Namibia 2018 Desert Fire Safari Report

In October of 2018 this year I lead my semi-annual landscape and wildlife workshop to Namibia in Africa. This was my fourth workshop to the desert of Namibia and the first time I had ventured north into the wildlife rich region of Etosha.


It was also the first time I have scheduled this workshop for October (instead of April / May when there is often more cloud). October was a deliberate choice for this safari as it is the end of the dry season in Etosha. Water is at its most scarce and the wildlife is thus forced to congregate around the last few remaining watering holes whilst they wait for the rains and the start of the wet season. It can be very hot this time year but I personally found it no worse than April / May and as it turned out we had the added bonus of clouds during our morning sessions at Deadvlei.


We began our workshop in the capital city of Windhoek with a short one hour flight down to the coastal town of Luderitz where we spent the next three days photographing the Ghost town of Kolmonskop and the abandoned diamond mine at Elizabeth Bay. For 2018 I made the decision to fly the group from Windhoek down to Luderitz to save two days driving in the heat of the desert. This gave us more time for photography during our trip and saved many hours on the hot and dusty roads. The short one hour flight also gave us some absolutely spectacular aerial views of the landscape.


Kolmonskop remains one of the most fantastic places I have yet found to photograph abandoned buildings. Although this location is heavily photographed and frequently visited we had special permission to enter before sunrise and stay late until after sunset, meaning we had the entire location to ourselves for each and every visit. With its shifting sands Kolmonkop is an ever changing location that is never the same between visits. Despite having visited this location no less than a dozen times now I am still finding new and interesting compositions amongst the sand filled ruins and we spent many hours combing the buildings in search of interesting photographs.


One of the real highlights of this trip for me was a first time visit to Elizabeth Bay (located near the coast not far from Kolmonskop). I have been trying to get permits and access into Elizabeth Bay for four years now and it was absolutely fantastic to finally be granted access to this remarkable location. I had first heard about Elizabeth Bay from Michael Reichmann more than a decade ago now. Two years ago I was finally able to get permits to enter, which were subsequently cancelled and withdrawn just two weeks before we were due to enter (no explanation given). This time luck was on our side and our permits held up and we were able to spend half a day exploring the many ruins of this now abandoned mine.


Elizabeth Bay is one of the most remarkable locations I have ever visited for rusted relics and abandoned buildings. Unlike Kolmonskop, Elizabeth Bay is far more industrial in nature. The entire site is littered with rusted and abandoned mining equipment that would keep any ‘rust-hound’ photographer happy for days on end. The size and scale of the abandoned mining operation needs to be seen to be truly appreciated. We spent the better part of half a day in this area but could have easily made repeat visits.

From Luderitz we drove up to the Namib desert where we visited the Sossusvlei region that included several trips into Deadvlei and the spectacular dune corridor. During our time in this area we stayed inside the actual park so that we could access both Deadvlei and the dune corridor at first light. Both Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are extremely popular sites and the benefit of being able to be first on site is not to be underestimated. We were fortunate to have Deadvlei to ourselves on several occasions at first light.


Whilst in Sossusvlei we also took the opportunity for multiple helicopter flights (doors removed) over the dunes at both sunrise and sunset. Helicopter flights over the dune sea are an absolute highlight with limitless compositions to be found in the gigantic dune sea. We were also fortunate to encounter some fog as we approached the coastline which added even more interest to an already superb landscape. During several flights we also photographed Oryx in the dunes.


From Sossusvlei we headed north to Etosha with an overnight stop at the scenic Erongo wilderness lodge. Erongo is a page out of the Jurassic era with its giant granite boulders and its mountainous surroundings. There is a limitless amount of landscape potential to be found in this area and it can also be a fantastic place for star trails and astro photography.

During our time in Etosha we stayed on both the Eastern and Western ends of the park in order to give us maximum variety across this huge area. Our accomodations were private high end lodges equiped with fantastic views, air conditioning and much more. We had both morning and afternoon game drives with great photographic sightings that included both White and Black Rhino, Lions (including lions on a kill), Lion cubs, Hyena, Elephants, Giraffe, Leopard (although this was a nice sighting it was not a photographic opportunity as the Leopard was heavily obscured by scrub), Zebra, Springbok, Oryx and much more. Of course there were also many fantastic birds of prey including Marshall Eagles, Tawny Eagles, Brown Snake Eagles, Pale-chanting Gosshawk and many more on top of all the other bird species. The personal highlight for me was the Leopard sighting; even though I did not get a photograph this time.


This was my first visit to Etosha and I found the white earth / sand of this region to be absolutely superb for wildlife photography (Etosha literally means ‘Great White Place’). The combination of dry white earth, dust and a parched landscape is highly complimentary to the wildlife and I personally found it really helped in the creation of evocative imagery. The irony of the similarities to a snow covered landscape was not lost on me. Etosha itself is one of Southern Africa’s finest and most important game reserves. The park itself is dominated by a massive white mineral pan (hence its name) that provides a fantastic backdrop for wildlife imagery.


One of the frustrations with all safari wildlife photography is the inability to get out of the vehicle to best position yourself and to get as low as possible. Etosha (and indeed all game parks in this region) is no different in this regard; however, I found the best solution for this was to shoot with a long lens. The long lens minimises the ‘top-down’ look and can be used very effectively to give the illusion that the photograph was taken from much lower down than it actually was. As a result I shot almost exclusively with the Canon 400mm f2.8 L IS MKII with and without a 1.4 extender when I was in the safari vehicle. This approach worked well for me and it was a rare occasion when I felt the need to go wider. In addition I had organised for a second safari vehicle so that we had heaps of room for each person and their equipment. The second vehicle meant it was also possible to shoot from both sides of the 4-wheel drive without having to turn the car for each side.  If you are planning any sort of safari to Africa I strongly recommend you make sure your chosen company has made similar arrangements. There would be nothing more frustrating than being on the wrong side of the vehicle during a fantastic sighting and photographic opportunity. Note: All GPS metadata for the Rhino photograph below with full horn has been stripped. This very rare white Rhino was photographed in the wild in Namibia – but not at a location I have mentioned.


Once finished in Etosha we wrapped up our return journey to the capital Windhoek and concluded with a farewell dinner in one of Windhoeks best restaurants.

This workshop was in many ways a ‘best-of’ Namibia and from what I have seen of the photographs taken by all who participated there have been some absolute gems. We had some wonderful light and moments throughout the trip that will make this one I will remember for a very long time.


To those of you who have already asked about a future Namibia trip: I have tentative plans at this stage to possibly return in October of 2020. I hope to have more details early next year once I have a clearer picture of my schedule for 2020. Of course, if you want to get the drop on it and be amongst the first to be notified please just drop me an email.

Master the Craft Step One – Getting past the Camera

Forgive me, I don’t intend it to start this series of articles with a rant, but I do feel the need to vent a little at this early stage and point out that somewhere along the line that ‘we’ (thats the collective we as photographers) seem to have lost sight that it is the ‘image’ that matters and not the camera (which is just a tool) that made it. Perhaps most importantly, its an observation that just because a photograph was made with the latest camera doesn’t make it a good photograph! In fact, the opposite holds true most of the time. Almost universally the current wave of photographs from the latest cameras that adorn our favourite virtual social hangouts (and latest camera news websites) are the latest form of pixel drivel.

Photography is about photographs. It is not about cameras and memory cards.

I want to make an observation that runs the risk of offending the odd person (you cant make an omelette without breaking a few eggs). You see, I have noticed a general down turn in recent times in the quality of photography I am seeing across the internet. I am speaking generally here, and confine my comments to those images I see predominately gracing the pages of social media channels and those websites that espouse camera news and reviews above actual image making. Oh, I am seeing all the latest cameras being used and abused to produce these images, but they are being used to produce imagery that is at best banal in the vast majority of cases. It is as if we are supposed to believe that all you need in your hand is the latest camera system and your photograph is instantly elevated to ‘celebrity status’. What utter nonsense.It seems to me that with every new camera or lens announcement that spreads like wildfire across the pages of the internet that there is an increase in the hype, hyperbolae and (lets call it what it is) ‘fanboysim’ associated with the latest piece of ‘kit’. Frankly, I am pretty tired of it. This hype that manufacturers (and a great many ‘You Tubers’) spew forth with every new camera announcement is designed to do nothing more than sell boxes and gain subscribers. It is an insidious vitriol that has become monotonous, predictable and even nauseating. It is frankly a cancer that is detrimental to quality photography and its high time someone called them out for what they are. They do nothing to improve photography and serve no one but themselves in the process (are you still with me?).

Let me be crystal clear on this point. If you want to improve your photography and create better photographs than the vast majority (not hard) all you need to do is follow three steps. If you follow these steps I guarantee your photography will improve exponentially and that you will produce far better images than the vast majority of people out there who loosely call themselves photographers. Follow the steps and you will Master the Craft. It has been my experience that the vast majority out there foolishly believe that their next camera purchase is all they need to improve their photography and that their current camera is somehow holding them back from producing better photographs. They could not be more wrong. A decent camera is all you need to make a great photograph. After that, no amount of money thrown at the problem is going to improve your photography and falling into the never ending upgrade cycle will do nothing but empty your bank account. The problem of how to improve your photography is not one you can solve by throwing money at. You are going to have to do some actual real work instead. Sorry.

With that said, lets be far more positive and talk about the three steps you can take to vastly improve your photography. Step one is to learn how to use the tool you already own properly. And, this is very important, educate yourself on what makes a good photograph; thats Step Two. But, of even greater importance, you need to seperate yourself from the emotional investment in your own work; and thats Step Three. Let me give a very clear and blunt example of what I am referring to in Step Three:  Just because you (or me) travelled to the other side of the planet to make our photograph, doesn’t make it a good photograph! In fact, our emotional investment in our travels makes us probably the worst person to make the call on the quality of the photograph. But I am getting ahead of myself…

Lets take this step by step. Step one is the easiest of the three steps and is to learn the tool you already own. Before I go any further, I will stop myself right here and say that if you think the latest camera that was just announced or released (or that you need a sensor with more dynamic range or more pixels) is going to improve your photography then you need to immediately stop and rethink what it is that makes a really great photograph. If you fall into this category then there is nothing I can do to help you. You are stuck in a never ending upgrade loop that is going to continually empty your bank account. Your only hope to break out of this vicious circle is going to come in the form of a revelation. You have to open yourself up to the reality that its not the camera that matters and realise its you that is the limiting factor. Problem is, most people who are stuck in this loop are completely oblivious and believe wholeheartedly that what I am writing applies to everyone but themselves.

If I take myself as an example, there is a very good reason I shoot with the Canon EOS 1DX MKII and the EOS 1DX before that.  You see, I ‘know’ the tool’. I know it so well that if you handed me my camera I could set an ISO, f-stop and shutter speed blindfolded in less than 2 seconds (heck I can change focus cases and customise each case blindfolded, without even thinking). I can do this, because I have mastered the tool. I have a starting ISO, f-stop and shutter speed on both my 1DX MKII cameras. I know exactly what they are set to when I pick them up, and I know exactly how to change them in milliseconds without even thinking. My fingers know exactly where each button is and exactly what it does. Its muscle memory for me to change the settings on these cameras. Do you know what happens when operating your camera controls becomes muscle memory? It frees up your brain up to be creative! You are no longer constrained by the technical limitations of your brain and fingers. Your brain is free to create. You can be an artist and NOT a technician. This is so important that I am going to say it again…. When you master your camera you free yourself from the boundaries of any technical knowledge you require to operate the tool of your trade. Your brain can focus 100% on creating the photograph instead of worrying about any technical limitations that impede the quality of your photography. You are now truly free to create. You can focus on the play of light in front of you and on capturing the magical decisive moment (it exists as much in Landscape as it does in Wildlife and Street photography). At this point of the development of your photography you have transcended the technical boundaries of your camera and you are now only constrained by your ability to create (thats Step Two). Step three we will come to later as its a necessity to understand once you master step one and step two.

I can hear the masses now.. I know my camera they are chanting! (pitchfork in hand). But how many out there could truly set their camera controls blindfolded without even thinking about it. How many could even turn on the camera and attach a lens without thinking? Truly knowing your camera means it becomes an extension of your arm and hand. You don’t have to think about using it in any way. It is merely an extension of your body and nothing more than something you put to your eye before you press the shutter. Its not a party trick to set your camera controls blind folded without having to engage your brain. Its an absolutely essential skill to get past being a technician and to start creating great photographs. Next time you stop the car because you see something you want to photograph ask yourself at what point does your brain focus 100% on creating the image and not on cameras or equipment? Is it when you first saw the potential photograph? When you step out of the vehicle? When you finish setting up the camera? The answer is it should be before you even saw the potential. Your brain should be creating and thinking about composition, light and the image all the time when you are out making photographs. Getting the camera out, setting it up and making the exposure should be something that you do without even thinking about.

Just as an aside: Over the last week or so I have fielded quite a few questions about the new Canon mirrorless system asking what my thoughts are, when will I buy one and will it replace my current 1DX MKII cameras. To cut to the chase, I will likely not be purchasing a Canon mirrorless R system in the foreseeable future (and I have played with a pre-production sample and the new 24-70mm f2 lens). There are a number of different reasons for this decision; not the least of which is the limitation of five frames per second – which is just too slow for wildlife and the unanswered question over its capabilities to deal with extreme cold. More importantly, though is that the camera offers absolutely nothing that is going to improve my photography. Sure, it offers me a small weight saving and a few extra megapixels (which I don’t need) over my 1DX MKII cameras, but frankly that isn’t worth the learning curve of a whole new tool, let-alone the cash outlay. If I was to invest in this new camera my photography would likely degrade until such time as I came to grips with the new tool and mastered the new camera. That is something I am only willing to accept if there is an obvious advantage in the long run and quite honestly at this point I don’t believe there is. With that said, I do very much like the ergonomics of the new mirrorless system and it is the first mirrorless camera I have picked up that actually felt good in my hand.

To close out Part One of Getting Past the Camera it is important to recognise that it is possible to make a brilliant photograph with pretty much any camera (even one more than five years old!). The technology has matured to the point that the camera is in virtually every single case no longer the limiting factor in anybodies photography. We have more megapixels than we need and we have more dynamic range than we need. We have cameras that focus faster, shoot faster and are capable of taking more photographs than ever before. Modern cameras are simply no longer the limiting factor in anyones photography. Understanding and accepting that a new camera will not improve your photography is a necessity to actually improving the quality of your photographs. Once you accept this fact you can get on with learning and mastering the tool that you already own. And as an added bonus you just saved a bunch of money!

In Step Two of Master the Craft we are going to talk about educating yourself on what is a good photograph. It might seem a simple thing, but you would be surprised how many photographers out there have no idea what makes a great photograph. Part two and part three are sort of linked, but we are going to deal with them separately as Part three is more about feelings and emotion where as Part two is more about education and understanding.

Photo of the Month October 2018 – The Wolverine

The photograph of the month for October 2018 comes from my recent trip to northern Finland. I had travelled to Finland to speak at the Nature Photo festival in Kuusamo (which was a fantastic event with some wonderful photography). Since Finland its such a long way from Australia (four flights each way) I decided to extend the trip by a few days and take the opportunity for some photography.

This photograph was made just near the northern Russian border with Finland from a small photo hide just near dusk. I was extremely fortunate to have this large Wolverine come very close to the hide just as the light was beginning to turn warm and golden. This sort of encounter doesn’t happen very often with wildlife and I had quite honestly expected to have to spend many hours or even days in the hide to catch a glimpse of a Wolverine. As it turned out I did not have to wait more than a couple of hours and was able to capture this wonderful moment with the Wolverine quite close to my hide position. What really works for me is the warm golden light catching the fur of the Wolverine and of course that wonderful moment with the huge paw (and claws!) on the log. I will be heading back to Finland in both Winter and Autumn next year for both landscape and wildlife (more to come on the Autumn workshop soon). The February winter workshop is primarily based in Kuusamo, although we will actually begin in Kajanni in the north of Finland where we will be working from private hides in an effort to photograph Wolves, Wolverine and Golden eagles in a snow covered landscape.

The main activity of this winter workshop is wildlife photography. However, you will also be able to take advantage of the spectacular winter landscape (the frozen trees and landscape of Finland in winter are superb for photography). This exclusive opportunity to photograph the wildlife and landscapes of northern Finland in Winter is for a strictly limited number of just 6 photographers plus leader and guide – with only two places remaining before it will be sold out. If you are interested in joining us and securing the last remaining place you can download a complete itinerary with costings and all details HERE.

Natures Best Photography 2018 Finalists and Category Winners

Natures Best Photography have now formally announced the Category Winners and Highly Honoured finalists in the 2018 Windland Smith Rice International Awards. I am extremely pleased that Ghosts of the Arctic was highly honoured in the video category. Out of more than 26,000 images and videos from photographers in 59 countries, approximately 1,000 photos and videos made it into the semi-final round of judging. Congratulations to all the winters and other highly honoured recipients.

See all the 2018 Windland Awards finalists:

Departing for Namibia Desert Fire Safari 2018

The couple of weeks I have had to unpack, catch up and repack since I returned from the Nature Festival in Finland has quickly come and gone and very early tomorrow I am heading back to the airport to start the trek over to Africa for my 2018 Namibia Desert Fire Safari. It has been two years since I was last in Africa and I am very much looking forward to returning to the oldest desert in the world and the fantastic and diverse opportunities that Namibia always presents.On this safari we are going to visiting the ghost town of Kolmonskop, the giant sand dues of Sossusvlei (and of course the iconic Deadvlei), the spectacular skeleton coast and the wildlife rich region of Etosha. On top of this we have many other stop off locations planned along our journey. This year we will be kicking off our safari by flying down to Luderitz from the capital city of Windhoek. Flying saves us two days on the road and gives us even more time for photography in the field.This safari is a combination of both landscape and wildlife and as such I am packing both wide angle and super-telephoto lenses. All of this will pack into my F-Stop Lightroom Roller which I will use to get the equipment through the transit stage of my travels. I will then re-pack it on location into my F-stop backpack.

F- Stop Lightroom Roller Camera Bag:

  • 2 x Canon EOS 1DX MKII
  • 2 X Canon EOS 1DX MKII Spare Batteries
  • 1 x Canon 16-35mm F4L
  • 1 x Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE
  • 1 x Canon 24-70mm F4L IS
  • 1 x Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS MKII (I am unsure if I will upgrade to the MKIII at this stage)
  • 1 x Canon 400mm F2.8L IS MKII
  • 1 x Canon 1.4 TC MKIII Teleconverter

In my checked luggage I am bringing the following:

  • 1 x Sachtler Flowtech Carbon Fire Tripod (the new model I have absolutely fallen in love with)
  • 1 x Arca Swiss Geared Tripod head
  • 1 x Canon 1DX MKII Battery Charger and Lens Cleaning Kit

Why No Canon Mirrorless R? 

I will have more to say about the new Canon mirrorless camera (and many of the other new cameras recently announced) in a new series of posts I am calling ‘Master the Craft’. I hope to publish the first of this new series while I am on the road.

Post Script – An update on the torn lateral tendon in my right elbow for those of you who kindly emailed me to see how it is progressing.  After very intensive physiotherapy over the last few months I have turned the corner and can again lift my camera without pain and discomfort. I am hopeful that this Namibia safari will be the first trip since Antarctica last year that I can work freely without pain in my right arm.

See you in Africa!