Tag Archives: Namibia

I was not expecting how awe-inspiring Namibia can be. We arranged a three week trip driving around Namibia in a Landrover with a tent on top (supplied a brilliant company Safari Drive) and I researched the photographic possibilities. The red dunes at Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are high on the list, as is Spitzkoppe, these are very impressive but the unexpected was the landscape in general in the North West of Namibia (see my gallery) and the people. I found a book on my last day that I wish I had read before going Landshapes – The Geomorphology of Namibia it has no pictures but lots of drawings and gives you an insight on what you might see and the geology behind it (unfortunately it is not easy to get in the UK). I was also slightly handicapped by the distances –Marrienfluss Valley, Namibia we covered 3,600km off-road in 17 days – and the pressure to get places meant I didn’t take the time I wanted both to wait for light or explore the angles away from the track. My next trip to Namibia I hope to find a more leisurely pace so that I can try to capture the landscape.


Briefly – the geomorphology of Namibia stems from the Huab era (900-2,600 million years ago), given the Earth was formed 4,600 million years, or so, ago some of the rock in the Northern part of Namibia is the oldest on the planet! From around 300 million years ago Gondwana was covered by glaciers (it was over the South Pole) and many glacial valleys can be seen in the Namibia landscape. Finally a lot of the geomorphology was formed from the separation of Gondwana into Africa and South America (132 million years ago). In fact many formations in the Etendeka Highlands have matching formations in Paraná in Brazil.

Etendeka Tablelands in Namibia

After the breakup of Gondwana the dominant effect has been erosion. Around 70-60 million years ago Africa was lifted about 1km and there was initial a surface covering of sedimentary rock. This sedimentary rock has in general been eroded, especially as Namibia has been arid for millions of years and has minimal vegetation. Subsequent deep basins are filled up with sand (from the eroded sedimentary rock) and this has flattened the topography. However there remain many isolated igneous intrusions which poke through due to ancient tectonic upheaval. These igneous intrusions along with visible plate tectonics, eroded basalt features are now the dominant features in the landscape.

Spitzkoppe Namibia

Rivers and Geomorphology

An interesting feature of Namibia is that water impact on the geomorphology is different than most landscapes. Back of Epupa Falls on Kunene River on the border of Angola andThe only perennial rivers in Namibia are shared with its neighbours; they are the Orange, Kunene, Okavango, Zambezi and Chobe. Each of these functions as a national frontier with limited irrigation potential. Most rivers are ephemeral in that they are mostly dry but run only for short periods following rainfall in distant mountains. Often the start of river flow is out of the blue and can come with a flood. Ephemeral River in NamibiaThe river will then run for 1-2 days. Although the ephemeral rivers of Namibia have dry sandy or rocky river beds for most of the year, they are conduits for subsurface flow and contain a number of wetlands defined as ‘shallow, swampy or marshy areas with little or no water flow’ or ‘waterlogged solid dominated by emergent vegetation’. These dry river beds are habitat for much of the plant and animal life in the desert regions.

Namib Desert

The Namib Desert is a major feature of Namibia, stretching 2,000 km along its Atlantic coast. The Namib’s aridity is caused by the descent of dry air of the Hadley Cell, cooled by the cold Benguela current along the coast. From the Atlantic coast eastward, the Namib gradually ascends in elevation, reaching up to 200 kilometres inland to the foot of the Great Escarpment. Annual precipitation ranges from 2 millimetres in the most arid regions to 200 millimetres at the escarpment, making the Namib the only true desert in southern Africa. Having endured arid or semi-arid conditions for roughly 55-80 million years, the Namib is also the oldest desert in the world.

Dunes in Sossusvlei Namibia

The desert geology consists of sand seas near the coast, while gravel plains and scattered mountain outcrops occur further inland. The sand dunes, some of which are 300 metres high and span 32 kilometres long, are the second largest in the world after the Badain Jaran Desert dunes in China.

So overall Namibia has large desert plains with amazing rocks surrounding the plains and large rock sticking through very Tolkienest! There is always a WOW around the corner or over the ridge.


Panorama of The Bridge at Spitzkoppe in Namibia

On the photography front I found the scale of the landscapes a challenge. Using a 21mm lens the large mountains in the background disappear. The foreground is limited to some amazing treesQuiver Tree Namibia, wind-rippled sand, dirt tracks and the occasional animal. I have just been given Joe Cornish book First Light for Christmas and wish I had read the section “On the rocks” the is a lot to rock formations and wish I had taken more telephoto views. Lightning at Twilight in Etendeka Tablelands NamibiaWe went in late Nov/Dec 2012, this is beginning of the rainy season and the thunder storms where fantastic – I’m going to take a lightening trigger on my next trip – although I managed a few amazing shots after sunset on repetitive shots at slow shutter. Finally, if you get a chance go in a balloon in Sossusvlei.

Mist at Sunrise from balloon in  Sossusvlei Namibia

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The Himba are a tribe living in North West Namibia (for images of the areas see my gallery) they have been a semi-nomadic, pastoral people for 900 years and are closely related to the Herero tribe speaking a dialect, Otjihimba, of the Herero language. The number of the Himba is far less than the Herero, perhaps only about 10,000 and whilst the German immigrants of the late 19th Century “westernised” the Herero they undertook genocide of the Himba. Perhaps because of the harsh desert climate in the region where they live and their seclusion from outside influences, the Himba have managed to maintain much of their traditional lifestyle. Members live under a tribal structure based on bilateral descent that helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth.

Himba ManUnder bilateral descent, everyone belongs to two clans:  the fathers and mothers. The clans are led by the eldest male in the clan. Sons live with their father’s clan, and when daughters marry, they go to live with the clan of their husband. Inheritance of worldly goods follows the female line, that is, a son does not inherit his father’s cattle but his maternal uncle’s instead.

The Himba breed cattle and goats. Himba Woman on way to Water holeThe responsibility for milking the cows and goats lies with the women. Women take care of the children, and share out the work within the village looking after other children than their own.Women tend to perform more labour-intensive work than men do, such as carrying water to the village and building homes. Water can be considerable distances, we came across a mother and daughter on a 20km round trip. Men handle the political tasks, legal trials and look after the Cattle. Often children from the age of six can be found looking after goats miles from the village on their own.

To make them eligible for marriage both boys and girls are circumcised before puberty. During the circumcision boys should be silent and girls are encouraged to scream. The Himba Himba Teenage Girl and Mother in Desert on the Way for Water inbelieve that this act makes them ready for wedding. As soon as the girl is born, her future husband is decided. They get married when the girl is between 14 and 17 years old. Men have up to three to four wives, if a male visits a village it is normal to “lend” a wife. Despite this practice, due to their isolation, the Himba have not been troubled by HIV/AIDS.

In everyday life the Himba people worship the god Mukuru and their ancestors. The fire-keeper is an important person in every family. He keeps the family ancestral fire burning. Every 7 to 10 days he uses the fire to communicate with the Mukuru and family ancestors.

Their diet consists of porridge (made from maze which they buy), milk and goat. It is rare to eat their cows as they are often too large for a village before going off; cows are often sold to the government.

Himba Village

Himba Villiage

Members of an extended family typically dwell in a village which is a small, circular hamlet of huts and work shelters that surround an okuruwo (ancestral fire) and a central livestock enclosure. Both the fire and the livestock are closely tied to their belief in ancestor worship, the fire representing ancestral protection and the livestock allowing proper relations between human and ancestor.

Himba Dress

The Himba wear little clothing, but the women are famous for covering themselves with otjize, a mixture of butter fat and ochre, possibly to protect themselves from the sun. Himba Woman putting otjize onThe mixture gives their skins a reddish tinge. This symbolizes earth’s rich red colour and the blood that symbolizes life, and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty. Himba women have a rather interesting way to make them smell nice. They slowly burn certain aromatic plants and resins and use the smoke created to perfume and clean themselves.

The Himba wear lot of leather jewellery. They often combine it with shells. Western style of fashion appears too but only on men. Both men and women walk topless. They wear skirts or loincloths made of animal skin. Adult women wear beaded anklets to protect their legs from venomous animal bites.

Himba Woman from BackThe hairstyle of the OvaHimba indicates age and social status. Children have two plaits of braided hair. From the onset of puberty the girls’ plaits are moved to the face over their eyes, and they can have more than two. Married women wear headdresses with many streams of braided hair, coloured and put in shape with otjize. Single men wear one one plait backwards to their necks, while married men wear a turban of many otjize-soaked plaits.

Photography of Himba Tribe

The Himba whilst they live in very isolated places are used to Western visitors in their 4×4. They have also learnt that we wish to photograph them due to their inherent beauty, their Himba Childrentribal dress and the amazing landscapes they live in. As a consequence they often seek money without really understanding its value. The money is given to the men and is often used to purchase alcohol as they only other goods they buy is maize flour for porridge. Our guide encouraged gifts of maize flour, sugar, tobacco and sweets which we complied with. This compliance though meant I missed a few shots as our 4×4 didn’t carry the trading goods! My recommendation is carry your own trading goods and then balance the shot against money if requested – second chance on kids tending goats, village with goats in golden light and women on donkeys might not happen. We often drove through villages with nothing but children on their own.

In high contrast situation the Himba skin colour is dark. I had seen Brent Pearson photostream on flickr and whist I loved the images I was not keen on the lighting … mistake. You do not need lights but a reflector (i’d use gold) is a real must. I have managed to pull most of the images from my D800 but my wife used the D7000 and I failed with some images to get usable ones.

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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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