Before embarking on a family and photographic holiday, I tend to dream big. I dream of all the locations we could visit both as a family and individually at the ends of the day to capture the rugged landscapes with favourable light. I had done my usual route planning through a mixture of using google maps, image searches and asking locals as to what was possible in the area. I had high hopes of shooting scenes that were perhaps slightly out of the box from what was normally shot in the general areas we were staying. Perhaps next trip, I’ll lower those expectations somewhat as several health-related issues threw huge spanners into the machinations of our plans A-Y. Plan Z needed to suffice.
I won’t go into the details of the health issues except to say that the most minor of the issues was that my rear tooth crown fell off on the first night at dinner. The major issue was that I was suffering from bacteraemia (bacteria growing in the bloodstream) for the first 3 days of the trip due to a worsening case of appendicitis that ended in a small self-contained rupture of that pesky, unnecessary organ. Three days into the trip, I found myself undergoing emergency surgery and thereafter needing some strong pain medication and a prolonged course of antibiotics. In effect, the first 10 days of the trip felt like I was floating painfully through a delirium caused initially by sepsis, then drugs. Marianne had to literally do everything including child minding 24/7, all the lifting of luggage and all of the driving that I would normally do on our trips. It’s amazing that she stayed as sane as she did!
My health issues put into context the types of images I would return with. Instead of long hikes to grand vistas of wilderness, there were short 5 minute walks to roadside locations. Instead of scampering around to find multiple compositions from a scene, I could only stick with one. Instead of carrying a variety of lenses and two cameras to allow simultaneous time-lapse and stills shooting at various focal lengths, I could only carry one body and one extra lens as I was not allowed heavy lifting in the recovery period. Astro photography was the one genre that needed to be wiped out entirely as I needed all the rest I could get. Overall, it was such a disappointment to have to deal with these limitations, but it did make me focus on maximising what I could make of any given scene which was a positive.
Mount Manganui is an easily accessed mountain that juts above the landscape north west of Tauranga. After a 20 -30 minute walk , a precarious view point allows great images of the rising sun over the township of Mount Manganui and Tauranga beyond. I intended to take images of night followed by twilight to blend in the city lights, but the changing light and subsequent white balance made this somewhat tricky. In retrospect, I wondered why I was shivering up on the summit while every one else was in shorts. On the way down, right sided abdominal pain with each step was a sure sign that something was going wrong in the belly! No further images were possible from the area which was a shame as we really wanted to visit the Rotorua Redwoods at night as a family.
I had so many plans for this area including a walk beyond Cape Kidnappers and visiting a few of the local waterfalls. Because I was stuck in Tauranga hospital, we had to forfeit one night’s stay here which meant our trip here was just an overnighter en-route to Castlepoint. By this stage, I could walk one pace at a time while dopey on tramadol and I could not wear by usual filter pouch on my waist. As such, those long walks transformed into a 100m morning stroll to the beach where I shot some images with intentional camera motion to represent my delirium.
Things were starting to improve by this point in the trip. I was able to walk short distances, but I was now troubled with antibiotic side effects! I had planned to walk up Castle Rock for a different vantage point of the coast and I had planned to walk beneath the lighthouse at low tide. Both options were simply not possible, so I carried as light a pack as possible to photograph the lighthouse. On our last morning, I even felt game enough to use a ladder to get to a different vantage point.
Our three nights here was the turning point in the trip. I was nearly a week post op now which meant that I could drive! I had also changed my own antibiotic dosing to cover the infection and to minimise my side effects. Narcotic analgaesia also went out the window here thankfully! As such I was able to find a few compositions here which I think are relatively unique including various images of the ‘Taupo Tree’, somewhat of a poor cousin to her famous Wanaka counterpart. During our drive from Castlepoint to Turangi I had noted some remarkable roadside spots along the desert road which I returned to at dawn. We were blessed with some great light displays during our time here and my mind wonders as to what I would have seen from the summits of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing given the amazing roadside light that I experienced.
Our main objective here was to give the kids a great experience staying on a farm-based BNB where they could interact with the animals. We also wanted them to experience the glow worms where now at least Charlotte will be able to remember the experience more clearly. Along the way, there were some great streams and waterfalls to shoot in the area including the mighty Marokopa falls and the beautiful natural arches and tunnels. I would say that I did not have to modify my original plans much in this area at all. The biggest challenge was the muddy descent to the base of Marokopa Falls which was as slippery and mucky as I remembered from our 2014 trip. My ulterior motive here was to try for a requested postcard shot of Marokopa falls. It was also serendipitous that our evening glow worm tour had no other occupants and that our host Kyle was very interested in photography. As such, I was given the time to attempt some glow worm photography with moderate exposures. To do a proper job, I would need a private tour to allow 30minutes to an hour for a single composition instead of the 5 minutes that I had given the kids were with us as well.
Our final landscape location was the idyllic seaside holiday spot of Urenui, 30km north of New Plymouth. Due to my improving health, I again did not feel that my shooting was hampered other than not being able to carry enough gear for simultaneous time-lapse shooting with a second body. The conditions here were very good though by playing it safe with the tides, the opportunities for very dynamic (and potentially risky) shots were taken away. The coast here can be very wild, but our experience was that of placid seas and comfortable kid friendly environments. I would want to challenge myself at a later date to visit with a higher tide at some stage in the future. The three sisters (now two due to erosion the of the third sister) were the main feature along the south side of the Tongaporutu river. Despite how amazing the North Side appears, I found it extremely difficult to find engaging compositions here. I have a short video of access to the North side for those interested in exploration. The seascape opportunities around Urenui itself were also good! At the western end of the beach, there are a series of arches that can be accessed at low tide but unfortunately, the largest collapsed recently resulting in an isolated seastack and surrounding debris. Our final dawn here was the onset of wilder weather to come for our departure which included a farewell gift of a rainbow.
In summary, the last 7-8 days of our trip felt like it was approximating our usual travelling style. By the time we returned to Auckland, we were all in the mood to do ‘homely’ weekend things including normal shopping and eating asian food (of which Auckland has plenty of choices , including probably the best Roti Canai I have had in memory at a food court in Manukau). Unfortunately, the toll of the first 10 days of my illness and the subsequent stresses placed on Marianne and the kids meant that things never really felt the same afterward. By the end of the trip I was able to give Marianne much more ‘me’ time by taking the kids off her hands, something which I would be doing throughout the trip. I was so sad to hear Charlotte say (with a smile though) that she would like the first 10 days of our trip back because I wasn’t there ☹ I don’t know how many of you have experienced bad luck like this on your holidays but as a cliché to conclude upon : finding ways to view the experience in a positive light and finding ways to stick together go a long way toward normalising such a traumatic and disruptive event. Photographically, the key for me was to not focus on ‘what could have been’ but how I could best adapt to my changing health status.
Have you had one of those frustrating mornings when the conditions weren’t what you expected? Maybe it was raining or maybe what you wanted to photograph just wasn’t presenting itself? At the scene you may have tried your best but nothing really came out the way you wanted it to. Or perhaps you came away with an image that eventually came to life with post processing but because of how you felt at the scene, you lack a certain emotional connection with it?
Stop! Time out! Seriously , why were you out there taking photos? I’ve definitely had many of those mornings locally but not so much when I’m overseas. One of the trendy things to talk about these days is how one develops as a photographer. I’m not someone who likes to buck the trend. I’m a white collar professional with an average number of kids living in suburbia who basically lives a life that many would say is part of the gravy train of society. So I’m going to say something ‘untrendy’. Just don’t take a photo. I’m serious. Do something you enjoy and don’t waste the morning feeling angry and frustrated when you’re supposed to be having fun. Let me explain further.
I recall a specific morning a couple of years ago when I drove down to Victor Harbor (a local seaside spot one hour’s drive from home). The forecast was for high cloud but when I got there, it was pretty much a grey out with constant rain. I was tired from the work week and I was struggling to keep awake during the drive. I tried to take a couple of shots. I tried long lens photography to focus on details but couldn’t find anything meaningful. I tried long exposures which ended up getting ruined with droplets. I tried intentional camera movement by panning during a long exposure. I even switched lenses and tried to make reference images for Marianne’s art by taking pictures of seagulls in flight but they just weren’t doing the right things ! At the end of the shoot I literally spat the dummy and stormed away , pissed off that MY morning of solitude and relaxation had been WASTED.
More recently, I’ve kept some spare sneakers and shorts in the back of the car. If things are not looking promising, I’ll go for a jog instead. I know that’s going to do me good and I know I’m going to get the endorphin rush. I even love running in the rain. This back up plan basically means that no matter the conditions, I’ll come away with something from the morning out ; just not necessarily in the form of treasured RAW files to make a masterpiece from. The drive is never wasted.
I’ve learned over the years that my local trips out have really been about destressing from the week of work, especially since I’ve photographed many of the locations locally. And when I’m not visiting a ‘usual’ spot to shoot, then part of the journey becomes one of exploration and images from a new spot are taken really as part of a scouting mission. I feel that perhaps that’s why when I’m overseas, these types of mornings don’t tend to affect me as much. Many of the spots I’m visiting are new, many of them requiring a long hike in the dark to arrive at dawn which in itself is an endorphin rush. Because of my situation in life , photography is a bonus to me, not a necessity. I’m sure many of you who don’t do it for a living are in the same boat.
So my final message is this. Explore what it is that drives you leave home at 4am when you could be sleeping in. If there are non photographic elements partially fuelling that seemingly masochistic drive, be prepared to fulfil them if the photographic mission turns out to be a failure. If it is purely photographic, then by all means, try all those things I tried on that grey morning down at Victor Harbor. Find ways to feel you’ve accomplished something and don’t stress about having no golden images from the morning ; that’s only part of the picture.
It’s that time of the year again!
2017 has been a year where I feel that I’ve shot less than in previous years but there have been some very special moments in the field for me. With Marianne switching to other artistic media full time, there have been less images to post but I hope you’ve still managed to enjoy at least some of them! This year, I’ve gone with the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). I’ve shot when I’ve felt like it, in a manner that brings me joy and presented the images that reflect a sense of happiness and wonder. In previous years, I feel that I’ve been overly concerned with other photographers’ perception of my motivation to shoot and the way images were processed. As a result, I started trying to shoot like other people, present images with a look similar to others. In hindsight, this was beneficial for my development as tried to teach myself to see things differently but in the end, I always come back to what I love : the grand, sweeping landscape bathed in vibrant light. I feel this is largely reflected in my favourites as even the longer focal length images attempt to convey the grand scene. If you have the time, see if you can pick the two images shot with the 70-200 and the two images shot at 24-70 focal length.
As the children grow up, they play more of a role in each shoot whether it’s part of the behind the scenes stories or whether the shoot is part of a grand plan for a whole day. With that in mind, here’s a countdown of my 12 most valuable experiences for the year.
12. Starting off with my favourite backpacking trip of all time! In January, I joined Luke Tscharke, Francois Fourie and Tim Wrate on a 5 day trek along the Western Arthurs to Lake Oberon. This image was taken after the first night of hiking . We had woken up to misty whiteout conditions which quickly cleared to a glorious morning. There are naturally a few more scenes from this trip in my countdown!
11. Noosa Heads National Park. In June of this year, we visited the Sunshine Coast as part of a family holiday. We had all walked out to enjoy the evening on this stretch of coast when sudden showers had everyone scampering for cover. I stayed out in the rain with Brisbane photographer Steven Waller and witnessed some amazing light on sunset. This was a poignant moment for immediately after the joy of witnessing this, I slipped and in fell the A7r2 into the water …..
10. Lake Bonney has always been a great go-to location for me. Because it’s a fair distance from Adelaide, I tend to go when the girls have a sleepover at the grandparents! So it was that on this morning, I was testing the Laowa 12mm F2.8 lens and was greeted with fantastic astro conditions after midnight followed by an amazing dawn! As with many of the shots this year, the photographs were taken in the context of mixing photography and family commitments. I drove straight from Lake Bonney to Port Gawler where we had a very successful crabbing session to fill our bellies for the next couple of evenings!
9. The Wanaka Tree: I must admit, I just don’t get the hate for this location. I shot here twice during the last trip to New Zealand. Once at sunset while waiting for takeout and the other at dawn on our last morning. On both occasions, I wasn’t really pushing myself to be overly creative but was blessed with great conditions. On both occasions , I managed to have some great conversations with people who were shooting there. I don’t make enough face to face contact with photographers and feel that perhaps I can be a bit elusive in the field ! These moments are valuable for me to shoot with others in mind and trying to come away with something different to the 20 other photographers there.
8. Motukiekie beach has to be one of the most dramatic seascape locations in the world. The addition of starfish colonies in the area perhaps put it even above many of the others! I was lucky enough to visit this location during a very low tide which allowed the whole family to experience the grandeur of this location. We stayed nearby and managed a few trips to this spot punctuated by one particularly awesome evening.
7. My only astro shot in this compilation was this memorable morning above Lake Oberon . At the time of this shot (with moonrise and milkyway rise occurring simultaneously), I had been explosively ill with some dodgy freeze dried Kung Pao chicken from this previous evening. Blowing wind and rain did not help the cause one bit! Thankfully around this time, the weather started to settle along with the bowels and I was able to take this image!
6. Rocky Creek Canyon. In November, Marianne and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and decided to venture somewhere without the kids. Our last trip without Charlotte and Jaime was to Karijini so it would seem that we have a love of canyons! We are forever grateful to Jake Anderson and Blue Mountains Adventure Company who made this visit possible for first time visitors with a very limited time window. Normally, we wouldn’t be jumping into the water with the air temperature at 11 degrees but with the appropriate gear and guidance, it was a ton of fun! This was the last shot I took before heading out.
5. Nelson Lakes National Park has so much more to offer than just the jetty that is often shot. As pretty as that scene is, I feel it’s only a prelude to the wilderness beyond and hope to revisit the area in the future. This second trip up to Lake Angelus hut was special in that I had never really visited locations in full winter conditions. The Lake itself was completely frozen as was the water supply. Having to chip wood to start a fire, boil ice for water and help frostbitten late comers into the hut made this an amazing experience over and above the photography.
4. Back to the Tasmanian wilderness! After an evening and day of being battered by 100km gusts while being holed up in our tents, the following evening appeared to clear somewhat. I made a quick decision to hike up to the ridge above Lake Oberon and was greeted by an amazing light show. Golden rays were shining through rapidly moving cloud at eye level which made me feel as though I was standing in the midst of a timelapse.
3. Hooker Lake is one of my favourite in and out walks while visiting Aoraki National Park. One day, I’m hoping to get some colour and cloud over this spot but on this year’s trip, the clear skies worked its magic . The night temperatures were subzero which led to the shores of the Lake starting to freeze over. The patterns of ice were fascinating and I chose to use the 12mm lens to accentuate their depth. While this scene didn’t give the sense of awe that other scenes did, I really liked this image the moment I shot the 3 frames needed for it. Marianne commented instantly ‘that’s the shot of the trip’ when she saw my LCD even though we were only 8 days into a 3 week trip!
2. There are some mornings where the light bathes you in crimsons and reds. I was lucky enough to experience one such morning while watching the icebergs slowly move on a still Tasman Lake. This was our last morning in the Mount Cook area and what a send off it was! I to get to this scene and almost ran out of petrol for the return trip back to the south end of Lake Pukaki where we were staying.
Number One! It should come as no surprise that my favourite image from the year and favourite morning of shooting for the year came from the Western Arthurs hike. This particular morning also started off grey but with swirling clouds above, there were moments of brilliant passing light that was simply magical. We lingered until the last possible moment of light and packed up headed back for Lake Cygnus. For the remaining 2 days on the track we would be engulfed in swirling, wet,greyness as though mother nature had declared that this scene was our gift for the trek. It’s likely that this will be my favourite image of all time for quite a while.
If you follow our work, how did that list pan out for you? Were there any other images that you remember giving you a stronger impression than the ones I’ve posted? If so, it’s always good to know so leave your thoughts in the comments below! Wishing everyone a fantastic photographic 2018 🙂