the Souya Port.
Souya Harbor Fishing Boats
This is one of my favorite shots of the trip so far. I shot about four or five frames here, each over two minutes long, and I got the clouds just how I wanted them in this one. Again, I was stacking lots of ND filters.
I ended up at the northern-most tip of Japan, a few kilometers up the road from this Souya Port, and had to set the 10 second timer for this tourist memory shot.
The Northern-Most Tip of Japan
That white streak on the sea is drift ice. This stuff is essential for shooting Steller’s Sea Eagles and White Tailed Eagles, as they need somewhere to perch to eat, and we need somewhere to throw the fish on to, to lure them. I was pleased to see that the Okhotsk Sea was full of drift ice for over 100 kilometers as I drove down to Oumu, where I’d spend the night and get up for a sunrise shot on…
So, having spent way too long going through my pictures in the hotel at Oumu, I was really not up for getting up at 6AM for a sunrise shoot. I even said to myself that the world doesn’t need another sunrise shot, trying to talk myself into going back to sleep. But, the cold air and drift ice does funny things to the sun in this part of the world, so I headed down to a point where I would be able to photograph the sunrise at about 6:30AM.
Well, for the first time in my life, I witnessed the fabled “Square Sun”.
Then, I almost got the legendary “Wine Glass”.
Almost a Wine Glass
Then it became clear where Apple got the iTunes Logo from.
Then, just as I thought it was all over, someone decided to pour a ginormous blob of molten metal through the clouds.
Molten Metal from the Sky
After the dawn drama, I took a steady drive down to the Saroma Lake, where I spend the hold day driving the entire circumference of this huge lake, looking for interest locations. I found surprising few, but enough to keep me happy.
Saroma Lake Tree
Crow in Tree
Boy did I wish that was an eagle in the tree not a crow…
And, that took me to the end of Day 5. Tomorrow I hook up with a friend flying in from the States, and we’ll be shooting Eagles and Fish Owls in Rausu for three days, then over to Kushiro for the Red-Crowned Cranes for the three days after that.
The volume of shots is going to increase from tomorrow, and I know that I don’t have Internet Connectivity in the first hotel, but if I get a chance to throw up a few quick selects in the coming days I will.
I’m very pleased with this first five days, and believe there’s a tour here for 2012. If by the way, you are interested in shooting in the locations we’ve looked at in the post, please do drop me a line, and I’ll keep you up to date on my plans. In fact, even if you aren’t a definite starter, please let me know if you “might” be interested, because that will help me to gauge interest, and fuel me to get things planned ahead of other priority tasks. You can drop me a line via our contact form here.
Thanks for keeping track of this trip too. I really appreciate all of your interest and support!