Deadvlei – Namibia

The multi dimensional experience of Deadvlei by day and night.

We set off for Deadvlei to be there before dawn. This literally meant getting up to be the very first people at the gate to the park.

That timing turned out to be critical not just for the light but to beat the crowds of people that would follow. You can get a sense of how many people by the sea of footsteps shown in the photo below, as we walked up to Deadvlei.

Just before we arrived I asked Jandre to give us his video introduction to Deadvlei:

As the sun rose behind us the light began to illuminate the dune in front of us. The opposite of what one is used to, it was wonderfully unpredictable.

Our goal was to capture the contrast between the dune and the pan and the trees, timing the shot for exactly the moment when the sun had hit the dune, but not the pan, and silhouetting the trees.

Later as the sun rose, and began to light the pan, we scurried around to find new compositions like this one where my goal was to show some “life” in Deadvlei!

In the background on the far left where the light is breaking over the top of the dune there is a bright patch and if you look closely you’ll see the tiny figures of two people there. Then in the mid ground, on the right hand side, just behind where the light has hit the pan, you’ll see the silhouette of a person walking away. Finally the light is hitting the foreground tree and suddenly the dead black silhouette has come to life in the form of the color of the tree. I had fun timing the capture of the light, the shadows and the people. (Read: I took many many shots!)

Gradually the whole area of the pan is covered in sunlight, making for strong contrasts, where the sand turns brown.


Black. In the first photograph, taken before the sun was hitting the pan, the trees appear black as silhouettes.

Orange. In the first picture, the soft golden light of the morning makes the dune appear orange, rather than the typical red seen, later in the morning, that later turns to brown in the bright sun.

Red. The red hues of the sand come from the layer of iron oxide that covers it and the different amounts of light hitting reflecting off it. It later turns brown in the stronger sunlight.

Blue. I learned from @marcograssiphotography to notice that darker areas often show up more blue than the warmer colors in the light. You can really see that accentuated here where the shadows literally appear blue on the clay surface.

White: Only when the sun is strong enough does the clay in the pan show up fully reflecting white.

That made me think of black and white, and I was so enjoying the light patterns, I decided to try and simplify them all into a monochrome shot of a single tree.

I’m not sure I like it as much as the strong colors but it does focus one down to looking at light, shadow and texture.


Even when you’re standing in Deadvlei it’s incredibly difficult to fathom the scale of it.

For comparison, take a look at “Big Daddy” above and then below left where I’ve highlighted at the top of the dune, I’ve blown it up on the right to show the two people standing there. Hopefully that helps you visualize it.

Of course there was one more thing to do. Capture Deadvlei at night.

Unfortunately one can’t stay in the park overnight. So a few of us risked our camera gear, being the last ones there at the end of the day, and planning to be the first ones back in the morning.

Marco (in the distance), Jandre and Alva getting their tripods aligned, after using PhotoPills to plan where the Milky Way would rise behind the dunes. Then setting the cameras up to start shooting at night as it rose, we set the internal timer to take enough shots to capture the moment. Sometimes photography genuinely is technical!

Although I had forgotten to bring the right lens for this shot, I managed to capture the following image, which I don’t like compositionally, because I know what it could have been with the right lens, but I still enjoy for the memory of it all.

This truly felt like a multi dimensional experience, where the time and light added the extra dimensions to an already majestic landscape. I tried to capture it in a final time-lapse video to share with you (below).

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to witness it firsthand.