Behind the Lens: Photograph or Painting?

on assignment in Namibia for National Geographic magazine, Frans Lanting captured the surreal landscape image above in a location called Dead Vlei. Due to the nature of the lighting in the frame, the photograph appears almost like a painting. We asked Lanting to take a few moments away from his current assignment in Africa to answer readers’ questions about the photograph. Due to limited internet connectivity in the field, he was only able to provide brief responses to questions, so we asked Elizabeth Krist—Lanting’s photo editor for this story—to offer additional detail where appropriate.

A | Lanting: Here’s a short summary about the making of the photo. It was made at dawn when the warm light of the morning sun was illuminating a huge red sand dune dotted with white grasses while the white floor of the clay pan was still in shade. It looks blue because it reflects the color of the sky above. Because of the contrast between the shady foreground and the sunlit background I used a two-stop graduated filter which reduced the contrast. The perfect moment came when the sun reached all the way down to the bottom of the sand dune just before it reached the desert floor. I used a long telephoto lens and stopped it all the way down to compress the perspective.

A | Krist: Our photographers do extensive planning, often selecting specific locations before they even set foot in the field, and in this case Frans was fortunate to have his wife, Chris Eckstrom, helping with research and logistics. A key factor in all our stories is giving the photographer enough time to scout situations so they know where the light will hit, when people might arrive, what the problems will be, etc., and can return at the best times.

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