By: Tobin Redwine
Imagine the sand shining in the sun, warmth radiating through the soles of your bare feet. Imagine looking in all directions and seeing the curve of the earth. Imagine your stomach dropping at the emptiness around you. Imagine the overwhelming emotions of gratitude, solitude, reflection, accomplishment and wonder that swim in your mind. Now imagine trying to capture all of that emotion and feeling in one image, from the top of a dune in the Namib Sand sea. That is the challenge that our students face.
Images are powerful, but do they match the power of our imaginations? Truly great images are not simply shot from the hip in a haphazard, luck of the draw fashion. Great images take planning, care, visual literacy, creativity, attention to detail, and patience.
Over the past couple of weeks, our students have shot more than 20,000 images. They have edited and selected with care, removing imperfections and identifying the quality works. After hours and kilometers (we are still learning to speak metric system), we delivered 437 images of Namib desert flora, fauna, landscape and scenery to the researchers and scientists at the the Gobabeb Desert Research and Training Centre. We will deliver a hand picked selection of 20 high quality images to N/a’an Ku Se Wildlife Refuge. We have shared and interacted with nature, people, culture and spirit across thousands of kilometers in Namibia.
Here is a behind the scenes look at how they go through the process of capturing some of the images you can see on this blog, and on our facebook page. Students have mastered photography techniques such as manipulating depth-of-field, capturing motion, seeking the best light, and navigating the features and capabilities of their equipment. Not only do they quickly ascertain the proper techniques to employ in any given scenario, they do so in the face of unquestionable danger.
Teamwork is essential. It is common for students to be scattered around a site,lenses to their faces, shouting aperture settings and shutter speeds to one another. Discussions about leading lines and framing are common. Students assist each other by pointing out angles, directing shadows and people, holding wayward limbs and leaves, and even braving the unknown by scooping up a burrowing desert beetle so that a classmate can get the shot just right.
Photographers’ schedules are not dictated like the rest of the world. We seek the bestlight. Here in the arid lands of Namibia, the sun rises between 5 and 6 AM. While much of the staff at each place we stay is asleep, we are scouring the countryside in the warm tones of the early morning light. Similarly, our students declined group meals and volleyball outings to capture the fading rays of the setting sun on the sands of the Namib. Even those hours fail in comparison to the dedication they showed when, two consecutive mornings, the rose as early as 4:00 AM to get a shot of the blanket of stars in the desert. We had a narrow window of time between when the full moon set and the sun rose to get a clear, unpolluted night sky.
Whether they were chasing luminescing scorpions in the riverbed before sunrise, staring unflinchingly into the mouth of lions, or scaling the towering dunes of the desert, this hearty group of artists and adventurers continues to remind me of the beauty in our world, and the power we all have to relish in the miracles of each moment. I am lucky, I am blessed, and I am grateful to be part of a world so big, and to see our students sharing it in such a unique way.
One of those blessings is to see the students learning and mastering these techniques. They speak like photographers with decades of experience. One of our students was approached by a researcher at Gobabeb with questions about his camera. The student was able to explain the exposure triangle, principles of composition, and basic photography techniques in a concise, impromptu crash course. Learning is truly alive with this group. They were even asked to Gobashare. A group of scientists and researchers at the centre asked them to give a talk about their group, their photos, and the process by which they were collected for the archives of the newly-deemed UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our group presented their efforts to a global community, speaking to EU delegates, international collaborators, and worldtravelers. This led to a discussion about night photography, career choices, theory and principles, and more. The Oxford researcher who was sharing some of his research after our group even remarked about the quality of our students’ photos, commenting that they were a tough act to follow.
These accolades do not come easy. Dedication, patience and planning are the tools of the trade. These Aggies are no stranger to those values.