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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 🙂

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Kia Ora! (and apologies)

It takes some getting to used to but I now like saying that the three of us have returned from a trip through the amazing landscapes and hospitality of New Zealand’s South Island. It was our first trip overseas with Charlotte who was 8 months old at the beginning of the trip. The other ‘baby’ we brought along was the 5dmk3 and we are proud to say that both behaved remarkably well 🙂 We are currently sorting through a myriad of images and videos and unfortunately, it may take longer than usual – not only because of work but because we felt that we were really spoiled for choice after witnessing such beauty! In future posts, we hope to take you through our locations in more detail but for now, here are some anecdotes for our trip.

1. Shag rock used to lie along the coast of Christchurch. Following the devastating earthquake in 2011, it was one of the many casualties both man made and natural. I’m told that locals now call it Shag Pile though what an impressive pile of rocks it still makes ! That stretch of beach seemed particularly popular with joggers as many ran by and touched the rock as though it were some kind of route marker?

5dmk3, 16-35mm F2.8 II lens, F11,  ISO100, 50 seconds +100 second exposures blended.

Shag ‘Pile’ , Christchurch

2. The Church of the Good Shepherd : This is one of the prime locations for night sky photography in New Zealand and possibly anywhere in the world! During this night, I did observe some general photographic and tourist etiquette issues. I first tried to take a series of images from 8pm -10pm. A few of us were taking turns to take our images with or without some attempted light painting. Intermittently however, some mandarin speaking tourists would barge into the exposure with headlights, flashes and proceed to attempt taking images without regard for the 3 of us waiting patiently with tripods set up. I am asian and I do speak and understand limited mandarin but none of their conversation regarded some kind of haste to allow the rest of us our opportunity. It’s times like this where I shake my head and try not to perpetuate the rather negative tourist stereotype of my own kind. I found more peace when I chanced an early morning visit at 4am and thankfully the skies remained clear.

5dmk3, 16-35mm F2.8 lens, F3.2, ISO3200, 30 second exposures X 3 blended in CS5.

Milky Way over the ‘ole church

3. Roadside shooting: We found that our daytime images were very limited as stopping the car had the rather adverse consequence of waking Charlotte! As a result, most of our photography occurred at predetermined destinations rather than our usual practice of finding subjects off the beaten track during the day in between destinations. Despite this limitation, there were a few moments we did stop. Unfortunately, Charlotte did wake after the stop for this image overlooking lake Pukaki in between Tekapo and Mount Cook.

5dmk3 , 70-200mm F2.8 II lens, F8, ISO200, 1/200

Late autumn snow storms

4. Mount Cook National Park: If you love mountains, if you love alpine scenery, if you love hiking and if you want to give yourself the best chance to get ‘that’ picture you envisioned then do yourself a favour. Spend more than 2 nights in the area! Our two nights there were not nearly enough to explore the Hooker Valley, Tasman Valley and Sealy Tarns. I had planned to overnight at Mueller hut on the second night there before I realised that my return on the following morning would not coincide with a timely checkout and that it would leave Marianne to pack up all the heavy stuff with bub in hand. This place is definitely on the ‘redo’ list of places but nevertheless, the brief sojourn was filled with memorable moments despite the initially poor weather. Our first evening ended at the Tasman Lake mouth where there were brief moments of light. Charlotte had her first taste of wind, rain, and cold experienced from the inside of a sealed and fogged up waterproofed unit on my back.

5dmk3 , 16-35mm F2.8 II lens, F16, ISO50, 2.5 seconds

Tasman Lake river mouth

5. Lake Wanaka : The town of Wanaka is the base for exploring Mount Aspring National Park and a gateway to the west coast further ahead. The weather was crystal clear during the day and frosty in the mornings. This led to some superb conditions in the mornings. Like most of our locations visited, a mere 2 nights would only provide us a sample of the beauty on offer. On one of our morning shoots, we picked Glendhu Bay as a location to photograph the snow capped mountains across Lake Wanaka. On the way back, we paid a visit to a very famous and photographed tree!

5dmk3, 70-200 F2.8II lens, F5.6, ISO800, 1/400

‘That’ famous tree of Lake Wanaka

6. Autumn Colours: Based on a visit to Jiuzhaigou (Szechuan province China) in 2009, the autumn colours were very prominent in late October. Accordingly, we figured that late April would still provide us with vibrant Autumn foilage. It turns out that with the exception of a few locations, most of the leaves had already fallen by the time of our visit. Arrowtown was once of the places we visited specifically for these colours and despite the fallen leaves, the remaining foliage was still simply stunning.

5dmk3, 70-200 F2.8II lens, F11, ISO50, 1 second handheld (vertical pan during exposure)

Autunm abstracts from Arrowtown

7. Frost : From Arrowtown and Queenstown, we moved on to Glenorchy where yet again, 2 nights was not enough. The weather remained remarkably crisp and clear which once again led to early morning frosts. This coated the ground with a thin layer of ice which transformed the scenery into a winter wonderland for the first hour or two of the day.

5dmk3, 16-35mm F2.8II lens, F16, ISO50, 1.6 seconds for each frame of panorama

Frost & Fire from Glenorchy wharf

8. Milford Sound. I think that this location needs no introduction. It was Marianne’s prime destination for the trip and I found myself wondering if perhaps its impact would be lessened by the amazing scenes we had already witnessed. I am so glad to report that despite the wonders we had already seen, Fiordland simply topped it all! During our 3 nights based at Milford, I spent one night hiking the Routeburn track to Lake Mackenzie while Marianne stayed at Milford with Charlotte. After a day of heavy rain which we entirely expected, we were priveleged to see Milford sound in all of its conditions ranging from blue skies, to sultry poor visibility, to glorious light. I only wish I could have been down at the sound witnessing this scene Marianne photographed -particularly to see the sprays of Bowen Falls in this light.

5dmkII, 17-40mm F4 lens, F16, ISO50, 2 exposures for each of 4 frames stitched in CS5

Milford Sound after the rains

9. Lake Te Anau: Our time at Lake Te Anau was also highlighted by a particularly vibrant dawn. It so happens that this also occurred while I was hiking one night of the Kepler Track. Marianne witnessed the amazing dawn from the shores of Te Anau itself. The water taxi had no customers that morning. If you have already been to Milford, Te Anau is a wonderful place to relax or possibly use as a base to visit Doubtful Sound.

5dmkII, 17-40mm F4 lens, F16, ISO50, 4 seconds

The taxi waits

10. Hoiho! After leaving Fiordland with a sad heart, we said goodbye to snow capped mountains and headed toward the Catlins. One of the locations we visited with a purpose in mind was Curio Bay. The dusk arrival of the yellow-eyed penguins was met with wonder by the small group of enthusiasts watching them march back to their nests just before dark. In these conditions, the 5dmk3 once again excelled in low light and high ISO shooting conditions. Taking images up to 6400 ISO still provided quality images and videos. We simply had to revisit these birds again the following morning. Beware though, the sandflies are out in force around there!

5dmk3, 70-200F2.8 II lens + 2x extender, F5.6, ISO5000, 1/400

It’s off to work we go!

11. Between rocks and a hard place. After 3 nights in the Catlins photographing waterfalls, braving the rain and watching the subsequent rainbows, we moved on to our last location : Moeraki. We had hoped to catch the boulders at high tide but sadly our evening and morning shoot were both in low tide with little cloud in the sky. Nonetheless, the textures of the rocks were amazing!  Between the Catlins and Moeraki we stopped off at Dunedin for a junkfood and chinese takeout fix, but we’re still going through images from this section of our trip. Our accommodation was very close to Saint Clair beach where I could also satisfy my urges to photograph disused jetties!

5dmk3, 16-35mm F2.8II lens, F16, ISO100, 400 second exposure (ND1000)

Saint Clair’s Pillars

Our trip was over before we knew it! After a last morning at Moeraki, we were out of the country and back at work 36 hours after touchdown back in Adelaide. Charlotte seeemed to have a great time and we felt that even though parts of the trip felt like we were just looking after her in a different location, it was a worthwhile journey for her development! We also learned a few tricks about travel which might be the topic for another post. That, and the many ‘holes’ I’ve left in this brief recount of our journey.

Until next time!

-D &M

Photographing Iceland – What You Need to Know (Part One)

We’ve had several requests from inspired fellow photographers for suggested itineraries and locations when planning a trip to Iceland after seeing our Facebook and website galleries – which is, of course, one of the greatest compliments we could ever receive!  As with any photographic holiday, preparation and planning goes a long way towards making the trip a success.  There are plans to write an article on planning photographic holidays in general, but for this one we will concentrate specifically on this amazing country that we have come to know reasonably well.

The intention is to divide this topic into 3 parts – the first (this post) to go through some basic logistics (when to visit, where to stay, how to get there), then a second article to concentrate on what to photograph (how long to spend at the locations, what to bring along), and a third to summarise the key points.

Why are you going (and what do you want to photograph)?

This has to be one of the first questions asked for any photographic trip.  You need to be clear on what you are going to photograph as this will influence where you spend the majority of your time and effort, and helps with planning your route as well as the time of year to go.  In any photographic endeavour the greatest enemy is time.  By pinpointing several locations that you want to visit, you can concentrate on a smaller region and thus make the most of your holiday.

One of the ways we decide where to visit is to look online and in bookshops or newsagencies.  Flickr and other photosharing websites can be a good first stop, and so can the official tourist websites.  Once in the country, we generally like to look for coffee table books or postcards, which give us an idea of vantage points, composition and places that may be more off the beaten track.

We visited Iceland twice over two years.  The first time we really didn’t have much of a clue and so a return trip was planned to revisit some of the locations that we felt deserved a better effort.  Over three weeks in late April/early May 2009 we spent a lot of time driving long distances trying to cover the entire country.  Our second trip was planned for August-September 2010 and this time we had specific locations and activities in mind, which meant that we managed a better percentage of “keeper” images.

We planned to hike the Laugavegur Trail on our second visit

When should you visit?

Both trips produced very different photographs.  In late spring (April-May) we found that a lot of the landscape was still covered with snow, and waterfalls were abundant as the snows melted.  The season also meant that the colours of the landscapes tended towards earthy colours (browns, yellows and grey skies).  At that time of year many of the interior roads are inaccessible, which means the central highlands and other interior locations will not be on your list of photography locations, including possibly Dynjandi and Dettifoss (two waterfalls NOT to be missed!).

Dylan photographing Dettifoss

The focus of our second trip was to hike the Laugavegur Trail, to visit both the West Fjords and interior highlands, and to spend more time at Jökulsárlón.  The Laugavegur Trail can only be hiked in the summer months, but we didn’t want to be too much a part of the tourist crowd, so we opted for as late as possible in summer to go such that as the weeks went by the crowds would slowly disappear.  By this time, the waterfalls don’t have as much water, but there are blue skies and green shrubbery, and the magic light of dusk lasts for several hours.

Either way, be prepared with plenty of warm clothing.  In late spring the day temperatures hover around 5 degrees Celsius, and I remember pulling on 3 layers of pants and 4 layers of tops (including outerwear).  In summer it is possible to walk around in a t-shirt but the nights can get bitterly cold, especially if you are planning to catch an aurora at 1am in the central highlands.  Waterproof, windproof outerwear is essential; it is rarely still in Iceland, and in the highlands the winds are so strong that you will need to crouch as low as possible to take a photo.

How will you get around?

Depending on where you live it can take almost 2 days to reach Iceland.  From Adelaide, Australia, it took approximately 35 hours, including all transit times.  IcelandAir will jetty you to and from Reykjavík via Heathrow.  Once in Iceland, we recommend hiring a 4WD vehicle, especially if you are planning to use the interior routes.  There are plenty of bumpy dirt roads and more than a few river crossings through the highlands.  If you only plan to use the Main Ring Road 1 that encircles the country, it is sealed and kept clear all year round (except when volcanoes erupt and glaciers melt), so you can get by without a 4WD.  Car hire was one of the most expensive commodities, which was also part of the reason we tried to go during the “shoulder” season (“low” season) – the difference in price between “peak” and “shoulder” season was at least 150%.  A very good map comes with car hire, though it is rather large and clumsy to handle.

You'll need a 4WD to access Landmannalaugar and other interior highland locations

Where can you stay?

The hostels in Iceland are a cheap and efficient way to get around the country if you don’t require more than a bed and you are happy to self-cater.  Almost all the hostels offer 2-bed (“private”) rooms, but if you wanted to save even more, dormitory-style rooms are also available.  During low season it is possible you may be the only occupant of a hostel (we had a 70-bed hostel all to ourselves at Hvoll in 2009!).  As with anything, dorms come with their own disadvantages – sharing bathroom facilities, snoring occupants, late sleepers, reduced privacy – and your own pre-dawn outings may not be appreciated by others either!  Hostels can be booked through the Iceland Hostelling International website (http://www.hostel.is/).  Beware not all have laundry facilities.  The hostels range from modern and swish at Hvoll and Reykjavík, to cosy and homey facilities at Húsey and Kopasker.

For some locations the hostels are not in close proximity, especially as you move away from Reykjavík.  To photograph Jökulsárlón, for example, we stayed in accommodation run by the “Icelandic Farm Holidays” association (http://www.farmholidays.is/).  It is slightly more expensive than a private hostel room.  There are approximately 160 farms around Iceland that may be more suitable to your travel plans than the hostel locations.  If you plan to hike the Laugavegur Trail and want to stay in the mountain huts, you need to book well in advance through the Ferðafélag Íslands website (http://www.fi.is/en/huts/), or else carry a tent.

We can’t advise on 5-star accommodation as that isn’t our style of travel, but there will certainly be hotels to cater for those that like a bit more luxury.

Camping at Hrafntinnusker on the Laugavegur Trail

How will you handle food supplies?

We self-catered for almost the entire time we spent in Iceland.  It was easier as we did not have to rely on finding food outlets if we stayed out late for a sunset shoot, or if we wanted a midnight snack while waiting for auroras, or a nibble on a cold pre-dawn session at a secluded beach.  Spring temperatures are cold enough during the day to transport dairy foods and cold meats in the boot of the car whilst heading from one hostel to another.  During summer a little more care should be taken, perhaps using an esky or icepack and packing all the cold foods together.

Our favourite supermarket haunt was the Bonus Supermarket chain (http://www.bonus.is/) but they are rare as you head east of Reykjavik.  Look for the slightly ugly pink pig on a yellow banner.  Other supermarkets include 10-11, Krónan, and of course the various ones attached to petrol stations.

Our mascots Twiggy & Chip at a Bonus supermarket!

There is a booklet available in Reykjavík’s Tourist Information Centre that lists all the fine dining options around the country if you are so inclined.  As with accommodation however, we are not particular about our food, so we can only recommend one restaurant in Reykjavik – Geysir Bar and Bistro (the salted cod was AWESOME).  Other than that, the hot dogs stands received our custom for lunches and mid-afternoon snacks.

How much does it cost?

The global financial crisis had a large impact on Iceland’s economy.  As a result, the exchange rate went from 40 Icelandic krona (ISK) to over 100 ISK to the Australian dollar on our last visit; currently the Aussie dollar gets you just under 122 ISK.    This means that store-bought food and drink is very affordable, if not even cheaper than your local supermarket.

The cost of flights has also dropped in recent times.  Our first trip cost approximately $3500 for two people departing Adelaide, including return flights and the ‘domestic’ flights between Heathrow and Reykjavík.  The second time we visited on a round-the-world ticket.

As a rough guide to expenditure on accommodation and car hire, for our 5-week trip last year it cost approximately $8000.  The inclusions:

  • Standard car hire (1 week, peak season)
  • 4WD car hire (4 weeks, low season)
  • Hostel accommodation (majority of nights)
  • Farm Holidays accommodation (5 nights)
  • Mountain Hut accommodation on the Laugavegur Trail (5 nights)

Car rentals can be booked through the Hostelling International website when you book your accommodation (http://www.hostel.is/).  We did not take out the volcanic ash insurance when hiring a vehicle.

Driving through the interior highlands

Well, I think that covers the basics!  A long post, I know, but next up will be suggested itineraries that will hopefully help you decide where you want to visit, whether you have just a few days, or a few weeks.  We’ll also list our favourite locations and give you an idea of how long you might want to spend there.

If you have any particular questions, feel free to post in comments and we’ll do our best to answer them!

-M