Dune with a Zoom

The sand dunes of Namibia are massive. Largest in the world. More than 400 meters tall. So you would be right in thinking ‘to capture them I need to bring the widest lens I own’. In my case 17 mm and on a fullframe 5D MkII that is very wide. But you should also bring the longest zoom lens you have. I brought my Canon 70-200mm f/4 L, one of the best lenses Canon makes and great for landscapes. I could however very easily have used a 400mm zoom or more.  Only a few places in the Naukluft National Park can you get up close and walk the dunes. This is a good thing, or there would be people and foot prints everywhere! The rest of the time you will be parked on the side of the road going into the Sossusvlei and Deadvlei dunes and you will actually be quite far away from the dunes.

The sand dunes at Namib-Naukluft are shaped by a wind alternating from either the ocean to the west or the desert to the east. This ensures a perfect sharp crest on the towering dunes that seem to reach into the clouds. When people view images of the dunes they have a hard time understanding the scale. Your brain cannot comprehend sand dunes taller than Empire State Building. This is where your longest zoom lens comes to the rescue. The large dunes offers some outstanding photo opportunities in the morning or afternoon where the strong side light will highlight the razor sharp crest. And if you get lucky you can include wildlife grazing in front of the dunes to provide some scale.

This is exactly what I captured in the image below. It is shot at 200 mm and cropped somewhat to zoom in further. I could easily have used 400 or 600 mm zoom. Fortunately the 70-200mm is tack sharp, when viewed at full size you can clearly make out the tiny oryx (antilopes) and trees in front of the massive dune. I would however have loved to be able to zoom in a lot more and not include any sky at all so next time I am bringing at least a 400mm zoom.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

The Mighty Dune
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

The 60 km drive from the gate of the national park into the Sossusvlei and Deadvlei dunes is 60 km of pure magic. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever done. The outer gates open at 6am so you will be driving in through the dunes just as the sun is rising. Well, there is also an inner gate, opens at 5am. If you pay an absolute fortune for accommodation you can stay here, inside the park, meaning you get to take off at 5am. Clever business tactics here. If you do not wish to spend a fortune you can join the rest of us outside the outer gate waiting for 6am!

Driving in is so magical I completely lost myself in the visuals. Apart from Deadvlei, which is so gorgeous you get high shooting in there, the drive into the park is the most beautiful part of the massive park. My friend kept asking ‘wanna stop? wanna stop?’ but I couldn’t answer. How do you decide where you want to stop when you have just landed on Mars? It’s all so otherworldly, so beautiful, so mind boggling. Fortunately I managed to mumble a ‘yes’ now and then, and she stopped by herself on occasions so we could capture gorgeous images.

If you find yourself at Namib-Naukluft, take it easy,  enjoy the ride and don’t rush to get to Sossusvlei where everyone else is going. Bring a mega zoom and remember to stop along the way.
The journey is as important as the destination here, as it often is!

16 Comments on “Dune with a Zoom”

  1. wow that is Stunning Flem!
    i wouldn't have even noticed the animals at the base if you didn't mention them!

    i really find it interesting that the dune itself also has grass growing on it!
    is this due to winds not blowing these dunes around as much as others perhaps??
    as you'd know one of the characteristics of dunes is they are just about constantly moving.

    anyway great work as always! 🙂

    1. Thanks heaps Stephen !

      Yes there is grass and small bushes growing on the dunes. They are massive and do not get blown around all that much, I think someone told me they move about 20cm a year. They are large and far from the strong winds of the ocean so they can "grow" so large and seem almost stationary with grass etc. on them.

      Glad you like it!

  2. Had to enlarge the pic to see the oryx. Sheesh! It made my other half all green and twitchy as he has been on a 4WD drought since late April.

    I'm guessing there will be a lotto ticket or 2 being bought today ($80m is the prize tonight) so we can go see this for ourselves, haha!

    1. Hehe, good luck Charlene, 80 mill should get you a nice Namibian adventure including dunes and oryx!

      Perhaps I should include a 100% cutout of the image to show the small oryx in front of the dunes. They are only about 3 pixels tall at this web size 😀

  3. More like 2 px and a bit of imagination 😉 Even the bushes growing on the dune are larger than those oryx.

    The scale is simply mindboggling.

    And that fierce red color is amazing.

    1. Yes the scale is mindboggling and mindblowing, it is hard to believe even when you stand there. I so wish I had a 400mm when I shot these so I could zoom in more. Looks so dramatic if you zoom in even more and cut off the sky. Just this massive wall of sand rising behind the oryx.

      And gotta love that red colour!

  4. Incredible scene ! I would love to see this really large and look at all the textures and details. The tones, dune and foreground desert grasses remind me a little of Uluru. Good stuff Flem ! I think that the foreground horizon near the base of the dune may slope or be 0.5mm out of level down to the left… 😛
    Classic scene and composition flemming ! 🙂

    Also fantastic info for anyone travelling there in the future with photography in mind.


    1. Thanks very much Tony! Glad you like it, and yes a shot like this really deserves to be seen on a large print so all the details can be studied. Will have to double check that horizon very carefully 🙂

      I plan to do a large 'Shooting in Namibian desert tutorial' at some point, just need time to write it.

  5. Great work again Flemming, the size of the Oryx gives the dune scale and the lines and tones are stunning. I'm happy to be seeing a little of the early morning sky in the image.

    1. Thanks Andrew! I am happy with this version as well, I would just love a second version, zoomed in really tight. When I view it at 100% it looks so amazing with the oryx and this mega wall of sand behind them.

    1. Thanks Thomas, and yes it is so massive that it is impossible to believe. I try and tell people these dunes are the size of the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building and you can just see the brain going OVERLOAD in their eyes. It is incredible!

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