#964. The way we shoot (part3) – The African Connection

By Paul Perton | Opinion

Feb 10

I’m not quite sure why articles like this make me feel as introspective as they do. The fact is, time, place and personality alone are sufficient to produce radically different photographs. The post covering my recent London wandering with Steve and Pascal, or last year’s DS Parisian meander deliver more than sufficient evidence of our diversity, despite being in exactly the same place, at the same time.

Cloud mimics the skyline – the end of the Kogelberg at Rooi Els
Drama in the skies, Rooi Els
Kleinmond lagoon
Kruger Park sunrise
The end of the Kogelberg at Rooi Els
Rooi Els looking south east – Hangkip dominates the skyline


I found myself becoming an African very soon after leaving the UK; going to live and work in Johannesburg, back in the ‘70s. I wake when it gets light and go to sleep when the sun sets. As a result, it’s not unusual to find me champing at the bit not long after 04:00, trying to time my departure such that I get to my chosen sunrise shooting spot in time but not so early as to require half an hour waiting in the pre-dawn chill.

My chosen methodology is to prepare what I might want the evening before, pack it all in my Land Rover and then leave sufficient time in the morning to grab some strong coffee, deal with nature’s wants and be on the road in a leisurely half an hour.

Dawn and sunset in Africa is a fleeting event. Nature cares not that I’ve driven for an hour to photograph its rising, or setting splendour. In the morning, that can mean twenty minutes of good light before the histogram-killing sun appears. Evenings are a little more benign, with the post-setting sun delivering breathtaking skies for anything up to an hour.

Psychologically, I am also keenly aware that whatever muse has taken me under its wing, often oversleeps. Many is the morning I’ve left home and driven 20km/30km only to discover that I’d left my creative brain behind. There’s no time to head home and find it, as the morning light will have already grown into blinding African daylight and whatever opportunity I might have had is irrevocably lost.

An hour or so is still not long in the average photographer’s day, however. Perhaps there’s time for some street shooting?

Kleinmond lagoon
Kleinmond lagoon
Rooi Els looking south east – Hangkip in the distance
Kleinmond lagoon
Kruger Park sunrise

Unless I’m travelling and wanting to see the city come awake, my early start is usually used for a good breakfast rather than driving to a chosen spot. Later, I like to head into the Winelands – often around Stellenbosch or Paarl, park and wander, usually completely aimlessly to catch whatever light, shadows, texture or human activity is on show.

My choice of dress is invariably dark. I carry an unbranded messenger bag usually with only a single camera, a couple of lenses and a spare battery. I like to find an interesting spot and dark clothing helps me to be much less visible, blend into the background. The unmarked bag doesn’t scream photographer and a choice of 35mm or 50mm lenses is often enough to make my choice of camera much less visible and threatening. Fuji’s X100 range is ideal for this purpose, but doesn’t offer interchangeable lenses.

I hang around, often replenishing my coffee-level. In minutes a not very promising location and a watchful eye, can deliver several previously unseen opportunities.

Another favourite is to reach a point where I feel a change of approach is needed and to turn around to retrace my steps. The places, shops, cafés I’ve just walked past now look completely different when approached from an alternative direction and fewer opportunities missed.


Kruger Park sunrise
Kleinmond lagoon
Sunrise waves at Rooisand
Sunrise waves at Rooisand

I’ve spent a long time wondering how I’d teach photography, help the aspiring shooter to see and feel the interesting images.

Well, it’s clear I’ll never be a teacher. I’d start with “Fill the viewfinder. Always.” “Unless you can’t, then get as bigger image as possible and live with the crop.”

That’s hardly teaching, save for poor technique.

How about me trying to explain the tiny frisson of excitement that accompanies a really interesting image in the viewfinder?

Nope. It works for me, but might be a million miles away from what you want – which is pretty much back where I started.

All the images here were shot on the SE Cape coast before about 08:30 (depending on the season), many several hours earlier.

Almost sunrise, Betty’s Bay

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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Just as well you’ve dumped on Highgate and returned to your adopted habitat – I’m never likely to see S Africa again, so I am totally dependent on you for my source of supply of photos of the place!

    Part of my misspent youth was actually “spent” in the Northern Territory of Australia – or to be more specific, “the Top End” of it. The NT of A has a promotional slogan – “you’ll never never know, if you never never go”. Perhaps you should follow their philosophy and try teaching other ‘togs, before you hang your unmarked bag on a hook. You might be surprised at what a good stimulus you would be, and you might even steer them away from the endlessly repetitive towards something as creative as your stuff.

    • Paul Perton says:

      Thanks Pete. It’s a slow day here and some positive feedback is most welcome.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I think you are just feeling a bit shy and unsure of yourself. But everyone does that. And people like you, with extraordinary talent to offer to others, should not simply bottle it up and retreat, as I do, into your little corner.

        Put bluntly – you could use that selection of photos to wall paper your home. And people dropping in for a visit would be awestruck – gobsmacked!

        So haul your extraordinary talent out of your unmarked bag, and get out there & share it. People like you have a moral obligation to do that – so that there IS another generation of “photographers”, to keep the whole thing going.

    • Paul Perton says:

      Thanks N. Good memories – hopefully, Japan will be just as much fun.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Breathtaking images, Paul! It makes me long to be back in SA with my camera – my first trip there was before I actually owned a camera!
    I’ve witnessed your shooting style on several occasions, and I must say that I envy your go-get-it attitude. Out there making lemonade out of lemon lighting or weather conditions – remember that sand storm shoot in Page, Arizona? Or the severe clear sky for the entire workshop in Forks, WA, otherwise known as the most overcast town in America. There you were, shooting everything while I slouched about moaning under my breath about the horrible light. You win, my friend! Your persistence has paid off royally, and the stunning images in this post are proof indeed.

  • Steve Mallett says:

    Some of those really get me. I can almost taste the air of Africa and it’s been way too long since I was out in the bush. The birds reflected in the lagoon, wonderful, and looking southeast from Rooi Els to Hangklip is so moody. The second wave pic we’ve spoken about – put it on the wall! A great set of images. And yes, take up a bit of teaching – you’ve taught me plenty over the years, and we’re still pals!

  • Lad Sessions says:

    Paul, You have a gift for seeking and seeing the beauty around you, especially in sky and water. These images are simply stunning! Thanks for sharing them. Lad

  • Sean says:

    Hi Paul,
    I don’t know how you do it but you’ve crafted images that just ooze quality; they literally give off light, and that’s not easy to achieve. Your images exhibit an abundance of soft and rich qualities that make them as tactile as you can get without actually being in the environs where they were crafted. Well done.

  • philberphoto says:

    Paul, after the un-postcard and the un-destination, you let DS innovate once again with the un-teacher. But, to be honest, you leave me un-convinced. You have been a constant source of inspiration to me, which is a form of teaching, if maybe an un-intentional one…
    And your images are awesome! There are so many that I just love that listing them all would be un-kind, as it might make you feel un-comfortable. But the two of beaking waves are un-matched. Kudos, congrats, etc. etc.

  • Pascal O. says:

    Spectacular set, Paul, congratulations and thank you!!

  • Alan says:

    As a prairie boy, I’ve always been partial to telephone poles against the sky and the Betty’s Bay almost sunrise is gorgeous. Also the undulating horizons greatly appeal. All very lovely and to be lingered over. Thanks!

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