Hartbeespoort Dam

- 23 February 2013 -

When I returned home from work on Friday afternoon I had my supper then fell asleep soon after, only to awake at 1am. All slept out, I browsed the Internet for a while, then decided I would like to get some photos of the Hartbeespoort dam in the North West Province. Although it sounds like it's far from my house seeing that I stay in Gauteng, but in fact it is only a 50km drive. I opened my map on my iPad and found the east end of the dam. I would be going to the total opposite side of that.... I wanted to get the sunrise.

I arrived on a bridge on the west side and decided it was a prime location. I whipped out my tripod and setup. I thought I would try something new, so having a small convertible car my roof goes down, so I set the tripod up on the passenger seat next to me, wedging the legs in crevices beside the seats. Surprisingly it worked quite well and was relatively stable.

It was still dark being about 4:45am, so I pointed my camera to the far end of the dam where all the lights were and started snapping up photos at 25 and 30 second exposures. I left the car running because I wanted to leave both the headlights and emergency light going. I was parked in a narrow shoulder on the bridge, so for the occasional commuter at this time of the morning, I wanted to be clearly visible. Turns out with 30 second exposures, seeing that the car vibrates a bit when idling together with the bass on my car audio, I was getting some blurred photos, so I decided it was best during shots, to switch the car engine and music off. 

I love night photography and the colours that come through. The first photos I took came out with a yellowish tint and about 45 minutes later I was getting a purple scene, but at this point the sky had just begun getting lighter from the morning sun.

About 20 minutes later the sky had lightened up quite nicely, and the scene was getting blue, however  I was keen to still take 30 second exposure photos to get smooth looking water, and a breeze had started to develop. So I scratched in my bag for my ND filter. So for anyone that doesn't know what this means, ND stand for neutral density, which is a fancy word for a lens that screws onto the main lens but is darker than a clear lens, something like sunglasses for my camera. Worked quite well.

I wanted a different angle, so I tried starting up the car, to drive a little further, like I had been doing for the past hour, and ...... nothing. My car's battery was dead, to top that my camera was also complaining about a low battery, and I didn't have a spare for either car or camera. I had been using the camera's live view for the past hour to help compose and focus, so that had drained my camera battery quite quickly. I switched all lights off and tried starting the car again... nothing. I tried push starting the car backwards, but I couldn't get enough speed, tried pushing forward too with no luck. Eventually I just sat in my seat, pissed at myself for not being more careful. I eventually messaged a friend who I thought would be awake to assist, he messaged back saying he would come help but could only came later, as he was first going to shower then stop by his office to get some jumper leads, just in case we needed them. 

Sitting there waiting for my friend to arrive, watching the beautiful sunrise over Hartbeespoort dam, I tried taking photos through the view finder which worked just fine, so I thought "now that I'm going to be here a while, I am not going to allow a dead car battery and a low camera battery make me miss this". So I just continued taking photos but using only the view finder... this would save the camera battery.

The sun eventually showed itself so I packed up my tipod, put my ND filter back in my bag, locked my car and started walking around, I'll be tackling the scenery without a tripod from this point forward.

Although its summer, the wind coming off the dam was freezing, but I was really enjoying this shoot so I ignored my blue fingers and continued. I moved over to the opposite side of the bridge to get a different scene. Heron Cove is situated on this end of the dam, and the little dots in the far distance is the hot air balloons going up for the morning run (still want to try this).

I walked on further down the road, off the bridge to get a couple of photo of the golden sun lit grass on the banks of the dam.

I find it remarkable how pointing my camera in a slightly different direction, zooming in over the water or changing from landscape to portrait can give a total different feel and look.

My friend messaged me and told me he had just left his office and is headed in my direction, although it was still a while before he arrived and I was getting bored of this end of the road, I started heading back to my car still parked in the shoulder lane on the bridge. 

Back at my car, I thought let me just try starting it again, I climbed in and turned the key, to my surprise the car started. Turns out that after the battery had "stood" for an hour or so, the battery found some juice, enough to start the engine back up. I immediately called my friend and told him to turn around.

Having the car going now, it was probably best not to switch it off again. Being already bored of this scene I decided to head back towards the Hartbesspoort dam wall. 

The dam wall can only take 1 lane of cars at a time, so there is a traffic light on either end that allows only 1 stream of cars at a time. I entered when it was my turn and rode through till I could find a spot to park my car on the wall and then switched it off. It was about 10 km from the bridge where I had spend the last 3 hours, so I was comfortable that the battery had charged enough, so I grabbed my camera and set off.

The view from the dam wall is just as spectacular, with a narrow part of the water reaching the dam wall where sluice gates can be opened. The sun wasn't in the ideal place for photography, but I made the best of what I had.

A distinctive arch name "Victory Arch", that crosses over the narrow lane, is something you will notice first. On either side are Latin inscriptions which reads: "Dedi in deserto aquas fulmina in invio" translated to "I will pour water on the thirstly land and streams on the dry ground" Isaiah 44.3 and "Sine aqua raids ac misera agri cultura" translated to "Without water agriculture is withered and wrenched".

On the other end of the wall is a tunnel that passes directly through a piece of the neighbouring mountain. 

What started off as a horrible photo shoot, turned into a successful one. I am by nature not a patient photographer, I seem to get bored easily, but my car's battery power problems forced me into a situation where I didn't have a choice but to be patient. Turns out I liked it, and got some very cool photographs in the process.


  1. Some very nice pictures Anthony! I especially like the last two.


  2. Texting a friend would have been my first choice before I started pushing the car all by myself. ^___^ Then, continue enjoying the wonderful view until help comes. You should probably buy a new car battery, now that it’s giving out signs that it needs a replacement.

    Rita McCall

  3. I guess the idea was I didn't want to look like an idiot if I could help it. It was my own fault after all!