Namibia Travelogue: The Ghost Town of Kolmanskop

I’m sure that if you saw a picture of some drab deserted buildings in a travel magazine, you’d jump at the chance to visit it, no? Look at all that brown! Look at those great rundown buildings! You know you’d want to travel 12,000 miles, 38 hours by plane and another 10 hours by car, carrying over 50 lbs of camera gear to see dilapidation!

The ghost town of Kolmanskop. iPhone, PicMonkey edit

Ah, I would agree with that sentiment. But this is one of the most amazing photographic destinations in the world. Kolmanskop, on the west coast of Namibia, is an abandoned diamond mining town whose buildings have been left to the whims of mother nature.

Surrounded by desert, the buildings are in an early-1900’s style of German architecture, complete with old German fonts that proclaim the function of each of the buildings (hospital, schoolhouse, blacksmith, etc). We procured a special photographer’s permit to stay after the town’s noon closing and were able to move among the buildings to set up tripods. This provided various angles into the strange juxtaposition of desert and dilapidated—but surprisingly vibrant—interiors.

Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm tilt-shift, 6 shot panorama, exposure blended

The drab grey of the buildings belies the vibrant paint colors and wallpaper used inside each of the buildings. Doors that spent years keeping mother nature out were now cast wide into sandbars that let her in.

This shot required an exposure blend to ensure that the sky in the far window stayed blue and was not overexposed given the rest of the image. By blending together two images using graphics, one exposed for the sky, and another exposed for the shadows, a more natural exposure can be created.

Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm tilt-shift, 3 shot panorama

A three-shot panorama of the hospital in Kolmanskop. Looking down the hallway, you can look left and right into any of the rooms and see harsh angular features like broken windows or walls, or alternatively the sweeping lines of mini sand dunes piled up to the ceilings.

Using a tilt-shift lens, three shots were taken and stitched together, with emphasis on keeping the eye moving down the corridor while simultaneously drawing the viewer to the discordant left and right rooms. Really wacky place!

Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm tilt-shift, 6-shot panorama and exposure blend

This room had amazing light caused by the exposed slats of the roof and the rough, dilapidated walls and doorways. The sand covered door to the left created a nice balance to the doorframe to the right.

To get the width of the entire room, a tilt-shift lens was used to create three shots that were stitched together. However, the sky above the slats and to the left in the window was too far of a dynamic range to still get the dark of the bottom right correctly exposed. So another three shot tilt-shift panorama was created correctly exposed for the shadows, and then the two panoramas were combined into the final image.

Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm tilt-shift, 3 shot panorama

Many of the buildings had this nice, soft light entering the rooms, bathing the vibrant colors of the wall. To make most images work, it was important to line up various doorways to lead the viewer’s eye through the scene.

In this shot, the partially open window enters into the frame while the doorways create a nice exit for the image to flow.

Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm tilt-shift, 6-shot panorama

Harsh light was also common, as were a multitude of footsteps in the sand that usually ruin the shot. This shot has the same doorway-creating-movement feel, and relatively intact sand. But the light was fairly harsh, so the previous technique used in the rooms with the slatted roof was used.

Also important was getting the right white balance. The original shot was fairly yellow because the sun happened to be towards the end of the day. But that left the walls and doorways with an unwanted yellow tinge. By using the neutral picker in the color effect, the image was corrected for better white balance.

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Frits is PicMonkey’s chief executive monkey, with a long history building software in the graphic and gaming space. Frits lives and breathes nature photography, finding deep meditation in the outdoors and drinking in anything mother nature has to offer; from walks over active lava fields, to doorless helicopter flights over remote landscapes, to immersion into a den of feeding grizzly bears, he’s capable of running away from them all.