Published photographer and nature enthusiast Richard Garvey-Williams has been to Namibia twice on photo safaris. Richard was kind enough to sit down with us and tell us about his experiences in Namibia and how you can get the most out of your photography in the Land of the Brave.
Two gemsbok in dramatic scenery in the Namib-Rand Reserve
Tell us about your most unforgettable moment while shooting in Namibia.
There were so many, but I did receive a parting gift that has certainly stayed with me. On my last evening, on the Namib-Rand Reserve, I decided to relax after dinner instead of rushing off to finish downloading images and get to bed ready for an early rise. I leant back in my chair and really took in the night sky for the first time that trip. I’ve seen night skies in a number of countries but this was special. I resolved to make some time for some night photography too on my next visit.
Every destination has its challenges and rewards; how does Namibia compare to other places you’ve photographed?
Namibia is vast, relatively unpopulated spaces and the arid landscapes particularly strike those of us from more temperate climates. The rugged mountains and towering sand dunes provide some wonderful back-drops for wildlife photography. The colour palette is quite unusual being dominated by yellows, oranges and blues. There’s certainly variety too with the coastal regions, Fish River Canyon and the Waterberg Plateau just a few examples of locations offering different photographic opportunities. Etosha National Park is also great for photographers, particularly in the dry season when you are able to witness the whole cast of its dramatic wildlife taking turns visiting the many waterholes.
Wildebeest seeking refuge during the course of the day on the Etosha Pan
One of the challenges we photographers have to face is that of heat haze. Photographing at the ends of the day when the air is cooler helps and it’s also important to get nearer to your subject if there is a risk of haze. However, when using very long lenses, there are bound to be a few images blurred by its influence. The other elements that we need to respect in these sorts of environment are the dust and sand- extra precautions are certainly recommended. Planning your travel itinerary can also be a challenge as the distance between locations are great and many of the roads are not tarred. I tried to always travel during the middle of the day to avoid eating into the precious morning and evening photography sessions.
Which 3 photos shot in Namibia are you most proud of and why?
1. One of my favourites is the one of the Black-faced Impala drinking.
This was taken early on during my tour at one of the waterholes towards the Eastern Gate of Etosha. I watched through the viewfinder mesmerized as the impala came in one at a time to drink, eventually lining themselves up to form a wonderful composition. The late-arrival, nervously looking around before lowering its head really makes the photograph as it breaks the pattern established by the others.
2. Another is the silhouetted elephant drinking.
This was taken at Halali waterhole in Etosha. I was half-way into my time in the park and had yet to see an elephant- which is unusual. At sunset, I hurried on foot to the waterhole and was over-joyed to find a whole herd of elephants drinking there. I set to trying to capture some interesting shapes and outlines by silhouetting them against the glowing water beyond. I fired off a sequence as this one raised its head. The alignment of its head with the gap between the trunk and the reflection on the left made this one a particularly balanced and appealing composition.
3. Finally, I’ll go for the one I call Elephant Communion.
I approached this waterhole to find these two bull elephants standing there coated with drying white mud. They looked as if they had been sculpted out of marble. I spent a good hour watching them as they gently swayed from side to side, occasionally turning to each other and gently resting their heads together. They had arrived together and I saw them leave together – clearly a close bond between them.
When going on a Namibian photographic expedition, what is your equipment of choice? And what do you never leave home without?
There are opportunities to use the full spectrum of focal lengths with long telephotos being useful for many wildlife encounters and in particular the bird life. Wide angle lenses will enable you to include foreground details in some of your landscape shots and to get ‘creative’ with rock formations, quiver trees and sand dunes. I’d also strongly recommend a polarizing filter. These will often work wonders in this context by lifting and emphasizing the wonderful colours in the scenery.
Sculpted sand dunes in the Namib-Naukluft National Park.
Another essential item is a beanbag. Much of your photographing will be done from a vehicle so a beanbag to rest your camera and long lens on will make life a lot easier. It will also give you the stability you need to use slower shutter speeds when the light levels are low early in the morning or when you need a small aperture for a greater depth of field.
A photographer friend is desperate to capture the best of Namibia. What top three tips would you give them?
Firstly, as with any destination, it’s important to do your research and plan your travel itinerary with your photographic ambitions in mind. Make good use of an operator or contact with local knowledge. Factor in a little extra time as road conditions can be a little variable.
Deadvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park
Secondly, you must protect your equipment from dust and sand. Dust covers or simple plastic bags fixed over your camera and lens with rubber bands or tape are a good idea. A blower brush to keep the optics clean, and cloths and cleaning fluid are also essential. Remember to put your cameras and lenses away in your camera bag and to zip it up when you’re on the move.
Finally, when lining up each shot, make a point of asking yourself about the fundamentals of lighting and composition. The aridity of the surroundings provides for some lovely uncluttered scenes, enabling you to simplify your compositions and to experiment with some precise placement of the elements contributing to the photograph. It’s not surprising that many of my images from Namibia were used as examples illustrating various points in my book, Mastering Composition – the definitive guide for photographers (Details of which can be found on my website).
Richard spent his childhood years in East Africa and was so in awe of the beautiful wildlife of that region that now, many years on, he still feels the draw of the African continent and the safari experience. As a professional wildlife and landscape photographer, he uses his skills to share with others these wonders and the empathy and respect that he feels for the natural world. Through his photography workshops he also welcomes others to share in the exhilaration of the safari experience. He is now busy working on another photography book.
More Photographer Tips
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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