March 10th, 2021

By Mathieu Dupuis


When my friend and fellow journalist Gary Lawrence offered me to accompany him to the Namib Desert for a story in Namibia, I said, "Okay. I'm not particularly the desert type, but I'm interested." Located in southwest Africa, Namibia is home to the oldest desert on the planet, which dates back 55 million years!

As a professional travel and documentary photographer for nearly 20 years, I am used to travelling light. One or two cameras, a few lenses, my drone and a minimum of personal belongings. However, for this story where I have to do wildlife, landscapes, portraits and hiking, it is difficult for me to leave only in "carry-on" mode. Even though I made the leap to mirrorless with the Canon R system as soon as it was released, the weight increases quickly. The 40-liter backpack and messenger bag are no longer enough – an extra duffle bag is ideal. I filled it up easily with some just-in-case items.


The flight hours follow one after the other. A few hours away from arriving in Southern
Africa, I am constantly looking out the window... 
Mathieu Dupuis

iPhone 7 Plus
1 / 3500s  |  f/1.8  |  ISO 20


Flights Montreal-Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Johannesburg, Johannesburg to Windhoek... thirty hours later, we are ready for adventure! Still at the Windhoek airport for a charter flight in a Cessna to the heart of the "Namib", I'm back on the ground! But of course - my luggage is overweight. I exaggerated a bit in hopes that it was going to sneak by. But the weight/size ratio is strict. Especially for the small cargo holds on the wings of the Cessna. "What doesn't fit the weight gauge stays here," says the attendant. There are lockers for this purpose. 

After a hurried and ruthless reorganization, I'm crossing my fingers that I haven't left behind something essential. For example, the battery charger for a camera! Even worse, the memory cards... The plane flies from the Namibian capital to the wilderness of the Namib desert. The turbulences are violent. I drop my sunglasses. Jaritha, the pilot, asks us if we are okay in the back, big smile on her lips. A smile that is contagious in the cockpit. The turbulences are not taking away the pleasure of being there!


Jaritha Pienaar, bush pilot in Namibia, handles the last turn before the landing. She
does it with skill and precision amidst violent turbulence.
Mathieu Dupuis

Canon EOS R + Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
1/200s  |  f/8  |  ISO 160


Under the wing of the single-engine aircraft, the
crossing of the Namib Desert is breathtaking.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
1/640s  |  f/8  |  ISO 160

The Sossusvlei, between dunes and dry clay basins



The way up the "Big Daddy" is not at all easy. But the view alone gives you the
courage to climb in the sand.
Mathieu Dupuis

Canon EOS R + Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
1/320s  |  f/11  |  ISO 250


The landscape of the desert is carved by the wind. In the distance, Gary Lawrence
poses to catch his breath and admire the view.
Mathieu Dupuis

Canon EOS R + Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
1/320s  |  f/11  |  ISO 250

Thanks to a special permission we will be able to stay past the closure of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Our goal: climb the Big Daddy dune. At 325 meters, it is one of the highest dunes in the world. Climbing alone on the sandy ridge takes us hours. Our hearts are pounding. I thank the featherweight of the mirrorless devices. With each step, I sink and move back half a step. A scorching wind blows strongly. There is orange sand in my ears. I wear my scarf on my face to breathe, moving forward and sweating in the heat. I protect my camera as much as I can. I can already feel that there's sand in the focus ring of my Canon RF 24-105mm F/4L zoom lens... But the setting is great!

A few dozen meters from the summit, I abandon the hike. The sun is very low and the light extraordinary. My long-awaited sunset photo will not take place at the summit. It will rather be in the famous Deadvlei, which means dead swamp. Located at the very bottom, the dried clay basin is notable for its trees. Although not petrified, they do not decompose due to the lack of humidity. This sight verges on the unreal. Out of breath, I arrive just in time at the desired location. The sun's rays are falling at full speed on the reddish flanks of the dunes that surround me. I work simply hand-held. The lens stabilization alone allows me to use an aperture of f/11 despite a slow shutter speed and a very low ISO. As the sun is falling, from the corner of my eye, I see a dot at the top of the Big Daddy: Gary has reached the top of the majestic dune in the last few rays!


After hours of walking on the sand, stepping on the hardened clay surface of the
Deadvlei is a real pleasure!
Mathieu Dupuis

Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/100s |  f/14  |  ISO 200


These mysterious silhouettes on a background of colorful dunes, a play of light and
shadows, plunge me into the heart of my photographic passion.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/160s  |  f/8  |  ISO 250


A fortunate encounter with this oryx during my solitary
walk to the vehicle left a few kilometers from the
Deadvlei.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/100s  |  f/14  |  ISO 200


Tomorrow I will leave the region of Sossousvlei, but my desert visions will
accompany me for a long time.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM
1/125s  |  f/5.6  |  ISO 250

Au pays des Himbas


The legendary Cessna Caravan will be our means of transportation for the next few
days.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/4000s  |  f/4  |  ISO 250


Back in the Cessna aircraft, our eyes feast over Namibia during the flight from Sossusvlei to the Kunene region, located in the northwest of the country. Although the plane is bigger, the violent turbulence is still there. After a few hours and many layovers, we arrived at our destination. A Land Cruiser, another emblematic vehicle of the place, is waiting for us. The journey reveals landscapes with completely different characteristics. The desert of golden sand is pierced by dark mountains with sharp edges. We feel like we are in a scene from a science fiction movie. In fact, several films have been shot in the Namib desert.


A surreal vision, the scenery of the Kunene desert surprises at every glance.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/2000s  |  f/8  |  ISO 250


On the "trail" of the Himbas village.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/1000s  |  f/8  |  ISO 250


The lone tree in the surroundings. I turn my eyes back to the ground, trying not to
step on a snake or a scorpion.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS M5 +
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM
1/1000s  |  f/9  |  ISO 640

After a few days in the area, we made ourselves comfortable. Breakfast at the border of Angola. Hike in the arid mountains. At last, I am ready to meet the Himbas, a fascinating semi-nomadic people. The arrival in the village is both unsettling and exciting at the same time. I have the feeling that I am finally off the beaten track of mass tourism. It's refreshing. This kind of photographic encounters are delicate in my humble opinion. I am always wondering how to find my place and what is the right rhythm for "ethical" photography, especially when it is impossible to communicate with words. I am always very embarrassed to take pictures at the beginning of a meeting and especially when I am not able to explain my approach. So I put my photographic excitement aside for a while so that we can get to know each other and find our bearings. For myself as well as for the Himbas. I connect on a human level and immerse myself in the cultural experience that I am privileged to live. No cameras in sight.


The children of the village run towards us as soon as we get out of the vehicle.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/500s  |  f/8  |  ISO 200


In the shade, the women smoke their pipes and chat. Time passes in their company.
Suddenly, I am kindly invited to take pictures.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/125s  |  f/4  |  ISO 100

At a certain point, the women of the village leave, and return dressed in various traditional accessories. Instinctively, I think the relationship is established and I feel invited to take my camera. I start in the village around the huts. We are now on a stroll in the dunes. The children are having fun. I take some individual portraits. I take care to present them to the participants on the camera screen. I can see pride in their eyes. When we can only communicate through eyes and gestures, other senses compensate. Listening to my surroundings, I find the children who accompany us to be quite playful. They try to get my attention. As soon as I take an interest in them, an electrifying energy sweeps through the group.


The women of the village guide me to the dunes, revealing magnificent sights.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/800s  |  f/5.6  |  ISO 250


Himba women dye their skin with an ointment based on cow fat and red ochre powder.
This method is part of the beauty criteria and also protects against the sun, dry air
and insect bites.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/1000s  |  f/4  |  ISO 250


This young mother proudly poses with her child while a
group of kids slide down the dune in the background.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/640s  |  f/4  |  ISO 250

They run away. It is impossible to follow them in what is practically quicksand. As they disappear behind a dune overhanging me, all I can hear is distant laughter carried by the warm wind. Suddenly, I see sand spinning in the wind. A sign that something is happening... I raise my camera close to my eye with my finger close to the shutter release. Like lightning, the children appear and literally fly over me. They hover over the dune in laughter that can only translate happiness in its most authentic form. I didn't even look at what I had captured on the camera. Deep down I already knew it. 


A moment of pure magic.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/1000s  |  f/4  |  ISO 250


After hours of playing in the sand, the children discover a potentially deadly viper not
far from us.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/200s  |  f/8  |  ISO 250


Last sunset before leaving the Kunene River area. On the other side, the mountains
of Angola rise. Having set foot there for only a few minutes, it was probably my
shortest stay in another country!
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/125s  |  f/8  |  ISO 160

A safari like no other


After a tenth Cessna flight in a week, the last chapter of my story takes me out of my comfort zone in terms of photography: wildlife photography is on
the agenda. Up to now, my most beautiful animal photos have been the result of coincidental encounters when I was assigned to something else. Namibia offers an exceptional safari quality. My two playgrounds are the Hoanib River and the Etosha Reserve. During my outings, I have my two Canon EOS R and Canon EOS RP cameras ready at hand, one equipped with a Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8 L IS USM and the other with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM to be ready for the unexpected.


Always ready for action... I don't miss any opportunity to get a
few minutes of sleep.

"I saved these pictures for your last evening, my friend!”


My Namibian guide, Ben Petrus, offers me an outing to see the desert lions with the possibility to also see rhinos (white/black), giraffes, elephants and other species that are amazing to a Canadian. We leave in the famous Land Cruiser in the late afternoon for my last evening before returning home. Ben asks me if I am ready for my African massage. In the Hoanib River area, there is no more road. Only tracks or even better, "off-road" with deflated tires for traction. Indeed, it's a great way to get a massage! Ben uses the dry riverbed to get a little comfort during the ride when possible. However, he remains on the lookout for flash floods: even though it hasn't rained for almost eight years in this area, showers are possible. They could cause this river of sand to flood with white water. The wave would arrive like a tsunami! The truck is equipped with a "snorkel" in order to facilitate the air intake in this case.


Face to face with a desert lion on its ridge. 
He clearly thinks he is the king of the
mountain.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS RP + Canon EF 100-400mm f/5.6L IS II USM
1/1000s  |  f/5.6  |  ISO 320 

Here and there, giant acacia oases bring touches of soft green in a monochrome landscape. Shadows stretch as the light fades away. The expedition vehicle hums at low speed in the meanders of the Hoanib River. Called the “Ephemeral River” because of seasonal floods, it stretches for 270 km and is the refuge of several animal species. Suddenly, Ben steps into the brakes without warning! My heart races. "Look to the left, a lion!" It's not over yet. The highlight of the spectacle is when we spend the wonderful hour of sunset with a group of desert elephants. A moment of great intensity. Ben with his natural smile says to me: "I had saved these pictures for your last evening, my friend! »


After long hours of searching, we found them in an oasis of trees.
Mathieu Dupuis

Canon EOS R + Canon EF 100-400mm f/5.6L IS II USM
1/640s  |  f/5  |  ISO 640


In the golden glow of the sunset, the desert elephants offer themselves as a
spectacle just a few steps away from me.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS RP + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/125s  |  f/8  |  ISO 250


In some parts of Namibia, not a single drop of rain has fallen for almost 8 years.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS RP + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/320s  |  f/8  |  ISO 160


In flight, I notice that the desert stretches endlessly.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS RP + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/800s  |  f/8  |  ISO 250


Suddenly, the Atlantic Ocean makes an appearance.
The desert ends there on the Skeleton Coast. This place
is famous for its many shipwrecks.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS RP + Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/800s  |  f/8  |  ISO 250


Coated with a whitish clay, elephants in the northeastern region of Namibia are
nicknamed the ghosts of Etosha.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon RF 100-400mm f/5.6L IS II USM
1/2000s  |  f/8  |  ISO 640


Camouflage game.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon EF 100-400mm f/5.6L IS USM
1/250s  |  f/8  |  ISO 640


A white rhinoceros dances in the twilight for my greatest delight.
Mathieu Dupuis
Canon EOS R + Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM
1/320s  |  f/8  |  ISO 1000

 Signature.png
For this story, I was invited by Voyageurs du monde.

You can follow Mathieu Dupuis' work on his website, his Instagram account or his Facebook page.

Gear used by Mathieu during this photo expedition