antelope walking across the desert

Capturing Namibia

Tolis Fragoudis

“When it comes to travel photography,” begins Tolis Fragoudis, “the longer you stay somewhere, the deeper you can dive. For me, this is the captivating part. When I go to a new place, I want to get to know it, as well as the people that live there. So, I stay as long as I can, and I don’t set too many specific goals. Travel photography should not be a checklist.”

This approach can elevate shots above the touristic norms, and the effect is clear from his recent work in Namibia’s deserts and mountains. “When most people visit a place, they have maybe a week to spend. That’s not a lot of time, but it’s even more complicated if they book 100 things to experience and take pictures of. In Namibia I had a month, and even that isn’t enough to really know a place, it was long enough to find what I needed.”

twisted rock in the namibian desert

© Tolis Fragoudis | Sony α7R IV + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/5s @ f/8.0, ISO 100

Nowhere is this truer than when photographing the population of a place, says Tolis. “Whether it’s a town in the middle of Europe or a tribe living in the desert, if all you spend is a few minutes, you can only expect images that look like they’re taken by an outsider.” “But if you spend a day or more, and you live and eat, and talk with people, you begin to see the patterns of how they live. And that’s what makes more natural and compelling photos.”

But how does this work in a practical sense, especially in a country you’ve never visited before? “It’s important not to think too much about photography straight away, but to get into a flow. Let your eyes and your heart lead you around and you’ll be on the right path.”

man standing underneath a rock at night with the milky way behind him

© Tolis Fragoudis | Sony α7S III + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 15s @ f/2.8, ISO 6400

“We were on one of the mountain passes, in an area called Spitzkoppe, and there I got talking to a resident, Rieth van Schalkwyk, asking if we could camp on the pass and take some pictures of the peaks and rock formations under the stars. It turned out her husband had been a very famous aerial photographer – Paul van Schalkwyk. She had many local connections, and when I asked about local tribes, she put us on the right track.”

Together with this guide, Tolis visited this tribe – the Ovahimbas – taking them a gift of supplies like flour oil and salt, in exchange for spending a day in their camp. “Because of doing it this way, they knew my intentions were honest. In the beginning, I didn’t take any pictures. But it’s funny because pretty soon they said, ‘hey, where is your camera, let’s take some photos!’”

side portrait of a namibian tribesman

© Tolis Fragoudis | Sony α7C + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/250s @ f/2.8, ISO 640

“When I shoot travel portraits they’re often in this spontaneous style, where they’re not posed, but more natural and unexpected. And it’s there that the features of the Sony Alpha 7R IV really help.”

“Certainly, the Alpha 7R IV’s AF is key,” he continues, “and its speed and accuracy was really important as many of the portraits were taken with the FE 135mm f/1.8 GM at the maximum aperture. In situations like that, where the depth-of-field is only a few centimetres at most, the eye tracking mode is priceless. It works right across the frame, so nothing escapes it. People are moving and laughing and living, just as I wanted to remember them, and the camera can’t stop for them.”

In those situations, the Alpha 7R IV’s tilting screen also came into play. “I don’t want portraits that are posed, so in those situations, I rarely have the camera up to my eye. That way of shooting can make people a little uncomfortable. Instead, the Alpha 7R IV’s screen helps me shoot without looking directly at them and with the camera on my knee, I’m more invisible. They think I’m checking other pictures and are therefore more themselves – more natural in their pose shall we say.”

young tribal boy in the desert

© Tolis Fragoudis | Sony α7R IV + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/400s @ f/2.8, ISO 100

Another vital facet of the Sony Alpha 7R IV for Tolis is the incredible detail it can produce both in resolution and in the highlights and shadows of contrasty scenes. “When I buy a camera, one of the most important things is dynamic range, and the Alpha 7R IV is providing plenty of that. A great example is this shot of the tribe’s matriarch in her hut. The sun is glancing in, but there’s nothing burnt out or lost to darkness.”

tribal lady sitting in the sun facing away from the camera

© Tolis Fragoudis | Sony α7R IV + FE 135mm f/1.8 GM | 1/2000s @ f/1.8, ISO 100

So, what did Tolis make of his month-long stay in Namibia overall? “It’s a very safe and beautiful country and one that looks like no other I’ve been to, but what really stuck with me were the people I met in that time and how open and joyful they were. They have a special energy and I’m so glad I could capture it using my Sony camera – the perfect travel companion for travel-inspired shoots like this one.”

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Tolis Fragoudis

Tolis Fragoudis | Switzerland

"My only goal is to live my life in my fullest potential"

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