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April 22, 2014

Lessons from the Desert

I always tell my ‘students’ that nothing is more important than putting yourself in a landscape and practicing as much as you can. Those words always hit home when I revisit a place that I thought I knew. After spending 7 weeks in Namibia (bringing my total time spent there to nearly 5 months) I would certainly like to consider myself wiser.

There were quite a few differences this time, but the most prominent was probably that I had two cameras instead of one and for the first time I had a long lens. People who own one camera will think of every imaginable excuse to get a second one…I can say this from experience. I finally justified buying second body to start shooting timelapse so that I could shoot stills AND TL when the light is great. The two bodies certainly fulfilled that requirement, but I also learned the pain of dragging 2 bodies, 4 lenses, 2 tripods and enough water around the desert. Having a second body was by no means revolutionary to my experience of Namibia, but a long lens was.

I have always been stubbornly addicted to wider lenses and ever since getting Nikon’s super-light and ultra-sharp 70-200mm f/4 I have been in love. This lens truly came to life in the Desert where so many landscape features lose scale through the 14mm. Nowhere was this more apparent than at Sossus- and Deadvlei. This location has never really spoken to me and prior to this year I had spent more time chilling than shooting in Namibia’s iconic sandy bowl full of petrified trees. Approaching it with a longer lens changed my view completely and I really enjoyed Deadvlei for the first time. Capturing the scale of the place is not an easy task, but I think I may have a shot or two that does it justice.

Below is just one little spoiler of my Namibia images from this year’s trip. There are many still to come and I think that my relationship with the desert has taken a few steps forward. I enjoyed Kolmans as much as Deadvlei, I had three opportunities over Sossus for Aerials, the light was at it’s best Spitzkoppe and I even ventured north to Etosha. I depart for the Wild Coast tomorrow and after that I’m taking a short breakaway to Magoebas. I’ll have the best of Namibia up on my site before the 10th of May!

Larger Resolution on 500px

Four of Deadvlei's most famous trees below a lip of sand blown into golden light by a gust of wind. D800e, 70-200mm f/4, Pano of two shots

January 14, 2014

In The Footsteps of Pierneef

Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, for those who don’t know, was South Africa’s greatest landscape artist. He passed away many decades ago and his paintings are highly prized possessions nowadays, fetching between R300k to R6mil at auction. The best ones have travelled the world into private, corporate and museum collections. He has a very recognizable style and his paintings almost always had a sky filled with billowing thunderclouds. I may be wrong, but Pine and Gum trees seemed to be his favorite subjects to paint. Of course painters have the liberty to create the perfect trees with stunted trunks and high canopies, which he did. The koppies of mountains also featured frequently in his work and most of it had a warm afternoon light mood to it.

From a young age I was always taught that ‘that’ painting on my grandmother’s wall is a lot more special than the others. My parents took me to the Graaff Reinet Pierneef museum where the old Johannesburg Train Station panels were kept (now in the Stellenbosch Rupert museum) and so my love affair with his work was initiated. As my journey into landscape photography evolved it was always fascinating to travel to the places featured in his most iconic paintings. I think it would be difficult to find the exact spots he stood as he could move certain elements in the landscape to favour the composition of his paintings.

This holiday I came across a landscape that might not have been one that he painted, but it was the most ‘Pierneef-ish’ scene I have come across. There was a row of pine and gum trees, a sandstone koppie and a massive thundercloud building behind the scene. As the shadows crept across the landscape I waited for the light to fall on the trees and I captured my attempt at a Pierneef.

Mckays Kop, Dordrecht, Eastern Cape Highlands, South Africa.

Taken with my now stolen D800 and 70-200mm.

November 4, 2013

Where to Post?

In light of recent happenings and opinions I’m hesitant about posting directly to Facebook. I’m the last person who worries about having highly compressed 900px 72dpi images stolen. It’s an issue of building my brand on a platform that I own and control. I know viewing images on Facebook is very convenient, but it doesn’t offer much outside of the Facebook universe to the poster. Another issue is that despite an endless onslaught of complaints about image compression, Facebook chooses to ignore the issue. The Internet is a rapidly changing place and Facebook will inevitably be replaced by something newer and better as it replaced Myspace. When that day comes I don’t want the majority of my following and brand to be on Facebook.

The disadvantage is that because it is more effort to post on my blogs (I will be posting to my own as well as CapturEarth) I won’t be posting as frequently. The advantage is that I will be more selective about what I post and I will share a lot more information about the image and what went into creating it. I will also still be posting on 500px and Deviantart as those sites respect photographer’s rights and don’t compress the images.

I am very interested to hear any opinions on the matter. Especially from the people who enjoy images in their news feed. I know it is a lot of effort to click through to a blog, but 100 views on one’s own site is worth more than 2000 views on Facebook.

The Last Ten Minutes of Light

The weather can make or break a landscape photo. It can also make or break a landscape photographer if it consistently delivers…or doesn’t.  Patagonia tested my patience and resolution like no other place. Not only because it has generally bad weather, but also because it is such an expensive destination to spend time at. The more you photograph a place, the better you understand its weather. The better you understand the weather in a place, the better you can make a call on where to be at a specific time to ensure that you get the best possible photo.

This was one of my last days at Torres del Paine and I had already been there for a week. I thought I made a good call going to the East of the park near the main gate for sunset. After about 30 minutes of shooting a herd of guanacos near the gate, I saw that I had made a mistake. The clouds were making amazing North-South stripes that I knew would make brilliant converging lines towards the peaks if viewed from the South of Lago Pehoe. I knew it would only last a while so I rushed back to the car for the 30-40 minute drive back to the Southern area of Lago Pehoe. As I got near the sun dipped into a gap and a strong burst of golden light broke out. As I knew I would, I arrived too late. While running to my spot on one of the peninsulas in the lake, I tripped and smashed my knee into a rock. My spirit was crushed, but I limped on to my spot and set up to capture the okay light that was still around.

This was the end of the amazing opportunity. While driving the stripes were much more pronounced and there was amazing golden light on the lake.

I was in too bad a mood to go back to the hotel so I sat by the lake enjoying the view as twilight approached. I just kept triggering the camera as it got darker and darker. The necessary exposure time very quickly lengthened and it wasn’t long before I was at ISO200 f/8 and well into the minutes. As the twilight blues came out I decided to do one last exposure of ten minutes. While waiting it out I snapped out of my depression over missing the shot and did what I need to do a lot more often. I just appreciated the fact that I could spend sunsets staring at one of the world’s most amazing landscapes. The ten minutes passed and the screen lit up with a little bit of magic. It wasn’t as good as the opportunity I missed, but it relieved the pain in my knee a bit and it motivated me again to do my best the next morning.

The Last Ten Minutes of Light

Nikon D800, 16-35mm, ISO200, f/8, 560 seconds, Lee 0.6 Soft Grad, Long Exposure Noise Reduction ON.


Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine NP, Chile, Patagonia

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