Welcome to Incredible Photographs, a series of short interviews on South Africa’s very best nature photography. We ask the photographers a set list of questions to gain insight into the previsualization, planning, capture, editing and reflection of their best photographs.
Where was this image taken?
Did you plan this image or would you consider it a stroke of luck?
This image was taken in 2012, a decade ago when Sossusvlei last flooded. At the time we were flying and photographing Botswana. We were based in Okavango, but when we heard that Sossuvlei was in flood we headed over to Namibia to photograph and witness this incredibly rare occurrence.
If planned, how many times did you visit this location?
We had photographed Nambia previously so when the rains came, we had a good mental map of where to fly and what we wanted to photograph. Ephemeral rains in Namibia require one to be flexible, drop what you are doing and head off to get the shot.
Did you use an ephemeris or AR planning app like Photopills or TPE?
Do you have any images of failed shoots to provide some background on what goes into an image like this?
I have many examples of failed shoots, especially when I was first starting out in aerial photography. As I have primarily worked out of a fixed wing aircraft it takes some experience to understand the angle, distance and height one has to be at to get the shot. This requires working closely with the pilot. The scene is passing beneath you at an average of 100mph, so you need to be able to converse with the pilot and make split-second decisions if you see something interesting you want to photograph. Also, weather conditions and time of day play a huge role in getting the shot or not. Aerial photography is the only genre of photography where you move through and around light, so in those early days I really needed to learn my camera to use the appropriate settings to compensate for all possible scenarios.
Is the location physically challenging to access or is it a brief walk from a parking lot? Also, would you consider the location safe to go shooting on your own or should one be cautious?
To reach Sossusvlei from the air, there is an airfield and helipad a couple of minutes’ drive from the park entrance. From there it is about a 30-minute straight line flight to Sossusvlei and Deadvlei.
On the ground it is an approximately 80km drive from the park gate with the last section requiring a 4x4. The location is safe to go shooting on one’s own as long as you are well prepared for the harsh desert conditions.
Did you go out on a whim or was this shoot carefully planned in consideration of weather forecasts?
This particular shoot was on a whim that corresponded with the incredibly rare occurrence of heavy rainfall in Namibia. Aerial photography however always requires planning; flight clearances, landing permits, aviation fuel availability and careful consideration of the weather.
How did you feel when you saw the screen light up with that result?
There are those times when you take a shot, and you just know that it is going to be a beauty, and this was one of those times. Seeing the exceptional contrast of water reflecting sky in amongst some of the worlds oldest and largest dunes was nothing short of breath-taking.
Let’s discuss the technicalities –
shutterspeed, ISO, aperture, anything else? F6.3, 1/1250, ISO 200
Body and Lens used?
Canon 7D, Lens Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6
Did you edit it the moment you got home or did you leave it in the photo cellar to mature?
I most definitely edited it the moment I got home! Not a chance that I was leaving these shots to mature in the photo cellar!
Let’s talk about enhancements made in editing –
Basic adjustments made in Adobe Photoshop with further pro contrast enhancements with Nik Software Colour Efex Pro
Do you think this image is one of your all-time top 10 photos?
It certainly is one of my more unusual shots in that water in Sossusvlei happens so rarely.
Do you feel you’ve done the location justice and you can move on now?
One can never do Namibia justice. It is a country of such incredible vastness and variability that I never tire of photographing this magical desert world.
Any advice for someone wanting to capture an image like this?
If you are wanting to capture something as ephemeral as rain and flooding in the desert, one needs to keep one’s ear to ground and follow weather patterns in Namibia so you can pre-empt such an occurrence and leave yourself enough time for travel and planning. To take aerial images there are a variety of helicopter and fixed wing companies in Namibia that are well versed in aerial photography that one could contact, however I would suggest contacting a photographic guide to help plan your trip so as to make the most of your flying time.
Is this image for sale as a print?
Find available prints on this link
A big thank you to Jay Roode for taking the time to answer our questions and her willingness to share the journey of creation behind the image. Below are the details to all her social media – please give them a like and a follow to show your appreciation. If you’d like to learn from her, check out their workshops and most of all, if you absolutely love this photograph, consider buying a print to support the artists.