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!

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.

Summer Nights – Festival Gallery Exhibition

In a couple of month’s time Grahamstown’s Festival Gallery hosts its annual end-of.year exhibition.  This year the theme is Summer in Miniatures – artworks have to be no bigger than 30 cms.  I’ve decided to try out a submission with the idea of ‘Summer Nights’ and use a selection of four night pictures taken this past southern hemisphere summer.

The first two were taken on Ganora Farm which is just outside Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo.  Summer Nights 1: Angel and Obelisk was taken in the middle of the night when there was no moon.  I wanted to catch the Milky Way stretching directly above the rock and quite by chance I caught the light of my head torch that I was using to light-paint the top of the obelisk.  Summer Nights 2: Compassberg Star Trails was taken on a night when the moon was full which is why the landscape is so bright.  It’s a one hour exposure looking north to Compassberg mountain and has beautiful star trails arcing across the horizon.

Summer Nights 3 and 4 were both taken looking south from Mountain Drive, Grahamstown: so they are overlooking Featherstone Kloof.  In Summer Nights 3 I was joined by a firefly that flickered briefly past my right shoulder and up into the sky.  It’s another picture taken when the moon was full so I hid beneath a rock overhang to avoid getting direct moonlight on the lens.   For the last picture, Summer Nights 4, I highlighted Pride Rock from underneath with a bright LED as there was no moonlight to bring out the foreground.  The lights on the horizon are from Port Alfred 60 kms away.

If they’re accepted for the exhibition they’ll be priced at around R2500 for a framed print but I can supply a high resolution digital image for half of that. Contact me if you are interested.

The cold Karoo leaves its mark

Without doubt the Karoo is cold in the winter months. We are just back from field work based at Ganora Guest Farm, New Bethesda and it was gray and cloudy and cold.  I managed to capture the grainy chill in these pictures: particularly in the skies towering over the gravel roads twisting through the big landscapes.  We’ve usually finished field work before sunset and so I get the chance for a quiet walk and the opportunity to compose some photos – hopefully beside some sheltered sun-warmed rocks.

Then there’s also the small things that you see when walking through the countryside. The donkeys, pumpkins at a road side farm stall, freshly shorn sheep smelling of lanolin and there were some orange-red blossoms like flame flickering amongst the rocks.

At night the sky sweeps above you and the stars are incredible.  This picture of the milky way was taken when it was hazy and cloudy so I was lucky to get the picture when there was a break in the clouds.  The farm buildings in the next picture are very bright because a guest’s car drove down to the farm whilst I was exposing the shot.  So the farm was light painted for me.  There’s a straight diagonal line running across the curved star trails in the last picture.  It’s the lights of the SAA flight from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town.

Symmetry in Nature: Preview

It’s a couple of months since I posted about the book project. There’s been plenty to work on: finding the right online publisher, deciding on the layout, selecting and reworking images, tracking down picture details, drawing the maps and then composing the book. Here is a preview of the covers: you are looking at the book opened out and face down so the back cover is to the left of the spine.

Symmetry in Nature: Covers

After a bit of research I chose blurb to work with as they publish a lot of photo books and their BookSmart software is free. They also give the option to convert your book into an eBook for publication in Apple’s iBook store. Which is something I will be doing very shortly. My book has a large square format since the images don’t come in standard sizes..  That’s meant laying out each page separately with an image and the original picture I worked from plus a short caption.  Here are two pairs of pages from the Mosses and Lichens and Trees sections.

Symmetry in Nature: Mosses and Lichens

 

Symmetry in Nature: Trees

I realised that I am not the first person to construct striking and evocative imagery through mirroring and duplicating.  What I have done in the book, though, is to add value to the pictures so that it is much more than just a set of lovely and intriguing images.  The book is divided into seven sections depending on the aspect of nature involved. Then I have added a brief description for each picture and included one or two small photographs of people and places.  Here is a two page spread from the Leaves section.

Symmetry in Nature: Leaves

At the end of the book I composed two pages of typical South African and Swedish landscapes so that the reader gets a better appreciation of the places where the pictures were taken.  Each page has a location map, list of where the pictures were taken, a panorama and four typical landscapes.

Symmetry in Nature: Landscapes

The book ends with a page showing how I constructed the images and there’s a complete listing of the technical details of all of the photographs.  It’ll be 54 pages in all. I am just waiting for ISBN numbers to be issued for the hard copy and eBook then it’ll be uploaded and published!