Kagga Kamma landscapes

Kagga Kamma, is the “place of the bushmen”. It is located in the Swartruggens plateau  in the south-easterly extension of the Cederberg Mountains. The reserve is known for its scenic beauty, dramatic rock formations and a rich collection of Bushman/San rock paintings, some of which are estimated to be 6000 years old.

Our latest trip was a landscape and night photography workshop with CNP Safaris, part of Coetzer Nature Photography group of companies. It was a four-day workshop focussed on this rugged part of the western Cape.

The workshop was timed to coincide with the new moon when the light from the moon would be minimal allowing for the best light for star trails. Being a workshop, we were up 45 minutes before sunrise to get into the right position for the sunrise. The light was usually good for about 90 minutes to two hours after sunrise before the contrast increased the harshness of the light to the point where we packed up our kit and went for breakfast.

Night photography and landscapes at Kagga Kamma

After breakfast we would adjourn to the conference room to have discussions on new techniques and download and edit our images from the previous night and latest dawn. Doing landscapes during the day and night photography is hard going, so the ideal is to have two days focussed on landscape photography and two days focussed on night photography.

Night photography and landscapes at Kagga Kamma

Being a wildlife photographer, I am used to high ISOs, fast shutter speeds, wide apertures and narrow depth of fields. Landscape photography is completely different. The subject is static; the ISOs are 50 to 100; shutter speeds are seconds not fractions of a second and the apertures are as smallest your can achieve, f22 to f32 to  give the greatest depth of field.

Night photography and landscapes at Kagga Kamma

Lou Coetzer highlighted the importance of composition in landscapes. The strange aspect is that you can intellectually know about leading lines, triangles, golden means, but intellectually knowing something and putting the knowledge into practice are two different things. Only once you start to look for key elements in the field which will make the composition compelling does the knowledge begin to develop into an ability to see and your compositional skills start to be honed.

Knowing something is different to doing it – skill is knowledge effectively applied!!!!

The weather was unusual. The western Cape has a mediterranean climate. At this time of the year we were supposed to have sunny days and clear night skies – haha!!

Night photography and landscapes at Kagga Kamma

We had lots of cloud for two and a half days. This worked against our night photography but helped our landscapes as the cloud formations filled the blue sky by adding drama, colour and leading lines. The cumulus and heavy cumulonimbus thunderclouds added the drama and the cirrus provides some interesting line formations.

Kagga Kamma is a private game reserve situated in the Swartruggens wilderness area.The reserve is about three and a half hours drive from Cape Town, 350 kilometres. What makes this area ideal for landscape photography. It is ‘big sky’ country. The closest town is Ceres and there is little ambient light from the town at night so, on a cloudless night, the sky is jewelled with stars for 360 degrees and the milky way in the southern direction. The area also has extensive sandstone outcrops which are heavily weathered making the rock formations ‘other worldly’. With a little imagination, we could see sculptures of  people and animals in the sandstone formations.

Night photography and landscapes at Kagga Kamma

The countryside is rugged. I never appreciated how hard landscape photographers work for their images. In wildlife photography, we put ourselves in position, using vehicles and boats, for our subject to come to us or passed us. In landscape photography you must go to the subject – it does not move. There is a lot of walking required to look for the right position to show off those leading lines and compelling compositions.

Night photography and landscapes at Kagga Kamma

Composition and perspective take on altogether more importance. In fact, I expect my heightened awareness of composition to help my wildlife photography.

We would also go out for the hour before sunset and wait for about half an hour after sunset. Before sunset, the colours are warm and the contrast in the light soft. In the half an hour after sunset, the warm light reflected on the clouds becomes increasingly saturated creating some wonderful reds, oranges and yellows which are set against the night blue sky with the brightest stars starting to peek through the last light of the day.

Night photography and landscapes at Kagga Kamma

After sunsets, we would have supper in the boma at the lodge under the stars. Usually the chatter was animated with stories of the day and wildlife stories from previous bush trips. On the first evening, we finished supper around 22h30 and collected our camera gear to go out to do some night photography. 

Night photography and landscapes at Kagga Kamma

This was the first time I had done light painting at night. It was a trial and error process to get the right amount of light on the rock formation. We would start with an ISO of 1000, aperture of f22 and 30 second shutter speed. I was absolutely intrigued by the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor. It could pick up many more stars than we could see, and no they were not blown pixels.

The next image is of the sandstone arch just off the road leading to the lodge. The image was shot facing south so we picked up some of the orange light from Ceres.

Night photography and landscapes at Kagga Kamma

The trial and error process dictates that it is a time-consuming process to get the right amount of light on the sandstone arch. We did not have enough time to attempt star trails.

One thing about night photography is that you have to really know your way around your camera in the pitch dark. It is important to set up key functions in ‘My Menu” for easy access in the dark, such as the virtual horizon.

I will post another set of images next week showing the High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques and panoramas.

A big thank you to the CNP team – Lou Coetzer, Veronica Coetzer, Henri Coetzer and Neal Cooper. You taught me a lot of new techniques and I gained a new, deeper appreciation for composition and the incredible power of my Nikon D800. I now have enough knowledge and confidence to try these techniques on my own. I will definitely try some of these techniques on my Chobe trip in March 2014.

The images in this post are my first attempts at formal landscape photography- That compelling quality will come with practice and insight. 

“Anyone can take a picture of a tree; because it is in front of the camera. It takes an artist to use the image of the tree to show you something else about the tree, or something else entirely that has nothing to do with the tree per se. Since the visually impaired photographer has difficulty seeing the tree – indeed, the blind photographer does not see the tree at all – other associations and meanings must necessarily arise that, ultimately, result in some inner train of thought/intuition that concludes with the photographer making the camera go click.

Andy Ilachinski

Tao of Photography

Have fun – still learning to see!!


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