Wednesday 14 June 2017

Aus Photographic Workshop 2017

Silk Painting Sunset - Canon 40D, Canon 70-200 f/4 IS, 1/100, f/4, ISO 100
Once again, I was lucky enough to co-present at the Aus Photographic Workshop, together with Wicus Leeuwner and JJ van Heerden, 21 - 27 May 2017. I cashed in all my Brownie points (leaving my wife with two little kids) and headed off to the desert for a week.

Once again, I concentrated on night photography, but my favourite image is the above sunset. It was taken at God's Window (a mountain overlooking the Garub Plains), and shows the sun seen through roughly 100km of air, as it sets beyond Lüderitz. It somehow reminds me of a Chinese silk painting, hence the title.

Night Skies

Klein Aus Milky Way - Canon 40D, Tokina 11-16, 8x30 sec, f/2.8, ISO 3200
 On the evening we arrived, I set out to find a good location for the first night shoot for the workshop. Last year we all drove off to Geisterschlucht for the evening, and many of the participants struggled to get something reasonable on their first night. So this time we stayed within 200m of the lodge, and after only minor struggles all the participants were getting nicely exposed images of the Milky Way.

I took this test panorama on my first evening, before the workshop. The lights from the lodge illuminated the hill in the foreground, and a small amount of light pollution from the village of Aus can be seen on the horizon.

Moonlight and Milky Way 1 - Fuji x100s, 28x30 sec, f/2, ISO 3200
Last time I discovered that my little Fuji x100s works very well for night photography (although the longish 23mm lens means that I need to make many exposures to produce a wide panorama). Once again, I used it in faint moonlight (30% crescent moon) and the results are wonderful. I regret not completing the Milky Way, but I was impatient (sunrise was nearing) and initially only wanted to frame the tree with a bit of the Milky Way.

Moonlight and Milky Way 2 - Fuji x100s, 41x15 sec, f/2, ISO 3200
This is the other panorama I made that morning. The brightness in the sky is a little uneven, since twilight was approaching and the sky was slightly brighter in later exposures than earlier ones. One really must make sure to be finished before the onset of astronomical twilight.

Also, in the dark I didn't see the road in the foreground, that it mirrors the Milky Way so beautifully is pure serendipity. This also means that I didn't include quite enough foreground and had to fill in a sliver of it using Photoshop's "content-aware fill", which works pure magic. In view of this, and the incomplete sky of the previous panorama, it is time to formulate

Florian's Rule of Panoramas: Always include more than you think you will need in a panorama.

It's also time I start practicing what I preach.

Desert Sky - Canon 40D, Tokina 11-16, 16x30 sec, f/2.8, ISO 3200

On the morning we left for the Koichab river bed, which forms the southern boundary of the red dunes of the Namib, we stopped to photograph the skies. A sliver of crescent moon (5%) was rising in the East - that's the orange blob on the bottom right. It looks circular because it is so over-exposed that even the dark side of the moon (which is almost the whole moon in this case) is over-exposed. It is red because it is so close to the horizon - just as the sun would be red in this position. Above it extends a faint pillar of light - the Zodiacal Light, the shimmer of dust in the plane of our solar system back-lit by the sun. The bright blue planet above that is Venus, and just above and to the left of the moon, almost touching it, is Mercury.

To the left of the Milky Way you can see the two Magellanic Clouds (Small at the top, Large at the bottom). The strange green glow above the horizon is real - I've been seeing it in many of my night skies - and I'm now convinced it's airglow and not just an artifact from my old 40D sensor.

At least this time I obeyed my rule and didn't leave out any of the sky (it's a full 90x360 degree view). I deliberately positioned myself so the two cars would be directly under the Milky Way, but I didn't anticipate that the other workshop participants would follow me, but they certainly add foreground interest.

The Wild Horses

Horse at Sunset, Canon 40D, Sigma 150-600 C, 1/40, f/8, ISO 400

The main attraction of these Aus workshops are the Namib Desert Horses, who have been living feral in the Garub Plain since the First World War. On the first afternoon of the workshop, we were treated to a wonderful sunset encounter with these lovely animals.

Equine Regard - Fuji x100s, 1/40, f/8, ISO 6400

I had stupidly mounted my Sigma 150-600 C (my 40th birthday present!) on my camera, but since the horses came right up to us, the 11-16mm would have been more useful. Luckily I always have the little Fuji with me. The others got some truly magical shots here.

End of the Road? - Canon 40D, Sigma 150-600 C, 1/800, f/7.1, ISO 100

Unfortunately, this may well have been our last encounter with the wild horses. It hasn't rained here since 2013, and there's practically nothing left to eat. It's so bad that since last year the horses are getting fed to keep them alive; even so, they're not in good shape. They have survived droughts before, but this time there's a graver menace: Spotted Hyenas have recently moved into the area. Unfortunately, the horses, being previously domesticated, don't understand that Hyenas are deadly: left to their own devices, the hyenas will kill and eat one mare every three days. With only 39 mares left, that doesn't leave much time. So in the meantime the local farmers are sacrificing their oldest cattle to feed the hyenas, and keep them from hunting horses, but that's hardly a long-term solution.

Since this is a nature reserve, the hyenas may not be harmed. Instead, the horses will have to be relocated somewhere else where they can be protected, but a suitable location still needs to be agreed.

More Photographs

Tree of Life - Fuji x100s, 1/350, f/16, ISO 800

Here's a shot to lighten up your mood again.

Acacia and Dune - Fuji x100s, 1/80, f/8, ISO 640

Okay, now there will be less talk and more pics. Some lovely acacias grow in the Koichab river bed.

Jigsaw Trees - Canon 40D, Canon 17-55, 1/100, f/8, ISO 100

We had a lot of fun fitting all these trees together in the frame.

Windy Dune - Canon 40D, Canon 70-200 f/4 IS, 1/320, f/8, ISO 100

What are they all photographing ...? - Fuji x100s, 1/80, f/5.6, ISO 1600

The trip to God's Window is a personal favourite. Perfectly placed, on the edge of the mountain, sits the most beautiful quiver tree I know, the Celebritree.

... the Celebritree! - Fuji x100s, 1/250, f/2, ISO 400

As usual, we also visited Kolmanskop, a ghost town outside Lüderitz.

Abandoned Staircase - Canon 40D, Tokina 11-16, 14x1/8, f/5.6, ISO 100

I made this panorama with the camera (mounted on its trusty Nodal Ninja) jammed into a corner of this stairwell.

Sand and Light - Canon 40D, Asahi Macro-Takumar 50mm f/4, 0.8, ISO 100, aperture not recorded

Dikke Willem Sunrise - Fuji x100s, 1/80, f/5.6, ISO 400

Garub Sunrise - Canon 40D, Canon 70-200 f/4 IS, 6x1/100, f/5.6, ISO 200

Sun-blasted Tree - Fuji x100s, 1/80, f/2, ISO 4000, IR filter

I also enjoyed the excellent infrared capability of my little Fuji.

Rock Dome and Acacia - Fuji x100s, 10 sec, f/8, ISO 200, IR filter

Sociable Weavers - Canon 40D, Canon 70-200 f/4 IS, 1/500, f/8, ISO 200

Landing Flamingos - Canon 40D, Sigma 150-600 C, 1/640, f/8, ISO 100

Here is one last pic to amuse you. And on that note, I bid you good night.

Two Billygoats Gruff - Canon 40D, Canon 70-200 f/4 IS, 1/800, f/5.6, ISO 100


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