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A flower safari to South Africa’s Namaqualand



Just returned from a fantastic flower photography workshop with my two friends Kathy and David Richardson.  We travelled 3000 kilometres from Cape Town to Kamieskroon and had the most amazing creative opportunities.

Kamieskroon Hotel and Namaqua National Park

We spent our first nights at the legendary Kamieskroon Hotel. The hotel is something of a mecca for photographers as it was here that  Freeman Patterson and Colla Swart ran many workshops in the 1980s and 90s.  Freeman Patterson is probably the father of flower photography workshops and his book Garden of the Gods (1984) remains the standout work about this fascinating region.  The hotel is now run by Maryna and Helmut Kohrs (Colla’s daughter and son-in-law).

The flower fields at nearby Skilpad were spectacular. We also had rewarding experiences on lesser-known areas inside the Namaqua National Park and on mountain drives between Kamiesberg and Garies. The flowers were somewhat patchy due to the lack of rain so we had to travel fairly widely to find the colour and diversity we were after. But find flowers we did.

From Kamieskroon we headed to the Beach Camp. It’s a pop up camp that is set up for the flower season. It had a spectacular position at Groen Rivier with very good food and hospitality. It was into 4×4 mode as we explored the sandy tracks that run up and down this coastline. Some of the most colourful flower fields in this area and would find fascinating plants that survive in this harsh and salty environment.

Niewoudtville and the Hantam Botanical Gardens

The highest concentration of bulbs in the world is found in the area around Nieuwoudtville and we spent three nights in the town exploring the exceptional Hantam Botanical Gardens as well as the flower fields of Papkuilsfontein. Flowers were in fields beneath the Gifberg Pass and we poked our way around the quartz fields of the Knersvlakte finding many stone plants which are  fragile desert adapted  jewels of this dryland.


Nedersetting Restaurant is run by the extremely capable Wessie can der Westerhuizen and my question of whether lamb would be on the menu was met with. “Is there sand in the desert!” We shared meals and conversation with my school friend Christopher Willis who is now head of the National Botanical Gardens and offered additional insights into the bulbs of this fascinating area.


We headed next to Bushmanskloof in the Cedarberg. This five-star Relais & Chateau hotel serves meals  as good as would be expected in a top city restaurant. The reserve covers several thousand hectares and has 100s of kilometres of roads to explore. In addition to great flower photography we found wonderful scenery, reflections, sunrises, ostriches, springboks, baboons. We would have been happy to have had an extra night or two at this magnificent lodge but we had places to visit and things to see.


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Our next stop was Kersefontein, This farm dates back to 1742 and our host Julian Melck is the eighth-generation owner. He has several guest rooms at the farm and opens up his wonderful house for dinners. His nephew Andrew Bance and his wife Chane arranged a special flower safari for us that include meals beside the river, a boat trip and fascinating tours with botanist Helene Preston and bird expert Dr Gisele Murison. Our time with Helene also gave us the opportunity to put our flower photography field studio to the test and create some wonderful montage images. What an experience staying in this historic farm with Julian as our host.

Paternoster and West Coast National Park

We headed next to Paternoster for a night at the excellent Linhof Guest House where we enjoyed wonderful hospitality and waves that crashed right outside our rooms. Where else can you enjoy crayfish with eggs benedict for breakfast. Thank you Mariana. Next day we visited the Posberg in the West Coast National Park where the combination of flowers, seascapes and granite boulders had our cameras in a full blur.

For me this was an extra special flower photography trip as it was the 8th trip that I have guided David and Kathy Richardson. They are truly special people and have done workshops round the world with the likes of Frans Lanting and many other top photographers. Kathy is a truly talented photographer and we spent a lot of time practicing blur, multiple exposure and field studio techniques that she has learned with photographer Niall Benvie.


Out with the daisies

The flowers were probably best described as patchy and we worked hard to get ourselves in the right place at the right times. We got stuck once, lost once, and took upward of 4000 images on our 3000 kilometre adventure. Its impossible to view any work in isolation and my grateful thanks to Kathy for her creative ideas and those inherited from the books and works of talented photographers such as Freeman Patterson, Colla Swart, Frans Lanting and Neil Benvie. Here are some of my keepers with some tips about how they were created.

This multiple exposure was created in camera from 9 images. Minimal postproduction.

Another 9 exposure shot in camera.

Multiple exposures with a very small hand movement.

Multiple exposures with a twist.


Join a guided trip to see the flowers

We will be back in August 2020 and plan a 11 day trip back to some of our special places. Its a wonderful change of pace from typical safaris and there are lots of techniques to learn. We intend to run the trip for a minimum of 2 people and will accommodate 3 at the most.

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Goings on at Nsefu Stork colony

Nsefu in South Luangwa is a special place. From February to June it’s stork colony is a breeding ground for thousands of yellow billed storks which hoover up vast quantities of barbel and tilapia fishes found in the fertile lagoons and river.

Luangwa River Camp, Zambia, South Lungwa

Not only is the stork colony one of the largest stork in Southern Africa and a great place for bird photography,  it’s often a great place for predator action too. Last November, for example, we photographed the stork colony female showing her cubs how to hunt. This June, the youngsters had honed their skills and were picking off nestlings like bar snacks. The temperature in Luangwa is really comfortable for people and for cats in June and we were lucky enough to see them hunting and very active through the day. And the same was true for lions which we also saw cruising past the stork colony.

Lions at Nsefu Stork Colony

In the dry season at Nsefu

I will be back at Nsefu in November on a photo workshop and expect temperatures and action to have hotted up even further. Based on previous trips we can expect leopards, lions and glorious sightings of wild dogs, carmines and large concentrations of elephants. We will of course need to beat the heat and follow the predator’s examples by by getting up extra early and staying in the shade after dark. Nsefu’s Evening Breeze Air conditioners will thankfully keep us cool in the evenings.

A little history about Nsefu

Nsefustarted in 1951 when the late Norman Carr hammered out an ecoutourism deal with Chief Nsefu and set up made the first tourism camp in Zambia. It has been run by Robin Pope Safaris for the past 20 years and I’ve been there for 14 wonderful years of them running photo trips. Nsefu is a prime and remote slice of Luangwa and the only bit on the southeastern bank of the great river.

Critics might say that the rondavels are too close and that living rooms are too basic — but I say “pah”. Here you will find the critical balance between luxury and a true bush experience and some of the best guides in the world. It is a national monument and still retains the feeling of a time when pipe-smoking hunters used to sit here and watching elephants cross the river. Cudos to Robin Pope Safaris for keeping the magic alive.

The Emerald Season at Nsefu

We launched our Emerald Season trips to Luangwa in 2005. At that time we used to go up to Nsefu for the day but soon after the camp was opened up for us to stay overnight. Since then we’ve been drawn back to Nsefu again and again like bees to pollen exploring the lagoons and rivers and enjoying amazing scenes. In March we will be back by boat, heading up 40 kilometres up the swollen river to see what we can find..

Why don’t you join us as we head upstream and take the Crocodile River to see the storks building their nests and whatever else lies in store. We often see lions and leopards at this time of year and can practice our shooting skills like aerial gunners foll0wing the birds carrying in their thatching material.


Upcoming trips



10 things to know about Astro-photography


What camera equipment do you need for star photography?

You will need a tripod, a dSlr camera and a wide lens.

Good gear does help to get great results.

Important to understanding is that stars will start to show movement in the sky if you leave the shutter open for too long. In order to calculate this maximum distance you can use the 500 rule


The 500 rule

The 500 rule for shutter settings says divide 500 by the focal length of your lens to get a star setting which is long enough to let in the light but short enough not to show the trails that are captured as the earth turns in its orbit . So for a 14-24 mm lens set at 14 it will be 500/14 = 35. For a 20mm lens it will 500/20 be 25 seconds and so on. Remember if you are using a crop lens camera you will need to multiply the camera focal length by 1.4 or 1.5 depending upon your make of camera

The Galactic Centre and timing your shot

The most prominent part of the Milky Way, called the Galactic Centre and is usually at a great angle and not too high in the sky in the winter months in the southern hemisphere. Plan your shoot for the new moon when there is least ambient light and head to a place such as the Karoo where you can be assured of clear skies and very little ambient light.

Using an app like Photopills or the Photographer’s Ephemeris you can predict the exact location of the sunset and the moonrise and also the position of the milky way and also where the sun will rise or set. It will also help you find a strong foreground and plan any special lighting effects you might plan.


What sort of shot are you after

Generally there are 3 different approaches to star photography. Lets call them standard milky way shots, star circles and time lapse. The first is the creation of an image that shows the stars as pin pricks. This is the kind that I like most — as its the most realistic — and luckily its also the most straightforward to accomplish with an exposure time that is as short as possible. As explained above I have a wide 14mm lens and using a setting of 30 seconds at 2000 ISO I am going to get a pin sharp image at the correct exposure. Or that is what I hope! There are still quite a few issues to consider before getting the shot.

First you need to line up your shot and in the dark it’s not that easy to achieve. So generally I will do my setup during daylight hours and then be ready to fire off the shot, or sequence of shots, using the in camera timer or manually. If you end up doing the setup after dark it’s useful using a flashlight or focus at 100% in live view. The point just short of infinity usually gives pin sharp stars and a sharp foreground. Once I have set my focus I often tape the focus ring so it does not shift.

There are plenty of ways to add creativity to this sort of image. The most common technique is to create a strong foreground. We often use boabab trees, windmills or rocky outcrops but anything will do as long as its graphic and forms an outline against the night sky. Building on this technique you can decide to do a composite image to give foreground detail (often shooting the first shot in daylight will allow this) or you can even do some light painting with a torch. Light painting is lots of fun and you will be surprised just how little light you need to illuminate things in darkness and at such high ISO settings. Often just a second or two of painting will do the trick. Or use a really dumbed down light source.

The images can be combined in photoshop or stacking software.


Star trails 

If you want to get star trails you can lower your ISO right down to 100 and then shoot images of anything from 2 to 20 minutes or longer. Of course you will get noise on these long exposures and so the best way to get star trails is to shoot a bunch of images and then combine them in star stacking software. Do remember to turn off noise reduction between the shots or you will get gaps between the trails as the camera records the second NR image.

It’s easy to create a dramatic time lapse movie which will track the movement of the stars which can then be turned into a dramatic movie with sound. The most popular video making app is called Premier Pro from Adobe but download Da Vinci Resolve a free app which is really terrific. All you need to do is copy the images onto your timeline and it will create the movie for you. When creating time lapse stills you need to set your camera to intervals and then shoot images of a time period of some hours.  A movie will play at around 25 frames per second so if you need a 30 second video you are looking at 750 images which need to be combined.

Star circles

If you want to create star circles you need to focus on the southern most point in the sky. This can be calculated using your photo app or by using the old technique which is by using the Southern Cross. Draw an imaginary line from the top of the cross to the bottom and extend it 4,5 times. Drop a vertical point from here to the South Celestial pole which is due south. As mentioned If you want stars to appear as sharp, individual points, your shutter speed needs to be faster than 500 divided by your lens focal length. Stars start to blur over longer periods. 20 minutes will give good star trails, but a single 20 minute image can be noisy. Rather, stack multiple exposures together. Use manual settings to get a good exposure at 30 sec. Continuously take 30 sec exposures for 20 minutes or longer using remote release and camera set to continuous drive mode. You will get 40 to several hundred photos to stack in software such as star stax. 

If you want to find some terrific places to stay to practice your star photography contact David Rogers on the contact form.

Read some other creative photography ideas for your next holiday 




Graduated filters for landscape photography

David Rogers picture of a baobab and elephants in South Luangwa on a workshop


You need a graduated filters for landscape photography

Land is always darker than the sky and capturing the dynamic range (so you can keep detail in the sky and also in the foreground) is a challenge for photographers. Although modern digital technology such as Adobe Lightroom offers a host of tools to pull details out of the dark areas (shadows) and decrease the bright areas (highlights) and even offers pull down graduated filters, these do not offer the detail and quality of getting the information correct in camera.

Which graduated system to buy

I started using fairly basic graduated filters for landscape photography using a cheap Cokin plastic graduated filter set captured the image above. Since then I have used the much more sophisticated Lee and NISI systems. Lee is probably best in terms of build quality and easy of use but NISI comes with a polarizer, rings for several filter sizes and excellent pro quality.

Is the quality of the glass important?

It is very important to buy the best quality glass for your filters. Generally a single filter will cost $200 or so so they are a big investment if you want the best have optical coatings to reduce flare and reflection. Be careful of dropping them as they do break.

What colour graduated filters are best

There are all sorts of colours to choose from. But you can always add colours to sunsets in Lightroom. So always buy neutral graduated ND filters which darken and help saturate skies but do not change the colour.

Soft or hard graduated filters

Graduated filters are usually 0.3 (i stop) to 0.9 (three stops) and the transitions are either soft or hard. Soft filters are best for landscapes which have an indistinct formation such as where trees or mountains are included. Hard graduated filters are best for seascapes which are much more uniform. If using a tele lens its best to use a hard filter. Hard and soft filters are often combined to very good effect.

Reverse IR filters for landscapes

These reverse graduated filters have the darkest area towards the middle of the filter. I often use these for sunsets in combination with normal graduated filters. I find that reverse filters are really useful especially when shooting into the sun.

sunset photography at Klaserie Xananetsi by David Rogers

Big stoppers and half stoppers

If you want to create silky seas and waterfalls you need a big stopper. This is a solid ND and looks like a very dark bit of glass. In fact, they are so dark that you need to focus before attaching the filter. The 10 stop big stopper and the 6 stop half stopper are great choices. Exposure times must be done manually.  

David Rogers photograph of Muizenberg






10 tips to turn your holiday into a creative experience.

creative photography on safari is easy if you look beyond the obvious.

I often suggest to clients to imagine that they are working for a magazine and photograph and document the full experience of the safari so they can be more creative with their photography while they are on safari. I did the sort of work for many years as a photographer for Getaway, Travel Africa and Africa Geographic and learned to photograph not only the obvious but also the details, the people, the big things, the small things, the landscapes to communicate the fuller experience. This can then be turned into a book, a slide show, or even a video that is full of punch and interest.
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Creative photography stars with the following tips


  1. Don’t just point and shoot Seeing a great subject is just the start of the journey. Make sure you get the angles and the foreground and the background to make the most of your subject. Can you get eye to eye with an animal, or catch the light in the eye? Can you improve the foreground, the background by moving your position or waiting for the animal to be in a more interesting position. Keep your style loose and flexible and look to create interesting images. Sometimes you can great a great shot using a mobile phone.
  2. Go wide Look for leading lines, foreground interest, big clouds and work on your landscapes. Also consider stitching images as panoramas to get an even wider effect. Sometimes wide shots can communicate so much more than going in close.
  3. Stay with the action The slightest flick of a tail can make or break a shot so remember to keep your camera on high speed continuous and keep your shutter speed high enough to catch the movement. Autofocus, aperture priority, ISO settings, exposure compensation are there to help you to create interesting images so make sure you understand how your camera works.
  4. Make the most of the weather It does not matter whether the conditions are sunny or cloudy,, there are always great images to be had. In fact, its gloomy, cloudy and rainy weather which often produces the most interesting images. Look for colourful subjects, interesting skies, graphic shapes.
  5. Variety. Bat eared foxes, owls, birds, flowers, insects… all have a place in your publication. Photograph everything that moves. If you are on safari with no moon, or full moon, then use the experience wisely. Light painting, long exposures, combining elements can make wonderful images that give the feeling of night time. Also photographing some of the nocturnal animals on night drives will add to your book.
  6. The safari experience. Camp staff love posing with food and helping you get the shots. When taking pictures of the food itself feel confident moving items and generally styling your shot. Its amazing how much you will add to your story by photographing a freshly baked loaf of bread or a smiling waiter carrying a bowl of fruit. There are great opportunities here to experiment with lighting, portraiture and also composition. People add amazing interest.
  7. The wish you were here shot Get a model to stand on the balcony and shoot for the view especially if you have an interesting background. Finding a balance between interiors and exteriors light can be done at very low light or by using HDR (high dynamic range) techniques.
  8. Get the facts Find out The size of the area you are visiting, the names of the people, the local dialect, the correct names of the birds. All of these are important facts to note and use in the end as captions for your book or publication. Interview your guide, the chef, the camp manager. find that they relax and you will get better pictures.
  9. Shoot with the end in mind Stitching, HDR, black and white processing, cross processing, hi key, and cropping can be done in post production but planned during the shoot. The end results of your work does not need to be what you see in your viewfinder In fact some of the most interesting and artistic shots are remarkably different.
  10. Selection Remember the wise words of Blaise Pascal. I would have written a shorter letter but I did not have the time. Its all about distilling your experience down to a few great images. Photography then becomes as much about what you don’t show as what you do show. The same is also true for your composition. Get in close, cut out unnecessary detail and show only the part of the scene that conveys your message most effectively. Less is almost always more

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