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Morden O'Hare Photography Blog.  Blog posts discussing travel, photography, wildlife photography, landscape photography, camera gear reviews.

Deadvlei: A Namibian Icon

There are some landscapes that are so unique to a particular place that they become emblematic of that place or country.  For me Deadvlei is one of those iconic locations that represents Namibia.  Any photo ever taken within the confines of the Deadvlei pan are immediately recognizable and could never be mistaken for some other part of the world.

Canon 5D mkiii, 24mm TS-E, f16.0, 1/6, ISO100

Canon 5D mkiii, 24mm TS-E, f16.0, 1/6, ISO100

Deadvlei (which means 'dead marsh') is a flat, clay pan set between a ring of high, red sand dunes in the Namib Desert in southern Namibia. The pan is made of hard-set white clay cracked into the kind of semi-regular polygonal shapes you get when mud dries out and that is exactly how it was formed.  Centuries previously water collected in this area when the Tsauchab river regularly flooded but drought and climate shift allowed the sand dunes to encroach and the water was permanently blocked leaving the dry pan behind.  The once thriving camel-thorn trees were left stranded by the retreating water.  Long since dead they stand still, preserved by the dry climate and national park status. 

Photographically the area is fantastic. The white pan, the red dunes, the usually blue sky and the stark tree's all contrast each other beautifully, making for endless com-positional opportunities.  Of course Deadvlei is so well known and so often photographed it is hard to take any images here which look truly unique.

My first attempt at getting a unique look was to try camera motion blur which is when you use a slow shutter speed along with intentional camera movement to create an artistically blurred photo. I played around for some time with this technique, using my 50mm lens with an ND filter attached to get the shutter speeds down. I eventually got some compositions I was happy with. I think they give an impressionistic effect yet are still recognizable as Deadvlei.

Canon 5D mkiii, 50mm, f16.0, 1/10, ISO50

Canon 5D mkiii, 50mm, f16.0, 1/10, ISO50

The other thing I tried was to use the tilt function of my 24mm TS-E lens to get some selective focus in a vertical plane through the image, centered on the tree.

Canon 5D mkiii, 24mm TS-E, f3.5, 1/50, ISO100

Canon 5D mkiii, 24mm TS-E, f3.5, 1/50, ISO100

The practicalities of getting to Deadvlei need to be taken into account. It is located well inside the border of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. From the gate (which opens at sunrise and closes at sunset) it is around forty minutes or so drive to the main 2WD carpark.  If you have a 4WD you can drive straight on to the 4WD carpark if not you have to wait for a park shuttle to take you in. Then it is about 20-30 minutes sand slogging walk from the 4WD car park to the pan itself. Taking all this into account it becomes apparent that staying outside the park (such as at the campsite right outside the gates where I spend my first night) means that it is really difficult to be in Deadvlei for the best light just before and just after sunset and sunrise.

The other option (something I did with the other members of my Ben McRae photography tour on my third night) was stay at the only lodge inside the park. The well appointed Sossus Dune Lodge. Because this lodge has its own private access road to the main park drive you can get an earlier start (if you prearrange to use the Lodge's vehicles to take you in) and be at Deadvlei with a bit more time to set up before the light gets really nice.

Canon 5D mkiii, 24mm TS-E, f18.0, 1/6, ISO100

Canon 5D mkiii, 24mm TS-E, f18.0, 1/6, ISO100

Of course visiting Deadvlei is not where the 'action' stops. There are many more photo opportunities in the surrounding area's where the impressive sand dunes dominate the landscape. The following image was taken hand held during a brief stop on the side of the ride during the drive to Deadvlei. These sand dunes line the entire access road and are spectacular to behold. Any trip to Namibia would not be complete until you have seen this amazing place.

Canon 5D mkiii, 50mm, f8.0, 1/160, ISO200

Canon 5D mkiii, 50mm, f8.0, 1/160, ISO200

Canon 5D mkiii, 500mm, f10.0, 1/640, ISO400

Canon 5D mkiii, 500mm, f10.0, 1/640, ISO400