I posted this photo a few weeks ago to my Facebook and Instagram accounts. It received plenty of interest, and some folks wanted to know how I took the photo.
A few years ago I hiked with friends to the Wolfberg Arch in the Cederberg Wilderness Area in the Western Cape of South Africa. I knew the moon would be full that night, and hoped there would be clear skies. As the sun set, we camped alone underneath the famous Arch, and as luck would have it, the winter skies were crystal clear and there was not a breath of wind. Magical.
I set up the tripod with my camera, then waited for the moon to rise to a suitable position in the composition of the photo. I set my camera to take a photo on a delayed timer (about 20 seconds), giving myself some time to walk over to the Arch. As the shutter opened on the camera, I quickly painted the Arch with the light from a powerful torch, and then stood on the rock as one of my friends used a hand-held flash to illuminate me. The exposure on my Canon 5D Mark 2 was only 3,2 seconds (F-stop of 2,8 on a Canon 16-35mm lens), so I had to be really quick to light the Arch with my torch and then hop onto the rock. But it can be done, I promise 🙂
This is the photo that I then had:
But of course, as you can see, the moon has over-exposed, because it’s so much brighter than the night-sky and the illuminated Arch. I wanted to show the scene as I experienced it. So I imported the photo into Lightroom on my Mac, and reduced the brightness of the moon by using the Brush tool. I then downloaded the photo onto my iPhone, and used an iPhone App called LensLight to add a normally-exposed moon to the photo where the actual moon had appeared. I also used LensLight to add a ray of light to my headtorch, to add some drama to the photo.
After that, I cropped the photo into a square format, and voila, here is the photo.
I had to keep the exposure time to 3 or 4 seconds, because any longer than that and the stars start leaving trails on the image (it’s amazing how quickly the Earth turns!) So if you want the stars to appear as they do in the night-sky to the human eye, then I would keep the exposure time on star photos to less than 10 seconds.
It was a very special night – made more dramatic by the huge rockfall that we heard – and felt! – in the distance…obviously a boulder had dislodged itself from the mountain and rolled to the bottom. Other than that sound, silence reigned supreme. But I’m sure a Cape leopard was growling somewhere as our dreams guided us into the depths of our subconscious.
By the way, speaking of dreams, probably the best book I’ve ever read on the Cederberg is by Don Pinnock. It’s called The Rainmaker, a short novel about a young “coloured” boy called Ky who escapes ganglife in Cape Town to run away to the mountains.
There he meets a ranger called Zimry, who lives in the mountains and is also a /Xam shaman. Zimry guides Ky in the young boy’s reclamation of personal identity. It’s a powerful story of ecological and emotional intelligence…and as always, Don’s writing is so easy to read, and so descriptive of the Cederberg.
I love this quote by Zimry:
“Some people can remember back a few lives, but your dream is coming from a long way back. It’s a dream of the beginning of things. You must understand that even when you’re walking on that far mountain over there you are never alone. The n!ao of all the creatures and the trees and grass and rocks is stroking you. All the people of your family, going back into the beginning of time, are with you. If you know how, you can dream their dreams and they can tell you where you come from. They’re your real family.”
Scott Ramsay of Love Wild Africa is a photojournalist documenting protected areas, national parks and nature reserves in Africa. Partners include Cape Union Mart, K-Way and Ford Ranger. Supported by Safari Centre Cape Town, Goodyear, Outdoor Photo and Hetzner.