I like Taylor Swift and Icons

The following post highlights images from our recent road trip to the Victorian Alps and back.

“I don’t shoot icons ……….but [insert what you like to shoot instead]”.

I’d like to examine that mentality briefly. Sure an icon won’t look much different in your shot compared to the millions already out there but if you manage to get a good shot of such a frequently photographed location, I think there’s still pride to be had in that image. I’m going to be completely honest. Whenever I see an image whose aim was to portray something different from an iconic area, I mostly find those images to be quite ordinary and uninspiring. Likewise when I see images of a frequently shot icon, my bar of expectation means that I mostly find those images to be quite uninspiring and unoriginal but they’re usually technically pretty good even if the composition has been borrowed.

Mount Feathertop, the icon to shoot around Mount Hotham

Around Mount Feathertop – The caption could read “I wanted to shoot Mount Feathertop but that wouldn’t have been original so I pointed the camera another direction”. Does that make the picture better than it is? I think it’s just an OK picture no matter how non-iconic it is

The intimate images which  I find are striking, are striking because they are striking. It’s not because they’re random shots of vegetation away from a main scene, it’s not because of the accompanying text of protest about photographing icons, it’s not because they were shot at a different focal length to the norm or when there wasn’t any good light but you still came away with something ‘special’ . It is because, they are just great images on their own.  The iconic images which I find striking , are striking because they are striking but they have to be insanely striking for me to notice them any more than 424,242 images that preceded it from that same tripod marking.

The twelve apostles from a different viewpoint. Attempting to separate this icon from the rest of the images taken from the location but is it any good on its own right?

I’m going to reverse some thought processes here. If you’re passing up on a good shot of an icon because you don’t want to be seen to be the type of photographer who just shoots icons then it seems that public perception concerns you just as much as the photographers who purposely shoots the icon to parade it on social media for popularity. Your concerns are in the opposite direction but nonetheless you are still concerned about what other viewers think . If you’re doing it because of a photographic challenge to come away with something different, that’s a completely different issue . But  when your ‘original/non iconic’ image is presented and sold to the audience as awesome , you’d better make sure that the image itself is good on its own right and not play on that ‘I don’t shoot icons’ mentality to elevate its status.

Smoke at Smoko. I shot this because I thought it was a striking scene, and being non iconic had nothing to do with it. It just looked good so I tried to capture it!

When your iconic image is presented in all its awesomeness, you’d better make sure that the image itself is good on its own right AND discernible from the 424,242 that preceded it. My advice that stems from this train of thought (to new photographers particularly)  is to shoot what you want to shoot for your own agenda and don’t let the public perception either pull you too far toward just shooting icons for ‘likes’ and ‘faves’ NOR let the negative perception of iconic shooting (mostly from established photographers) steer you away from shooting said icons.

The view of the Cathedral, Mount Buffalo’s icon. Looking good to the eye with sidelight ,so I photographed it, iconic and all.

The view away from the Cathedral – I wanted to get a sunstar with the 24-70. It’s non iconic but is it any good just because I might tell you the icon was to my left but I shot this instead?

BUT WHAT ABOUT TAYLOR SWIFT!!

The above photographic story kind of relates to what I call ‘Indie music snobbery’ but that’s a whole new debate. Let’s just say that in recent times, I hear a song like ‘Blank Space’ by Taylor Swift and hey, I kinda like it (honestly, I really do !). I don’t fight it, I just like listening to what I like these days whoever sings it!. 10-15 years ago , I would have purposely convinced myself to ‘dislike it’ because it was ‘too mainstream’. Nope only indie music for me. Yea that’s right only non-iconic photographs for me too.

Hopetoun Falls, one of the icons of the Otway Ranges if not THE icon. Now why wouldn’t I shoot a glorious scene like this??

A retired physician once told me in his earnest voice, “When I’m interviewing new high school graduates for a position medical school, I don’t mind hearing ‘I want to be a doctor because the pay is good’. There’s an honesty in that statement and at least I know they will work hard for that money!” . I was once taken aback by this statement but the more I see the dishonesty expressed from interviewees who turn back on their word once they start their job, the more I appreciate simple honesty. I’m a doctor partly because it enables me to set up my life outside of medicine financially but it just happens that I really enjoy aspects of the job involving patient care and teaching. Correlating this to photography, if you truly are shooting for yourself, call a spade a spade and shoot what you think makes an image meaningful to you. There’s also nothing wrong with taking shots for social media if likes and faves earn you a living or make you happy. Go out that there an NAIL THAT IMAGE and forget if its actually an icon you’re shooting or just a pretty scene.

This rock at Robe hasn’t reached iconic status yet but even if it does, I will still continue to photograph it!

Kalamina Calm and Lightroom HDR

Kalamina Gorge is probably the least spectacular of the gorges in Karijini but it is still well worth a visit. It is located 15 minutes drive east of the Eco Retreat along some well maintained dirt road. The best time to visit seems to be in the early hours of the morning. If you arrive before dawn, there are some opportunities to shoot the gorge from above with dawn light however we ventured into the gorge as the day was looking crystal clear. Since most shooting is done by early morning , you can very likely make it back to the eco retreat for breakfast rather than bring it along with you!

As you make the short descent into this shallow gorge, a right turn will take you to Kalamina Waterfall. As this location looked very secluded, we ended up photographing this later in the morning once the light was reflecting from above.

Kalamina Waterfall with reflections of sky, foiliage and cliff

The gorge descends gently to the left of the entry point and takes you past some quite densely foliage lined areas which we struggled to find compositions for. Thereafter , there are some flat areas of shallow water which are good to photograph once the light is starting to hit the tops of the gorges.

Reflections in shallow water

The gorge takes a natural right turn which leads to a series of small cascades that are interesting to photograph with a more abstract composition in mind. After this section of cascades, the waterway opens into a flatter area of still water with fallen rocks. We didn’t photograph this section as we were busy finding compositions of gorge detail. Beyond this section is a natural arch on the right of the canyon which could potentially be photographed with dawn but once again on our one visit we did not attempt to shoot this.

One of many small cascades

On a clear day, we found that the best way to utilise the light was to find bends where the light would be filtering in sideways after dawn. Alternatively, even once the sun is quite high (but not to the base of the gorge) , there are many opportunities to shoot reflections in the shallow waters.

Light around bends of the gorge

Light later in the morning

To finish off with I thought I would share a few experiences I have had with regard to lightroom’s new HDR tool. With the latest update to lightroom CC, multiple RAW images can be combined within the lightroom interface to create an HDR RAW equivalent. This file can be pushed to +/- 10EV as compared to +/- 5EV on normal RAW files. During the HDR process one can choose an autotone option (lightroom does the exposure thinking for you) and various degrees of deghosting. Here’s what I’ve found :

  • The deghosting has worked for me quite well in terms of moving clouds though not so well on moving water. I have yet to attempt this on a file with subjects such as moving people or wildlife.
  • The autotone tends to push the HDR file to near +100 shadows and -100 highlights while keeping the exposure close to 0EV.
  • Even if you have clean files exposed for shadows, I have found that on many attempts, pushing the shadows inexplicably seems to use the file information from an underexposed RAW? I am not sure why this is the case but no matter pushing exposure to +3 and above or pushing shadows close +100 , I am still seeing severe noise in shadow areas which are absent in the over-exposed individual RAWs. Strangely this does not always occur and I wonder what the reason for the inconsistency is?

Overall, it has been a little hit and miss but since you can continue to do other tasks in lightroom while compiling the HDR image, I usually give it a go to see the result is satisfactory. On most of occasions though, I have reverted to doing the manual blend with full control in photoshop. Since its deghosting works reasonably well , I have occasionally used the HDR RAW file to blend double or triple processed images from that same file. This makes the blend easier since you no longer have to contend with moving objects in the blending process.

Manual blend of five exposures

Lightroom's automated HDR using 'autotone'settings

Lightroom’s automated HDR using ‘autotone’settings

That was our brief morning in Kalamina before an extended morning break , nap, and then more gorges in the afternoon. Stay tuned for the next section!

Hancock Gorge : A visual guide

Our visit in Karijini in April this year gave us 5 days to explore the gorges in the area. If you are keen to revisit locations , then this is a good period of time to spend exploring. If you are the type to visit the gorges sequentially for the experience alone, then you’d probably only need 3 days to visit the main gorges. We hope to write these guides to assist you with where you might want to place the emphasis on each particular gorge and how feasible it is for you depending on your activity level. We based our visits from the Eco retreat which is adjacent to Joffre Gorge.

Hancock Gorge is a short 10 minute drive away from the retreat. A visit to Hancock gorge is best done in the early morning such that the highlights of the gorge (Kermit’s pool and the chute) can be photographed in golden light but before the sun starts to infiltrate the gorge directly. A good way to start the day is to photograph dawn at Oxers lookout before heading into the gorge.

Red Gorge from Oxer Lookout

Read the rest of this entry

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