Days of looking to be there at the right moment …

“That’s pretty much the life of a National Geographic photographer. Days of looking to be there at the right moment.” Jim Richardson

Jim’s got it right: if you want to get a particular composition, or just the right light, then it can take days of looking and days of waiting. Then you’ve got to get yourself in just the right spot at the right time with the best equipment you have – camera set-up, lens, lens filter, and tripod.

You also need to know your landscape and how it’s lit. If you stand with your back to a Karoo sunset you often have golden light washing over distant mountains. That’s something I’ve wanted to get a good photograph of for a long time. Here’s one from my last shoot.

A golden sunset at Ganora farm

Golden Sunset at Ganora

There’s a second photograph that I’ve worked on many times over the past 10 or 15 years. If you are at Ganora Farm (just outside Nieu Bethesda) and stand looking north towards Compassberg mountain then the sunset is to your left and the light bathes the cliffs and skyline. You can also get lovely colours on the clouds beyond.

The dramatic cliffs of Compassberg at sunset

Compassberg’s cliffs catching the sunset light

Just last month I managed to be there at the right moment for both of these shots. We’d had a dull, hot, overcast afternoon but an hour before sunset a nice rift appeared in the clouds way off to the west. I figured that’s pretty much where the sun would be as it set so I assembled my camera gear and headed to a good vantage point up on the road out of the farm.

One of the reasons I got the pictures I wanted was the lenses I used. It’s the first time I had taken the M.Zuiko 40-150 mm PRO lens with me. I also had the MC-14 telephoto adaptor which enabled me to zoom really close up to the subjects.

I waited for about half an hour keeping an eye out for the sun to drop below the clouds. When it did I shot a picture of the road out from the farm with Compassberg mountain beyond. I used the 12-40 mm PRO lens for this and quickly switched it for the 40-150 mm as I knew the light would change rapidly. Swivelling round so the sun was now behind me I got a couple of really nice pictures of the golden glow on the distant hills and koppies off to the east.

The golden road to Ganora Farm

Golden road at Ganora

The golden light of a Karoo sunset

Golden light at Ganora

Then I walked back over the road for the long exposure shots of the mountain with clouds behind it. These were taken on the tripod using Live Composite base settings of half a second and a second. Each shot was five minutes long – so either 600 for 300 exposures superimposed in the camera.

Sunset colours over Compassberg mountain

Sunset colours over Compassberg

Late sunset colours over Compassberg mountain

Late sunset colours over Compassberg

It had been a pretty intense hour but I was feeling really pleased. It was a nice walk back through the gloaming with the prospect ahead of a cold beer at the braai.

The Eastern Cape Karoo in black and white

I’ve had such positive responses from my recent blog post on the Karoo that it’s inspired me to put together these ten images. This time all of the pictures are different styles in black and white. They’re taken from Mt Zebra National Park, which is just outside Cradock, along the R61 to Ganora Guest Farm and Compassberg – just before you arrive in Nieu-Bethesda.

I get these rich blacks in the landscapes if I use the wide-angle M.Zuiko 7-14mm lens. It really picks out the contrasts when there are clouds and captures lots of detail and texture in the foreground.

I used the same lens for this view. I love the way that the fence line and clouds pull you into the photograph.

Gate, sheep and sky, Blaauwater Siding, Nieu-Bethesda, Karoo

Gate, sheep and sky, Blaauwater Siding, Nieu-Bethesda

When the sun’s lower then the light often gets much hazier. I’m looking either through or into the light in this next set of pictures.

The next pair of pictures were both taken using a zoom lens (the M.Zuiko 40-150) with full sunlight bathing the focus of the scene.

Lastly I’ve a couple of pictures that I took looking upwards with the body-cap fish-eye lens. That means the sun gets into your picture unless you hide it behind something!

I’d love to get some feedback so let me know what you think!

To the Sneeuberg and Eastern Cape Karoo: studies in brown and blue.

We are having a long drought in the Eastern Cape – it’s only early Spring and already hot after a very dry winter. On the drive up from Grahamstown to Mt Zebra National Park and the Sneeuberg there’s hardly any green vegetation to be seen. The landscape is dominated by browns and blues showing off the textures, the grain of the land, the rocks and thorny bush.

Karoo Skyline from Mt Zebra, Cradock, Karoo

Karoo Skyline from Mt Zebra National Park

On the way north to Cradock there’s a great big Karoo sky above you and the folds and wrinkles of the landscape stretch far into the distance. You get lovely skylines like this one – taken from Mt Zebra’s Black Eagle Hike towards sunset – and you might be lucky enough to be able to sit behind some boulders and quietly watch a baboon troop pass by.

Baboon troop, Mt Zebra National Park

Baboon troop in the golden light of sunset at Mt Zebra National Park

If you take the Kranskop loop in the Park then you leave the throne bush (and monkeys) behind and climb steeply up to get more great views.

Ververt Monkey in the thorn bush, Mt Zebra National Park

Ververt Monkey in the thorn bush, Mt Zebra National Park

Off to the west of the Park the Sneeuberg range stretches away towards Graaff-Reinet and Middelburg.

Sneeuberg Landscape from Mt Zebra, Cradock, Karoo

Sneeuberg Landscape from Mt Zebra National Park

This is the countryside that you will drive through if you go west towards Nieu-Bethesda. My final picture is taken from the lookout where the gravel road crests and you get a view down to Ganora Farm. Nieu-Bethesda lies just beyond the middle range of hills.

Sneeuberg Landscape at Ganora, Nieu-Bethesda, Karoo

Sneeuberg Landscape at Ganora, Nieu-Bethesda

 

Karoo Light: Sunsets, Storms and Night Skies

Two or three times a year we make the journey west from Grahamstown and into the Karoo – often staying somewhere around Compassberg which at 2504 metres is the highest peak in the Sneeuberg and Karoo. Kate has been working in the area for many years and I’ve gone along too. Sometimes that’s involved some academic work but more often I take my camera out and about. For me as a photographer the Karoo is really grainy: there’s gravel roads, flatlands, thorn scrub on rock outcrops, flat sedimentary ledges in front of rugged mountains, dolerite columns and twisting sandy rivers. All of this under a huge sky with dramatic light – especially when there’s rain (and snow) about.

This slideshow features some of my favourite themes, sunsets, storms and night skies.

There’s a picture of an iconic Karoo wind pump under a stormy sky. The Obelisk below the Milky Way is at Ganora Guest Farm (it marks the sharp turnoff to their self catering cottage). The Karoo Sunset was actually taken from Hogsback, which isn’t in the Karoo, but I was looking due west at the sun setting beyond range after range of Karoo hills. The two Passing Storm pictures were taken approaching (and from within) the Karoo National Park one dramatic afternoon. The last two pictures are of sunsets at Compassberg and the Sneeuberg north of Nieu Bethesda.

I’ve put The Karoo Windpump and The Road to Compassberg in my online store where you can also find plenty of other landscape pictures and my latest exhibition – Metamorphosis.