Photo Anatomy: the making of Frans Lanting’s ‘Ghost Trees At Dawn’

Photo Anatomy: the making of Frans Lanting's 'Ghost Trees At Dawn'

In our Photo Anatomy series on Digital Camera World we select pictures by famous photographers and explain point by point what makes them work.

In our latest instalment we look back at one of the most famous images by one of the world’s most famous active photographers. Ghost Trees At Dawn looks like a painting, but this is a genuine photograph of trees in the Namibian desert. The legendary Frans Lanting tells us how he did it.

Photo Anatomy: the making of Frans Lanting's 'Ghost Trees At Dawn'

Controlling the light
“There was a big difference in the intensity of light on the sand dune and clay floor,” Frans explains. “Therefore
I used a two-stop graduated ND filter to reduce the contrast.”

Compressed perspective
Frans used a Nikon D3X with a Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR lens. To flatten perspective, he shot at the 200mm end and reduced the aperture to f/22, which gave a 1/10 sec exposure.

Location
Frans shot this striking scene in Deadvlei, Namibia, Africa. The blackened camel thorn trees stand out starkly against the huge sand dune, which is peppered with grasses.

Striking colours
“The burnt orange colour of the sand dune was intensified by warm early morning sunlight,” says Frans. “Meanwhile, the white clay floor looks blue because it was reflecting the sky’s colour.”

Perfect timing
“I waited for the perfect moment when the sunlight reached the bottom of the sand dune, but before it reached the desert floor,” Frans recalls. “This created a strong contrast between foreground and background.”

We Say
“ND grads are a good in-camera solution for balancing a bright background and darker foreground. Alternatively, shoot two images and expose separately for the foreground and background. Then, later, merge the images together in Photoshop, using layer masks where necessary to separate overlapping areas, such as the trees in this image.”
Chris Rutter, technique editor

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