Shooting Cape Town – 13-16 March 2015

I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to stay in Cape Town (Vredehoek) over this past weekend for 4 days, thanks to a friend (Andrew) who happened to be going out of town for the week and allowed me to stay at his place for the time. I’ve spent a lot of time around Cape Town over the years, but mostly it’s been in the southern suburbs and for some reason I’ve never actually done a lot of landscape photography out that end. My girlfriend Megan, who I’ve mentioned in previous posts and is also a photographer was going to be staying with me for those days too and I had hopes that we could perhaps head out and do some photography together again.

While leaving Somerset West on the Friday, on route to Cape Town I noticed quite thick cirrus clouds in the sky which can either lead to an amazing sunset if it thins out a bit, or end up in a mess if too thick. Things were beginning to look promising as I approached town, at about 18:00. I had an hour to kill before Andrew got back from work, so I decided to head up to Signal Hill. Signal Hill is a location that I had never been to before and I had no idea where I should park or how far the road extends up. I decided to take the safe route, and after navigating my way past the numerous hikers cross the road, I found a parking location not far up the road and got out to find a decent vantage point. Shooting straight from the road was definitely not desirable and so I jumped down the hill and hiked through some bushes until I found whatever resembled a foreground.

Initially the sky wasn’t performing well and it looked like the cirrus canopy may be a bit too thick, but then the colour slowly started to pull through. First it turned slightly yellow as expected, but before long the sky was glowing pinks and oranges. I stayed in location and shot about 200 images, several of them panoramas. It was clear to me that I would need to come back to the location again at some point and explore further along the road… And that’s exactly what we did.

The view of Cape Town from Signal Hill at around 18:30 on Friday 13 March 2015
A similar view about 30 minutes later, as the sun set and lit up the sky

The next night, Megan was off work and we were able to go see what else Signal Hill held for us. It’s worth mentioning that my camera battery charger died a couple of weeks ago and since then I’ve been operating with both my camera batteries flashing warnings that they are about to die. We ended up leaving Vredehoek at about 20:30 and made our way to Signal Hill. This time we continued up the road to the furthest point, where to both of our surprises – there was an actual parking lot. Further surprising however, was that it seemed to be a popular hang out location. There were dozens of cars lined up against the side of the road, and over 100 people enjoying the view. The scene would be very different for us than it was the previous night of my visit and instead of sunset skies, we were under the stars, looking down on a city of lights.

For a change there was very little wind present and it was actually a pleasant evening, which would explain everyone being there. We traversed around the area, moving from a northerly view to a view towards the east, over the city itself. After a few shots my Canon 50Ds last battery life left me and Megan lent me her 550D body to use while she shot on her primary 5D. The 550D is a camera I am, or at least was very used to – as I had one for over a year before selling it to buy my 50D.

I was originally shooting with my Sigma 10-20mm wide angle, but soon realized that the Canon 50mm F1.8 was able to capture much better detail in the buildings below. In fact, we were both blown away by the quality of the images that the 550D was producing with the 50mm lens. Here is a 100% crop from one of the images: NOT BAD AT ALL!

We continued to shoot for a while, moving to find spots between the cars, and actually bumped into Megan’s housemate while shooting. Either Cape Town is just as small as people tend to say, or Signal Hill is really just that popular of a location. Either way, after the unusual and comedic coincidence, we began to get ready to leave, but not before Megan was able to capture the memory in a rather cute, but also rad way.

Panoramic image of Cape Town at night
Cape Town Night Panorama
A 6 image panorama of Cape Town city at night from Signal Hill
Close up (50mm) of the Cape Town CBD in Black and White
Down town Cape Town
The south eastern part of the V&A Waterfront at night

The next day, I had spoken to Andrew about the previous nights shoot and he recommended we got check out the view from the other side, from Table Mountain facing towards Lion’s Head. The sky was looking mediocre for most of the day, but there were some signs of cirrus again so Megan and I spent our Sunday night heading up towards the cable car area on Table Mountain. We drove on until the dead end in the road and set up our tripods. The location was difficult to shoot as there wasn’t really any foreground and getting to a decent vantage point with a foreground was something we wouldn’t have time to do, so we ended up perching ourselves on the edge of the road, just over the barrier, on a rather steep decline in the terrain.

The sun slowly began to drop behind the horizon and the sky began to do a few cool little tricks. Just giving us enough to create some sense of colour in our images. We stayed at the same location for just over an hour and watched as the lack of natural light began to become compensated for by an increase in city lights.

It’s worth mentioning that after shooting, we picked up some great Sweet & Sour Chicken from a local Chinese place and ate ourselves to sleep!

On the following day, I actually did more shooting in the morning when I joined Megan for a shoot at the CTSP where she had booked the studio for one of her shoots and had given me the change to expand on my portfolio a bit with some fashion-type shots. She shoots primarily fashion and beauty, while I shoot almost entirely landscapes or nature – so it was a very different world for me. But it was quite fun and very interesting to see how the flash setups are done in the studio. I will update this entry with images from that shoot when I have them.

From Table Mountain, looking towards Cape Town CBD at 18:40 on Saturday 14 March 2015
The same view about 30 minutes later…
City lights now visible at about 20:00

Monday evening, the wind was howling… I mean it was absolutely crazy.

But I decided that I wanted to try and get some photographs of Cape Town from another angle on this day, so I drove through to Lagoon Beach which is near Milnerton. It’s a small beach area just off Marine Drive, but offers quite a nice view of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. I had an idea of what I wanted to shoot, I was hoping for some long exposure shots with water movement in the foreground. But while on route, in the God awful rush hour traffic – I realized that I had forgotten my tripod! I almost just gave up on the idea, but figured that there may still be some opportunities for some handheld shots.

Arriving at the beach – I was almost blown away as I opened the car door. Winds in excess of 50km/h meant that I was constantly fighting it. And doing so in shorts and a t-shirt too. While freezing and trying to maintain my balance I moved around the beach a bit, and watched as the clouds did what I was a bit afraid they would do. Much like with my fears on the Friday, the cirrus were too thick to the west, meaning the sunlight wasn’t able to illuminate the clouds and instead I was stuck with the nightmare cloud setup.

In these cases exposing an image correctly becomes very tough as the sun is too hidden behind the cirrus veil for it to create a well lit foreground. At the same time though, it’s bright enough that if you expose for the foreground, facing towards the sun – you’re going to end up blowing out your whites.

I decided to take most of the earlier shots facing east instead, to avoid this. Luckily the cirrus stretched far enough so that shooting towards the east was still able to provide an interesting sky. The wind continued to blast me, and then I noticed that a bit of sunlight kept getting picked up on the sand blowing across the beach. So I got on my knees and waiting for a few minutes until the next big gust, and then snapped a few shots as the sand whipped along the beach in front of me, creating what is probably one of my favourite images that I’ve taken. The sand blowing across the ground almost mirrors the cirrus, and they way they’re streaking across the sky.

I spent about an hour shooting before not being able to handle the cold anymore and head back to the car.

Sand catches the light as it races in columns along the beach, thanks to a raging wind
A few dramatic clouds looking towards Cape Town from Lagoon Beach
Cirrus clouds above the ocean
The wind left no water safe, and even the thin layer of water from the receding waves was being rippled
A piece of wreckage on the beach catches the last of the sun’s light
A few people walk in the icy winds as the sun says its last goodbyes for the day
A packet is buried under sand
Sand swings across the beach in the wind with Cape Town in the distance

So over the course of 4 days, I was able to get in 5 different shoots, 4 of which were landscape shoots. There’s still so much that I still need to get shots of around Cape Town though, and hopefully the opportunities will soon arise. All in all, it was a great weekend – both photography wise and in general.

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