Amazing Places

You'll Think This Real Photo of Trees Is a Painting

The camel thorn trees of Namibia's Namib-Naukluft Park aren't lush blooms of color flowers and leaves. They aren't even shaped in necessarily interesting ways. The trees are black and dead. But when all the elements of their environment come together in a single photograph, the scene looks like a surreal photograph. Your eyes (probably) aren't used to seeing such painterly landscapes in real life, so let's explain what's going on here.

Don't Believe Everything You See

The June 2011 issue of National Geographic features a photograph by Frans Lanting with the caption "Tinted orange by the morning sun, a soaring dune is the backdrop for the hulks of camel thorn trees in Namib-Naukluft Park." It's a relatively simple photo of five black, leafless trees on a blue ground with an orange backdrop. This photo, and others like it taken at the same park, look too graphic and extreme to pass as another other than a painting. The combination of the steep, orange dunes and the seemingly petrified trees of the Namibian park make for a Tim Burton-style scene come to life.

The African Tree Cemetery

The Deadvlei pan in the Namib-Naukluft National Park is populated only by centuries-old camel thorn trees, the most common tree in Namibia. The trees have nothing to do with camels, by the way, the name refers to the Afrikaans word for giraffe, meaning camel-horse (hence the botanical name Acacia giraffe). The land where the trees sit is bleached white, dry, cracked clay. The spread of these trees in Deadvlei are surrounded by the towering orange sands of Big Daddy, the area's tallest dune (it's about 1,000 feet tall). Inside these tall barriers, the ground and air stalls extremely dry—the lack of moisture in the air is why the dead trees don't decompose, but rather stand as immovable fossils.

Frans Lanting's Surreal Camel Thorn Tree Photograph

Written by Joanie Faletto March 24, 2017

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