Storm chasing in the arid Karoo

by MMC
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Welcome to the arid expanse of the Karoo, where farmers haven’t had decent rain for years. But that was about to change…

Words and photos Jay Caboz

Exploring off the beaten track in the Karoo can reveal unexpected magical vistas. ISO 50, 1/6 second at f/8

On the empty roads outside Prince Albert it is hot and dry. Before me is the stereotypical image one would expect of this arid region in the heart of the Western Cape Karoo: a field of weather-beaten scrub with your classic solitary windmill creaking as it swings in a warm and gentle breeze.

It’s midday and we’ve spent hours driving from Cape Town to get here. We are on the R407 and there is a terribly angry turtle watching me. In a way, I don’t blame him… in this heat, he doesn’t have the advantage of being able to escape into an air-conditioned shell, like our car.

Fortunately for the turtle – and the three other sweaty landscape photographers I’m traveling with – reprieve is on the way.

In the open expanse of the Karoo, finding a focal point like a windmill will give your images that extra something. ISO 100, 1/100th second at f/2.8

In the distance, a massive set of high-altitude clouds form, gradually taking on a dark, black hue. The turtle must have smelled the earthy scent of the rain because it is heading straight towards it, much like us.

For just a few days a year, the dry Karoo becomes an echo chamber for storms. These are the ideal conditions for capturing unique images of the Karoo with rainbows, beams of light radiating past rocky vistas and rivers of rainwater that disappear within hours.

Seasoned farmer Dirk Lamprecht has prayed for rain every day for six years. We stumbled upon his 10,000 hectare farm on the outskirts of Prince Albert, looking to get closer to a large storm cell forming in the distance.

Carrying camera gear across the hot Karoo can be a chore, but with rainstorms on the way, it’s worth it.

“The last good year we had was 2014, actually a normal year. From 2015 onwards, the weather started to get drier and drier and the rain fell less and less.

For Lamprecht, the rain didn’t come soon enough.

Having struggled to keep his farm running, he was forced to sell 2,500 angora goats because he could not afford to continue feeding them.

“It will take at least five years (for my land) to recover enough to have (angora) again. What people don’t understand is that it’s the Earth that we really need to protect.

His story, like that of many farmers in the region, is long and difficult. Today he is lucky.

The dry scrub that we crossed just a few hours ago is overflowing with torrents of water. The relief on Lamprecht’s face is priceless.

Unfortunately, we can’t stick around and celebrate with a cold beer. The lighting only gets better, the drama builds. But it won’t last long.

Waiting for the golden hour is key to capturing the best light and color. ISO 125, 1/40 second at f/9

Chasing storms in the Karoo isn’t easy, your biggest challenge is finding an interesting foreground. Although it is vast, it takes a lot of gas and a lot more luck to find something that will stand out.

As we drive along the N12, we are greeted by a magnificent sunset. Beside us is a vibrant rainbow wreathed in golden clouds and a perfect little windmill.

This is the moment for which we traveled more than 500 km. We stop right in front of a windmill, jump out and grab our tripods just in time for the spectacular light show.

As the sky darkens after a successful shoot, we return to “base camp” – a beautiful Victorian house in Cape Town, aptly named Die Letterhuis. The century-old building dates back to the days when letters were delivered on horseback.

Original calligraphic works and casts by Belgian letter sculptors Maud Bekaert and Kristoffel Boudens hang on the walls. It’s a great place to recharge and enjoy the night sky with a Karoo lamb braai on the front porch, while planning our next early morning sunrise photoshoot just a few hundred meters away.

A storm cell leaves behind a river of rainwater. ISO 50, 1/25 second at f/22

Thanks to the rain, Karel de Haas, owner of Die Letterhuis, informs us that the dam behind their venue is beautiful and surprisingly full. We take full advantage of it during the blue hour, the hour before sunrise, when the earth takes on a blue hue and refracted sunlight reflects off the clouds above.

Nature offers a fantastic sunrise as well as a landscape full of life. Still in their unpredictable temperament, hundreds of ants also got up early and decided my legs would make a good breakfast.

After a few photos and several ant stings later, we found ourselves having our first dessert of the day, a delicious carrot cake at Lah-di-dah Restaurant with a refreshing cup of iced coffee.

Seasoned farmer Dirk Lamprecht has prayed for rain every day for six years.

Hoping to catch another storm, we head west in scorching 37°C heat. Nestled at the foot of the Swartberg mountains, we discover the Weltevreden fig farm. Escaping the heat, we wait for the end of the good weather in the shade of a fig tree and decide that it is not too early for dessert. The Fig Farm makes a delicious R45 fig tart, and it turns out good food isn’t the only thing this farm is known for. Weltevreden also offers comfortable self-catering guest houses under a cool blanket of willows and blue gum trees.

Their small private house in Fonteinskop, with its spacious and tranquil balcony, is a short drive from the main farm and offers endless views across the valley. This is where we relax after a mad dash to collect all our camera equipment before being thrown sideways. rain and dirt from another storm.

With our gear packed away, we take some well-deserved time off to dance in the rain, shirts off, sing to the sky, and laugh with our hearts and memory cards full of adventure.

Golden light touches the Karoo hills outside Prince Albert. ISO 50, 1/8th of a second at f/8.

The storm passes and it’s time to find our final location for sunset and the last leg of our journey. We are tired and the day’s drive has been long and exhausting. At the top of a valley we find an inviting off-road view with rolling mountains and a long dirt road to center the composition. As it disappears behind the Swartberg Mountains, beams of golden light burst forth.

A perfect end to two long days spent chasing rain, rainbows and reflections in one of the driest regions of the country.

How to Shoot Storms

Photographing constantly changing light is challenging. This requires a versatile photographer who must be aware of camera settings. I usually shoot at ISO 100 and try to balance the exposure between f/8 and f/16.
Shutter speeds can vary greatly depending on what you are photographing. If you’re shooting handheld, aim for at least 1/500 second. Purchasing filters to darken your image, such as a 5-stop ND filter, will help you shoot at longer shutter speeds (15-30 second exposures) with a camera mounted on a tripod… more useful for capturing movement in puddles and lightning.
The best advice What I can give is to purchase a circular polarizer which will help reduce glare from clouds and water reflections.

Travel planner

Stay here

The House of Letters on Aswater Farm, the costs 1,000 rand per night for two. For additional guests, R450 per person. Can accommodate six people in total, perfect for contemplative weekends with friends or family.
076 051 1017
letterhuis.co.za

The House of Letters

Fig and guest farm WeltevredeFonteinskop, fresh R800 per night for two in a quaint cottage and R1,800 for the first four people in one of the three larger houses. All equipped with kerosene lamps, gas stove, gas refrigerator and gas geysers.
087 095 6229
figfarm.co.za/unit/fonteinskop

Eat here

Visit Restaurant Lah-di-dah to Prince Albert for delicious coffee and delicious meals.
082 516 6146

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