I’m a photographer who uses long exposure time for painting with light. Long exposure times require a dark environment and that’s why I am constantly searching for interesting locations that have minimum amount of light pollution. Usually such places are remote and away from the city area. Here in Finland we definitely have plenty of darkness and locations that are remote enough to fill these demands. Although our country offers many possibilities for a night photographer, I’ve always wanted to do some of my light painting in a totally different environment, outside Finland.
As a collaborator with Olympus and Wilderness Safaris ecotourism, I was given a chance to visit Namibia and experience one of the world’s biggest deserts in its vast glory. The Namib Desert is definitely an ideal location when looking for clear night skies to capture the Milky Way over the mountains or star trails with moonscape surroundings. I got really excited about all the light painting possibilities and themes that I could work with. From the capital Windhoek, I flew 350 kilometers south to Kulala National Reserve, where I stayed at the Wilderness Safaris Kulala Desert Lodge. Every morning I woke up at 5 am to take photos in a bit softer light and explore the surroundings in lower temperatures, too. In the evenings, I created some light paintings and organized a workshop where we did light painted portraits together with the Wilderness Safari guides and the other guests.
After enjoying all the great activities in Kulala Reserve and visiting the Sossusvlei area it was time to continue my journey. I flew 1000 kilometers to Serra Cafema camp, which is located in the northwestern region of Namibia. Along the Kunene River the environment is a bit greener and you can spot various species of birds and also see crocodiles. The river works as a borderline between Angola and Namibia. This area is also home to the semi-nomadic Himba tribe whose members I was lucky enough to meet during my visit.
Namib Desert is also one of the driest places on earth, since its annual rainfall in western parts is only about 5 mm, which makes it also really challenging for all the animals and plants in that area. That’s why there are lots of empty riverbeds in the south, where animals like lions, cheetahs and elephants have disappeared. On the other hand, some species like oryxes, ostriches, springboks and jackals have adapted to the hot and dry living conditions.
The Live Composite mode on Olympus cameras is a must-have tool for every light painter. For this trip, I got the OM-D E-M5 Mark III body, which also has this great feature. Since I had to travel light due to weight limitations on flight, my lens choice was the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12‑40mm F2.8 PRO – a great all-rounder for travels! Another great thing is, that many of the Wilderness camps have a selection of Olympus gear so I didn’t have to bring all my equipment with me from Helsinki. That way, I had more space for my light painting tools.
As a light artist I try to find a connection between my work and the environment where I’m going to create something. On this trip all light painting ideas came pretty quickly as I got a better understanding of how important it is to support all the efforts to restore and protect the wilderness. The whole experience was really inspirational; to watch the wildlife up close and listen to the guides explain how the desert ecosystem works and what kind of history each region has, was fascinating.
Hopefully, I can return to Namibia in the near future!
Author & Photographer: Hannu Huhtamo