I had seen photos for years of Sossusvlei from other visitors, some incredible and some not. They looked hurried with people in the shots. I passionately wanted to photograph Deadvlei in the early morning and at night. I had not slept well the past couple of nights and was exhausted. It was hot in the bush chalet that night. I knew I wanted to be at Deadvlei before sunrise, and that meant I needed to get up at 3:30 am.

I spoke to a young couple from Ukraine and the fire was lit. My eyes were wide open as I got ready and headed out alone as other guests took off as part of a group with a guide to the dunes of Sossusvlei to witness the sunrise. I headed to Deadvlei. 

Deadvlei is a paradise for photographers, as the contrasts between the pitch-black dead camel thorn trees on the dried up bleached-white clay surface, and between rusty-red dunes that stand 1,000 feet high and deep blue skies make for breathtaking images.

After driving nearly all the way in the dark on a paved road, I arrived at a lot where the road turned to deep sand, which required a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Many travelers parked and took a shuttle to the dunes at Sossusvlei or Deadvlei. Many vehicles get stuck and need to be towed out. 

I arrived at dawn and packed up my breakfast box, several liters of water and camera gear and hiked the 1.4 kilometers up and down dunes in the thick sand. The hike was a great cardio workout, carrying all that equipment. I was surprised how small Deadvlei looked from the top of a dune leading into dried up marsh. I watched the sunrise and moved to get out of the photo as the sun cast a long shadow off the trees.


The beauty of Deadvlei is hard to describe -- nothing is alive, yet the colors and contrasts are extraordinary. I sat on the ground, photographing upward toward the dunes and skies as the colors changed. Several people stopped to converse. They’d traveled from France, Germany, the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Some were curious about what I was photographing and some just wanted to chat and share their travel stories.

I had planned to arrive in the early morning to photograph and come back at night. That did not happen. I spent two mornings there until the clay white surface became a frying pan by the late morning. By 10:30 a.m., people would vacate the area and return to Sesriem for lunch. This enabled me to take clean photos without any humans in the background. 

I ran out of water and needed to get to the truck for more as temperatures soared into the 90’s. I refueled with food and water, emptied a cup of sand from each shoe and was pretty much done for the day. My feet were aching and I had blisters developing on my right foot.

A young couple approached and asked about Sossusvlei. There was a massive sand dune called “Big Daddy” across the way with a wooden sign on a post. There it is, Sossusvlei -- why not? I started to climb with water, a camera and a tripod. The couple had a head start and, 45 minutes later, I was on top of the massive dune. What a great view! I took many photos from all angles, then I was done. Now I had to walk down -- ugh! I took a different route than I’d used climbing up and, oh my goodness, was it hot! I was done for the day. It was midday and I had to walk down and drive an hour back to the lodge.

As I made my way down, I passed through a dried up marsh with fallen trees. It was well over 100 degrees. I found some shade under a small tree -- I probably looked like a springbok in Etosha seeking comfort from the heat. I did not want to fall, get hurt or break any camera gear on the way down.

I drove back slowly. I was so exhausted I started falling asleep at the wheel. I needed to wake up. I grabbed lunch when I returned to Sesriem. Cold sparkling water never tasted so good. No more trips to Deadvlei. For me, it was back to dune camp to relax until dinner. 

Nighttime photography at Deadvlei was not advised by the locals due to snakes and scorpions that inhabited the area. Cloudy skies the first couple of nights put a damper on my plans, but I was finally able to capture the brightly lit stars that filled the African skies on my final night at Sossusvlei.