Professional photographer Hougaard Malan tells of magical tales while journeying through Namibia and shares some lessons on how to best to Capture Namibia.
The Sandhof Lily pan is a clay plain in the southern region of Namibia near Maltehohe. When it fills to about 30cm after the first heavy rains of summer, the Crinum Paludosum lily comes up for as far as the eye can see. It blooms and dies again within about 6/7 days. Along with the flowers, hundreds of thousands of elephant beetles seem to appear out of nowhere to feast on the delicacy and once the lilies die they vanish again. Our trip was supposed to be Kgalagadi-Richtersveld-Namib, but 5 days before our date to leave we got the news that the pan had gotten the necessary rain for the flowers to bloom.
We decided to chuck Richtersveld and go to Namibaia and then Kgalagadi. When we got there the lilies were already past their peak and I had to search hard to find ones that were still in good condition. As the sun got closer to the horizon, an absolute monstrosity of a storm was steadily rolling closer. Minutes before the storm reached us, a gap in the clouds opened and it rewarded us with light that made the effort worthwhile.
I got a few shots of the storm sky as it started to rain and then turned to my friend to shout "I’m packing up" and I saw how amazing the light was towards the sun. I fired a few quick shots and then the rain started beating down, as you can see in the water. We hastily retreated to the cars for shelter where the three of us were still ignorantly planning to braai, so we sat below our friend's unfolded rooftop tent waiting for the rain to pass. The downpour got heavier and heavier so Isak and I decided to retreat to his car and Braam got in his rooftent.
We were discussing how weird it is that such a cloud formation had no lightning... and as Murphy would have it, the rumble started. It got meaner and meaner and excitement grew to fear as I knew our cars were the highest objects on a flat plain. As the core of the storm reached us three successive strikes fell within less than 100 metres and it shook the whole car, followed by a deafening crackle.
There was an ominous darkness with only the sound of the rain beating against the car when all of a sudden a bolt of white light stood still on Braam’s car and he was still in his roof tent. Isak and I exchanged some nice words then Isak rolled down his window to hear if Braam was okay. After another exchange of some more nice words, Braam confirmed that he’s fine. Lucky for him, the metal frame of the tent had conducted the electricity. We had gotten there in time, had an amazing sunset and Braam survived a lightning strike in his rooftop tent.
If that isn't luck then I don't know what is!
"The Lucky Lilies" Sandhof Farm, Maltahohe District, Namibia, Photo by Hougaard Malan
I think what makes Namibia unique is a combination of the vast desolation as well as the dramatic change that the rain brings in areas like the Namib Rand. Seeing the afternoon light sweep across a carpet of green grass that lines a mountain valley from side to side with picture-perfect camel thorns dotting the landscape is something you only find in Namibia. The culmination of sand, mountain, grass and trees are unique to the Namibian landscape
I had visited Namibia twice on holiday prior to starting photography and it never really impressed me that much. The thing that triggered a desire to photograph the country of dunes and grass was a photo in a book by Jean du Plessis. The photo was of a large old Acacia tree on a grass slope that gently descended into a low lying valley where the grass ended against red stone hills.
Almost two and half years later I was standing in front of that tree waiting for the sun to rise. Watching the transition of light and color in a crystal clear sky as an ocean of grass swayed to a warm morning breeze is my fondest memory of Namibia. I experienced on that morning what Jean's photo had communicated to me. Hopefully my image of this scene will communicate that same message to viewers.
Jean's Tree, Kanaan Farm, Namibia, Photo by Hougaard Malan
I doubt there is a landscape in Southern African that has been photographed as much as the trees of Deadvlei. If something has been photographed that much then I have no desire to photograph it. Despite that, I found myself heading for deadvlei in January of 2011. My two travel companions immediately started shooting the iconic trees, while I wandered further into the pan and found these water drainage patterns along the Eastern boundary. There were many patterns that resembled different shapes, but I liked this tree the most for it's symbolism of photographing a tree at deadvlei that no one had photographed before.
"The Trees of Deadvlei" Deadvlei, Namib Naukluft Park, Namibia, Photo by Hougaard Malan
After outdriving and shooting a monster stormcell in the Tsaucheb valley all afternoon, the storm headed Southwards into the dune sea just a few km short of the 4x2 parking lot and I headed into the cracked pans to get ready for sunset. The magical recipe of geographical circumstances at Sossus did what I knew it would and the sun dipped in below the cloud cover briefly illuminating the dunes in blood-red light and painting a partial rainbow in the storm. I've experienced a lot of amazing sunsets in my life, but the location of this was one was just too good to be true and I all I could utter was a few laughs of disbelief. It's the juxtaposition of such a monstrous rainstorm in a desert that is so impressive.
"The Grande Finale" - Tsaucheb Valley Dunes, Namib Naukluft Park, Namibia, Photo by Hougaard Malan
The one piece of equipment that I really enjoyed using in Namibia is a 617 panorama film camera. The Namibian landscape really lends itself to the format due to the vast vistas. I wish I still had it, but I sold it for practicality reasons. One thing I can tip a lot of landscape photographers on is that regardless of how much you love your wide-angle lens, you will enjoy your longer lens more. I always want to shoot wide and long in Namibia.
#1: The time to go - the belief that the ideal time to go to Namibia is winter may hold true for people that go sight-seeing, but for photography you can't go at a worse time. There are no clouds and the grass is yellow. Go Feb-April for dramatic skies and sunsets.
#2: Be very aware of where you stay and the access that you are allowed. There are (conservation) rules and regulations at many places that can be limiting to landscape photography.
#3: Go for a long time. The Namibian landscape is overwhelming and you can easily spend a month photographing it!
About Hougaard Malan
With an agronomist dad and musician mom, Hougaard may not have had a big photographic influence, but certainly developed a passion for capturing nature’s artistic beauty. After buying his first SLR at 19, he ditched all plans of becoming an engineer or an architect, to lose himself to landscape photography.
"I am inspired by moments when the elements of nature combine as if painted by a god, to create scenes so beautiful that one has to take the time to stand back in awe and marvel at the beauty of the world we live in. I want my photos to remove the viewer from their present location and transport them to the scene so they can feel the wind and see the golden light of the setting sun on their skin. That is the purpose of a landscape photo, to experience the beauty of a place without being there."
Find out more about Hougaard at hougaardmalan.com
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This part of a series of blog post interviews with professional 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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