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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The rest of the trip was based in Seattle for my conference followed by a quick visit to Disneyland !
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!
Along the way, the road conditions were fantastically smooth and not at all tricky like they were on the way north . Our travel time was therefore far shorter which allowed us a few stops at Lake Louise (to return the cards from Pyramid lodge which we accidentally hung on to) and then at Morant’s Curve before arriving in Canmore at 4pm with the girls having slept in the car. They were again very good during the travel time during the day and are fast becoming seasoned travelers in all modes of transport.
That evening, Marianne went out to Policeman’s creek where despite some nice cloud, no light occurred . The evening light gig certainly seems like mission impossible around here with the Rockies to the west. She met Stacy , the guy behind ‘sentinel photography’ and we’ve made another contact through this shoot.
Dinner was late at the ‘famous Chinese restaurant’ . Canmore is quite easy to navigate with north south avenues and east west streets. Or maybe the other way round. It was reasonable Chinese food which we always crave while we’re travelling. After a good fill, it was home for the last night of late dawns with the change back to non daylight saving time to happen in 24 hours.
Saturday November 5
Dawn at Policeman’s creek. Curiosity got the better of me as I got to the location in the still of night and wandered around looking for alternative spots but the spot people shoot from does indeed seem to be the best. That morning, I met a woman from Red Deer house sitting in Canmore, a mountaineering guy from Canmore and Stacy was again there so we all exchanged pleasantries while witnessing an absolutely amazing dawn unfold! Two in a row! What were the chances of that given our trip?? It was good to be back home not too late either given that this location was literally 1km from our accommodation.
Lodges of Canmore is very well set up and the 3BR apartment we have is the best we’ve had all trip. The price is a little higher than we would like but far better than what we have paid for similar setups elsewhere. That morning, we did as much exploring of the town streets as the girls could tolerate. They absolutely loved Café Books which is a great store on the main street (8th ave).
It was a pretty chill and relaxing day as we finished off with another attempted sunset shoot at Spray Lakes. The wind was blowing a gale and predictably, nice late afternoon light faded into nothing. A home dinner and bed time before readjusting clocks to the new time.
Sunday November 6
I had a couple of choices this morning – I could have hiked up to Grassi Knob and photographed the 3 sisters again, or I could explore Kananaskis county. I figured that the workout part of me wanted to go up the mountain, but I made up for that later in the afternoon by doing a 6.5 k run on a treadmill. Instead with rain and wind forecast, I headed down to Wedge Pond.
In the dark, it was clear that this would not be a great spot. The water was all rippled up from the wind and without any foreground matter of interest, it wasn’t that great a spot. I went briefly searching for the reflecting pools of Mount Kidd but didn’t look too hard after Dani told me that they had been washed away by floods. Instead, I just took a walk down the Galatea Lakes trail and made a random turn off the footbridge as I thought a bend in the river might give me great views of Mount Kidd. Fortunately, that hunch was proven correct even if compositions were limited. Light didn’t really happen at dawn but there was passing light over the mountain well after dawn. The sony seemed to perform very well in these green foresty conditions.
Later that morning , Marianne took a walk down the main street again while I entertained the kids at the train playground in the lovely set Three sisters village south of Canmore. As usual, it was time for Jaime’s sleep and I decided to have one as well. The lack of a sleep in was really starting to catch up on me.
Our last evening was spend attempting for sunset light again at Spray Lakes with some success as at least it fizzled out only after starting to go pink. We killed some time filling up petrol and using a car wash before heading to dinner again at the famous Chinese restaurant. Early sunsets were now at an Adelaide sunset time! That evening, we had a bit of resorting to do for the drive back out to Calgary . I offered Marianne one last chance to go out shooting at dawn to at least experience the light out in the field but she chose not to again.
Monday November 7
What a boom dawn! Even from 1 hour out you could start to see something happening and that’s the beauty of being out early. It allows for some degree of indecision before settling somewhere. I chose Two Jack Lake since the other easy access locations had already yielded some results such as Vermillion lakes and back at Policeman’s creek at Canmore. The problem with Two Jack is the distant mountain range and the relative lack of any foreground matter of interest particularly when there are no reflections to work with. For that reason, I think I was the only one out there until some late comers from Calgary arrived on the scene way after the peak light had finished.
After a quick packup routine (probably our record!) we headed out from Canmore since none of the shops were open until 11am. We ended up driving to Signal Hill in Calgary where there was an enormous Indigo bookstore. You could literally get anything book related there and we spent a good hour there exploring before having lunch at a random hillside. The girls were getting good at adapting play to whatever was around.
Thereafter, it was a final night in the downtown Best Western followed by an uneventful flight out from Calgary. There was an amusing moment going through US customs where Jaime had an adorably avoidant photo taken at the customs checkpoint but we weren’t allowed to keep it ! This was basically the end of our trip photographically and the rest of the time would be spent in California mostly attending a medical conference.
Tuesday November 1
Our packup routine had mostly been done the night before , so we headed off the Jasper shortly before 11am and spent a last few moments appreciating the magic of a winter seen from a southern hemisphere visitor’s viewpoint.
The drive to Jasper was memorable for a few reasons. The scenery in white was simply gorgeous but this also led to our downfall as we looked to pull over in the snow and nearly slid of an embankment! Fortunately, before we slid too far, we had assistance from a passer by who helped us push the car back up and out of danger. Marianne was overcome by this near need to call a tow truck in the middle of nowhere (near Bow summit) but thankfully it was all resolved very quickly. We found that in the winter season , amenities are scarce on the icefields parkway and so another drama occurred when we could not find a toilet for some time ! Luckily that sorted itself as we backtracked from the Columbia icefield centre to Winslow.
Arriving at Jasper, we settled in just after 4 and ended up photographing Pyramid mountain right outside our accommodation. Our dinner at Pizza hut /KFC hybrid was somewhat forgettable and for some reason I find myself liking the junk food back home more! Oh there was again no light booo!!!
That night, our accommodation at Pyramid Lake was a bit squishy so we had to sleep on the sofa bed while Charlotte had a beautiful loft to herself and Jaime slept in the dedicated bedroom
Wednesday November 2
A long drive for me on this morning. I headed down to Tangle mountain which was over an hour away. The drive wouldn’t feel so long if I weren’t arriving back so late due to the late sunrise times here (nearly 9am). By the time I returned home, it can be close to 11am and the kids were no longer sleeping in much past 8-830.
The road south along the icefields parkway was pretty whited out on that morning. For some sections I felt like I was making my own path but this did mean that I would have semi winter conditions for the shots that I had in mind. The compositions were all based winter shots I had seem from the area but I felt like I wanted to actually get a reflection rather than just dark water motion . I arrived there an hour before dawn to be joined by another car pulling over – I didn’t know what was up so I tapped on the occupants window. Turned out she was just snoozing on the way to Banff. Phew , no serial killer to deal with!
To put a long story short, I finally saw some semblance of light! Hooray!! Then it was home with some grocery shopping and a quick trip to Athabasca Falls with the girls. These were a nice falls but the lack of water motion meant that some of the possibilities photographically were not there. I’m not sure what we’ll do with our middle of the day shots except perhaps put them up as Stock? We stopped on the way back to shoot from a bridge overlooking Pyramid mountain but once again, not a lot on offer and the kids busied themselves throwing rocks into the water, a new pasttime for them it would seem. Back to home for bed time for Jaime before another short foray out
That evening, we headed out toward Maligne Lake. There wasn’t a lot of point heading all the way out to Maligne since the ferry to spirit island was closed, I’m no kayaker and the immediate shore did not seem that attractive. Instead, we stopped at Medicine Lake which was a bit of a mud pit given the low water levels. It did give a nice view from up above – translating this into photography was difficult especially given the yet again, grey sunset lighting on offer. Back to bed!
Thursday November 3
Dawn light at Medicine Lake! Hooray! Kind of anyway. The light was actually happening every single direction initially except for at the actual dawn in that’s the way it stayed until well after sunrise. I got thoroughly bogged down there and filthy needing a good cleaning on my return home but to see light for the first time this trip , even if the pink wasn’t in the right direction, was exhilarating .
I wasn’t back too late on that morning which gave us time for a walk around the town of Jasper. Sure it was a weekday but it seemed like everyone in town was just a little sleepy, a little oppressed, a little depressed and overall, it just didn’t seem to give off much of a happy holiday vibe at all? Strange, I had always imagined it to be this idyllic place that indeed Banff and Canmore have turned out to be. Perhaps it’s because our trip was timed to be at those places on the weekends? While Marianne attended to retail therapy, I took the girls walking down the main street visiting various bear statues, trains and other distractions along the way . The weather looked to be closing in again before we went back to our accommodation for Jaime’s nap.
The last sunset at Jasper was another fizzer . We drove all the way to Sunwapta falls for it and got a little rained on with precious little light but it still would do. The forecast was actually for clear skies which was completely incorrect since we did not see a trace of blue sky!
Friday November 4
I awoke in darkness to the view of stars through our window! The plan was to photograph something locally and so I headed out to the small boardwalked area on Pyramid Lake. There, the milky way was in the perfect location over the island so a few selfies were taken. Before long, I could see wisps of cloud gathering over pyramid mountain with a clear sky to the south east . I could sense amazing light and tried to get Marianne up and out of bed but she wanted to sleep in.
So out I raced again after having packed up to transfer the gear! It was the first pink display of light we had seen all trip and pretty nice to finally experience it in a location like this . The pack up routine was quicker than usual and we were ready for departure shortly after 10am. Headed for Canmore.