The sand dunes of Namibia are massive. Largest in the world. More than 400 meters tall. So you would be right in thinking ‘to capture them I need to bring the widest lens I own’. In my case 17 mm and on a fullframe 5D MkII that is very wide. But you should also bring the longest zoom lens you have. I brought my Canon 70-200mm f/4 L, one of the best lenses Canon makes and great for landscapes. I could however very easily have used a 400mm zoom or more. Only a few places in the Naukluft National Park can you get up close and walk the dunes. This is a good thing, or there would be people and foot prints everywhere! The rest of the time you will be parked on the side of the road going into the Sossusvlei and Deadvlei dunes and you will actually be quite far away from the dunes.
The sand dunes at Namib-Naukluft are shaped by a wind alternating from either the ocean to the west or the desert to the east. This ensures a perfect sharp crest on the towering dunes that seem to reach into the clouds. When people view images of the dunes they have a hard time understanding the scale. Your brain cannot comprehend sand dunes taller than Empire State Building. This is where your longest zoom lens comes to the rescue. The large dunes offers some outstanding photo opportunities in the morning or afternoon where the strong side light will highlight the razor sharp crest. And if you get lucky you can include wildlife grazing in front of the dunes to provide some scale.
This is exactly what I captured in the image below. It is shot at 200 mm and cropped somewhat to zoom in further. I could easily have used 400 or 600 mm zoom. Fortunately the 70-200mm is tack sharp, when viewed at full size you can clearly make out the tiny oryx (antilopes) and trees in front of the massive dune. I would however have loved to be able to zoom in a lot more and not include any sky at all so next time I am bringing at least a 400mm zoom.
The Mighty Dune
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography
The 60 km drive from the gate of the national park into the Sossusvlei and Deadvlei dunes is 60 km of pure magic. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever done. The outer gates open at 6am so you will be driving in through the dunes just as the sun is rising. Well, there is also an inner gate, opens at 5am. If you pay an absolute fortune for accommodation you can stay here, inside the park, meaning you get to take off at 5am. Clever business tactics here. If you do not wish to spend a fortune you can join the rest of us outside the outer gate waiting for 6am!
Driving in is so magical I completely lost myself in the visuals. Apart from Deadvlei, which is so gorgeous you get high shooting in there, the drive into the park is the most beautiful part of the massive park. My friend kept asking ‘wanna stop? wanna stop?’ but I couldn’t answer. How do you decide where you want to stop when you have just landed on Mars? It’s all so otherworldly, so beautiful, so mind boggling. Fortunately I managed to mumble a ‘yes’ now and then, and she stopped by herself on occasions so we could capture gorgeous images.
If you find yourself at Namib-Naukluft, take it easy, enjoy the ride and don’t rush to get to Sossusvlei where everyone else is going. Bring a mega zoom and remember to stop along the way.
The journey is as important as the destination here, as it often is!