Capture Namibia: Photography Tips from Greg Whitton


Photography enthusiast Greg Whitton was in Namibia a few months ago, and he took some time to share a few of his photos and experiences with us...

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'Sunrise at Vingerklip'
Photo by Greg Whitton

Tell us about your most unforgettable moment while shooting in Namibia.

I'd like to say it was witnessing sunrise over the dunes of Sossusvlei, or an abrupt encounter with a my first Bull Elephant shortly after entering Etosha, but actually it was the drive from Sossusvlei to Swakopmund. I can't think of a single road I have ever travelled where the landscape has changed so much and so often, some truly breathtaking vistas and obscene expanses of absolutely nothing that just had to be breathed in rather than photographed...sometimes you just have to put down your camera and appreciate your surroundings for what they are at that moment, not what you hope to show others.

 

Every destination has its challenges and rewards; how does Namibia compare to other places you’ve photographed?

My usual haunt is the Highlands, National Parks and general countryside of the United Kingdom. Scotland in particular has a special place in my photographic heart and I can never feel more at peace anywhere more than the North-West Highland region of Scotland (Sutherland), however, Namibia is such a rich country of photographic subjects that it is hard not to be able to find something of interest to photograph, it is so ridiculously diverse, it's almost unfair it is so far from the UK!

My most recent International destination before Namibia was China, which in itself is incredibly varied and culturally rich, but has its own problems for photographers, such as terrible pollution, something Namibia has no problems with! I've never in my life seen such clear skies at night as I did in Namibia and it wasn't something I had actually considered before I arrived. I hadn't made any particular plans to capture the night sky, although I did experiment a little.

I think the biggest challenge was the opening and closing times of the National Parks. Most interesting subjects lie within one park or another and when the gates open or shut at sunrise or sunset it really limits what you can achieve. Also, because Namibia is closer to the Equator than I am used to, the "Golden Hour" (the time when the sun is low enough in the sky to cast warm tones and shadow) is not very long, typically only 20 minutes, and so being able to capture certain subjects in the right light and then make it to the respective gate before it closes is very hard. Regarding sunrise, it is the opposite, and so there is very little time to scout and find the right composition before the sun gets too high.

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'Alert'
Photo by Greg Whitton

 

Which 3 photos shot in Namibia are you most proud of and why?

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'Namibian Dawn'
Photo by Greg Whitton

It was a desperate rush to get to Big Daddy and Deadvlei before the sun came up, and then when we reached the parking area I only had a vague idea of which direction I had to walk as we were the first people there that morning, thankfully we walked the right way. Walking over a small dune and seeing Deadvlei for the first time was a wonderful feeling but then realising I only had minutes to scramble up the side of Big Daddy was soul destroying...climbing dunes is hard enough at the best of times, but when you are in a rush only sheer determination gets you to the top.

Emerging above the ridge to see that the sun was only moments away from the horizon was a delight, but it was a real struggle to assemble the camera and filters in time, especially considering the East Wind that was whipping up the sand. When the sun did come up it took a few minutes to gather strength and I was concentrating on composition of the ridge-line when I just happened to look down the slope facing the sun. The sand colour was by now richly saturated but individual grains of sand were casting shadow creating a textured effect I did not expect. I turned the camera to face the sun directly, stopped down the aperture to ensure I got a sunburst effect and fired.

 

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'Desert Oryx'
Photo by Greg Whitton

I really wanted to capture an image of Oryx (or Gemsbok by their other name) cruising across the dunes as I've seen a number of images (on this site and others) that have captured this wonderful animal in such circumstances. I knew given my situation and time pressures it was going to be extremely unlikely, but you live in hope.

It was late afternoon and my wife and I were driving to Dune 45 for sunset (you need to appreciate we only had a one night stay in this area, so had to achieve everything we wanted to in a single 24 hour period) when I noticed in the far distance, about a kilometer from the road, three Oryx crossing the savannah towards the outer extent of the sand dunes. Timing was almost perfect because the sun was now reaching that perfect height for Golden Hour when long shadows are cast and the warm tones become abundant. Using my 70-200 lens along with a 1.4x extender and a very steady hand I was able to capture one of these graceful animals perfectly as it made its way toward the dunes.

I didn't quite get what I wanted which was the Oryx in the dunes themselves, but what I managed to get demonstrates the diversity of the landscape and the nomadic existence of these animals better than I had anticipated, it is one of my favourite images.

 

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'Rescue!'
Photo by Greg Whitton

It was our final day, in fact our final hour in Etosha, and we had decided to just sit at a waterhole and wait for things to happen, rather than keep driving between them in the hope of discovery. In the couple of hours we did this we saw lots of things happen, from a Lioness attempt to take down an Impala in the heat of the day, to frisky antelope, to a Giraffe meeting and then a Matriarchal herd of Elephants arrival for an afternoon drink and dust bath. That in itself is not a rare sight in Etosha at all, but just as the Elephants were moving off one of the small calves got knocked into the concrete trough...all hell suddenly broke loose as all the Elephants called out and came running back to the trough to try to get the calf out, but too many cooks spoil the broth as they say.

The calf was being crowded and the Elephants were not succeeding. It was heart wrenching to see the majority of the herd turn and walk away and there was obviously nothing we could do to help. A couple of times the calf was almost out but then fell backwards and was submerged upside down in the water, kicking its legs in the air. However, it quickly became apparent that the mother had told the herd to leave and she remained with what I would assume are the calf's two elder siblings to work as a trio to help the poor calf out. I was shooting continuously throughout and this image captures perfectly the desperate struggle and the tender care together as the three Elephants use their trunks to haul the calf out.

Moments later, thankfully, they succeeded and all of them walked away safely, if a little wet and shaken. Technically, this image is nothing special, but at the heart of it is a situation that is at the core of wildlife in Africa, the struggle between life and death.

 

When going on a Namibian photographic expedition, what is your equipment of choice? And what do you never leave home without?

I already had a Canon 5D MkII and a selection of lenses for photography in the UK, but going to such an arid and diverse country as Namibia I knew I would struggle with what I had...you need very different equipment for shooting landscapes than you do for shooting wildlife. As an enthusiastic amateur I can't justify spending thousands on large telephoto lenses and I wouldn't have the logistics to transport them, so I had to utilise what I already had and supplement it in a cost effective way.

Therefore I bought a 2nd hand Canon 650d to use with the 70-200mm lens and a 1.4x extender. The 650d is a crop sensor camera and so it multiplies the effective focal length of a lens by 1.6x. Coupled with the 1.4x extender it means the effective focal length of the 70-200mm lens is 157-448mm, almost perfect for Safari with only a drop of 1 stop in terms of speed. I used the 5D MkII for landscapes and utilised that with the 17-40mm and the 24-105mm for wide angle and close quarter safari shots. Having two cameras meant I didn't need to change lenses in such a dusty environment very often.

But I would never leave home without a Buff. This useful piece of clothing can be used as a scarf, a hat, or to cover your camera from dust on a game drive!

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'Zella' on the Skeleton Coast
Photo by Greg Whitton

 

A photographer friend is desperate to capture the best of Namibia. What top 3 tips would you give them?

1. Research your locations on the internet and ensure you can visit them at the time of day you want to. Distances are long and opening/closing times are strictly controlled. For example, there is only one Lodge you can stay at in the Sossusvlei region that will allow you to get to Sossusvlei itself before sunrise.

2. Try to take two cameras at least if you are on Safari, things change so quickly it's unlikely you'll have time to swap lenses.

3. As an amateur be aware of your surroundings and not just your chosen subject, especially when it is an animal. All too often people will take a photo of an animal and place it centre frame, but with a little more thought an animal portrait can tell a much better story with clever composition or by including something else in the back/foreground.

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'Rhino Reflected'
Photo by Greg Whitton

 

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About Greg Whitton

Greg Whitton is an enthusiastic amateur photographer with dreams of turning professional one day. Based in Solihull, Birmingham in the United Kingdom. An IT Contract Manager by day, when the opportunity for photography comes along he likes to specialise in Landscape and Abstract imagery with a growing interest in Wildlife.

Greg is entirely self taught and has his own photography website www.gregwhittonphotography.com on which there are many more images of Namibia as well as other subjects. You can follow him on Twitter (@Mountainman76) and Facebook.

 

More Photographer Tips

This part of a series of blog post interviews with photographers on how to Capture Namibia. Every week we'll be posting tips, tricks and amazing photographs from these impressive photographers.

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