Namibian Travels Part 10 – Into the Namib

Sunset over the plains of the Namib region, Namibia.

After a rather uneventful couple of days in sleepy Swakopmund we packed our bags and got ready for the last big destination of our trip. First we drove south along the coast, passing Walvis Bay, the country’s second largest city and one of the few places that actually feels a tad bit metropolitan, then we turned inland. Soon the terrain changed again, sand turned into rocks and we kept gaining altitude. We crossed a couple of passes, then the famous sign came into sight – ‘Tropic of Capricorn’. Obviously I was too lazy to take a picture, and there’s not much to the sign anyway. It is white, a bit rusty, and there is nothing else around.

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After a four hour drive we arrived in Solitaire, a tiny hamlet consisting of a store, restaurant, bakery, resort, petrol stations and several little dwellings. The premises were littered with old car wrecks which made for great photographic subjects. As my father was filling up the car I noticed to station attendants leaning against the wall in the shadow, taking a break while chatting. It was the kind of situation you want to take a picture of without alerting the subjects first, so I snapped an image, but one of the two noticed me and did not look happy. I approached them, told them I had taken an image because I liked the way the two had been standing there, immersed in conversation, and that I would immediately delete if they preferred so. The taller of the two made it clear that they did not care, but they did not seem too happy either. I guess this is just a risk you have to take sometimes. You never know how your subjects react, or as an Australian friend of mine kept saying: you’ve gotta risk it, to get the biscuit. On the other hand he used the same phrase in his attempt to convince me to jump from our moving car into the open boot of another moving car in front of us, so maybe he is not to be trusted after all … And when I finally checked the image later it wasn’t even good – overexposed and plagued by motion blur, so no biscuit for me.

A panorama of a sunset over the Namib region, Namibia.

So we bought some snacks from the bakery and went off to nearby Namib-Naukluft Lodge. Amongst the numerous places we stayed in Namibia, this must have been one of the most peculiar ones. The location is nothing short of amazing, the lodge’s buildings are nestled against a large rocky outcrop that overlooks the vast grassy plains of the Naukluft region. If you climb the rocks and look around you, there is no sign of human civilisation but the road which passes a couple of hundred metres away. But on the flip side, the building itself is a total eyesore, made up of slabs of concrete that blend into their surroundings like an 80-year-old at a One Direction concert, and exuding a 70s flair, both on the outside and on the inside. In addition to that the staff were as unenthusiastic as it gets, interacting with us only when necessary, and the day’s set menu, wobbly Schnitzel with fries, was served by what appeared to be bored teenage girls. The next morning they did pack us a sumptuous picnic box though for when we had to leave for the desert well before sunrise, which we very much appreciated.

We arrived shortly before sunset, so we quickly ferried our luggage into the rooms, then bought a couple of beers and soft drinks at the bar and climbed the rocky outcrop for a sundowner. Enjoying the splendid views I sat up my tripod and snapped away in every direction, trying my hands on a panorama and several HDRs, and climbing around on the large boulders with my brother. It is a shame I only took up rock climbing and bouldering two months later as Namibia definitely offers some promising locations in that regard.

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My father tries his luck with my mother’s camera

After the sun had set and we had finished our dinner I grabbed my tripod to have another attempt at photographing the milky way. My mother, afraid I might be eaten by snakes or lions, assigned my father as my personal bodyguard, who half-heartedly listened to my ramblings on astronomy and the intricacies of stacking stars in long exposures while he let the beam of his torch wander over the tall grass all around us. We did not want to stray too far and stayed close to the lodge which unfortunately resulted in the artificial lighting ruining the foreground of my images. After our return to Germany I spent many hours trying to properly edit the two milky way shots I took that night and in the Etendeka Mountains, but processing wide-angle images of the night sky must be amongst the most complicated photographic editing there is and after my computer spent over half an hour on an attempt to stack my light frames only to quit due to being ‘out of memory’ (What, so 8GB isn’t enough to align some images?) I simply gave up on it. So the result below is simply a single frame image, a pretty poor result of three weeks in a country with some of the clearest night skies on earth. But the time I was hardly bothered, for the next day we would visit the most promising location of our entire journey.

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Atrocious composition, excessive noise, bad foreground lighting – a chance wasted

Read Part 11 here.

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