Namibia 2016 Trip Report

By Darrell Gulin on Aug 11, 2016

It’s said that variety is the spice of life.  For photographers, few places in the world can match the unusual variety of images that can be captured in Namibia’s mesmerizing deserts and spectacular national parks. 
We began our 2016 photo tour in the land of surreal quiver trees near Keetmanshoop in southern Namibia.  In the aloe family, with golden bark and succulent leaves forming a high rosette, the trees in the quiver “forest” can reach heights of 30 feet or more.  In morning and evening light, they are a landscape photographer’s delight.  Using a tripod, a greater depth of field (f/22 or f/16) and low ISO, we worked the foreground in tandem with the background.  After dark—conveniently timed since it is “winter” in Namibia—we added variety by shooting the trees under a brilliant canopy of stars and the Milky Way.  I pre-focused my 16-35mm lens and used manual settings f/2.8 or f/4 and 15 seconds at ISO 3200.  An old-fashioned bulb-type flashlight was used to light the trees against the nighttime sky.
After mastering our landscape techniques in the quiver forest we traveled westward to the abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskop.  Eerie and compelling, reclaimed by shifting seas of encroaching sand since the 1950s, this was the place I had longed to photograph after seeing Freeman Patterson’s images almost 25 years ago.  The goal was to photographically capture the town’s remaining structures and to show the graphic sand-filled rooms.  I shot exclusively in HDR at plus 2, minus 2, and one exposed right on.  No adjustment to the exposure.  “Why?” you ask.  I wanted to capture the full dynamic range of light and shadow in my images.  Shooting amid the sun-bleached structures where waves of wind-blown sand filled the faded, empty rooms was one of the highlights of the trip.
Driving northward along the edge of the Namib Desert, we traveled through an amazing wide-open expanse.  Our destination was the great red sand dunes of Sossusvlei.  We stayed at my favorite accommodations in Namibia—Sossus Dune Lodge—located inside Namib-Naukluft National Park.  From here, we were able to come and go as we pleased.  For photographers, this is one of the top landscapes on this planet.  The rich, warm colors and the graphic play of light and shadow on these spectacular immense dunes in morning and evening light were captured in our images.  See for yourself in the accompanying slideshow. 
Three days later, and after numerous images were taken, we drove to the coastal town of  Swakopmund for a day to recharge  and rest before continuing to Etosha National Park in the north of Namibia.  Of course, we always have the urge to shoot wherever we are, so we explored the sand dunes and photographed salamanders, snakes and more, while along the coast we found greater and lesser flamingo.
We were in Etosha National Park for five nights where we had numerous opportunities for wildlife photography.  We were now using larger lenses and faster shutter speeds.  We learned to anticipate the diverse wildlife action that was happening all around us.  Etosha is, as everywhere in Namibia, a dry area and animals are drawn to the water holes where we also staged ourselves in the mornings and evenings for the very best light.  One of the most memorable moments came one evening when we spotted a lion—one lion—coming to the water hole.  Then two more.  And, finally, six.  All six lions drank as the last sweet light of day settled on them.
Namibia—rich in color, otherworldly and often surreal.  And, especially for photographers, a land that offers a vast variety of subject matter to add spice to your image galleries.  Enjoy the slideshow!