Africa - Part 1

First light, Atlantic coast, South Africa. Worth getting up at the crack of dawn for Lion Mountain close to Cape Town standing proud and acting as sentinel to the sea bird colony enjoying the wild windswept waters of the Western of South Africa.

6. Africa!

6 April – 18 April 2012.
Cape Town
After a great deal of travelling and many hours in the air, we finally arrived at our South African destination – the impeccable 12 Apostles Hotel. The hotel is perfectly placed facing the Atlantic ocean some distance down the coast away from the bustle of Cape Town but close enough still to enjoy its attractions.

This fabulous hotel was to be the ‘roof over our heads’ for the first 4 days of our trip.

Evening light, Atlantic coast, South Africa. This time the peak of Lion Mountain was bathed in warm sunlight unlike the previuos morning masked in shadow. The glowing colours and clear backdrop of blue sky added av ery special ambience to this scene. 15 minutes later and the sun had dropped behind the horizon.
Day 1 – 7 April
It was hard to slip out of bed of such a luxurious hotel early in the morning, especially after all the travelling from the previous day to go and take photographs but, I had spotted through the rain streaked windows the day before on our arrival masses of cormorants and other sea birds perched on enormous granite boulders along the coast which I was keen to photograph.

Dawn light the western cape of South Africa. A new dawn and different light no two days are ever the same. This is a real attraction to photography...and the great out doors
Crossing in front of the hotel and making my way down towards the rocky coves I was greeted by a rising sun and the peace of a new day all to myself within the natural world all around me. Sun after rain produces some of the greatest light but, as the sea fret had not warmed up enough to lift, the diffused and ethereal light filtering through the rocky cove I had chosen was inspirational.

Close encounters Composition with a deliberate cross over and the main focus on the white of the sea gull centre frame. The cormorants remind me of skittles pparticularly those out of focus and on the back. the profiles are great
Approaching any wild birds needs care. Stealth was most certainly needed to approach the birds which had seen me approaching from the steep slope leading down to the base of the rocky cove. With great care, step by step, I got as close as I dare. I was amazed to see how quickly the colours and light were rapidly changing in this location as the sun began to rise – inspiring!

Morning glow on the Eastern Cape Manouvering my position around to be some way back from the sunbathing birds distant left of the scene, I composed Lion Mountain perfectly 13 in from the left. It was a tricky position I was balanced between boulders with tripod on one and me leaning over from another and a big drop between the things you do for a shot I watched the cloud move from the right and released ther shutter at the perfect moment. seconds later it had evaporated in the rising heat of the day.
Day 2 – 8 April
That chill in the air again and the sound of crashing waves as I left the hotel at first light.
The lights had not yet been switched off outside the hotel which I was thankful for as I made my way down the steep steps of the hotel, across the road and squeezed my way up between the rocks onto the flat top of my chosen granite boulder to gain a much better and closer position to the birds than the previous day. Using the cover of darkness I managed it but it was quite hair raising. One slip with all that camera gear – well, it just didn’t bear thinking about!

It was worth the risk. I set up in the semi darkness, lying flat on the rock and keeping my movements slow and steady and my profile as low as possible so I was ready when the light changed to be brighter and more favourable. To my right, running along the ridge to Cape Town, black angry rain clouds threatened to make their way down the slopes of the Twelve Apostle mountains and give me a real drenching but, the wind from the sea was in my favour and forced them back. Soon the sun filtered through in an awe inspiring spectacle.

The gathering and departure. Staying in a fixed position on a cold boulder awaiting the dawn light to rise and illuminate this scene with enough light, i too welcomed the arrival of the warmth of the suns rays. My departure was after the last bird had gone.
Backlit cormorant - Western Cape, South Africa. A very tricky shot. Lens flair was a nightmare. My usual trick of covering the lens with my hat to shield from lens flare was, with my own profile, making the birds jittery. i did not want to lose this shot A quick rethink. I lay flat, reversed my fleece over my body, head and camer and lens and wriggled back - job done
As the cormorants began to feel the warmth of the day they began to outstretch their wings in beautiful profile shapes. The energy of the sun warming their bodies and feathers they soon began to gather with a rising chatter and I knew they’d soon be gone. I had to work quickly and the metering was tricky in the rapidly changing light.

With outstretched birds backlit, nasty lens flare was a strong possibility which would ruin any photographs but, by concentrating on a group not in direct light I was able to achieve the images I wanted without facing directly into the sun. Delighted with my photographs I returned back to the hotel to join my wife and the rest of the guests in the ‘normal’ world. At breakfast we got a window view facing the sea. As I looked out I knew I had some good photographs on the memory cards – I couldn’t stop smiling!

Illuminating thoughts Kirstenbosch. This amazing natural garden seams to go on forever and melt into the surrounding foot hills of Table mountain. A rare glimpse of sun in this part of the garden illuminated many amazing species of plants with shafts of light. Rays of light like this always remind me of those big biblical epic films as the hand of God no matter where I may be in the world.
Kirstenbosch and Table Mountain
Late that morning we departed for the magnificent Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens on the other side of the Apostle mountains set against the backdrop of the spectacular Table Mountain and Devils Peak close to Cape Town. We knew, in the showery weather conditions and at that time of year the gardens would not be at their best but, none the less they would be magnificent. They were impressive indeed!

Kirstenbosch is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. Established in 1913 to protect the immense floral wealth of the Cape and located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, this 528 ha (1,305 acre) botanical wonderland had magnificent views in all directions. Paved paths made walking around a pleasure with a surprise view around every turn. Quail birds and mandarin ducks frequent the park which was a delight to see. Although not many flowers were in bloom on our visit we did see a great variety of species within the magnificent gardens, many with unusual patterns and shapes. Not really a ‘macro’ or ‘plant’ photographer I nonetheless could not ignore the structural patterns and shapes within each species which was a delight to see. Tricky photography though to do the plants justice!!

Natural paterns. The rare and the exotic fill Kirstenbosch with many interesting subjects to marvel at. I was ballanced on a wall on the tip of my toes with my head inside the plant to get this to some passing tourists it must have looked like I was about to have been swallowed whole by the plant kirstenbosch meets Jurassic Park
Kirstenbosch was a fantastic garden, a relaxing space and a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Cape Town. We had chosen well to visit the gardens that day – our distant views of Cape Town from Kirstenbosch showed the city receiving several unwelcome downpours all day!

The remains of the day Table Mountain. Natural glowing colours on top of the world The spectacle was over in less than an hour but the memories will last a lifetime.
Table mountain
Late afternoon and the wind had picked up threatening our planned visit to the top of table mountain for a sunset view with cancellation. High winds on the summit can be very dangerous. I was really quite anxious to reach the summit as I knew from experience that sun after rain, particularly in low evening light was very dramatic. With high winds too and views from a mountain summit were amazing ingredients for some spectacular shots!

Arriving by taxi from Kirstenbosch gardens to the cable car station for Table Mountain, we joined the ever growing queue of tourists who, like ourselves were anxious to get to the top. As we edged our way up the wide staircase packed with hundreds of tourists, the cable cars kept arriving and departing, but everyone on the steps was anxious – official announcements and summit assessments checking the force of the wind were continually being made which threatened cancellation of any planned ascent. The closer we got, the more anxious we became.

Lion mountain from Table Mountain a famous view. A very narrow horizon on the top of the frame to include all the leading elements in the composition was a concious decision. Table Mountain foreground rocks and vegitation bathed in lowering light, Lion Mountain with its saddle back stretching away tot he right, Cape Town curving around the bay beneath, the infamous Robben Island surounded by shark infested waters where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years top centre and...the tanker I waited 20 minutes for to move into the right position
Finally and with the very best luck, we managed to board the last ascending cable car for the top of the mountain leaving behind some very disappointed tourists who unfortunately missed their opportunity. Relieved we made our way up to the top in a packed cable car. Equipped with tripod, cable release, lenses and camera, it was a great relief to ascend this great mountain.

From the top the views were fantastic – really awe inspiring! The late afternoon light had rapidly changed so I began to work quickly. The soft light was spectacular but I knew the best was yet to come! Above the clouds at such altitude the high winds blew these sheets of vapour between the chasms of the distant peaks stretching all the way down the coast. The spectacular mountains all around us plunged into crystal seas fringed with bleached white sands of the Cape Peninsula. Just brilliant! My kind of place – my kind of scene, my kind of landscape photography!
Descending in the darkness I was beaming!