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  • Writer's pictureJohan Jooste

Landscape Photography - Namib Desert

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

I was a photography guide at a recent landscape photography workshop in southern Namibia at Greenfire Desert Lodge. This is a remote piece of land bordering the famous NamibRand to the north and our hosts were Ettienne and Sanet Rossouw. The lodge has six double rooms and caters for breakfast/brunch and dinner. There is also a camping site with hot water but without electricity. As a previous commercial farm, it was transformed into a tourism destination with the main attraction being the beautiful desert-like landscapes of sand dunes, grass plains, and mountains. Quite a number of animals like gemsbok (oryx), springbok, ostrich, bat-eared fox, ground squirrels, and even some giraffes, which are more adapted to dry conditions, have also made it their home.

Greenfire Desert Lodge

For our participants and myself, it was a first and very pleasant visit to this unique area of Namibia. I was happy to get a small group of interested photographers together who were all of a higher age, all Afrikaans speaking (otherwise I would have had to mix languages), and we had two South African ladies and a brother and sister, also from South Africa and the rest was made up of Namibians, including myself. Most photographers had some degree of photographic experience, some more than others. My aim as a photo guide was to first gave a short talk on landscape photography from my notes and then to assist during excursions should people need it.

Group Photo of participants.
Back: Jannie van der Schyff, Christa Scholtz, Seated: Karin Barnard, Tersa Cilliers, Rencia, Marianna Erasmus, Hennie van Niekerk, Johan Jooste.

To take landscape photos in such a big area like Greenfire Lodge, we had to drive and our guide Izak took some of us with their open-viewing vehicle, while I drove with my SUV as well. The breathtaking views were evident as soon as the sun peaked over the horizon behind us. Everyone had their tripods out while I pointed out some possible compositions that were envisaged. The cold morning didn't dampen the spirits of the enthusiastic photographers, even if it meant bending a bit lower than usual to get the shot.

That afternoon a storm was brewing after Ettienne, our host thought that the rainy season was finished. We had to be content with the worst enemy for landscape photographers and that is "flat" light. That happens when clouds build up and there's no contrast from the sun in the landscape. But bad weather can produce surprising photos so we headed for a dune close to the lodge. Great cloud-scapes and a reward when the sun made brief appearances to bathe the red sand dunes in a lovely orange glow.

I decided to convert some striking images into black and white and for that, I selected images with good contrast. The trick is when doing that in Adobe Photoshop, not to merely change the Image Mode to Grayscale, but to use an Adjustment Layer for better control using various colour sliders that affect various tones throughout the image.

On day 2 in the morning, unfortunately, we had cloud cover again. We went to a riverbed with a number of acacia trees full of character. We strolled around as I sought out possible shooting opportunities for the participants. Every now and then I gathered them and we discussed photo opportunities, but as you probably know, you need the light (sunlight) to play its part. I went through the basics of having a sturdy tripod in the first place as some had flimsy tripods not helping them much. Then even with low lighting because of the clouds, working from a tripod should not be too much of a problem with regard to slow shutter speeds. We shot mostly around f-11 and f-16 with wide-angle lenses. Here are some shots of that morning.

That afternoon we departed again but this time accompanied by Ettienne as he took us around the closer mountain range where we stopped to photograph acacia trees in front of the mountain from a distance. Some had their tripods out and all were soon into action with their long lenses.

Getting setup with Ettienne at hand to lend his support.

From here we drove along the back of the mountains towards some low sand dunes that is covered in grass and acacia trees. Here I got the group together and explained the importance of using a tripod as light levels started to drop. The idea when using wide-angle lenses with landscape photography is to emphasize the foreground but at the same time, to balance the composition within the frame with a tree or similar in the background. We split up and everyone was soon finding their spots and clicking away. Here are a few shots from my collection taken around the dunes and the lower areas in between.

The last morning we had our last outing to another dune close to the entrance gate and although it rained a bit which took away the crispness of the sand ripples on the dune, we still had beautiful sunshine after we awaited the sunrise that morning. Again there were numerous photo opportunities as I pointed out various possibilities to the participants. Enjoy some of the pictures that I took on the morning.

Participants from the left: Marianna, Karin, Christa, Hennie and Tersa.

The end of our workshop was suddenly there and after a late breakfast, it was time to say goodbye to Ettienne and Sanet, our grand hosts who saw to it that everything ran smoothly. One thing is certain that some of us will be back for more in the not-too-distant future.

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