Apr 232012

Mornings on the Zambezi

I’ve posted photos from my canoe safari down the Lower Zambezi before (you can click “Zambia” in the categories to the right to see them). Inspiration for this particular adventure came to me a while back in National Geographic’s Journey’s of a Lifetime. It outlines 500 of the world’s greatest trips and is one of my travel bibles. Out of these 500 journeys, this one stuck out in my mind. My desire to take this trip was cemented when I bought what would become another of my favorite travel references, Ultimate Adventures from Rough Guides, and I found the Lower Zambezi canoe safari in there as well.

Both books summarize the sights you’ll see as you drift down the river including elephants, numerous hippos, and crocodiles that slowly disappear from view. Both books also mention how you’ll be able to silently approach the wildlife in your canoe, getting much closer than otherwise possible. On our trip, we managed to sneak up on a skittish warthog without scaring it away and pass within spraying distance of a sizable herd of wallowing elephants. We even managed to see a pack of wild dogs, a very rare sighting.

What neither book tells you about, however, is the incredible feeling of waking up on the shores of the Zambezi River. This feeling may be partly down to the elation felt after surviving the night surrounded by wild animals. It may just be because it means getting to leave the confines of your tent, or that breakfast is on the way. I think for me, that incredible feeling was fueled by waking up to sunrises like the one below. Everything feels perfectly still, the river slides smoothly by, while a fiery light show spreads from the horizon.

Lower Zambezi Fire

I have to question whether I can call this an HDR photo. I went through the usual process and combined 7 exposures, but then I masked out large amounts of detail to create silhouettes in front of the sunrise. I felt that so much detail on the bank directly in front of the sunrise was too distracting. However, I did maintain detail pulled out to the left and right of the photo. This would not have been possible without the HDR process. What do you think? Can I call this HDR? Let me know in the comments section.

Fiery sunrise with land and trees in silhouette reflected in the Lower Zambezi River in Zambia

Operation: Horseshoe Bay Postcard

I mentioned yesterday that I’d be going down to Horseshoe Bay, for sunrise, everyday this week, to take the standard photo from on top of the rock at the West end of the beach. I figure if I research the conditions and go down everyday I’ll get better at predicting the best locations and times to shoot wherever I go. Naturally, this is a useful skill when exploring new places with minimal time. Admittedly, this isn’t the most creative shot, but there’s a reason why so many people endeavor to capture it. It’s a good view.

My decision to head down there was initially inspired by a new tool I’ve discovered, called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris“. This tool allows you to predict where on the horizon the sun will rise relative to your position. At the moment I’m testing it out using the free desktop version, but I can already see that I’ll likely be getting the app for iPad so I can keep track of the sun in Iceland.

As you can see in the screenshot below, at the moment, if you stand on the rock at Horseshoe, the sun will rise just at the end of the point at the very end of the beach. I thought this would make for a nice composition.

So, at 5:40 this morning I woke up completely confused as to why my alarm was going off as it was still dark. I was even more confused when I looked and saw the time. Then I remembered the plan. I looked outside and couldn’t see any clouds and figured it was completely overcast. I nearly went back to bed, but decided I should at least check it out to see if the Photographers Ephemeris had gotten the position right.

Upon arrival at horseshoe things actually looked promising. There was still a half hour until sunrise and already color was breaking through the clouds. But then, after scampering up the rocks I realized just how windy it was. 20 knot winds felt pretty intense up there. Looking across the beach I saw a crack in the clouds that I thought might allow the colours of the sunrise to escape and light up the sheet covering the beach. Sure enough, this is what happened. It was pretty spectacular, but short. This intense colouring only lasted for a few minutes and then faded drastically. Unfortunately, it was so windy that the photos I fired off are all blurry. I knew they would be, I could see the camera vibrating with the shutter open. Even so, I learned a few points from this misadventure:

  1. Overcast skies aren’t an excuse to go back to bed, or not shoot. The sunrise actually provided a brilliant backdrop for the beach, even if the light on the sand was a bit flat.
  2. Sunrise time and location are not the only variables to take into account. Weather matters, a lot, especially the wind if shooting long exposures. Looking at WindGuru (a site I use a lot when looking for good wakeboarding weather) it looks like the next few mornings will be better than today, but still a bit hit and miss. I may have to extend this project another week to get the results I want.
  3. I’m in the habit of leaving my lens hood on no matter what. I’ve never found a reason not to, at the very least it helps protect my lens. While trying to still the camera in the wind I realized the hood was acting like a sail. When I took it off the shaking calmed down drastically. By the time I did this the colour had dropped down. I should have taken a set of photos to see if this was enough to get sharp photos… but I didn’t.
  4. On a positive note, the Photographers Ephemeris was really accurate and the sun rose right where I’d pictured it would. It does look like it will make for a good composition, so worth going down over the next few days.

At the moment it looks like the wind will be between 15 and 12 knots, which should be easier to work with. Unfortunately, the weather men are predicting lightening storms. I’ll still head down to check it out. At the very least I may get to capture some lightning off the beach. I sure as hell won’t be doing it from on top of the highest rock around though. At the moment, I’m predicting getting the shot I’m after on Thursday. The wind should be low enough, and the weather predicted is partly cloudy.


  One Response to “Lower Zambezi Fire”

  1. Iceland will be interesting in so much as the Sun is getting to the point soon where it barely slips below the horizon before it’s full in daylight in the summer. In the UK the sun never goes more than about 15% below the horizon in mid summer so you don’t seem to get a real black night sky.

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