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Malawi light - a photographer's dream
Posted on: Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Blog Category: 'Malawi General'

Much has been written about the beauty of Malawi’s landscapes, the wildlife at Liwonde, Majete or Nyika, and the friendliness of its people. It is all true. But after ten years of visiting this country, first as a researcher, now as a guide bringing groups to Malawi, there is one thing that seems under featured in my opinion: the incredible sunrises and sunsets Malawi provides, the dramatic and unbelievable colours the sky, the clouds and the sun create at different times of the day to create an atmosphere I have not found yet in other places in Africa. And I know some places as I am working in Africa for about 25 years now. Let me tell you about my favourite two „hotspots“ for taking great „ambient“ pictures in Malawi.

1. Sunrises

Of course nearly all the coastline of Lake Malawi is „sunrise country“. You can take gorgeous sunrises at Sengha Bay, Nkothakota or Chintheche, of course. But there is one spot particularly good for taking dramatic pictures of sunrises: the coast of Karonga. That may surprise some as Karonga is not a tourism hotspot known for its scenic beauty and its great lodges. But standing opposite the mighty Tanzanian Livingstone Mountain range at 5.30 am is nothing but mind-blowing, not every day, but often. I visit Karonga every May and often you have a thick cloud cover lying over the mountain range – and lake flies at the far horizon. I enjoy both and prefer it too clear skies:

As with sunsets you have to take many pictures, very quickly, as the mood changes every moment. When the sun is completely out it’s often too late to take pictures, if you don’t have clouds which avoid reflection on your lens. So it’s all about timing, and luck.

2. Sunsets

There is only one king of sunset spots in Malawi and that’s Cape Maclear. No doubt about it. You can have good sunsets of course at Likoma Island or at other islands. But the light in Chembe every afternoon is so special, you just cannot compare to anywhere else in the country, even if the spot is orientated in the “right” direction. The spectacle begins already around 3 pm, when the lake shows the meaning of “Lake of Stars”. Than the colours start to explode, from yellow over orange to deep red. But the most extraordinary colours start only after the sunsets: purples, browns and deep blues settle in and give you another aspect every minute. I have been out with the boat many times and been in the village: the best spots to shoot sunsets are from the village, for example at Gecko Lounge, Cape Mac Lodge or Chembes Eagles Nest, as they offer the best Thumbi Island background.

Let the show begin:

Of course, not every evening is like that. But I have been in Cape Maclear many times and at different seasons and it never disappointed me. Often I was inclined to say: this is as beautiful as it can get on Earth and I would not exchange Cape Maclear for the Maledives on such a mellow evening.

Photography is not about gear, although it helps to have a camera who gets decent shots also at 3200 ISO, but it’s about constant learning – and light. And Malawi offers the most wonderful light atmospheres any amateur or professional photographer can dream of.

Stefan Schmid

Coordinator of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies at Frankfurt University. Leads a group of German tourists every May to Malawi, in cooperation with the Culutural and Museum Centre Karonga (CMCK) and Land and Lakes Safaris.

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