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2018 : A year of living and photographing

It’s that time of year again! This year I thought I’d stray a little into a discussion about what I’ve learned in life and perhaps that may give context to my approach to photography this year. The major life event this year was being septic with appendicitis after trying to ‘tough it out’ for far too long. That resulted in a more complicated operation, a longer recovery and a second admission to hospital for another complication. It gave me a focus on considering what the most important aspects of life to me are. Photography is up there for sure, but health and family underpin all of it. Hence , photography this year has revolved around family needs more so than ever. Despite this, the photography year has still been very good to me and it’s given me more fuel to add to my constantly burning feeling of ‘impostor syndrome’.  Rather than presenting 2018 as a timeline, I thought I’d change tact and discuss several themes instead.

Extended family holidays:

Our first trip this year was with extended family to Yorke Peninsula in February. For those reading from South Australia, James Well is an amazing place to stay during the local crabbing season and we certainly took full toll of our weekend there with plenty of seafood to celebrate Chinese New Year. I love summer holidays away as most of the time, I can photography dawns and be back in time for the family breakfasts. If I’m lucky, I may even sneak in a sunset shoot or two during the trips. On this trip, I managed to photography a couple of places I had never been to before and ones which I had not seen many images of.

Wool Bay Jetty had lots of possibilities with a cliff overlooking from behind this position

 

Edithburgh Tidal pool on a blazing sunrise , one of few tidal pools I know if in South Australia?

Competitions:

In the past , I’ve been guilty of overthinking competitions. Competitions aren’t the reason I take photographs, instead, they’re a nice source of external validation if I happen to do well. Sometimes, I even used to enter competitions with a mindset of only entering images that I felt that they were within my invented moral framework of photography. If it went well, I wanted to say a big ‘screw you’ to those images which did not fall within this framework. Guess what – it never worked ! When you’re attempting to break into the top end of any field whether it be sport, academic pursuit or photographic competition, ‘one percenters’ to push limits count. The entrants who respect the rules to the limits with their amazing images will do well. And so, I only chose two competitions to enter this year: the Australian Geographic nature photographer of the year and the Epson Panorama Awards. The former because of the inbuilt ‘RAW check’ that is required for every shortlisted finalist image. The latter because the images seem more true to landscapes than many other ‘landscape’ competitions which seem based more on the ability to use nature as mere guideline for subsequent art. In the panorama awards, I’ve got over my angst-filled deliberations about whether to enter cropped images since most winners in recent times have been cropped images rather than stitched panoramas. I also threw away my ‘pro’ vs ‘amateur’ principle for the sake of the competition as I wanted to see how I fared with all comers in ‘open’ competition. I still consider myself an amateur at heart with far more limited opportunities than ‘professional’ photographers who do it for a living. I’ve had this mindset for a few years now , and it’s only been this year that I’ve had some breakthrough results. So I don’t feel that this change of attitude has been the reason for my successes in 2018, but rather, it simply means that I’m not disappointed if the images don’t perform as well as I had hoped. Meanwhile, several organisations have benefited financially from my chase of external validation!

6th place in Open Nature category , Epson Panorama Award, 91/100

 

7th place, Open Nature category in the Epson Panorama awards : 91/100

 

Finalist, Australian Geograhic NPOTY

Physical health and rehabilitation:

People sometimes ask me why I do the amount of exercise that I do. The easiest answer is that I like it! There’s no way anyone would just run 40-50km a week just for the sake of it. The benefit of keeping fit is to be able to go that bit further, have that much more clarity of mind without having to worry about fatigue after long walks. It helps significantly on the backpacking trips (which requires a different kind of fitness) but even more so during the family holidays when I’m rushing to get to locations before dawn and the rushing back to get back to join the family for the rest of the day. I had grand plans scouted out in advance before the New Zealand trip, but had to adapt to roadside shooting due to the unexpected bout of appendicitis. Over and above this, while attempting to regain fitness in May, I had quite a nasty bike accident coming down from the hills on my bike which set me back further. For several months I just didn’t have the full confidence in my body but thanks to my greyhound Flynn, our morning jogs helped to get me on the rehab track. We’ve got into such a pattern that later in the year, I even managed to run a personal record time for the City to Bay an completely unexpectedly snagged first place for my age! I didn’t do a lot of hiking in Canada or Washington but hopefully next January I’ll be able to test out the benefits of this years rehabbing during a one week solo trip to Tasmania.

Rehabbing slowly with Flynn , our latest addition to the family 😉

Sponsorship and photographic income:

Our relationship with NiSi and Pikitia continue to be our main sources of trickle income. On the side, there seems to be an interest in prints and tutorials every so often, particularly after favourable competition results! Overall, this means that photography is a self sustaining hobby. Throughout the year, I managed to edit a few scripts for NiSi and tested out their Titanium circular polariser. It turns out that its more of a warming cooling filter but still does its intended job well. I hope that with any partnership that I undertake, I can continue to give honest opinions rather than feel forced into praising the hand that feeds me. I feel that as someone who doesn’t depend on photographic income to survive, it leaves me in the best position to keep acting in this manner. Marianne has also branched out in to tripadvisor. We were part of a beta that recently launched in November and have a steady build up of followers.

Test scenario for NiSi’s Titanium CPL

Local shooting:

This year I’ve ventured locally far less than I used to. To a degree, there’s photographic fatigue with visiting the same locations over and over ; even if I haven’t achieved the shot I’ve always had in my mind for certain locations. The main limiting factor is that the kids are growing up and I’ve chosen to stay home on weekends – particularly now that we seem to have established a Sunday pancake routine! I do look forward to the summer months though. From November to February, I can comfortably head out on a local shoot and wrap up after dawn before coming home to take part in the morning activities, be it sport or breakfast related.

Brown Hill has been a new spot to visit thanks to its proximity to home

 

Mannum Falls after moderate rain never disappoints

 

Only one visit to Port Willunga , an old friend

 

New year started off at Petrel Cove – I might be heading down there again!

Our ‘regular’ holidays:

Last but not least, we did go on several trips this year. The March trip to North Island was intertwined with a conference at Tauranga which I needed to attend as a physician trainee supervisor. This was the appendicitis interrupted trip. Since Marianne was pretty stressed out from that trip and fatigued, we decided to try out a resort holiday in Fiji during shoulder season in May. Finally, another perioperative conference was being held in Seattle in October which made it perfect timing for visiting the Northern hemisphere in fall.  All of these trips were planned with dawn photographic opportunities in mind. For the most part, we stayed at self catering homes and based ourselves for three nights at any one location. These are some of my favourite shots from each ‘stop’ that we stayed at.

Tauranga  was the first stop at North Island. I really only went on one shoot in the midst of my delirium and vaguely remember pain in my right groin each step of the way down!

Mount Manganui pre and post dawn

Hawke’s Bay was the next stop where I had planned to do some long hikes to Cape Kidnappers. Instead, I settled for 50m outside our accommodation at Napier.

Dreaming of walking, restricted to hobbling

I was hoping to shoot from the top of Castle Rock at Castlepoint but it looks like many others have now beat me to it! Oh well, another visit will have to do!

The topdown view from Castle Rock will have to wait!

Around Taupo, I ventured out to the desert road to shoot Ngauruhoe. We were staying very close to this lone tree along the shores of Lake Taupo as well.

The ‘Taupo’ tree

 

Mount Doom at dawn

The Waitomo area was famous for its glow worms but I don’t feel I did it justice. Instead, I took a mud bath at Marokopa Falls…

Mighty muddy Marokopa Falls

 

My glow worm attempt!

Our final stop was at Urenui near New Plymouth. I had hoped to visit Taranaki again but due to health, I restricted myself to the coastline.

Goblin Forests around Taranaki with the kids

 

Three sisters at Tongaporutu

 

Whitecliff waterfall barely flowing

 

Our final morning , 5 minutes walk from our accommodation

Fiji was a great place to unwind however, for 2 of our 5 days , we had wild weather! This gave nice photographic opportunities at various locations though.

Tidal waves at the Warwick Resort!

 

Rainbow at Maui Bay after heavy rains

 

Biasevu waterfall was flowing very nicely

 

I visited Sigatoka sand dunes courtesy of a back route more known to locals

By the time we arrived in Seattle in late September, life had more or less returned to normal. Everyone’s health had miraculously stayed in tact (last trip we all suffered from Influenza A!). The kids adjusted well to long haul flights and time zone changes. I could not have imagined a more smooth process getting from home to each of our locations. In fact, other than the kids being loud in a Seattle townhouse causing mild friction with neighbours, all of our accommodation choices were great! There was a bit of a downer toward the end of the trip when we were rained in for consecutive days but the weather did clear and we finished off the trip with a quick visit to Disneyland on the way home.

Crazy fall colours at Mount Seymour

 

Cliff Falls at Kanaka Creek

After a few days in metro Vancouver to get over jetlag, we headed over to Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island . I felt that this was the best location of the trip accompanied by great weather after a washed out start.

Harris Cove in the grey

 

Harris Cove ablaze! A few days later

 

Sombrio Beach hidden waterfall

 

Sandcut Falls at dawn

 

Parkinson Creek on the way to Payzant Creek (which we didn’t make it to)

 

The beautiful lone tree in Fairy Lake

After battling an epic day of traffic to get back to the Mount Rainier area, the weather settled in meaning we lost sight of mountains for good!

Our last view of Mount Rainier for the trip! What fall colours!

 

Fall colours in the rain at Skate Creek

 

Black bear at Paradise

 

Marmot at Paradise!

 

Upper section of Christine Falls

We left Mount Rainier to first snows! Thereafter, it cleared up during our drive, only for the weather to settle in again as we arrived at Forks, our base for exploring the Olympic Peninsula. Rain meant that the focus was largely on waterfalls, though the weather cleared up on the very last morning.

Rialto Beach with dying light

 

Sol Duc Falls in the rain

 

Second Beach in beautiful sunshine as we were leaving!

 

Bunch Creek Falls on the way back to urbanisation

The rest of the trip was based in Seattle for my conference followed by a quick visit to Disneyland !

Seattle at sunset – minus Mount Rainier

Hurrah to the finale of our trip! So glad the girls got to see Disneyland at night!

Final words:

I feel refreshed and healthy at the end of 2018. Next year, we’re taking on home renovations which could see us a bit quieter on the photographic front. We have two trips to Tassie planned so far – one solo, one with extended family. Hopefully we’ll be able to sneak in a couple more trips locally and hopefully the girls continue to develop their hiking legs and appreciation of nature. My most important lesson learned this year was to have a stark reminder of the priorities in life. Good health and family should never be underestimated. See you in 2019 from all of us!

 

 

 

 

 

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Favourite Photographic moments of 2017

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!

Strata: Scott’s Peak from the Arthurs

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 …..

Noosa Heads National Park

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!

Colour Bomb at Lake Bonney : Taken with Laowa’s 12mm zero-D F2.8 lens

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.

The Wanaka Tree on a glorious golden dawn!

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.

Blazing light after sunset shared with the wildlife and the family made this evening extra special

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!

Genesis : Moonrise, Milkyway rise and sunrise all interplay over a magnificent outlook of the Western Arthurs

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.

The entrance to Rocky Creek Canyon is a visual maze of curves and lines.

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.

Golden light shines through passing cloud in a frozen wonderland around Lake Angelus

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.

Square Lake and Procyon peak illuminated following storms

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!

Ice Glyphs around the edge of Hooker Lake

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.

A breathtaking dawn at Tasman Lake

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.

Oberon Glory : A sight that will be forever burned into my memory

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 🙂

Tips for using a CPL effectively

Some of you who follow our work would know that a circular polariser (CPL) lives on the front of our lenses. Recently, we’ve made a change to using Nisi filters which means that for the most part, we use the kit CPL included with their variety of holders. As with many phases of development in photography, using a CPL is one of those subjects where once you discover it, there’s an initial trend to blindly use it no matter the situation! (Didn’t we all go through that to some degree with ‘HDR’ ??) With time and experience though, one becomes a little more judicious and refined with its use. I would say that a CPL is used for the majority of our images and I thought I’d share some do’s and don’ts about their use.

What does a CPL do?

  • Cuts out reflections : particularly useful for forest scenes.
  • Deepens natural colours : useful for most scenes.
  • Acts as a very light ND filter (1-1.5 stops): useful for seascapes in bright light.
  • They are potential rainbow killers! Be wary of having a CPL on with wide angled lenses if you think a rainbow is even a possibility.
  • It’s also another piece of glass that could interfere with image quality , particularly in moist situations and prolonged shooting. If I had to choose between polarisation for colours and a clean image, I would choose a clean image and remove the CPL.

Predawn light: A situation where I would be trying to avoid using a CPL since it acts as a light ND filter. For this scene, I was at iso 800 and did not want a shutter speed longer than 5-10 seconds or all texture would be lost. Hence I removed the CPL.

 

It’s generally a good idea to remove all filters (CPL included) when shooting for a sunstar.

 

Mornings with rain and breaking light lead me to prepare for a quick CPL removal ! If positioned incorrectly, a CPL may well polarise out the rainbow entirely or at least in part.

What do you do with the dial?

  • Its maximal effect is perpendicular to light source. If you point your index finger to the light source and poke your thumb out perpendicularly, the maximal polarisation occurs in the plane as you rotate your hand around.
  • If  your CPL has a dot on it, point that to the light source for maximal effect but use judgement depending on the presence of plain skies in particular.
  • Don’t forget to turn the CPL if you happen to change from landscape to portrait orientation (or vice versa) otherwise one of your images will have no polarisation effects!

In a forest situation, the light source is generally from up above. A useful starting point to achieve maximum polarisation is to have the ‘dot’ of your CPL pointing straight up in whatever orientation you are shooting. If your CPL does not have a ‘dot’ to indicate maximum polarisation direction, you may need to experiment for the best result.

Forest/waterfall scenes:

  • Use it to deepen the greens and allow a ‘see through’ effect to river beds.
  • Point the ‘dot’ on the CPL up to the sky.
  • Remove it if needing to keep foliage still with faster shutter, or alternatively, take separate frames with the CPL on at higher iso /larger aperture to allow adequate exposure at the desired shutter speed.
  • And remember (again), turn that CPL if you change orientation!

A forest scene with the CPL positioned to have minimal polarisation (dot sideways). Note the glare of the foliage and the presence of a waterfall reflection. The greens are also less vibrant.

The same scene with the CPL ‘dot’ turned upward. Note the vibrance of the greens and the removal of the waterfall reflection and see through effect to the creek bed.

Sometimes, to get the best of both worlds , polarised and unpolarised images can be blended such as in this example where the reflection is maintained along with the vibrant greens.

A perfect scenario for a CPL is a cloudy day with alpine streams of various natural hues. The CPL can really enhance the hues of the water while having no banding in plain skies to worry about!

Open skies:

  • Very good with long focal lengths to isolate your subject with blue skies.
  • Avoid using with wide angled images especially when perpendicular to light source (or expect to have to correct in post process) .
  • Use it to enhance detail in clouds : be wary of patches of open sky in the clouds themselves.
  • When in doubt with open skies, take the CPL off. It can be quite tricky to blend images with polarised and unpolarised images.

Enhanced clouds but note the darkened band in the blue sky perpendicular to the light source to the right of the image.

The sky is unpolarised in this version of the same scene but note that the reflections from the water have been removed by polarisation in a different plane.

RAW file of a wide angled image demonstrating the problematic band that a CPL can cause when shooting perpendicular to the light source.

The same scene as above but shot at a longer focal length. If your subject is perpendicular to a light source, shooting at longer focal length with the CPL turned to the light really can enhance the subject greatly without the same problematic banding that is seen with shorter focal lengths.

Not that this sky needed it, but the CPL certainly helps bring out textures in clouds.

Seascapes:

  • Can enhance natural colours and reduce glare off rocks.
  • Sometimes the glare or reflection shooting into sun is required/desired therefore you may not want to use the CPL.
  • Sometimes in bright light, you may be using the CPL purely as a light ND filter in order to achieve 0.3-0.5 second exposures in bright light.

Generally speaking, polarisation isn’t necessary when shooting seascapes directly into a light source, especially when shooting for sunstars.

 

A CPL in this situation may slightly enhance general colours but may also reduce colourful reflections. In any given situation, it may help you achieve a slightly lower shutter speed rather than stopping down to small apertures such as F22.

Conclusions:

  • I consider a CPL a very important part of a landscape photographer’s kit.
  • If your CPL does not have a ‘dot’ I would experiment and perhaps even mark out where the ‘dot’ for maximum polarisation should be as a time saver.
  • Forest scenes are where they truly allow colours to sing .
  • Beware situations where you would rather not use one : plain skies, sunstars, rainbow opportunities and shutter dependent low light scenes
  • Most importantly, you need to decide according to your shooting style and preferred subjects whether you invest in one. Lastly, if you do invest in one, consider using screw-on filters for shooting handheld. For tripod situations using a filter holder, I would recommend using the NiSi filter holder system which has the CPL as part of the holder itself (take this with a grain of salt as I am an Australian Nisi ambassador !)

Happy shooting all and I hope there was at least one bit of information there that was useful! We’re off the New Zealand 🙂