The Surreal World of Frans Lanting
This is a dry pan known as Dead Vlei.
It is scattering those camel thorn trees, now hard stone.
Many photographers have been here
and my challenge was of course to show it in a new way.
So I looked for different ways–
to juxtapose trees with the dunes,
using a telephoto lens to compress the scene,
experimenting with a wide-angle lens that would create more space.
Now once the sun is up,
the contrast between the dunes lit by the morning sun
and the clay pan still in shade became so great
that I needed to apply a special graduated neutral density filter
to expose the image properly.
And as the sunlight moved across the pan,
the scene literally changes by the minute.
So it really helps to have an idea in mind
before you go out there and I did.
I’d scoped out a particularly interesting set of trees
and then it became a matter to finesse the details–
executing the image in different ways. Less depth of field
blurs out the background, as you can see here.
But when I closed my aperture down all the way,
I could render the grasses on the dunes in the background more crisply.
By the time I’d figured out all these technical details,
the sun had almost reached the pan.
And this is the magical moment.
When this image was published in Geographic,
it went viral on the internet.
I think something like half a million people looked at it
in the course of two days.
And many of them wondered whether it was a painting
and others thought it was heavily altered in Photoshop, but it wasn’t.
It was purely a matter of being in the right place
at the right time, with an idea in mind.
Now, you do need serendipity from time to time,
sometimes things just happen.
Like after I composed this image,
suddenly these early morning hikers walked into the scenes,
and I said, “Thank you very much”.
But five minutes later, when the sun started creeping across the pan,
the magic is gone, because now it no longer looks
quite as surreal as it did in that earlier image.
And ten minutes later, it is a totally different scene.
By the time the first tourists arrived…
we were done.