Tag Archives: namib

Arrakis dunes

To attempt an understanding of Muad’Dib without understanding his mortal enemies, the Harkonnens, is to attempt seeing Truth without knowing Falsehood. It is the attempt to see the Light without knowing Darkness. It cannot be. -from "Manual of Muad’Dib" by the Princess Irulan

Frank Herbert’s Dune is quite possibly my favourite book. Ever. A masterpiece of writing. A masterpiece in science fiction. A masterpiece in any genre. So brilliant even people who are not into science fiction absolutely love it. If you have not already read it, I suggest go out and buy it now! If you have read it, it’s probably time to re-read it! I am re-reading it presently for the umpteenth time.

A recently developed shot from Namibia was pointed out to me by a friend of mine as having some nice Dune (the book) qualities. Most dune images from Namibia could easily be mistaken for the sand planet Arrakis (a planet with just sand – my paradise!) This one has special Arrakis qualities though.The Light and the Darkness could easily conceal some Fremen fighters or a Maker worm. Study the light, the darkness, the shapes and the lines here and tell me what you think. And remember: Think you of the fact that a deaf person cannot hear. Then, what deafness may we not all possess? What senses do we lack that we cannot see and cannot hear another world all around us?

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Dune Shapes and Shadows
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

And ending with a favourite Dune quote of mine:

No Fear. Fear is the Mind Killer!

Dune with a Zoom

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.

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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!

Namib desert – Sea of Sand

The Namib desert is the oldest desert in the world with the largest sand dunes, more than 400 meters tall. Sand dunes as tall as the Empire State Building, Uluru or the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Taller than the Eiffel tower. The Namib desert runs for more than 2000 kilometres up the coast. 2,000 kilometres of sand. These numbers boggles the mind. The tall sand dunes dwarfs you when up close and personal but to truly understand the size of the desert you have to take to the air. From the air the sheer size and grandness is revealed and your brain struggles to take in this sea of sand, a country of sand really!

I have done quite a bit of shooting from planes and helicopters and is great fun but very hard to master. It is hard getting any worthwhile compositions from the air. Especially in a boiling hot plane as the air coming off the warm sand dunes is scorching. Adding to the challenge is the fact that looking through a viewfinder for extended periods of time while bumping along in a hot Cessna is the easiest way to induce motion sickness that I know off. All well worth it though as I doubt many sights in the world can compare to the mighty Namib desert from above!

I have 140 shots from this 2.5 hour flight. From a plane you have to machine gun your camera a bit as there are bound to be some out of focus or motion blurred shots. I am kicking myself for not shooting any video but this was before I really discovered the fun of shooting video on the 5D Mk II. Also I was plenty busy shooting stills and feeling slightly queasy! These are 3 of my favourite images from the flight, more to come.

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Sossusvlei from above
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This is the area of of the classic Sossusvlei and Deadvlei pans. Top third in the middle you can just make out the end of the 60km road that runs from the gate entrance into the National Park. This is the only road into the park.

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Dune Snake
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

From the air it works well to zoom in and pick out shapes and patterns. Patterns is something I am attempting to do more of. I have much to learn though as my eyes are attracted to grandscapes, not the details. With no time to switch lenses I should have brought my old 5D on board the plane as well with 70-200mm zoom attached so I could switch back and forth as I was using 5D MkII with 17-40mm zoom . It was the one day where I missed my 24-105mm L lens.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Sea of Sand
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

One of my favourite Namib from above photos. Gorgeous ethereal sand dunes stretching into infinity in what really is a large sea of sand, nothing here but glorious sand! The afternoon light brings out the orange colour and creates great definition in the dunes with side lighting picking up every shape and pattern.

I am happy with these images, I do feel I got something worthwhile from the air, if nothing else I got the magical experience of seeing the mighty Namib desert from above. So beautiful, so surreal, so otherworldly that you hardly blink for the duration of the flight!

The Lone Oryx in the Dunes

It is one of the classic Namibian photo compositions; The lone Oryx striding majestically in front of the massive orange sand dunes. It is not necessarily the easiest image to capture, you cannot just ask an Oryx to please stroll past one of the dunes in a pleasing photographic composition! Driving into Namib Naukluft National Park, we were lucky enough to spot several Oryx. My friend immediately asked if we should stop and as I was weighing the options of stopping vs driving further while we still had great light she adds “we have to stop, you won’t get this again”. She was of course right, always listen to your local experienced friend! I am very happy we stopped, we saw other oryx but nothing like this image of The Lone Oryx in the Dunes:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Lone Oryx in the Dunes
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This is just one of several versions, I have a hard time picking out my favourite. There is a panorama I shall post as well. I used my 70-200mm f/4 L lens for this and I ended up using this lens much in Namibia. Often in the Naukluft National Park (home of the 400 meter tall orange dunes) the dunes are quite far away or you want to zoom in on a pattern. I could easily have used a 400mm for some shots so a new zoom is on the shopping list for next Africa trip.

Cutting a long story short

You may have noticed my blog posts are slightly shorter. I love writing but presently I do not have the time to write long elaborate posts and tutorials, takes 4-5 hours to put together. So for a while you may see more images, and less text, a move I am sure favoured by many!

All in a day’s work for Mother Nature

Nature never ceases to amaze me. No matter how many days, nights, sunrises and sunsets I experience, Mother Nature always comes up with something new. It is one of the reasons I love landscape photography so much. Trying to capture these short moments of magic that most people never see, never experience, never even notice. I can think of no greater thing to point my camera at than Nature itself. We pale in comparison.

I previously mentioned that the laws of physics seemed warped in Namibia. The clear desert air removed all filters, we had pure 100% Nature. That horizon seemed to always be at infinity. That sky was twice as tall as anything else. After shooting in the desert we would be driving home through the gravel desert. Driving West towards the coast and Swakopmund we were going straight into the most striking fiery red and orange post-dusk light in a banner on the horizon. Not dusk really, but post-dusk, a good 30-40 minutes after sunset. In every other direction no light existed, except for a million stars like diamonds in the sky. To the right perhaps the moon. And always to the left, our trusty night sky companion – The Southern Cross. One time we just had to stop, kill the engine, get out and stare into the universe. Stare back into time. No words can describe it, no camera can capture it. You have to be there.

I have attempted to capture some of Nature’s work. They are not necessarily art, but are simply attempts to document Nature warping the laws of physics!

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Glowing night clouds in Namibia. This is not dusk light. The sunset lit up the clouds, then they went dark. Then dusk light lit up the clouds, then they went dark. But then…they lit up again! On fire. It was pitch black except for these night clouds on fire. I stared in disbelief, finally had to get out and try and document this. It was pitch black, couldn’t see the camera. It was also blowing a gale. It is a 10 second exposure, iso400, f/6.3 – tells you how little light there was. Live view on my camera gave up, was just blackness. Couldn’t see much in viewfinder so I just pointed. And got this. Night clouds on fire. White part in top right corner is the moon, shame I didn’t get that. The ‘frozen wave’ on the horizon is the infamous mist/fog coming in to swallow the coast and Swakopmund!

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Dusk lighting up the atmosphere in the Namib gravel Desert, opposite direction of the setting sun. The blue line is actually the earth’s shadow, it is blocking the dusk light from hitting air particles in the lower part of the sky – hence the pink/blue banners. I have seen this many times before but never so clear, so colourful as in the desert! Desert makes everything clearer.

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Rain cloud in the Namib Desert, you can see where it touches the ground. Most rain in the desert never hits the ground, it evaporates long time before that. This is a rain cloud that gave us a few hundred drops of water in the middle of the desert for about two minutes. Just enough to register some drops on the windscreen. We experienced rain in the desert! When locals tell you “we had 15 centimeters of rain” that means that they measured the distance between the rain drops and they were 15cm apart!

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And lastly, a sunset from Cable Beach in Australia where Mother Nature really turned on all the party lights and just lit up every cloud! She also kindly arranged a low tide so I could get mega reflections. I have a stitched 180 degree pano of this coming up, actually for a full 360 degrees the sky was on fire. A 5 minute demonstration of power, of Mother Nature having a party!

The camera’s we use nowadays are incredibly advanced hi-tech tools. Yet I always feel I am holding the equivalent of a stone age tool when Nature flexes it’s muscles. Nothing can capture that. Will not ever keep me from trying though! Won’t keep me from having my head in the clouds, walking into things!
I am a Nature Junkie!

Desert. What is in a name?

My first images of the desert originated from watching David Attenborough documentaries as a child, seeing photos of the Sahara and Namib desert in my father’s books – and of course watching David Lean’s masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. I am amazed to learn here in Namibia that the desert is all that but many other different things as well. All ethereally beautiful, haunting and magical.

Namib desert. The name Namib actually means wide open space. You may think 8 hours of driving through the Namib desert would be 8 hours of repeat scenery. You would be wrong. The desert keeps changing and re-inventing itself, gravel desert, sand desert, majestic mountains (yes I too was surprised, huge mountains in the desert), rolling hills, wide open plains with wildlife, dried up riverbeds. Grass. It has rained more than normal so the desert is green in many places! And sand dunes of course. Massive sand dunes. Small dunes. yellow sand, orange sand, deep red sand. Rounded windswept dunes. Tall laser sharp dunes reaching for the sky. Desert. What is in a name? A lot more than I thought!

The Namib desert is over 2,000 km long. Two thousand kilometres. It boggles the mind and challenges all ideas of distances and space. So much space. I boarded a 6 person ‘flying bathtub’ of a Cessna to get images from above. Once airborne my eyes struggle to compute the information. The Namib desert is larger than many countries. So much space. So beautiful. Sand dunes snake their way to infinity. Again, shooting a photo is like fitting the universe in a shoebox. No photo can convey the feeling of being in the desert heat, wind and dust with a 360 degree view of pure desert. But I can try. And come back and try again and again, as I have fallen in love with this hauntingly beautiful place.

My entire belief system is all natural science. But the normal laws of nature and physics  do not seem to apply here. On every desert trip we’ve been discussing how far away the perceived horizon is. Meaning with a perfectly flat surface, where would an 1.8 meter tall human perceive the horizon to be with the curvature of the earth in mind? In the desert it seems like hundreds of kilometres. A lot of googling has not revealed a definitive answer but it appears to be around 4.5 kilometres away. The perceived horizon on a flat surface that is. Does not make sense. Here in the Namib it is 50 km at least. Also, my 17mm wide angle captures about a 110 degree view. In the Namib that looks like the width of a hair. It appears the view in the Namib is also wider than 360 degrees. Driving back through the desert Sunday night we had bright as daylight deep red burning dusk light on the horizon in front of us. To the right a sliver of a moon. To the left the Southern Cross and a million stars. Behind us the dark night. Must have been a 720 degree horizon. Something magical is up with the laws of physics in the Namib!

Creating images of this is indeed proving difficult but here’s a few quick previews of my feeble attempts of capturing the many shapes of the desert. I am saving the real hero shots for when I get home so stay tuned.

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Me and My Shadow – on top of the Nissan in the gravel desert

Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Dunes of Namib-Naukluft stretching to infinity

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Sweeping wide open desert plains

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Into the abyss, the desert in dusk light from top of Rössing Mountain

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Windswept round dunes outside Swakopmund

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Classic laser sharp crest of Namib dunes

Randomness

  • Had to buy a sweater the other day! Desert gets warm at day but cools down quickly and gets cold at night! Also Swakopmund on the coast is sometimes haunted by a cold sea mist that I’m no fan of. So in the desert, you need a horse with no name, lots of sunscreen and also a sweater!
  • Swakopmund was established by the Germans back when Namibia was a German colony, before World War I. So there are many German settlers here, and you can shop at SuperSpar and buy Ritter Sport and Nutella! Some of the German tourists here also seem to have a ‘How to look like a tourist’ competition wearing Khaki safari gear top to bottom. The German spoken is a ‘high’ German very easy to understand and I’m startled to find I remember my German and can follow almost all conversations. Afrikaans, still working on that!
  • Driving at night here can be an interesting experience. Some of the back roads are not marked at all, so at night with an oncoming car it’s anyone’s guess where the road is. There are a few very interesting seconds where the cars pass each other, both drivers regain vision and discover they didn’t hit each other – and still have at least two out of four wheels on the car on the actual road! With every oncoming car this experience is repeated. Keeps you awake!
  • The Namibian desert and sun is energy for my soul! I take it in like a solar panel, feel very re-energised, re-booted, re-vitalised!