The Namib Desert at Sossusvlei – Land of the Red Dunes

Towards the end of our trip we made our way to the place I was most looking forward to see – Sossusvlei and ultimately Deadvlei.  This is the area of the Namib desert that is world famous for it’s towering red dunes and dead trees.  We stayed in a campground right outside of the park, and were first in line pre-dawn to make sure we didn’t miss the gorgeous sunrise.

We arrived at an area called Dune 45, which is the famous dune that they have open to the public for those willing to try the long and sliding trek to the top.  We started the climb prior to the sun rising; below is a picture of Adriana in front of me on the walk up the dune.  The next photo is the view from the top of the dune prior to the sun crossing the horizon.  To get a sense of scale you can see in the distance another early riser with his equipment out to capture the scene as well.

And then the sun started to rise. I captured this photo right when it was breaking the horizon. I used a circular polarising filter on my lens that allowed the sun to twinkle a bit without being fully blown out.

I always find times like these to be almost nerve-wracking. First of all it’s an incredibly beautiful moment.  Even though the sun rises every single day, each occurrence is awe-inspiring.  And trying to capture that on camera when you’re at an equally awe-inspiring location can be difficult.  I know wedding photographers fret over not getting that perfect picture for the bride – well I worry about not getting an image that really captures my feeling of the moment.  More on that in a bit….

In this picture of Adriana you can start to see the light hitting the dunes in the background (and you can see the sunlight isn’t on her face yet).  I know that photographers (myself included in the coming generalization) often talk about light. How important it is, how it changes the look of photos, how critical time of day is because of the angle of sunlight, etc.  Well if there was ever a place in my life that seemed to change color every 30 seconds, this was it.  If the sun went behind a cloud, the color changed.  If it popped out and only shone on the tips of the dunes, then the tips of the dunes were dramatically different in color to the rest of the sand.  It was just incredible to see how much the landscape changed based on where I was looking and what the sun was doing at that precise second.  The two photos below were taken exactly 5 minutes apart according to the EXIF data and you can see the difference in color.

Taken at 5:57 am

Taken at 6:02 am

You can also see the cloud cover is changing.  It was unfortunate (as you’ll see in my next post on Deadvlei) that we had cloudy skies for the rest of our morning with only sporadic bits of blue peeking through.  That being said, it did give a different view of the desert that few people get to see.

Eventually it was time to start heading down and start our hike, but not before I took a picture of the two of us, and Adriana took a quick snap of me at the top of the dune.  And now I go back to my earlier comment about capturing the moment.  These pictures are my favorite of the bunch – it was my birthday and the entire trip to Namibia was a gift from Adriana, and I really feel that this picture of the two of us at the top of a red sand dune in Sossusvlei is what I’ll remember the most.

Just because I’ll remember them most doesn’t mean I stopped taking pictures!  Far from it!  On the walk down the sun was getting brighter, the clouds were moving in and out of the frame and I got some pictures I’m pretty pleased with.  Both of the below pics were taken on the walk down, one looking up and backwards, the other looking down to the parking lot.

In the picture above I introduced a bit of “glow” from OnOne Software.  I think it added an ethereal effect and I especially like what it did to the sun.  I’m sure some won’t like it but it adds a bit of variety to the photos.

The pictures below are some others I took on the way down; I slid the aperture wide open to create a small window of focus in the middle of the “small dunes” that are created in the sand.

I also took this picture of Adriana on the way down.  This is a great shot proving yet again how much the light changes the color.  This was taken a little bit later after the sun had risen higher in the sky.

Once we arrived at the bottom (and after eating a bit of a surprise b-day cake!) I took a few more photos.  I was trying to capture the grandiose size of the dunes in the pictures below, so it was critical to make sure there was something to compare them to (hence the trees or shrubs).  I wish I had another crack at these; I’ve seen postcards and other travel photos of the dunes that are absolutely incredible in showing their size.

And finally a few pictures from the bottom.  This is the sign for Dune 45 (the one pictured above and the one that we climbed).  You also see another picture of the sign with the parking lot in the background and the resolute hikers making their way to the top.

The last set of photos are of our hike.  After climbing Dune 45, we took a 5 km hike into the desert to arrive at Deadvlei.  The hike was great, but a bit frustrating.  Because of the cloud cover I didn’t get the contrast of the bright blue sky with the red dunes.  But also because of the cloud cover, the hike itself was very enjoyable with no sun beating down on us!  Anyway here are the last few pics from our hike to Deadvlei.  The last picture is of the actual clay pan with the dead acacia trees.  Those pictures will be in my next post on Namibia, so you’ll have to wait!

Finally, if you’re interested in getting a closer look at any of these pictures please click on it and you’ll get a nice big image.  If you’re interested in owning one of these photos (without a watermark), please click on the thumbnail below or check out my portfolio on SmugMug.  And as always, thanks for reading!

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About Aaron

A love of photography and travel have led to me creating this blog. I'm also interested in science, technology and the outdoors. I currently live in London with my beautiful wife and work in the telecommunications industry.
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14 Responses to The Namib Desert at Sossusvlei – Land of the Red Dunes

  1. Spectacular – as always! The early bird really DOES get the worm! ;-)

    • Aaron says:

      Thanks so much for all your comments! Yeah, it’s always brutal getting up early but when you’re out at beautiful locations like this you’ve gotta suck it up!

  2. Leanne Cole says:

    Wow, I don’t know what else to say, they just look amazing. I wish I was there taking photos as well.

  3. So the first 2 pics got me saying WOW WOW WOW…And then I kept scrolling and kept being wowed. What an amazing experience and these are breathtaking.

  4. Rafael says:

    Just found this blog, excellent photos! Congrats! Travel & Photography are great together. :)

    • Aaron says:

      Thanks for stopping by Rafael! Hope you enjoy and if you have any ideas drop me a line to let me know!

      • Rafael says:

        Hi, Aaron,

        Thanks for the welcome. I`m just reading and appreciating the photos – I myself have a travel blog that have created on July, 2012 and am excited with it – great opportunity to share lots of travel photos. :)

        I’ll stop by here whenever I can.

        Regards,

      • Aaron says:

        Thanks Rafael sorry it took me so long to respond I was on holiday! I checked out your blog and it looks great, I enjoy writing because I find it helps me to learn. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do and I’ll stop by to see how you’re doing!

  5. nidia says:

    I´m an architect light designer and your observation about the light is fantastic.I work with light in architecture and teaching my students to observe the natural light in different environments. Your photos are inspiring. Congratulations and think about to writing a book about light and photos in differents environments.

    • Aaron says:

      Thanks Nidia I’ll keep that in mind, don’t know if I’d be capable of writing a book on the topic but without a doubt I can definitely notice the change in color with the change in light, especially in the Namib desert. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  6. Gotta say I had no idea this place existed – shame on me! Awesome pictures, as always. Feel like I have to visit Namibia now :)

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