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.
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.
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.
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.
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.