Every two to three years we make the long journey to the exact opposite side of the planet to visit my wife’s family. Our 4 year old daughter has done this trip twice and she is an absolute star traveler. The route we normally take is Kona – Los Angeles – Atlanta – Johannesburg. The last leg is the second longest regularly scheduled flight in the world. The longest is from Dallas, Texas to Sydney, Australia and its only 100 miles further. For a 4 year old to stay reasonably close to her seat for 17+ hours is no small feat. I can only describe it like my friend Jeff puts it. All rules go out the window when you are on a long haul flight with children. Another movie? Yes! More candy? Absolutely! You want to run naked up and down the aisle? No problem! I actually quite enjoy returning the stares of childless people. They will never understand.
I didn’t have much time to photograph on my own on this trip. We spent most of our time in Johannesburg for my sister-in-law’s wedding. After that thoroughly entertaining event and a rather serious hangover we flew to Cape Town but only for 5 days. Not nearly enough time. If you haven’t been to this city you have to do it at least once. I’ve been around the world a few times and I’ve seen many beautiful places but this “Town” is hands down the most visually stunning city on the planet. Table Mountain is incredible from all angles. The Twelve Apostles, Lions Head, Signal Hill, Devil’s Peak… The natural geologic beauty will stop you in your tracks all day long.
One morning I woke up early to head over to the other side of Table Bay to place aptly named Table View. I’ve always seen pictures taken from this side but never took any myself even though I have been there before. I set out before dark and placed a fair amount of trust into “Bloody Garmin!” She eventually got me there but I can tell you it wasn’t a direct route.
Since the sun was still below the horizon I grabbed an incredibly good sausage roll for breakfast and promptly covered myself in delicious flaky pastry. I drove around to scout for a good location to photograph the city across the bay. There are a series of parking lots that line the coast between a very long beach and a 4 lane divided highway. At this hour traffic was pretty quiet with only morning joggers about. I parked the inconspicuous Mercedes in a stall and proceeded to change lenses and set up my tripod by the boot (trunk for us ‘Mericans.) I’m very conscious of the serious polarization of wealth in South Africa so I’m hyper aware of the potential to get robbed. I walked on to the sand but stayed within eye sight of the car as a quick getaway was my primary defense.
The composition of the shot was very boring as it showed a beach, some ocean and then Cape Town and Table Mountain in the distance. It was nice, but nothing special. I looked up and down the beach but there really wasn’t anything interesting to spice up the foreground. While scanning the beach I noticed a shifty lookin’ fella slowly walking towards me. He kept looking at me and the car. I quickly grabbed my gear ran back to the car and took off. This is also when I noticed the very large sign advising visitors of the high crime area and never leave anything in your car. For that matter don’t even leave your car here. As soon as I pulled away he immediately turned around and headed the other way. Maybe it was purely coincidental? Maybe he found what he was looking for? We shall never know of his honorable intentions.
At this point I wasn’t very comfortable with my nice German version of a target on the hood of my car. I really didn’t want to be relieved of my camera gear either so I drove around looking for a less sketchy place to shoot. I came upon a hotel with a parking lot off to the side. There were a couple of guards that looked somewhat awake so I pulled in to check the access to the beach. I found a short wooden walkway that snaked its way through some powdery white sand dunes. A much more interesting foreground!
I grabbed my camera and set up the shot. After a few frames I was somewhat happy with the composition but the ripples in the sand weren’t showing up. I needed the light to come at an angle to reveal the work of the wind. I took my flash off my camera and put it into Commander Mode. This is a very cool feature that will allow you to trigger an off camera flash optically. The little popup flash on my camera would fire just microseconds before the camera exposes the sensor thus triggering the flash. By holding the flash low and to the right of the camera I could enhance the ridges in the sand.
I fired off a few more frames holding the flash in various positions. Everything looked spectacular on my little 3 inch screen on back of the camera. I know not to trust what I see on the little screen. It always looks better than it is. The colors are more vivid and the detail is compressed into this neat little monitor. When I get home and look at the images on a computer it’s always underwhelming.
Even with this knowledge I failed to properly shoot the scene with all of the correct settings. I should have shot at F/22 to try to keep the foreground sharp. I should have shot one frame with the city in focus and another with the sand dune in focus and manually blended them in Photoshop. I normally make sure I shoot every possible combination I can think of but this morning I was still flustered by the attempted murder. Maybe I have that wrong but the wild dog that just about attacked me didn’t help either. Oh, let me explain. As I was scouting the wooden walkway for this shot a dog appeared from around a sand dune and quickly came towards me. He kept his nose down and was mostly sniffing and marking his territory. At this point I wasn’t too concerned but then another dog appeared nearby and this caused his hair to stand up on his back. Now I’m slowly backing up and the first dog turns towards me and lunges with his mouth open. The blood drained from my head and all I could think of is rabies and sticking my finger in his butt as he clamps down on my jugular. Is that a real thing? I think I saw it on YouTube once. There was a dog fight and someone came up and jammed his thumb in the butt of one of the dogs and that put an immediate stop to the fight. At the last second the dog turned away and ran past leaving me with a surge of adrenaline and the deafening thump of my heart beat in my ears.
I had enough excitement for the day so I packed up and went back to our friend’s beautiful, safe and secure home, alive.