I have just returned from a twelve day driving tour of southern Namibia. It was a fantastic (if exhausting) experience during which I was able to revisit some locations for the second time and finally see some locations I hadn’t been able to previously. The Quiver Tree Forest is an utterly unique and world famous place that I have been wanting to visit for a long time. On this, my third visit to this amazing country, I was finally able to do so. The location itself is five to six hours drive south of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital and about twenty minutes’ drive from the small dusty town of Keetmanshoop. It is privately owned, not in a state reserve or national park. It is in fact part of a working farm and you have to pay a fee to the owners for access. Fortunately it is possible to get a night photography permit for unrestricted access at any hour which is essential. I stayed at the Quiver Tree Rest Camp which is located on and run by the farm operation. I can’t say the accommodation or service is particularly appealing, but it wasn’t the accommodation that I was there for.
Namibia in general and southern Namibia in particular is a very dry part of Africa with harsh but beautiful desert landscapes. Rain is not common at all and the normal skies seem to be mostly blue and cloudless. Namibia is also experiencing a drought at the moment with the usual ‘rainy season’ failing to eventuate this year. None of these factors gave me much hope for a nice dramatic cloudy sunset or stormy sky.
As a landscape photographer I always have a feeling of trepidation heading to a wonderful location on a fixed timetable. The success of a shoot is often determined by the lighting and skies that are prevailing, so it was with a sense of trepidation that I had been planning this visit. I was buoyed by cloudy skies during the long drive to Keetmanshoop and just before arriving at the rest camp I was surprised by a short-lived but heavy rainstorm that passed directly over the Quiver Tree Forest.
Needless to say I was incredibly pleased at the skies that greeted me on that first sunset photo shoot. They were dramatic and colourful, and I even got a rainbow which I think must be quite a rare opportunity here. Opportunities like this are what landscape photographers dream of so I made sure to take full advantage of it, shooting with both my Pentax 645z and Pentax K1 on separate tripods to get different compositions as the lighting changed and the dynamic clouds evolved.
The Quiver trees themselves are really interesting. They look almost Jurassic in nature and can be found scattered throughout southern Namibia. It is not unusual to see a lone tree high up on a rocky peak, possibly grown from a seed in a bird dropping. The unique thing about this particular location is the density of their numbers, a phenomenon found nowhere else that I am aware of. Technically they are not a tree but an aloe plant - Aloe Dichotoma. The local name is ‘Kokerboom’ and the tough pliable bark was traditionally used by Bushmen tribes to make quivers for their arrows. “Koker” is the Afrikaans word for quiver. They can live up to 300 years and are extremely hardy, surviving the hot dry weather of Namibia as well as the frosty cold nights that often accompany a desert climate.
Finding attractive compositions can be a tricky task that can usually be solved by trial and error. with the main goal being to isolate a pleasing arrangement of trees and being careful any overlapping branches don’t detract from the image.. Having one prominent tree at the thirds mark in the frame usually works quite well. I tend to shoot a variety of slightly differently framed shots of any location to make sure I have covered my bases and this technique worked especially well here as a small shift in framing can sometimes make a dramatic difference to the composition of the trees.
My second, third and fourth shooting sessions reverted to the usual cloudless skies that I had expected but I was still able to get a pleasing image with a pink glow and an amazing weaver birds nest. These weaver nests are really quite amazing and you find them in all sorts of trees and man-made structures throughout southern Africa. I have a few images of weaver birds in my Feathers gallery page that were taken in Botswana where they seem to be everywhere. There are a few different species of weavers that build different nest styles. The ones I photographed in Botswana make individual nests but this species is the communal nesting type. This nest also had some sort of small parrot or lovebirds nesting in it which I assume were squatters.
I also tried my hand at night photography, something I don’t do often and am not very good at. The 645z has incredibly low noise levels even at ISO 3200 so I was able to shoot a few images with this camera despite the relatively slow f4.5 lens I have for it. The image below is the pick of the bunch. My attempts at shooting the milky way and light painting a tree are not fit to be shown here! At some point in the future I plan to come to grips with the astro-tracing function of the Pentax K1.
In general I think silhouette photo’s are overrated but with few other options available on my last morning I tried this technique to limited success, doing panoramic versions like this or isolating various trees. The resulting images were fun but to shoot but lack something in depth.
I would encourage anyone planning a road-trip through southern Namibia to pay a visit to this place. It is a landscape photographers dream regardless of the skies that greet you when you arrive. Personally I am extremely pleased to have been able to cross this one off my bucket list.