One of my favorite locations I visited in Namibia was the Damaraland region. I was staying at the Mowani Mountain Resort – a collection of beautifully architected bungalows settled in among giant boulders. Each structure was connected by a series of footpaths, and situated so that each room felt completely isolated. I felt as though I had the entire landscape to myself.
Luckily there was an interesting cloud bank to the west, blocking the sun and allowing its light to radiate into strong beams. The only element missing was a herd of desert-adapted elephants roaming the desert floor.
I had two camera bodies with me for the shoot, one mounted to a tripod with a medium zoom (24-70mm) and the other with a telephoto zoom (100-400mm) which I was hand holding. This way I could capture the larger scene with the tripod, and still shoot the sun’s transition through the western clouds as a dominant subject with the telephoto. The photo above was taken at 170mm, emphasizing the sun’s rays breaking through the clouds.
After the sun had set, the landscape radiated a deep blue, beckoning me to keep firing the shutter. This is a crop of a much wider panorama. Sometimes these photographs that appear more muted lend themselves to large wall hangings. Some day I may do just that.
As usual for a sunset landscape session, the action was over too quickly. Soon it was time to pack up the gear, have a quick sleep and prepare for an early safari the next morning.
My last blog post detailed my experience with five endangered black rhino at the Okaukuejo Waterhole in Ethosa National Park, Namibia. But that’s certainly not all I saw during those long quiet hours in the dead of night.
I arrived at the waterhole just as the sun was setting behind the horizon. Night is the best time to see wildlife here, and to facilitate wildlife viewing, this camp has set up a flood light by which to see the nocturnal visitors. Quite a few people gathered at the waterhole to watch the sunset, but soon they were off to dinner and bed. Over the next hour, the crowds thinned out and only the die-hards remained for a long night’s wait.
One of the more common visitors were the zebra. One night a small herd came at dusk, but it was those few that crept up to the waterhole in the middle of the night that were more fun to watch. The absolute silence was only disrupted by the soft crunching of rocks under their feet, as they lined the edge of the water to drink. The stillness of the water cast a perfect reflection. However there was no chance to relax, as any little sound had the zebra darting their gaze to the darkness, trying to see beyond the wall of black.
Zebra gave way to giraffe, which traveling in ones and twos. In order to capture photos of these animals at night, I had my 400mm lens locked down on the tripod, my mirror locked up, and my shutter speed just slow enough to gather the required light. Keep the shutter too slow, and the animal was more likely to move during the exposure. It was a careful balance of predicting animal behavior, and making sure all my camera functions were set correctly.
One of my favorite sights was the comical way in which giraffe drank water. They had to contort their bodies and spread their front legs in order to bring their heads low enough to the ground to drink.
I did see an elephant in the early hours of morning. However luck was not on my side, and none of my photos turned out. There was too much movement from this giant beast to capture under low lights.
I would certainly recommend this type of experience to wildlife lovers. It was incredibly intimate to watch these animals interacting under the cover of darkness, with nobody else around. It was a wildlife cathedral I was lucky enough to attend!
Last weekend I took a quick two night backpacking trip with some friends, in hopes of hitting the high country of the Sierra Nevada in peak wildflower season. I set my sights on Gem Lake in Emigrant Wilderness – just about the right elevation for flowers this time of year. Having been there before, I knew that even if the place wasn’t in bloom, we’d have a great time and see some amazing scenery.
I like Emigrant Wilderness because there are no trail quotas and it is very easy to get a wilderness permit with short planning. We set out from the Bay Area early Friday morning, stopping at the Mi Wuk Ranger Station on the way up Highway 108. Even though we were taking our time, we still hit the trail by 10AM, plenty of time to reach our 10 mile destination of Gem Lake.
The trail meanders between thick forest and open granite-filled vistas. Most of Emigrant Wilderness is easily accessible cross country due to many gently-sloping wide open granite bowls and domes. This time we stuck to the trail, and made easy progress. Every so often we were rewarded with a scenic vista. If you are not already a lover of granite, after a few hikes in this part of the Sierra you soon will be!
The elevation changes were just enough to tire our bodies by the time we reached Gem Lake. This lake certainly lives up to its name. However, it is very popular and can get quite crowded on the weekend. As it was Friday night, we were able to relax lakeside in relative peace. As the sun set, the wind settled and we got some nice reflections on the water.
The next day we went further up trail and explored Jewelry Lake and Deer Lake. Deer Lake is much larger and Gem or Jewelry, and it was hot enough to warrant a midday dip in its cool waters. This is a great area to take your time and not hurry along the trail. One more night, and it was time to head back.
On my first evening in Etosha National Park (and third evening in Africa), my traveling companions and I came across two lion brothers snoozing away the afternoon in the shade of the only tree for miles. Although it was still early in the afternoon, we decided to hunker down and wait them out. We were somewhat close to a waterhole, and wanted to see if the lions would wander that way as dusk settled. While we waited, we were treated to many poses as the restless lions moved around.
Armed with both my 100-400mm and 800mm lenses, I had plenty of options for focal length (especially given that I couldn’t get out of the vehicle and move around!) As the lions were more or less stationary, I was able to combine my 800mm lens with the fantastic 50 megapixel Canon 5DSr for maximum reach.
Based on the length of their manes, these lions were definitely young, and seemed to enjoy each other’s company. At time ticked by, their main reason for movement was to get up and walk a few feet when the shadow of the tree had moved sufficiently to no longer provide enough shade.
As often happens with wildlife photography, we waited patiently for something to happen. Although the lions lazed about with no intention of getting up to go to the waterhole, we were eventually presented with a beautiful sunset over the grasslands of Etosha. To capture the landscape, I used my 100-400mm lens zoomed out to 100mm.
After a few more minutes, it grew dark enough that wildlife photography at any great focal length became impossible. I packed up my gear in anticipation of a long, sleepless night at the floodlit Okaukuejo waterhole (photos coming soon!)