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Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia
(© Ian Plant) I recently returned from a two week scouting trip to Namibia with my workshop partner Richard Bernabe. Namibia is an incredibly beautiful country filled with stunning desert landscapes and fantastic wildlife. We spent three days photographing a quiver tree forest near Keetmanshoop. Quiver “trees” aren’t really trees at all, but rather a species of aloe, a flowering succulent plant. Their evocative shapes make great photographic subjects, although it can sometimes be a challenge to find a coherent composition amidst the chaos of the forest. On our first evening there, storm clouds moved in and stayed for several days, which came as quite a pleasant surprise to us, as we expected unrelenting fair weather. The clouds gave us some interesting opportunities.
For this image, I had some interesting cloud action, and a nice collection of visual elements—but no light. So I waited until the setting sun broke through the clouds. Since I only had a few moments before the light went away, I moved quickly, experimenting with several different compositions. I finally settled on this progression of elements starting with the first rock in the foreground, moving on to the second rock in the middle-ground, and finally moving to the tree in the background with the clouds in the sky above. I discuss using a progression of visual elements in more detail in my ebook Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition. Here, the progression of elements helps lead the eye through the image. “Giant’s Playground”—Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera, Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens, Novoflex EOS/NIK-NT Lens Adapter for Nikon G Type Lenses to Canon EOS DSLR Cameras, ISO 100, f/8, 1/15 second.
We had some decent light at sunset, but things got really interesting when the sun went down. I took the shot above during twilight. I got close with a wide-angle lens to an interesting plant on the ground, juxtaposing the foreground plant with the prominent tree in the background. I used my headlamp to add some fill light to the foreground, shining the light on my t-shirt (essentially turning it into a reflector) rather than shining the light directly on to the plant. This softened the light, giving the foreground plant a diffused glow. “Old and New”—Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera, Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens, Novoflex EOS/NIK-NT Lens Adapter for Nikon G Type Lenses to Canon EOS DSLR Cameras, ISO 800, f/16, 30 seconds.
I’ve been doing night photography for well over a decade, but I’ve gotten rather bored with it as of late, especially now that the Internet has become inundated with images of the Milky Way hovering over all sorts of landscape features (including quiver trees). Static star shots and star trail images just don’t do much for me these days, but give me some fast-moving clouds and the moon in the sky, and I’m ready to shoot! I spent hours exploring the forest by headlamp looking for interesting compositions. This is one of my favorites, created using a wide angle perspective. I used a thirty second exposure to streak the motion of the moonlit clouds across the night sky. Luckily, the clouds were coming right at me, creating a radiating pattern. The entire forest was softly lit by lights from a nearby campsite, giving the landscape an orange glow that, although barely apparent to the eye, came out strong during the long exposure. “Kneel Before Zod”—Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera, Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens, Novoflex EOS/NIK-NT Lens Adapter for Nikon G Type Lenses to Canon EOS DSLR Cameras, ISO 800, f/5.6, 30 seconds. (By the way, the title for this image was inspired by one of the best lines ever uttered by a super villain, as spoken by Terrance Stamp playing General Zod in Superman II. I don’t know why I thought of Zod when I photographed this tree, but I did and the name stuck.)
For this final image, I stood under a quiver tree, using its arching branches to frame the scene and add foreground interest to the top of the image frame. The foreground branches help lead the eye deeper into the composition. In order to add further visual emphasis to the tree in the middle, I stood behind the tree during the long exposure and illuminated it from behind with my headlamp. This increased the “visual mass” of the tree (another concept discussed in detail in Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition), making it the center of attention. “The Here and Now”—Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera, Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens, Novoflex EOS/NIK-NT Lens Adapter for Nikon G Type Lenses to Canon EOS DSLR Cameras, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 30 seconds.
Stay tuned! I’ll be presenting more Namibia images in the coming weeks.. I’ll also be posting details about my Wild Namibia 2014 Photo Tour scheduled next year for the last two weeks of May, which I will co-lead with Richard Bernabe (full details will be coming soon).