Magic of Water

Water. For photographers who want to capture this element at its best, South Africa’s Cape region offers the perfect backdrop. And luckily for Martin Zimelka, it is here, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, that he calls home. Regardless of whether the sea is active or calm or the motif is a small bay or long coastline, Zimelka’s images depict water in all its manifest forms.

This photo, taken during a photo workshop, confirmed Zimelka’s passion for seascapes.
This photo, taken during a photo workshop, confirmed Zimelka’s passion for seascapes.

Water has played an important role in Zimelka’s life as long as he can remember. No wonder: he grew up on the coast. He spent his childhood in Durbanville near Cape Town. During high school, he moved to Swakopmund, a coastal town in Namibia. He then returned to South Africa’s Cape region to study economics.

Zimelka, 25, discovered his passion to document water during a 10-day photography workshop that he attended in 2002 (see photo above). “All we did was eat, sleep and talk photography. It was a defining moment”, he recalls. “For the first time, I realized how much meticulousness and love of detail you need in order to make an image turn out the way I see it and want to express it. This is especially true of seascapes.”

Thinking in black/white

In the intervening years since that workshop, Zimelka has had plenty of opportunities to experiment in his photography. And he discovered that water continued to fascinate and captivate him. The main themes in Zimelka’s work today continue to be the moods of the ocean and the wild beauty and generous expanses of the coastlines of his youth.

He particularly likes photographing seascapes in black and white. “It might sound strange, but I often think in black and white and that sharp dichotomy reflects itself in my pictures. Black and white allows me emphasize image details and contrasts much better than if they had been shot in color.”

When shooting the restive ocean, Zimelka also likes using long exposure times. This enables him to compose pictures that make the waves’ movements appear soft and harmonious.

Waves in Blouberg Beach, photographed with long exposure time. (F/13; 1/61 Sek.; ISO-100).
Waves in Blouberg Beach, photographed with long exposure time.
The same misty effect, shot from another perspective. (F/11; 1/30 Sek.; ISO-100).
The same misty effect, shot from another perspective.
sea mist at sunset-rocks, cape region (F11; ISO-100; 121sek.)
Sea mist at sunset-rocks, cape region

South Africa’s special light

To get the perfect shot of a coastline, the lighting conditions have to be just right. During the day it can be extremely bright, making it difficult to achieve slower shutter speeds without stopping down very much. “In South Africa, the sun is very intense, and to tame the strong reflections on the water, I use longer exposures. The reason why I use long exposures during the day - achieved by using a strong neutral grey filter - is that for some scenes I like the deep and sharp shadows of the scene”, he says.

For his photography, the Distagon T* 2/35 is one of Zimelka’s favorite lenses. He values the lens' resistance to flare and ghosting, and is capable of achieving great contrast in adverse lighting conditions. An amazing result you can see at the image below, which was taken in the glistening late-afternoon sun.

Granite rocks at Llandudno near Hout Bay: sea spray formed by breaking waves.(F/5.6; 1/2000 Sek.; ISO-100).
Granite rocks at Llandudno near Hout Bay: sea spray formed by breaking waves.

Also, with the high speed of 1:2, the lens is very versatile to shoot in low light conditions. The relatively small rotation angle also enables fast but precise focusing when the situation requires it (as in the above photo). “I like the high micro contrast and the rich tonality that the Distagon T* 2/35 provides. What I also find beautiful is the ability to isolate the subject from the background even for medium-far distances.”

Zimelka also shoots in color, especially for subjects that would be more expressive with true color rendering. An example is the water reflection image shown below, which Zimelka shot with a Makro-Planar T* 2/100 in Kalk Bay, a fisher’s village south of Cape Town. Two fishing boats are reflected in the deep blue of the water’s surface in the harbor. The image was shot during the sun’s early rays. “Cape Town often gets a lot of wind at night, but in the early morning, the atmosphere is dust-free. This creates a more brilliant light with high color contrast,” says Zimelka.

Kalk Bay – deep-blue water surface with two fishing boats reflected. (f/2; 1/250; ISO 100).
Kalk Bay – deep-blue water surface with two fishing boats reflected.

Zimelka has still not decided whether he wants to turn his hobby into a profession when he finishes university. He has already sold some of his works, and has a few images hanging in galleries. He’s particularly proud of a large exhibit of his work last year at the National Art Gallery of Namibia in Windhoek. Entitled "Rhapsody in Mono", the show depicted landscapes and seascapes of South Africa and Namibia. All images were shot in black and white with a 1956 Rolleiflex MX.

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  1. Thanks guys, it means a lot!
    This has been quite exciting :)

    (Excuse the short reply, since I'm sitting in Namibia with only my mobile, with hardly any access to a wireless network. Back home soon!)

  2. Caleb Andrews

    Hi these photos are so amazing and inspire me thanks for posting them also ,What type of camera body dslr do you use?

  3. Ciro Acampora

    Bravo Martin.
    Anche io sono uomo di mare e so molto bene quanto sia difficile fotografare il mare. Le tue fotografie mi incoraggiano a riprovare e il mio 235 e il 21 Distagon mi seguiranno fedelmente in questa avventura che si ripete. Auguri per tutto.

  4. Peter F

    Hats off, Martin, for some lovely shots. I am very impressed by the one taken in Kalk Bay, and encouraged to be more ambitious with my 2/100 lens - a beautiful instrument I wnat to use more effectively.


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