3 Tips for taking better photos of dunes in Namibia

Why dunes?

A huge part of Namibia is desert, and dunes form a large part of the landscape. Namibia is even named after its biggest desert, the Namib. This is one of the most ancient deserts in the world and has been an arid region for more than 55 million years. The sand dunes in Namibia are not like dunes you can find in many other parts of the world. In Namibia you can find the highest sand dunes in the world. The highest is more than 350 meters high! Now that’s quite a climb in the loose sand.

There are a few famous places in Namibia where most people go to see these enormous dunes. The easiest place is just outside Walvisbay where Dune 7 is located. This dune is more than 350 m high and is considered the highest in Namibia.
The other place is Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Sossusvlei is a valley between rows of red dunes and at the end you can find the famous Deadvlei with its dead camel thorn trees. Here the highest dune is called Big Daddy and it’s around 325 m high. Here the sand is an orange-red and makes a stark contrast with the blue sky.

How do I best take photographs of the dunes?

1. Create a sense of scale

Taking a photograph of the dunes is simple by itself, but the result is not always satisfying. How can I show in a photograph that a dune is 300 m high? If I just show the dune, I have nothing to compare it with and it looks like any other dune. So we need something to confront it with. We should compare it with something of which we know the size, so it’s immediately clear that these dunes are actually huge. This could be a person, but I don’t usually include people in my photos. In this case I made an exception, because it does give the sense of scale I was looking for, but could also easily be edited out if I wanted to. Look at the tiny persons walking on the crest of the dune the call Big Daddy, the tallest in Sossusvlei.

Deadvlei with its dead camel thorns and people walking up to crest of Big Daddy

Here’s another example. At the foot of some of the dunes are some full grown trees with beautiful umbrella shaped crowns. How tall would this tree be? I guess something like 5 to 7 meters. The tree looks very small with respect to the dune, so now you can easily tell that this dune is huge!

Huge red dune in Sossusvlei with trees in the foreground

2. Use a telephoto lens instead of a wide angle lens

For landscape photography often wide angle lenses are used, but I think that for the dunes in Sossusvlei a longer lens is better, especially if you take photos from the feet of the dunes. Imagine the scene above and you take your wide angle lens and you walk to the tree, set up your tripod, make your composition including the tree and the dune and take your photograph. Now the tree will look almost as big as the dune! So in order to make the tree look small in comparison to the dune, we need to step back and move away from the tree and the dune. Now we take a longer lens, I used a 70-200 mm at 200 mm for the photo below. Now you can’t even see the top of the dune, but the proportions between the tree and the dune can be seen at a glance.

S-curve with dune spine and tree in the foreground in Sossusvlei


3. Use the shapes of the dunes

The wind changes the shapes of the dunes continuously and options are endless. For the photo above I have chosen for the diagonal of the dune spine leading to the S-shape at the top. When you climb on top of the dunes the perspective changes. Now you can see more than one dune and see how all the curves cross and start to look like a sea of sand.
The photo below was taken near Swakopmund where the dunes are lower, but I loved it how they look like waves and they’re overlooking the Atlantic ocean. At sunset the water and sand seem to blend together.

Waves of sand in the dunes near Swakopmund at sunset

In this last photo I want to show you the layered effect of the rows of dunes.The slightly diagonal lines create a bit of movement, but as most lines are horizontal the photo becomes more static and creates the sense of calm that you can feel when the last sunlight disappears behind the horizon.

Sunset near Swakopmiund in the dunes

A holiday in Namibia dedicated to photography

I hope you found these tips useful. It also gives you an idea of what you can see and photograph during our tour in Namibia. As you can see these landscapes are so different from other parts of Africa and seeing this with your own eyes is an amazing experience. Another big part of the tour is dedicated to wildlife. You can read more about this in another blog post. During our photo trip I will give you hands on assistance in the field when we go to take photos. I will also review you photos during the tour, so you will get immediate feedback. It’s a holiday and a learning experience all in one with a small group that shares you passion for Nature and photography.

We’ll be waiting for you next week with another post.

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