Posted by Joe Lategan on Thursday, September 13, 2012 Under: 2012 Namaqualand fine art photographic safari.
Namaqualand 2012 Fine art photo safari. This year’s Namaqualand fine art photography workshop (Joe and Hardus Lategan) was once again the highlight of our annual photographic program. Kamieskroon, Vanrynsdorp, Nieuwoudville, Garies, Namaqua Nartional Park, Leliesfontein, Springbok, Bitterfontein, Skilpad Wildflower gardens, Karkams were some of th eplaces we visited.The tranquillity and sheer magnitude of this ecological wonder is inexplicable. What is fantastic is that we have a good chance to see at least some flowers every year. It is not like a wildlife photo safari that is always different and sometimes lacks certain unpredictable elements. The flowers are always present albeit more prolific in some years and less in others and one is guaranteed to get real soul food and a chance to work with your camera's ins and outs at your pace. It is just the timing of the flowers that differs every year. The difference when you can go with professional photographers is that we constantly update our intelligence of the weather and the conditions of the flowers to be able to put the participants on the right spots every time. It is our work. I know of hundreds of people that visit during the wrong time. They go either too early or too late. The flowers depend on a wide range of climatic and other conditions.
The most important factors to consider when planning to pay Namaqualand a visit and gathering information, is to remember that many people visit the different areas in Namaqualand at different times and never see everything or cover the whole of Namaqualand. To them what they saw (the area they visited) is the best. To another person that visited an area on the opposite side of the region will think he saw the best. Another traveller drives through on the N7 and sees very little flowers and reports that there are not that many flowers in Garies for instance. He never went off the main road however. Persons in the tourism industry want people to visit so you’ll get much more positive feedback but not that accurate. The other problem is that the information people give is always subjective. Very little are serious photographers and don’t understand the specific conditions photographers require to capture above average images, the fine art photographers even more so. Only the perfect conditions are right for them. We have selected those spots that fulfil our requirements in this regards as well as identified those people that we can expect honest intelligence from. We have also considered the logistics of a photographer and select spots where you don’t have to travel much to get above average images. We also don’t expose all our spots to one group of photographers at once to be able to provide fresh opportunities to different groups at different dates/years.
The Namaqua photographic safari of this year started with a real challenge that got us in the mood. At Nieuwoudville the rain started falling in the late afternoon and stopped for the first time at sunrise the next morning. The following morning sleet covered the tents and vehicles and of course the temperature was too low for the flowers to open and we worked the quiver trees in the area as well as the waterfall. This is the advantage of the workshops. The fact of the matter is that during the flower season there are days where the flowers don’t open due to low temperatures. Then we utilise the opportunity to widen the knowledge of the photographers in other aspects of photography. Photographing the waterfalls and quiver trees turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for me and Hardus.
A benefit of the Namaqua trips is that the flowers only open in the late mornings so the early mornings are used to just sit back and appreciate the surrounding flowers in their sleeping state and enjoying a few cups of coffee and rusks form the different parts of the world- also to strategise the day and pack the food for the day. Around 09:30 or 10:00 we pack the cameras and leave.
You can teach any photographer how to use his or her camera but to see an image takes very long in most instances. A small minority can master this in a few years. Some never get it right and some cannot pick an image or see the image in the mind’s eye before pressing the shutter release button. So we go out to a good spot and allow the photographers to mingle in the area we take photos in and keep a close eye on them. Anyone can ask questions and we will assist. At the end of the day they can select their top images and we scrutinise them with constructive critics. We then do a practical with the camera and concentrate on the critical elements as to not confuse the photographers with too much info. The next day they apply the knowledge and we compare the results to the first day’s results. I follow that up with lecture on the emotional link between the inner person and the selected images, the difference between taking pictures and making images, creative angles, editing, equipment, respect for nature, and work on the weakness of each individual.
Using the camp site to do the creative work.
It is astonishing how in the major game reserves everyone races out of the camps to see and photograph mega predators. Rarely would photographers stay in the camp and search for images of the smaller things. Namaqualand during the flower season is exactly the same. I picked a campsite that had lots of flowers and enjoyed myself thoroughly with the creative images I write on below. All the images were captured in one campsite. I also didn’t move from town to town every day or second day. We spent 4 days and nights on one spot. I could have stayed another two weeks with all the potential still unexplored. It is easier to carry lots of equipment around in the camp and assistance is always at hand. Coffee is also a shout away!
1. Flowers in the wind.
Besides low temperatures the mornings until around 12; 00 noon can be very windy and most photographers don’t take photos as they are scared of the motion blur. However that’s when the creative photos can be taken. It is also crucial, as the wind is an absolute necessity for the distribution and pollination of seeds. So that is when the knowledge of the habitat and creativity comes in. While others kept their cameras in the bags I worked at getting creative motion blurred images that reflects the importance of the wind in the reproduction process of the flowers. It was very difficult as the wind was extremely strong and the camera couldn’t focus accurately. I will have to capture a few thousand images to get the image I dream about. Never the less I was working on my own as most of the campers packed up and left the campsite as the tents were rolling around the campsite.
Painting with the wind.Most photographers pack up or don't attempt to take photos when the wind comes up. Professionals use this to their advantage. It took me days to capture this image. When I lay on my back and watched these flowers being blown erratically in the wind with the sun behind them the hairs on their stems stood out for me. (the white streaks) I also had to get the flower when it was right in front of the sun. Took a few hundred images and three days. The settings on the camera and the equipment has to be just right however. I had to see this image in my minds eye before I could capture it. No luck or Photoshop can do it.
2. Sleeping flowers.
With this image I attempted to capture an image of the flowers when they are closed or sleeping. There are many ways this can be captured. I have just created an image for the record and will still work at the image I have in my mind’s eye. When the temperature drops to below 15 degrees some flowers close to the front like fingers and some curl up sideways. This image captured this phenomenon. So sleeping is a definite feature or characteristic of the flowers that need to be captured. I waited until I got an afternoon with some colour in the clouds before I attempted the image. To do this I had to envisage the image beforehand, identify a cluster of flowers that had a clear background to allow for the sunset and waited for the day there was some colour in the clouds. When the moment arrived I grabbed the camera and knew exactly where to go. Of course the image can be vastly improved upon and I will on a follow up visit spend more time on perfecting this image.
3. Some flowers don’t sleep.
There are numerous species of flowers that don’t close down or curl up and I also took time to identified the spots where they grew and waited for the right moments that would allow for a sunset or night background or some unique situation. This one cluster of flowers I identified on my first day at the camp site worked well and I rushed to capture a few images when the clouds started to colour with sunset. I could have worked harder and used another flash from behind the flowers to have a more even light but the hunger pains kept me from spending too much time. Never the less I was happy with the results.
4. Individual species.
There are flowers that are very rare hiding between the blankets of flowers. It’s great fun to search for them and do individual portraits. I use the coloured background of the other flowers to accentuate the rare species. Use a narrow depth of field between 2.8 and 4.Besides the carpets of flowers it is extremely fulfilling to take time to photograph individual species. Then it works best to use the flower masses as background to accentuate the species you are capturing. The secret is to then ensure that there are no smudged or contrasting backgrounds. This orchid/Iris like flower was the only one I spotted on the whole trip.
5. Namaqualand not only flowers
The other common problem and I must again make the comparison between Namaqualand and the Kruger park or any mega predator park for that matter. Photographers race out the camp to see who can get to the first lions and forget everything else in between. Namaqualand is a beautiful area with tremendous biodiversity. One of my best images was of the waterfall that didn’t get close to the attention the surrounding flowers got from photographers. 6. Supporting locals. The local people are also unique and I have also witnesses’ only one person taking pictures of the Local “tannie” baking breads on the fire in the traditional open kitchen or kookskerm (food kraal) in town. This image below was taken of tannie Hannah Claasen 0769025488 at Kamieskroon. I normally support her by letting her bake all my bread on the fire (potbrood, askoek, roosterkoek) on a daily basis. She also does traditional foods such as afval, roosterkoek and wors/sausage etc.What is better than roosterkoek, biltong, cheeses, or the previous days braai for padkos the next day. Here she poses infront of a matjieshuis (mat house) that used to be built to be able to pack up and move easily as the Nama people were nomadic, moving seasonally for their sheep and goats.
The pannekoek paleis. On route to Namaqua National park from Kamieskroon gets my full support. Fresh coffee and pancakes and other treats can be expected . Olene van Wyk 027 6721687.
7. Never mind the camera.
It is great to see how all people take photos of the flowers. Happy snappies. Then there are a few that use their cheap compact cameras to the full. Some compact owners take better pictures than people that possess expensive cameras merely because they have the financial means. It is a common problem of man to measure his self image with the car he drives, the job he has or the value of his camera. Here are some pictures of participants on the trip taken with lower end compacts. They deserve to have better cameras, and will get there. I always say it is not the camera that matters it is the six inches behind the camera that makes the image. The camera is but a tool and can do nothing on its own.
8. Participant progress during the trip.
To see the photographers progressing before one’s eyes in one day is truly a fulfilling experience. Mostly by only discovering the features on their cameras. Most of my students or participants have been using their cameras for years bur never took it off auto mode. The progress by just understanding aperture priority, exposure compensation and the ISO settings is remarkable. By far the greatest obstacle to photographers is the little emphasis placed on a tripod. When tripods are used they are the cheapest possible and a greater liability than asset.
On the other hand I saw a bus filled with foreign tourists –mostly Japanese. A old lady of at least 85 slowly moved between the flowers. Camera on the very heavy Manfrotto tripod, gloves on the hands and a cable release. Every image was captured with the least amount of camera shake. That is respecting the flowers. If you take pictures of the flowers at least make an effort to capture them in the best way possible. You wouldn’t want someone to take bad pictures of yourself would you?
9. Creative angles.
To be able to capture images that are fresh and represent new angles of the flowers is the challenge every time. Looking for insects on flowers, birds and animals in flowers, capturing images of the flowers petals from the ground up, with the moon in the background, directly into the sun etc. all make for unusual and striking images. The most important aspect to search for is the aesthetics of the background. The subject must not get lost in a mesh of tones that detract from the actual subject. Narrow depth of field in some instances makes the best image and in other wide depth of field suits the subject/s. This makes for even soft coloured backgrounds.
10. Safety and general rules.
Besides vehicle safety and general camp safety the dangers involved in flower photography in Namaqualand are the flower pollen to those allergic, burn worms (hairy), snakes, bees, spiders, thorns, poisonous plants, falls and twisting ankles. Also bear in mind that you must stay on the left hand side of the road while driving on gravel roads. Especially when approaching uphill’s. Don’t enter private property without consent. Don’t jump fences. Take care where you step in fields as there are loads of rusty pieces of metal or broken bottles around. Then there are unsafe conditions where one would not expect them such as in the Namaqua national park. There was a water tank below the gutter of a office in the picnic area filled by the rain gutters . Every tourist drank from that water and nowhere there was a sign that stated "no drinking water". Just imagine what you get in with the rainwater. So use common sense.Also please consider others. Some people park their vehicles in the road.Others race past covering photographers and their equipment in dust. Most people that visit Namaqualand are luckily matured individuals in the mid to old age bracket and it must be the major reasons the Namaqua flower season is a highlight on my annual photo assignment calender . I think the true love for flowers develop later in most peoples life's. Thank God as I am so sick of the Lion chasing photographers that race and ignore any other creature between the one lion and the other. There is a golden rule however. If you cant appreciate and spent time to photograph the small things you will never excels at the large ones . period.
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