I am not sure if this is a location guide or just me talking about my few hours in Deadvlei (24°45′35″S 15°17′31″E) which is part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia and is near the Sossusvlei pan.

Deadvlei has become an iconic location for photographers and we extended our 3 week trip driving around the Northern part of Namibia (3,600km offroad!) just for a dawn shoot in the pan. Namib-Naukluft National Park is a desert and whilst even slight rain would enable the trees to survive; some 900 years ago rain failed to arrive in time for the Acacia trees in Deadvlei. It is amazing after so long the trees still stand in their surrealistic environment.

Deadvlei Sossusvlei NamibiaWhilst we all search for golden light it is really important in Deadvlei because the ground is so white, the sun bright and there are deep shadows from the high dunes it gives many stops of contrast. But at dawn it is magical.

The park has gates which close at 6pm and are locked until 7am! Deadvlei is some 65km from the gate and the last 6km is rutted sand. There is only one way to see dawn in Deadvlei – you have to stay at Sossus Dune Lodge which is run by the parks and is inside the gates with private access. Actually it is also the only way to see the sunset from Dune 45 as well. The lodge has guided tours when we where there they went up the big dune for sunrise and then into Deadlvei (too late). If you do it yourself you need a 4×4 (preferably with Diff Lock … if not drop your tyre pressure to 1.5 bar), its not bad sand but then we had a lot of worse experiences. Stay in high box 2nd or 3rd and keep going with meaning grip steering straight and tolerate your tail weaving about. If you get stuck don’t dig yourself try to reverse and get going again. We left at 0430 its a 45-50 minute drive to the “parking” area – the second one 6km after the end of the road. You need 20-30 minutes to walk in and then however long to setup/work out shot list before it all starts to happen … which it does at an alarming rate.

Deadvlei Sossusvlei Namibia

There is a sign in the parking area saying follow the posts … the posts have gone! We made the mistake of following our fellow guest (with guide) up the dune to the left. Dunes are really hard work. We eventually saw our mistake. The pan is to the right of the Dune … so walk the 1.1km slightly right of the sign telling you about the posts to follow – unless there has been a lot of wind the lower path is still visible in the sand.

Before going to Namibia I did research what might be interesting shots;

What this doesn’t prepare you for is figuring out the order of your shot list nor innovation. Here are some notes (with reference to image above);

  • The sun comes up back left and highlights the dunes behind and to the rightDeadvlei Sossusvlei Namibia
  • The trees are mostly in the ‘front’, the sun first appears on the floor of the pan at the ‘front’ right and moves back
  • The patterna of the pan floor is very variable you need to find your shots and angles before the sun hits the ‘front’
  • None of the trees are really close to the dunes think about focal length / DOF beforehand; I started with a Ziess 21mm and moved to Nikon 70-200 once the sun was on most of the pan floor.
  • I wish I had thought about close up of a tree with background
  • The day before we did a balloon flight and there was thick fog in the dunes, great for us glad I wasn’t in the dunes.

PLease have look at the shots in my Namibia gallery.

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