4 Jun
Ian Plant By
Posted in: Namibia    10 Comments

Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia

I recently returned from a two week scouting trip to Namibia, in preparation for my Wild Namibia 2014 Photo Tour scheduled next year for the last two weeks of May, which I will co-lead with Richard Bernabe (full details will be coming soon). Namibia is an incredibly beautiful country, filled with stunning desert landscapes and fantastic wildlife. Richard and I had a great time exploring and photographing Namibia, and can’t wait to return next year with a workshop group.

We spent three days photographing a quiver tree forest near Keetmanshoop. Quiver “trees” aren’t really trees at all, but rather a species of aloe, a flowering succulent plant. Their evocative shapes make great photographic subjects, although it can sometimes be a challenge to find a coherent composition amidst the chaos of the forest. On our first evening there, storm clouds moved in and stayed for several days, which came as quite a pleasant surprise to us, as we expected unrelenting fair weather. The clouds gave us some interesting opportunities.

"Giant's Playground" by Ian Plant

For this image, I had some interesting cloud action, and a nice collection of visual elements—but no light. So I waited until the setting sun broke through the clouds. Since I only had a few moments before the light went away, I moved quickly, experimenting with several different compositions. I finally settled on this progression of elements starting with the first rock in the foreground, moving on to the second rock in the middle-ground, and finally moving to the tree in the background with the clouds in the sky above. I discuss using a progression of visual elements in more detail in my ebook Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition. Here, the progression of elements helps lead the eye through the image. “Giant’s Playground”—Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera, Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens, Novoflex EOS/NIK-NT Lens Adapter for Nikon G Type Lenses to Canon EOS DSLR Cameras, ISO 100, f/8, 1/15 second.

"Old and New" by Ian Plant

We had some decent light at sunset, but things got really interesting when the sun went down. I took the shot above during twilight. I got close with a wide-angle lens to an interesting plant on the ground, juxtaposing the foreground plant with the prominent tree in the background. I used my headlamp to add some fill light to the foreground, shining the light on my t-shirt (essentially turning it into a reflector) rather than shining the light directly on to the plant. This softened the light, giving the foreground plant a diffused glow. “Old and New”—Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera, Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens, Novoflex EOS/NIK-NT Lens Adapter for Nikon G Type Lenses to Canon EOS DSLR Cameras, ISO 800, f/16, 30 seconds.

"Kneel Before Zod" by Ian Plant

I’ve been doing night photography for well over a decade, but I’ve gotten rather bored with it as of late, especially now that the Internet has become inundated with images of the Milky Way hovering over all sorts of landscape features (including quiver trees). Static star shots and star trail images just don’t do much for me these days, but give me some fast-moving clouds and the moon in the sky, and I’m ready to shoot! I spent hours exploring the forest by headlamp looking for interesting compositions. This is one of my favorites, created using a wide angle perspective. I used a thirty second exposure to streak the motion of the moonlit clouds across the night sky. Luckily, the clouds were coming right at me, creating a radiating pattern. The entire forest was softly lit by lights from a nearby campsite, giving the landscape an orange glow that, although barely apparent to the eye, came out strong during the long exposure. “Kneel Before Zod”—Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera, Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens, Novoflex EOS/NIK-NT Lens Adapter for Nikon G Type Lenses to Canon EOS DSLR Cameras, ISO 800, f/5.6, 30 seconds. (By the way, the title for this image was inspired by one of the best lines ever uttered by a super villain, as spoken by Terrance Stamp playing General Zod in Superman II. I don’t know why I thought of Zod when I photographed this tree, but I did and the name stuck.)

"The Here and Now" by Ian Plant

For this final image, I stood under a quiver tree, using its arching branches to frame the scene and add foreground interest to the top of the image frame. The foreground branches help lead the eye deeper into the composition. In order to add further visual emphasis to the tree in the middle, I stood behind the tree during the long exposure and illuminated it from behind with my headlamp. This increased the “visual mass” of the tree (another concept discussed in detail in Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition), making it the center of attention. “The Here and Now”—Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera, Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens, Novoflex EOS/NIK-NT Lens Adapter for Nikon G Type Lenses to Canon EOS DSLR Cameras, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 30 seconds.

Stay tuned! I’ll be presenting more Namibia images in the coming weeks.

Ian PlantAbout Ian Plant (414 Posts)

World-renowned professional photographer, writer, and adventurer Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to and blogger for Outdoor Photographer Magazine, a Contributing Editor to Popular Photography Magazine, a monthly columnist for Landscape Photography Magazine, and a Tamron Image Master. Ian is also the author of numerous books and instructional videos. Ian leads photography workshops and tours around the world to help beginner and advanced photographers explore and expand their personal vision.


  • Great work, Ian – I particularly like the 1st one here. I was fortunate to visit last December and enjoyed some wonderful conditions there – however I had no prep time as we only had an evening and morning, so was on a bit of an adrenaline fuelled charge, trying to make the most of the conditions at the same time as searching for successful compositions. The landscape is so compelling and the various components are very photogenic in themselves but can be challenging to work into a cohesive image. Good luck with the trip! Lizzie

  • George Stocking

    totally kickin’ it dude…

  • Awesome collection dude! Can’t wait to see more.

  • SICK images Ian!! The second image is just crazy!! Love that FG. OMG….Like Kurt, you rock!!

  • Beautiful photographs. I love the bottom three. The crisp and contrasting colours are really stunning. Although I do like the spiky, succulent plant wide angle second shot. Great shapes and subtle colours.

  • Nice! Namibia is awesome for sure, and you were so lucky to have great light. Did you get up in the Naukluft Mtns. near Sesriem? Looking forward to what you did with the Skeleton Coast, a spare landscape if I’ve ever seen one! Guess I disagree on the star image thing. For one, a preponderance of images on the internet will never turn me off of anything, least of all the night sky. I simply don’t look at images that much on here; it works! Also, I’m a hopeless astro-nerd so I go for a lot of images where I am trying to highlight a certain constellation, planet, etc. I’m usually stargazing with my telescope and binocs at the same time. I guess I don’t care how popular it gets is the crux of it, and I don’t ever see a raft of photogs. out there at night like I do some places during golden hour. But I totally agree moonlight and clouds, especially quick ones, are the stuff. One of my fave night images is of Hovenweep during similar conditions as you had in the Quiver Trees. Not sure if I like the orange, looks a bit fake to me, though the contrast is a grabber! That second shot is incredible. The Nikon lens really shines in that one. What the heck is an EOS NIk-Nt lens adapter? Nevermind I’ll google it. Great images as usual.

  • Oh man! Really love the second one. Looking forward to see some more of Namibia :)

  • Interesting photos for sure. When using your headlamp to illuminate portions of the scenes, do you just go with the straight LED, or do you filter it in some way? I try to use it sometimes, but always dislike the harsh white it gives me. I need colored saran wrap or something…

    • Ian Plant

      Hi John, I’ll sometimes use colored gels over my flash or LED light. I used to love using those old-fashioned yellow bulb flashlights, but alas they are hard to find these days.

  • Awesome images Ian! I love the different and unique way you capture the beauty of the world. Thanks for sharing your vision!