Hantam and Roggeveld - Crazy Daisy and Bitterly Cold Crazy Daisy - Willemsrivier Farm, Nieuwoudtville, South Africa Hantam and Roggeveld Crazy Daisy puts away her nakedness once a year and dons on her best ballgown of many colours for Spring. She fills the air with her perfume, if only for a while. She intoxicates, dazzles and bewilders us. As quickly as she prepares herself for the ball, so quickly does the evening disappear and she returns to be a Cinderella again, once the flower spectacle is over. She can be an icy cold woman, you also will feel her warmth and allure, and her angry heat too. She will certainly charm you in many ways and have you come back for more! The Karoo is a sun-seared, harsh and forbidding land. A hard, tough life are the words that spring to mind when confronted with the vast and forbidding landscape of the Hantam and Roggeveld Karoo. Africa is not for sissies they say, this area is a harsh region, one that shapes you and moulds you, and makes you its own. Change is a hard thing for some, the message it sends out is one of embracing me and I will embrace you, ignore me and I will overtake you! This is the way of the Karoo in an unforgiving landscape, the Karoo cannot be tamed. Northern Cape Tourism Flower Route Map The towns of this region are Calvinia, Nieuwoudtville and Loeriesfontein; Sutherland and Middlepos respectively, with Calvinia and Sutherland being the major towns of each region. We got to explore three out of the five in our recent trip to this part of the Karoo. This is a good thing, as it leaves us with an excuse to return to this beautiful region again. For this blog, I am only going to discuss Nieuwoudtville and Calvinia. Sutherland will be dealt with in a separate blog for good reason, as I held a photographic workshop there at Rogge Cloof Sutherland Private Estate. Rogge Cloof Panorama Nieuwoudtville Nieuwoudtville, locally pronounced ‘Nowtville’, is a tiny village in the Northern Cape province of South-Africa, a place internationally acknowledged as the bulb capital of the world. It really comes to life during the flower season. The Khoi San inhabited this area for many centuries before the first settlers arrived in about 1730, and local rock art in Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve and on farms around Nieuwoudtville bears witness to an ancient culture that flourished here. During this period vast herds of game periodically roamed the plains of the Bokkeveld Plateau (Antelope Plateau), after which it derived its name. To get the most out of the Bokkeveld, you must take your time, don’t rush along. It is not uncommon to find up to 50 different species within one square metre of Renosterveld! Believe me, it took us over 3 hours to travel 450m, and that was only to photograph flowers! Namaqualanders, Oorlogskloof Farm, Nieuwoudtville, South-Africa Approaching Nieuwoudtville one ascends the Vanrhyns Pass on the R27 between Vanrhynsdorp and Nieuwoudtville which was rebuilt in 1962. It carries heavy traffic from Cape Town up to the Bokkeveld Mountains and Calvinia. There are a few lookout points where one can stop along the way to absorb the spectacular view before you reach the summit and is best photographed in the evening. This is one of the ten major mountain passes constructed by the South African road engineer Thomas Bain, linking Nieuwoudtville to Vanrhynsdorp. In the space of 8km, the pass conveys the traveller across the Bokkeveld escarpment into a startlingly different world – from a semi-desert landscape to an arid plateau with trees and grasslands. One will witness the lifeblood veins of green coursing the Knersvlakte valley below, hinting at the existence of subsurface water below. Knersvlakte - Cellphone Image - Dominique Fouché © 2018 Knersvlakte - Cellphone Image - Dominique Fouché © 2018 During springtime, the stretch of road between Vanrhynsdorp and the pass, known as the Knersvlakte, is transformed into a colourful carpet of flowers. The Knersvlakte is a region of hilly terrain covered with quartz gravel in Namaqualand in the north-west corner of the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The name, literally meaning "gnashing or grinding plain" in Afrikaans, is thought to be derived from the crunching of wagon wheels as they moved over the hard quartz stones, or the gnashing of teeth for the hard arduous journey that was required over this terrain. The white quartz gravel reflects more heat than the surrounding regions and one will find endemic succulent leaf plants that are found nowhere else in the world. The Knersvlakte is Succulent Karoo and dominated by leaf succulents belonging to the Aizoaceae and Crassulaceae, with a variety of shrubs spread amongst them. The climate of the region is semi-arid with long dry summers, and rainfall occurring in the winter months. From the look-out point some 800m above sea level, you will have a sweeping view of the Knersvlakte, the Hardeveld and the Maskam region. The Bokkeveld Mountains contribute to the 180-degree panoramic view, the Bokkeveld Plateau is reached at the top of the pass. This Knersvlakte region is found north of the Olifants river and the towns are Klawer, Bitterfontein, Vanrhynsdorp and Kliprand. All Roads Lead To Home Evidence of the extensive sheet glacier that covered much of South Africa about 300 million years ago can be seen south of Nieuwoudtville where grooves formed by rocks and pebbles carried in the ice sheet were left behind on the glacial floor after the ice sheet melted. These glacial pavements tend to impede water infiltration and damp patches result, which are favourite habitats for some of the lovely local geophytic plants. With the arrival of European settlers in the early eighteenth century, the vast herds of wildlife were replaced by herds of sheep and cattle which belonged to the settlers. The settlers established themselves in the well-watered western edge of the Bokkeveld close to the escarpment and the village of Nieuwoudtville was established in 1897 on land that was purchased from H.C. Nieuwoudt - after whom the town was named. People now make their living from sheep, wheat, rooibos tea farming and eco-tourism. Nieuwoudtville Church Plain Nieuwoudtville’s public fame started, arguably, with a sheep farmer, the late Neil MacGregor, who on his farm, Glenlyon, took down all internal fences and opened the area to his livestock. The livestock practically ate all the plants and trampled the seeds. He left the diggers, foragers and plant predators, especially the porcupines, to open the earth to rain. He was later rewarded with the flowering of an extraordinary biodiversity on his 6000ha farm. The sheep also flourished, botanists and even Sir David Attenborough came to visit. Tourists have not stopped coming since to view this spectacular event. His farm was later declared the Hantam National Botanical Gardens. The Garden comprises a vast area of over 6000ha which includes representative patches of Nieuwoudtville Shale Renosterveld, Nieuwoudtville-Roggeveld Dolorite Renosterveld and Hantam Succulent Karoo. Nine different trails can be followed covering the variety of habitats and soil types which make this Garden so unique and different. Namaqualand is the home to the richest bulb flora of any arid region in the world and more than a 1000 of its estimated 4000 plant species are found nowhere else on earth! It is so true when we read in the Scriptures and we see this flowering spectacle, how can we not say: Isaiah 55:12 "The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands!" Psalm 65:12 "The pastures of the wilderness overflow; the hills are robed with joy." Glenlyon was sold to SANBI in 2007 and has now become the ninth National Botanical Garden managed by SANBI. 1885 Hulpkerk At Willemsrivier Lit by Moonlight, Nieuwoudtville, South-Africa Geelkatsterte / Yellow Cat Tails Willemsrivier, Nieuwoudtville, South-Africa Quiver Tree Forest / Kokerboom Forest The kokerboom in Afrikaans, quiver tree in English or choje to the traditional San peoples of Southern Africa, belongs to the group of plants known collectively as aloes. Both the Afrikaans and the English names are derived from the San people’s practice of making quivers from the branches of the trees. It was a practice diarised by then Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel in 1685 while on an expedition searching for copper in the Northern Cape. Nieuwoudtville sports the largest Kokerboom Forest in the Southern Hemisphere. This tree is essentially an aloe plant reaching up to 9m tall and 1m in diameter at the base, it is thought that they can live between 80 and 300 years. It takes about 3 years for the kokerboom to reach 5cm, another 15 to 20 years to reach flowering maturity at about a meter. It is rather obvious that these desert giants are slow growers. The existence of a naturally occurring forest with hundreds of adult trees at 3 metres plus, is therefore truly a sight to behold! The slow rate of growth has its downside and these plants are extremely vulnerable to various vegetation predators, birds and climatic changes. On The Road To Gannabos, Kokerboom Forest, Nieuwoudtville, South-Africa To find the forest, you travel north on the R357, past the 90m high Nieuwoudtville waterfall (which currently has an entry fee of R30 pp if you wish to visit before 17h00) on the Doorn River, you arrive at a turnoff to Gannabos farm. You will find the Nieuwoudtville waterfall, decidedly underrated despite it being one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. I was impressed by the sheer size of the waterfall, and the gorge that it tumbles into, even although it wasn't in full flow at the time of our visit. Nieuwoudtville Waterfall, Nieuwoudtville South-Africa On our previous visit to the Kokerboom Forest, the small bushes were in full purple glory, these being the Ruschia caroli of Rushia extensa, the local name in Afrikaans is the Beesvygie, and the Quiver Trees in yellow bloom. What a stark contrast this time, flowers everywhere else and in abundance in the district, but nothing here! Here, again the stark rawness and harshness of the Karoo reminded us that this is a tough region to survive in. In spite of that, I was not disappointed as I preplanned an evening shoot which went on little further into the night and included some star trails. Kokerboom Forest 2014 Kokerboom Forest 2014 Kokerboom Forest 2014 Milky Way and Star Trails During Moonlight over a Kokerboom Tree Quiver Tree Solitude and Barrenness Quiver Tree Forest / Kokerboom Forest at Sunset I also shot my new Shen Hao 4x5 large format camera here for the first time, this was a learning curve for me as it is slow, methodical and time-consuming to have all the ticks in the boxes completed before you fire the shot. It is so different from the normal 35mm format in many regards, I am however happy with the results and will be using it more often for various shoots that I have planned. If you don't know what this camera is about, think of the black-cape-over-the-camera and photographer in 1910 and wet plate glass images, except this is film and the results speak for themselves! I will let you decide and it would be great to have your feedback in the comments below. Kodak Portra 160 4x5 Kodak Portra 160 4x5 Crazy Daisy - Willemsrivier Farm, Nieuwoudtville, South-Africa Seas of Yellow - Nieuwoudtville, South-Africa So What Else Is There Besides Flowers? It is not all flower power in Nieuwoudtville, pedal power is the name of the game here too! Hosted on Brandkop Farm since 2015 by Nieuwoudtville Akademie, a small private school in town. The first and only one of its kind in the area, a professionally organised event with challenging tracks for the cyclists, high prize money for the winners, attract riders from both near and far alike. The 28th August 2018 saw the Hantam MTB Challenge offering a choice of either 20, 40 or 80km in the saddle on a MTB, a tantalising ride that I have not done yet! Whether you looking for peace and quiet, this is the place to do just that! Other activities like photography, local sandstone ruins, the glacial pavement, the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve and a myriad of activities that include bird watching, hiking and a lot of star gazing (light pollution in Nieuwoudtville is minimal) are some of the attractions to this region. Also visit the small towns of Loeriesfontein, for the windmill museum, and Calvinia. Calvinia Is that just a dot on the map you may ask, or perhaps you have heard it mentioned on the weather forecast? Or is that a platteland dorpie somewhere in the Karoo? This was our first visit to Calvinia on a going-nowhere-slowly drive in search of more flowers from the region. Calvinia is the principal town of the Hantam Karoo and lies at the crossroads to a number of towns and villages scattered across the wide open spaces of Bushmanland and the Tankwa, Roggeveld and Hantam Karoo. It is pleasantly situated and is dominated by the high ramparts of the Hantam Mountains to the north and surrounded by hills and mountains such as the 1 657-metre high Rebunieberg and the Keiskeiberge to the south. The town lies on the banks of the erratically flowing Oorlogskloof River over which one will cross a few times on the R27. It was founded in 1845 on the farm Hoogekraal which was purchased by the Dutch Reformed Church in order to establish a parish for the far-flung community of the Hantam Karoo. The original name of the region and the village was Hantam. The name Hantam has its origins with the Khoi people and it is believed that the name refers to "the hill where the red nut sedge grows". On the R27 to Calvinia near the Oorlogskloof River The town features a number of fine Victorian and Edwardian era buildings. I was pleasantly surprised at how neat and tidy it is. One of the oddities of the town is the giant post box, which was converted from a water tower in 1995 and is probably the largest post box in the world, which measures 6.17m high and has a circumference of 9.42m. Calvinia was the terminus of the branch railway line running from Hutchinson through Carnarvon and Williston, which was completed in 1917. For many years the railway was the primary conduit for the transportation of agricultural products from this remote corner of South Africa to the main railway network linking Johannesburg and Cape Town. Sadly, so many of these little towns in the Karoo have declined since their lifeblood of the South African Railways gave way to goods trucks. We were a week too early for the annual Hantam Meat Festival, this is sheep country, and the last weekend in August in and around Calvinia, everything is in an uproar when the annual Hantam Meat Festival takes place. This year, it was already the 29th time that the festival had been run and its main purpose is still, as when it started in 1990, to promote the delicious, fragrant mutton of the region. Definitely a highlight on the calendar. Lovers of mutton and lamb will enjoy a wide variety of different cuts of meat, prepared in different ways, and all in "tasting" portions to enable more tasting. Your taste buds will experience meat braaied, stewed, curried, in pita, on sosaties, in potjies - you can even pick up a done-to-perfection sheep's head! ! Besides eating your fill of your favourite meat there are numerous demonstrations, farm products for sale and somewhere to have a coffee and take a break. In true Karoo fashion, there is all sorts of entertainment and things to do. Five Simultaneous Rainstorms on R27 Near Calvinia In Closing... The best way to explore the region is to get in your car and find a base to work from. Head out to the next town, tune into an unfamiliar radio station, meet and speak to the locals either next to the roadside or interact with them at the local general dealer or ko-op. Get to feel and experience the soul of region and the Karoo. The Karoo to many, maybe a sparse and empty place, to me, its a place of discoveries and memories waiting to happen and no doubt, we will return again to enjoy this very special region. So many discoveries, so little time! Acknowledgements Resource information found at the following websites: Karoospace, Nieuwoudtville, Africa Geographic, SANBI, The Great Karoo, SA Venues. Click on the images to view an enlarged single image. All my images are available for purchase as prints. Digital images can be used under license agreement. Should you wish to purchase or license my images, please click here for more information, so I can assist you with your needs. Newsletter Please subscribe to my newsletter which will inform you of any new workshops, activities, products and upcoming events. Subscribe
A Guide To Underwater Photography From the outset, I do not claim to be an underwater photography specialist, or even an underwater photographer, but my love for wildlife has brought me to write this guide to underwater photography. I was recently inspired by good friend Dawie v/d Merwe who took a trip to Zanzibar in April 2015, shot some amazing images, and has allowed me to use them for the purpose of this blog. He is a NAUI - National Association of Underwater Instructors and PADI: Professional Association of Diving Instructors qualified Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Nitrox, and Deep Specialist Diver; this allows him to dive to 40m. The equipment he uses is a Sealife DC 1200. The images captured in this blog were all around a depth of 10-40m (30-120ft) and by Dawie. So lets begin... About Underwater Shooting On any given day, if one were to go shooting wildlife, we would more than likely encounter a few bird species, the odd lion, buffalo etc, depending on the national park you visiting. The difference with underwater photography, is that this wont be seen on land, the other worldly creatures like jelly fish, corals & myriads of fish to be found in one location, far exceeds what you would find on land! This is what makes this form of photography so much more interesting. A typical dive is around 45minutes long, a lot needs to done during that time. One needs to keep an eye on your surrounds and not drift off from your group, monitor your breathing apparatus every 30 seconds, adjust your buoyancy and lastly try and capture the image of the subject you are interested in. What adds to this difficulty is, one isn't in a studio where a reflector can be used, fish move around a lot, light changes at different depths, so different filters need to be used to bring out the colours of those fish. It offers exciting and rare photographic opportunities. Animals such as fish and marine mammals are common subjects, but photographers also pursue shipwrecks, submerged cave systems, underwater "landscapes", invertebrates, seaweeds, geological features, and portraits of fellow divers. Equipment Needed Obviously one will need the necessary diving courses to be able to dive to these depths, if you snorkel and are in a rich reserve of fish, you will still be able to photograph some amazing fish in the shallows. Camera: Sealife camera, Go-Pro or your own brand Underwater Camera Housings - Ikelite Underwater Systems make great systems Strobelights or flash Filters Macro, Wide angle or Fisheye lenses Lighting and How Underwater Filters Work The primary obstacle faced by underwater photographers is the loss of color and contrast when submerged to any significant depth. The longer wavelengths of sunlight (such as red or orange) are absorbed quickly by the surrounding water, so even to the naked eye everything appears blue-green in color. The loss of color not only increases vertically through the water column, but also horizontally, so subjects further away from the camera will also appear colorless and indistinct. This effect is true even in apparently clear water, such as that found around tropical coral reefs. When you are very shallow, just below the surface, in the top 3m (9ft) then white balance alone is absolutely fine. However, once you are deeper than 3m (9ft) the advantages of a filter become more and more apparent. Deeper than 10m (30ft) underwater, all reds all gone, and no amount of filtering can restore them The main advantages of using a filter, as opposed to white balance alone, are more subtle variations of foreground colour, and probably most noticeable, you get these colours with a richer blue background. Many photos taken with manual white balance are characterised with a completely washed out background water colour. Filters produce a much richer blue. A strong blue background is an important aesthetic element in an underwater photograph. Underwater photographers solve this problem by combining two techniques: The first is to get the camera as close to the photographic subject as possible, minimizing the horizontal loss of color. Wide-angle lenses allow very close focus, or macro lenses, where the subject is often only centimeters away from the camera. Many serious underwater photographers consider any more than about 1 m (3ft) of water between camera and subject to be unacceptable. The second technique is the use of flash to restore any colour lost vertically through the water column. Fill flash, used effectively, will "paint" in any missing colors by providing full-spectrum visible light to the overall exposure. Another environmental effect is range of visibility. The water is seldom optimally clear, and the dissolved and suspended matter can reduce visibility by both absorption and scattering of light.Underwater filters and red filters do not "add in" color, they subtract other wavelengths. This means you have some loss of light, so you may have to shoot at a higher ISO underwater or wider aperture in order to get a high enough shutter speed in your underwater photo. Except some small improvements, but don't expect miracles, filters can only help so much. The use of a flash or strobe is often regarded as the most difficult aspect of underwater photography. Some misconceptions exist about the proper use of flash underwater, especially as it relates to wide-angle photography. Generally, the flash should be used to supplement the overall exposure and to restore lost colour, not as the primary light source. In situations such as the interior of caves or shipwrecks, wide-angle images can be 100% strobe light, but such situations are fairly rare. Usually, the photographer tries to create an aesthetic balance between the available sunlight and the strobe. Deep, dark or low visibility environments can make this balance more difficult, but the concept remains the same. Many modern cameras have simplified this process through various automatic exposure modes and the use of through-the-lens (TTL) metering. The increasing use of digital cameras has reduced the learning curve of underwater flash significantly, since the user can instantly review photos and make adjustments. Colour is absorbed as it travels through water, so that the deeper you are, the less reds, oranges and yellow colours remain. The strobe replaces that colour. It also helps to provide shadow and texture, and is a valuable tool for creativity. An added complication is the phenomenon of backscatter, where the flash reflects off particles or plankton in the water. Even seemingly clear water contains enormous amounts of this particulate, even if it is not readily seen by the naked eye. The best technique for avoiding backscatter is positioning the strobe away from the axis of the camera lens. Ideally, this means the flash will not light up the water directly in front of the lens, but will still strike the subject. Various systems of jointed arms and attachments are used to make off-camera strobes easier to manipulate. When using macro lenses, photographers are much more likely to use 100% strobe light for the exposure. The subject is normally very close to the lens, and the available sunlight is usually not sufficient. There have been some attempts to avoid the use of flash entirely, but these have mostly failed. In shallow water, the use of custom white-balance provides excellent colour without the use of strobe. In theory one could use colour filters to overcome the blue-green shift, but this can be problematic. The amount of shift would vary with depth and turbidity, and there would still be a significant loss of contrast. Many digital cameras have settings that will provide colour balance, but this can cause other problems. For example, an image shifted toward the "warm" part of the spectrum can create background water which appears grey, purple or pink, and looks unnatural. There have been some successful experiments using filters combined with the raw image format function on some high-end digital cameras, allowing more detailed manipulation in the digital darkroom. This approach will probably always be restricted to shallower depths, where the loss of colour is less extreme. In spite of that, it can be effective for large subjects such as shipwrecks which could not be lit effectively with strobes. Natural light photography underwater can be beautiful when done properly with subjects such as upward silhouettes, light beams, and large subjects such as whales and dolphins. Although digital cameras have revolutionized many aspects of underwater imaging, it is unlikely that flash will ever be eliminated completely. From an aesthetic standpoint, the flash emphasizes the subject and helps separate it from the blue background, especially in deeper water. Ultimately the loss of colour and contrast is a pervasive optical problem that cannot always be adjusted in software such as Photoshop or your favourite editing software. Underwater Composition Getting Close Get close, then get closer! Whatever size your subject is, the most important principle to remember when taking images or video underwater is that you need to shoot through a minimum of water. Water is nearly 800 times as dense as air, and it sucks out color from full spectrum light, so in order for your images to have clarity, contrast, and bright colors, you’ll need to be right on top of your subjects. If you think you’re close enough, you probably should be even a little bit closer. You’ll have to do this by being relaxed and learning how not to spook creatures by letting them get used to you, breathing calmly and approaching with your camera already up. A wider perspective creates intimate images that really engage the personality of your subject, but you need to get as close as possible. For awe-inspiring underwater photography and videography, you absolutely have to go wide, especially if you want to capture large animals or landscapes. Shooting wide allows you to get very close to a subject for maximum clarity and light while still fitting your subject (say, a dolphin’s entire body) into the frame. The other aspect of getting close is that there’s a minimization of the amount of particulate between you and your subject (suspended in even apparently clear water) that can bounce your flash back, causing a sort of visual fog called backscatter. Ordinary focal lengths just don’t work well because you’re shooting through too much water and capturing dim, murky images. This need for wide-angle shooting has a direct impact on your camera and housing choices and affects the recommendations we’re making in this article. Macro is the other key lens type to think about. Cameras that can focus close and deliver good magnification are going to be better at capturing the innumerable creatures of the underwater world. Normal and telephoto lenses have virtually no role underwater—leave them at home and save some space in your bag. Shoot Upwards Shoot upwards towards the surface, not down (in nearly all cases), so your perspective includes more than just the sea bottom. If you aim your camera down, you are likely going to end up with a jumbled mess as your subject blends into the background of coral to the point where it’s hard to even pick apart the two. Separation is the name of the game; upward angles are key for isolating your subject against the water column. Exceptions: creatures with beautiful backs like sharks, cetaceans, and turtles against contrasting backgrounds like sandy bottoms or open ocean. Trying to shoot is why many photographers opt to use expensive 45 degree or 90 degree viewfinders. Expose Things Properly As with any type of photography, proper exposure is critical to get good results when shooting underwater. However, underwater photography adds additional complexity because artificial lighting is used most of the time. This requires balancing light from strobes or video light with the ambient light in the scene, especially in wide angle. This is done by dialing in shutter speed, ISO, strobes, and aperture independently, so it’s good to get comfortable with your camera’s manual mode. Be Prepared To Shoot A Lot Prepare to shoot a lot. Shooting underwater is a lot more challenging than shooting on land when first starting out, but by taking a large volume of images and experimenting with your lighting and settings, you can make progress very quickly. It’s one of the great advantages to digital photography that you can easily shoot hundreds (if not thousands) of images and review each one. And for learning how to shoot underwater, you’re going to need that ability. How To Edit Underwater Photography Images I recently completed a 6 hour online course by a very well known Adobe Certified Instructor, Deke McClelland - Enhancing Underwater Photos with Photoshop. This was also my inspiration to write this blog. It was very informative and the course can be found here. You will learn how to correct contrast, enhance color, sharpen moving targets and correct distortion. In a nutshell, he uses layer masks, adjustment levels, editing techniques in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop in a step-by-step process to achieve the results, that you too can apply to your images. I highly recommend this course, as it will explain the techniques far better than I could ever in this blog. Gallery Here are a few edits of Dawie v/d Merwe's shoot that I edited, with before and after results. This is the first time I had edited underwater photographs, it was quite challenging, but rewarding all the same. The edits were done in ACR & Photoshop using various filters. White Tip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus), Simons Cave, 2 Mile Reef, Sodwana, South-Africa – ©2015 Dawie v/d Merwe White Tip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus), Simons Cave, 2 Mile Reef, Sodwana, South-Africa – ©2015 Dawie v/d Merwe Guinea Fowl Moray (Gymnothorax meleagris), Simons Cave, 2 Mile Reef, Sodwana, South-Africa – ©2015 Dawie v/d Merwe Guinea Fowl Moray (Gymnothorax meleagris), Simons Cave, 2 Mile Reef, Sodwana, South-Africa – ©2015 Dawie v/d Merwe Potato Bass (Epinephelus tukula), Garden Route, 2 Mile Reef, Sodwana South-Africa – ©2015 Dawie v/d Merwe Potato Bass (Epinephelus tukula), Garden Route, 2 Mile Reef, Sodwana, South-Africa – ©2015 Dawie v/d Merwe Black-Sided Hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri), Coral Gardens, 2 Mile Reef, Sodwana, South-Africa - ©2015 Dawie v/d Merwe Black-Sided Hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri), Coral Gardens, 2 Mile Reef, Sodwana, South Africa - ©2015 Dawie v/d Merwe
During my recent leave in March, I had the most amazing photographic shoots in the surrounding West Coast towns near Langebaan and at the West Coast National Park. We spent a long weekend at Paternoster, where we were able to shoot the early morning fisherman leaving on their small boats for another day at the office. Getting up early to catch the sunrise was also fun, as was shooting seascapes. I was trying out my newly acquired Nikon D600, and was horribly frustrated as I had activated the bracketing button, which takes 3 images for each scene; one under exposed, one normal and lastly one overexposed. Now this works well for static subjects, not someone on a moving fishing boat. The idea behind this tool is to capture as much information in all the shadows and highlights, blend all three together for a subtle HDR image. My Nikon D800e, doesn't have this button on the body, but rather in a menu; whereas the Nikon D600 does. Each of these images can be viewed in a larger format, when clicked individually. Fisherman & Sea Gulls - Paternoster, West Coast, South-Africa This caused me to lose a few shots that morning. In the end I worked it all out and ended up with a very interesting fisherman on his boat, surrounded by seabirds looking for scraps. Unbelievably we experienced load-shedding in this little village that evening. I didn't think to shoot some astrophotography then. Moon Setting into the Atlantic Under a Shooting Star - Paternoster, West Coast, South-Africa It was only the next evening when I was out shooting with my wife, that I saw how amazing the moon looked. We later shot that night around midnight for about an hour and captured the moon sinking into the sea. Even although there was light pollution, it didn't have a severe effect on the image. Only in post-production, did we see that we had captured a shooting star, which can be seen here! About two weeks later, we returned to the West Coast, Langebaan, in fact for a week. I had the most amazing birding photography experiences, where I captured images of the Purple Gallinule, African Marsh Harrier, Jackal Buzzard, Black-Shouldered Kite with prey, Pelicans, Spoonbills, Oyster Catchers, Grey Plovers, various ducks and Flamingos. Grey Heron Black-Shouldered Kite with Prey Oyster Catcher with a Mussel Pelican and Spoonbills Sacred Ibis I found some interesting information on Langebaan Lagoon and the waterbirds found there:Underhill, L. G. 1987. Waders (Charadrii) and other waterbirds at Langebaan Lagoon, South Africa, 1975–1986. Osrrich 58: 145–155.Langebaan Lagoon was surveyed for waterbirds at midsummer and midwinter between 1975 and 1986. The median number of birds counted in summer was 37 500, of which 34 500 were waders (93% of the waders being Palaearctic migrants). Curlew Sandpiper (59,2%), Grey Plover (10,5%), Sanderling (8,3%), Knot (8,1%) and Turnstone (5,7%) were the major components of the summer wader population. The median number of birds in winter was 10 500, of which 4500 were flamingos and 4000 waders. For Palaearctic waders, the median winter population was 11,5% of the median summer population, but varied between 2,5% and 30,1%. For species of wader which breed in the Taimyr Peninsula, Siberia, a three-year cycle in the numbers of birds overwintering was detected, with large numbers in 1977, 1980, 1983 and 1986. Birds feeding on invertebrates consumed 126,9 kJ m−2 yr−1, or 24% of the total production of invertebrates. Greater Flamingos have a major impact on energy cycling at Langebaan Lagoon, accounting for 73,3% of the winter energy consumption by the avifauna. Langebaan Lagoon is the most important wetland for waders in South Africa, accounting for about 10% of the coastal wader population of South Africa. At midsummer, about 0,5% of the total wader population of the East Atlantic Flyway is at Langebaan Lagoon, which ranks about 20th in importance for waders on the flyway. Please take the time to view more of my exciting images in the Wildlife page which are being added regularly as I edit.