Finalist Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year
Photography Tips
Kim Paffen Travel Specialist & Photo Safari Tour Guide
Photography Tips
10 min

Kim Paffen Finalist Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year

10 min

My Baobab image ‘Mother of the Forest’ has been selected as a finalist (top 30 – out of 37.853 entrants) in the Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year competition in 2020. How did my Baobab photo make it to the finals in the Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year competition? In this article, I will explain why my photo was selected as a finalist. Expect useful travel photography tips, including the story and techniques behind this Baobab photo. For example what camera settings I used, the lighting of the image, and what adjustments I made in Lightroom. I will also share what inspired me to take this photo and what photography gear I used.

Africa Geographic Photo Competition

Every year, Africa Geographic hosts a photo contest. Winning the photo competition means you will win a cash prize of USD5,000. Apart from that, you will win an exclusive safari trip to a luxury game reserve in Africa. Because I’m in love with Africa, it’s already an honor to win the title Photographer of the Year. The chance of being selected out of thousands of entrants is very small. Only entries that are of African wildlife, landscapes, and/or culture will be accepted. In total, there were 37.853+ submissions. Below, a few other images I participated with:

Spot the Big Five on a Safari Trip in South Africa

Best things to do in Cape Town: visit Table Mountain National Park

Madagascar Wildlife Photography: Standings Day Geckos in Zombitse

Part of the ‘Weekly Selection’ of Africa Geo Photographer of the Year

Nominated AfricaGeo photo

The Africa Geographic jury weekly selects several photos that have a chance to win the Africa Geographic Photo Contest. Also, a few of my other photos were part of the weekly selection of the jury. These ‘weekly selections’ are the top entries that are submitted every week. They will be published on Africa Geographic’s website as a gallery at the end of each week. During June, the judges will judge all accumulated entries from the Weekly Selections, gradually reducing the number of qualifiers to a list of ‘Finalists’. From there, the winners will be selected and announced in July.

Four of my Africa images were selected in the weekly selections. Two of my Africa images made it to the semi-finals (gorilla portrait) and to the finals.

Unfortunately, I didn’t win the Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year title. However, I feel blessed with this nomination, recognition, and appreciation for my photography work. I’m still proud I made it to the finals (top 30).

Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year finalist 2020

Gorilla Trekking UgandaTop 101 in the Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year (Semi-Finals)

Publication in Photography and Travel Magazines

Although I didn’t win the AfricaGeo Photo contest, my Baobab image ‘Mother of the Forest’ has been published in several magazines. For example, Msafiri, the inflight magazine of Kenya Airways, The Telegraph UK, and the dutch Photography Magazine The image also shows off on the wall of a few Africa lovers, who bought my Madagascan Baobab photo to decorate their interior. I was also published in the local newspaper and a 93-year old lady painted my image on a canvas.

Msafiri - Inflight Magazine of Kenya Airways

The story behind my finalist image of Africa Geographic

Curious about the story and techniques behind the lens of my AfricaGeo finalist image? I will share the following details: the exact photo location of the image, the photography gear I used, what time I captured the image and the time spent taking the photo, the lighting of the image, how I edited the Baobab photo, what inspired me to capture the scenery, and what I personally think of my photo.

1. Photo location of the Baobab photo

This magical spectacle of light and color was captured during the golden hour at the famous Avenue of the Baobabs in MadagascarThe ‘Allee des Baobabs’ is located along Highway 8 (RN8) between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina. If you are planning to visit Madagascar then make sure to add Morondava to your itinerary. It’s certainly one of the best places to visit in Madagascar with beautiful photo opportunities.

Once you arrive at Baobab Avenue, you will see a group of 25 huge Grandidier’s baobabs along the sandy road. There is some kind of ‘viewpoint’ in the field from where you can see the baobabs lined up along the avenue. From that point, the sun will slowly set behind the massive trees and the sky will treat you with the beautiful colors of the setting sun.

2. Photography gear and image settings

For this image, I used a Canon EOS7D and Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. I’m really satisfied with this sharp bright and not too heavy Sigma lens. I always shoot in manual mode.

Camera settings: ISO 320, Aperture f/22, Shutter Speed 1/500s with a focal length of 70mm

For my trip to Madagascar, I packed two camera bodies (Canon 5D MKIV and Canon 7D) and different lenses. Two zoom lenses for photographing Madagascar’s (endemic) wildlife and the more wide-angle lenses like the Canon 16-35mm 2.8 for photographing Madagascar’s gorgeous landscapes.

3. Time and date of shooting the photo ‘Mother of the Forest’

The image was shot on June 3, 2019, at 16.21 AM. I’ve visited the Avenue at 3 different times of the day, but (for me) sunset turned out to be the most spectacular. Visiting Allee des Baobabs at sunset is also the most popular time to visit for tourists and therefore the busiest part of the day!

When you plan to visit Avenue of the Baobabs during sunset, I would strongly advise departing in time. At arrival, tourists were already gathering on the alley and at the photography ‘viewpoint’. If you want to know where and at what time the sun will set or when the golden hour will occur, make sure to check useful apps like Photopills. The more specialized apps can calculate the angle of sunset and other useful information. Luckily, I did my research and preparations. Because of that, I saved time and I could completely focus on a successful sunset shoot.

Magical sunset at Avenue of the Baobabs in Morondava, MadagascarBaobab image ‘Mother of the Forest’ by Photographer Kim Paffen

4. The Lighting of the ‘Mother of the Forest’ image

For me, sunrises and sunsets are the most beautiful moments of the day. The best sunset photos showcase the effects of the sunset on the surrounding landscape or nearby objects, using the saturated lighting of the sunlight. The weather conditions were great. There were mid-level clouds, lower humidity, and calm winds. The colors of the sky changed into beautiful yellow/orange colors of the setting sun. The clouds added some atmosphere and drama to this picture.


I positioned the sun behind one of the Baobabs so I wouldn’t get blinded by the light. Therefore I was able to capture a beautiful silhouette of the amazing Baobabs. Apart from that, I was lucky enough to capture the amazing silhouette of the Malagasy mother and her child walking along the dusty avenue – through the rays of light of the setting sun!

Contrasts everywhere

And that’s what makes this photo so special to me; because of the contrast of both tree- and human silhouettes you really get a feel of how tiny and small we humans are compared to these massive Baobabs that can reach heights up to 30 meters (98ft) and of which some are believed to be more than 2800 years old! We humans will never get that old but these trees survive for decades; that’s life and the beauty of nature. And that makes you even more aware of the fact that we are only visitors on our planet for a while; we should appreciate this more and take good care of our ‘Mother Earth’.

5. How I edited the photo

I shoot my images in RAW. To do justice to the scene I photographed, I usually edit all my images in Lightroom before they are ready to use. I started with basic adjustments like highlights, shadows, whites and blacks, exposure, and contrast. I also adjusted the temp, tint, and saturation of the image to further alter the colors of the setting sun. Besides these basic adjustments in Lightroom, I removed distracting elements in Photoshop. 

6. What inspired me to take this photo

Photographing the Avenue of the Baobab was on my travel and photography bucket list for quite some time. Baobabs are my favorite trees in the world. I wanted to spend enough time on the Avenue to really get a feel of these massive trees and admire them in different lighting and that’s what I did. I went for different Baobab shoots: sunrise, sunset, during the day, and at night.

The avenue des Baobabs is probably the most popular and picturesque road in Madagascar, also known as the country of the Baobabs. You can find 7 species of Baobab trees in the world in Madagascar; 6 of them are endemic to the country. The Menabe region, including Morondava, is home to 3 of these endemic species.

Visit Avenue of the Baobabs in Morondava, Madagascar

Baobab, tree of life

The baobab tree is known as the ‘tree of life’ because it stores life-saving water in its branches and trunk. This is very important because the tree grows in arid regions. Baobabs play a key role in the ecosystem. They help keep soil conditions humid, promote nutrient recycling, and prevent soil erosion. It can provide shelter, clothing, food, and water for the animal and human inhabitants.

Monumental trees endemic to Madagascar

The most famous Baobab tree of Madagascar, the Adansonia Grandidieiri, can’t be found in any other part of our planet! They can reach 30 meters high and develop a trunk with a diameter of 3 meters. These Baobabs – whose roots seem to grow into the sky – used to be part of a dense forest. Because of for example deforestation there are only a few left. Nowadays these ‘upside-down trees’ are a legacy of the dense forests that once thrived in the Menabe region. The area is declared as a national monument to preserve these trees. The government is also making an effort to planting new tiny Baobabs along the avenue, which is great to see. We will never witness these small Baobabs become as huge as their ‘mothers’, but there’s hope for the future the Baobabs will not go extinct.

Milky Way Photography Avenue of the Baobabs Madagascar

Mother of the Forest

In the Malagasy language, the Baobabs are called ‘Renala’, which means ‘Mother of the Forest’. That’s the reason why I gave my piece of art the title ‘Mother of the Forest’. The Malagasy mother with her child, walking down the avenue, gives even more valuable meaning and power to this title. For me, it’s the silhouette of the mother with her child that makes this image truly special. It’s the reason why it stands out from other Baobab photos at sunset.

7. The final result of the Baobab photo in Madagascar

I’m very happy with the final result of my Baobab photo ‘Mother of the Forest’. It really stands out from other images of Avenue of the Baobab and I’m proud I made it to the finals. I captured many sunset photos during my sunset shoot on Allee des Baobabs. However, I ended up with two favorites and this is the most spectacular and special one. Next time I travel to Madagascar I would love to visit this place again. I feel blessed with this nomination by the jury of Africa Geographic and appreciation for my photography work.

Every photo tells a story and behind every story, there’s a storyteller.

Maybe, you also like Behind the lens of creating the ‘Sunrise above the clouds’ image, taken in the Drakensberg, South Africa.

When is the Africa Geographic Photo Contest?

The Africa Geographic Photo Contest is every year. You can submit your images from 1 January until May. Final judging will take place in June and the winners will be announced in early July. Entries must encompass the Celebration of Africa and will compete for the following titles:

  • The overall winner – Photographer of the Year;
  • The first and second runner-up;
  • The top highly commendable finalists.

Buy my Africa Geographic Finalist image ‘Mother of the Forest’

Interested in buying my image as framed or unframed fine art print to decorate your interior? My baobab image is for sale as Fine Art Print.

Baobab Artwork by Kim Paffen Photography and Travel

Do you want a digital copy for your website, social media? Or do you want to publish my image in a magazine? Get in touch and I will get back to you with my rates.

Travel to Madagascar and Avenue of the Baobabs

This Baobab photo was taken during a 3,5-week road trip through Madagascar. After seeing the best of Madagascar and all these amazing photo-worthy spots, I highly recommend visiting Madagascar. Don’t go without your camera or smartphone to capture the beauty of this diverse country. When you travel to Madagascar you will enjoy surprisingly diverse landscapes, cultures, and traditions. It’s a Treasure Island waiting for you to be discovered!

Baobab Reflection in the rice fields of Morondava in Madagascar