Kolmanskop is an abandoned German mining settlement located in Namibia. The town was abandoned in the 1950s, and the desert has been reclaiming it ever since. With its colorful painted walls and sweeping sand dunes engulfing entire rooms, the ghost town is a neat place to shoot, and should be on everyone’s list when touring Namibia.
Photographers need a permit to enter the town, which can be obtained in the tourism office in nearby Lüderitz. Kolmanskop is best photographed in the early morning or late afternoon, when light from outside is reflected within the buildings, giving the rooms a colorful glow (although the light can be contrasty and I sometimes needed to blend exposures in order to capture the entire dynamic range of a given scene). Care must be taken, as many of the building are literally falling apart, and there are sharp ends, broken glass, and exposed nails everywhere. In terms of equipment, a wide angle lens is the best way to go. Actually, the Canon Tilt/Shift TS-E 17mm f/4 would be the ideal lens to use here, as it allows the photographer to correct for the distortion which occurs when pointing a wide angle lens up or down (alas, I do not own one at the moment). Footprints can be a significant challenge when photographing Kolmanskop, so be careful where you step to avoid leaving tracks in what could otherwise be a great composition. Many tourists visit the area so there are a lot of footprints, which if you are looking for pristine sand, may limit your shot options.
Here are five of my favorite photos from my shoot at Kolmanskop.
1. “The Yellow Room”
Most of the buildings in the town have brightly painted walls, and the bold yellow in this particular room is certainly quite eye-catching. I was also attracted to the curving ripples of the sand, and the animal tracks in the foreground. Wide-angle distortion is quite evident in this shot, but I used it to my advantage, creating energetic diagonal lines (which in my opinion enhances the composition). 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/14, 3.2 seconds.
2. “The Blue Room”
This is possibly my favorite building in the complex. I really like the alternating colors, the heavy sand, and the fact that you can see four separate rooms from this vantage point. The room I was in was deep in shadow, so I did a double exposure blend to extend my camera’s dynamic range and capture extra detail. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera, Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 DI VC USD Lens for Canon Cameras, ISO 400, f/14, double exposure blend of 2 seconds and 8 seconds.
This was taken in the town hospital. I was attracted to the colorful green walls and the bright light seeping in from the outside (I purposefully over-exposed the light coming in through the windows in the distance in order to create an eye-catching vanishing point for the composition). I partially closed the doors to make the composition more dynamic by creating radiating diagonal lines. I just wish I had a broom with me to sweep away the footprints! 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/14, double exposure blend of 5 seconds and 20 seconds.
4. “Endless Mirror”
I really liked the alternating blue/yellow color scheme for this scene—it kind of reminds me of the effect you get when you place two mirrors opposite each other. I kicked some sand into the scene to cover up footprints. 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/11, 1.6 seconds.
5. “The Pink Dune”
For this image, I was attracted to the shapely dune and the soft pastel colors. The radiating pattern of shadows in the upper left mirrored the pattern of rippled sand in the lower right, so I placed the two visual elements in a counterpoint relationship (something I discuss in detail in my book Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition). 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/11, 5 seconds.