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July 22, 2014

Namibia Photo Tours 2015

There are a lot of very photogenic places on our planet, but a certain few stand head and shoulders above the rest. Areas where there are an abundance of remarkable and easily accessible photographic opportunities. Landscapes like Iceland, Patagonia and The Colombia River Gorge jump to mind. I’ve been lucky enough to have one such place within a day’s drive all my life; Namibia. My first two visits were when I was still in school and when photography played no role in my life. The first time I explored Namibia solely for photography was in 2010 and that was the first of many trips to come. In total, I’ve spent roughly 5 months photographing Namibia and I’m confident that I know Namibia’s photography hotspots better than most.

An Aerial view of Hidden Vlei

Having some of the world’s most unique and inhospitable terrain makes Namibia a bucket list destination for any tourist and especially so for photographers. It also boasts the title of the world’s 2nd most sparsely populated country, which explains why the average distance between towns is 200km. If there’s one thing that Namibia has no shortage of, it is pristine wilderness.

Namibia doesn’t get much rain, but when it does rain, it’s an amazing sight to behold. The Namib Desert’s rain comes in billowing thunderclouds from the mountains East of the red sands, mostly from February to May. In normal amounts, the clouds guarantee dramatic sunsets and fields of grass. In abnormally dry years, it can turn the desert into a barren hell. In abnormally wet years it turns the desert into a wetland and it brings fierce thunderstorms to the dunes. I was lucky enough to witness such a year in 2011. The three years since have been quite dry, so a wet year is bound to make a return soon.

Rain showers are illuminated in golden light over the mountains of the Namib Rand

The Photography

Namibia has great tourism infrastructure and all the destinations are very tourist-friendly, but thinking you can just pitch up and get great photographs everywhere is foolish. I have learnt from experience that each destination has its tricks of the trade for ensuring you get the shots. At some places you need to know which tree is the special one and at others you need to know which dune is worth climbing. At Sossusvlei you’ll watch sunrise from your car if you’re not staying in the right lodge and at Kolmanskop you need to know which rooms are right at what time of the day. When you only have two or three days at each location, you can’t afford to be in the wrong place at the right time or vice versa. When you attend a workshop with CapturEarth, we bring that experience to the table. We ensure that you stay at the right lodge, photograph the best subjects and that you’re set up and ready when the magic light comes.

Sunrise light falls into one of Kolmanskop's off-limit rooms.

Demand for our Namibia workshops have far outstripped the offer in the past year, so we’ve made sure to set aside enough time next year to meet the demand. I’m already guiding two other fully booked trips next year over and above the ones mentioned below.

CapturEarth will be hosting three photographic workshops in Namibia in 2015 and there are certain key differences between each. The following information should assist anyone considering one of these trips to select the product suited for them.

Tour #1

This workshop is in partnership with fellow landscape photographer Erez Marom. It will start in Windhoek on the 28th of February and end in Windhoek on the 11th of March. This trip is ideal for people flying in from overseas, who want as little responsibility and as much convenience as possible. The only thing you need to worry about is getting to and from Windhoek International Airport on the right days. Everything from park fees to transport in a luxury 24-seater bus is included. It also includes a one-hour helicopter flight over Sossusvlei for aerial photography. While in the Namib Rand, the other two tours go to the Greenfire Desert Lodge, which is a great location. This tour however, will visit Wolwedans. It is considered one of the best lodges in Namibia and has been featured in many best hotels in the world lists. This tour will be guided by Erez and Myself and we will be accepting 13 participants. There are only five single spots available, so if you don’t want to share I advise that you reserve your spot immediately. For pricing, dates and other information please visit this page.

Dawn light colours the skies over Quiver Tree Forest in blue

Tour #2

This workshop is in partnership with C4 Images & Safaris, whom I’ve worked with for years. It will start in Luderitz on the 11th of April and end at Sossusvlei on the 19th. This trip is ideal for people who can’t get away from home for too long and it is also more affordable than the other two tours for various reasons. It is ideally (but not specifically) aimed at people living in Southern Africa who own a 4×4 vehicle. All meals and park fees are included, but not transport.  There is no aerial photography included in the price, but it can be arranged as an optional extra. This trip will be guided by Paul Bruins and Isak Pretorius, who have both been to Namibia several times. We will be accepting up to 10 people on this workshop and there are only two single occupancies available. We have been doing this exact workshop for the past 3 years and we’ve gotten many return clients out of it, which speaks of its success. For pricing, dates and other information please visit this page.

The magical juxtaposition of a rainbow in the desert

Tour #3

This workshop will be guided only by myself and its aim is to be more exclusive than the other two tours by only allowing six participants. This tour will start on the 25th of April at Quiver Tree Forest and end 12 days later at Sossusvlei on the 5th of May. The key differences between workshop 1 and 3 are that this one is self-drive where as transport is included in workshop 1. This workshop has 2 more days of shooting, one at the Fish River Lodge and another in the Namib Rand. Another advantage of this workshop is that it will be noticeably cooler by the end of April. There are plenty of great car rental companies in Southern Africa and we’ll happily assist you in the administrative process of renting a 4×4. For pricing, dates and other information please visit this page.

Tour #1

Tour #2

Tour #3

Below is a simple comparison of the three tours listing what is included in the price. If you wait ages to book, you will find yourself on a long waiting list!If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to mail me at info[at]hougaardmalan[dot]com.

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.

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