Springtime can be a difficult time for photography as the weather is usually dull and cloudy, particularly in the Western Cape. However, I was keen to do some long exposure seascapes,  astrophotography and  also hoping to see whales. The Churchaven area of the West Coast National Park provided the opportunity for the seascapes with Tankwa Karoo National Park giving a nightly show of stunningly clear skies. This was further assisted by a new moon phase. Hermanus always has whales in October although I did not get any really good close-ups.

Our trip started off at Churchaven in the West Coast National Park in a cottage close to the shores of the Langebaan lagoon. The ocean was a short drive away. The weather started off well, but became progressively cooler and cloudy which restricted the sunrise and sunset lighting. However, it is sometimes good to attempt to make the most of the conditions and you may just be surprised by the results.

The cottage faced east so the lagoon presented opportunities in the morning and I drove westwards to the ocean in the evenings and also on one morning when it was really dull and cloudy. With some very different settings and compositions, that morning produced a few interesting images. The spring flowers had passed but I was assured that they were not as good as what we experienced last year.

The image on the left is a good example of waiting for something to happen. I walked down to the lagoon well before sunrise. It was dull and cloudy and I thought it may have been better to stay in bed or just enjoy a cup of coffee.  As sunrise approached the clouds thinned and there was some really good light. The accompanying image on the left was captured moments after sunrise with the sun obscured by the clouds but still casting a lovely light across the small waves in the lagoon. The anchored boat provided the anchor (excuse the pun) in the water.

Canon EOS 1DX with a Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2.8L II USM lens @67mm. 4 stop Hoya ND filter. ISO 400. ⅛ sec @ f/16 in manual metering mode. The camera is mounted on a Gitzo 1548 tripod with an Arca-Swiss Z2 monoball ballhead.

However, I must admit I had more fun with the challenging light conditions on the western sea side. With the exception of the first evening, the mornings and evenings were very dull and grey. The image below was one of the few where there was some sunlight. See “Image of the Week” for details


The following image was one of those on a very dreary morning and it took  different thinking to capture. Although very cloudy, the light was stronger from the back which brightened the rocks considerably.


Tripod mounted Canon EOS 1DX with Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2.8L II USM lens @ 53 mm. Live view mode.

ISO 125.  5 sec @ f/11 in aperture priority mode. Exposure compensation – ⅔ stop. 4 stop Hoya ND filter.

We visited the bird hide on the southern side of the Langebaan lagoon. It was low tide and the weather was dreary to say nothing of the bitingly cold wind. I did however manage a few images  – very black, white and grey.

There were a number of waders but this Avocet was doing some dancing around the mudflats!


Both these images were captured with a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV and a Canon EF 200-400 mm f/4L IS zoom lens with the 1.4 x extender engaged. ISO 800. 1/3200 sec @ f5.6 in manual exposure mode. I needed the very fast shutter speed as the Avocet was moving quickly with rapid “head-bobbing”

It was then onto the Tankwa Karoo National Park in the Northern Cape Province. We headed for the Elandsberg chalets via Ceres. A road notorious for wrecking tyres – and in my case this proved to be no exception. Nevertheless, it was worth the long drive. A very different landscape beckons and I am not sure whether everyone would enjoy the remoteness. The Tankwa Karoo is very desolate with short scrub in the near distance with the imposing Roggeveld mountain range in the distance. As you exit the Ceres Bokkeveld which is fertile and green, you quickly enter the dry wide open spaces of the Tankwa Karoo.


A 12 image panorama of the Tankwa Karoo from the Elandsberg cottages looking eastwards to the Roggeberge.

Canon EOS 1Dx with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 65 mm.

ISO 400. 1/200 sec at f/11 in manual exposure mode. Processed using the panorama feature of Adobe Photoshop CC


Canon EOS 1D Mark IV witha Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II Lens at 170mm

ISO 200. 1/25 sec at f/10 using Aperture priority mode and Evaluative metering. EC = +⅓ stop

Whilst the scenery was very interesting, this is the place for seeing the stars. You realise why the Sutherland observatory is located in this region of the country. We were fortunate to have a new moon so you could do the night photography quite early in the night instead of waiting for the early hours of the morning for a moon to set. The down side of that was some residual reddish light from the set sun. I also did some time lapse videos of the southern skies. It is a tedious process and I kept running out of battery power before I had the correct length.

The following composite image is a three capture panorama to achieve a near square section of the southern milky way. This image is just to depict the intensity of stars that can be seen here. You can see a few meteorites streaking across the sky during the 15 second exposure. I captured three images in horizontal format to produce a panorama of nearly square proportions.


 A three image panorama using a Canon EOS 1DX with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens @ 24 mm.

ISO 4000. 15 sec. at f/2.8 in manual exposure mode.

The EOS 1DX still amazes me in regard to its ability to produce good images at very high ISO’s. I do however use Canon’s propriety software DPP to convert the RAW images. I find it produces much cleaner images than Lightroom or Photoshop ACR. I also use NeatImage to further handle any residual noise. These images were captured at about 08:30 pm.


A nine image panorama using a Canon EOS 1DX with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm

ISO 3200. 15sec at f/2.8 in manual exposure mode.

Hermanus did not disappoint with regard to whales. We saw many but none were  just off the rocks. We went to Die Kelders on two mornings and again had very good sightings but the whales were not that playful. We saw this cow which had an interesting white patch on its chest area and was nursing a calf.

Hermanus 201410_Z2Q1644

A Southern Right Whale floating on its back.

Canon EOS 1DX with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens.

ISO 400.  1/400 sec at f/11 using manual metering mode


Whilst the whales were interesting, numerous and always exciting to see, the lagoon provided some great morning opportunities. I enjoy shooting into the sun and with the cloud mostly obscuring the rising sun, it was possible to get some good silhouettes of the flamingo without blowing out the highlights of the sun and cloud edges as can be seen in the image below. This was a particularly windy morning which necessitated hanging onto the tripod to avoid any movement.

The trip was very varied – the lagoon and ocean of Langebaan, the dry and expansive Tankwa Karoo, the whales and scenery of Hermanus and not forgetting the wines of the Hemel en Aarde valley. I would like to spend more time in Tankwa and do some more exploring of this different but interesting area.

Having not done much photography for the few months preceding this trip, it was good to get back behind a camera. You get a bit rusty and during the first few days I was having to think a bit about camera settings instead of them being instinctive. I used the 1DX almost exclusively for landscapes and did much of the photography of the whales using the 1D Mark IV which still has that extra reach advantage. I did get to use the neutral density filters whilst doing seascapes and will be experimenting a lot more.

Southern Right Whale breaching with upper jaw facing camera

Canon EOS 1DX with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens

ISO 400. 1/1250 sec at f/5.6 using manual exposure mode



Canon EOS 1DX with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 200mm

ISO 200. Aperture Priority shooting mode. 1/320 sec at f/11 using Evaluative metering mode.