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!
Lately I’ve been noticing that social media has been giving me less enjoyment. I feel I’ve been emphasizing physical fitness more than anything else when I’m not working so it was with great frustration that I was disabled for the best part of 1 month while recovering from appendicitis. During that period, I had thought that I would be active on social media and crank out some of the images and videos from the New Zealand trip but it turns out that there wasn’t a whole lot of material from that nightmarish trip. I’ve found myself idly browsing instead and have come to the realisation that I’ve just been wasting a lot of time browsing without interacting, dreaming without acting and worst of all , getting frustrated with inactivity.
I suppose everyone has heard of the theory that ‘more is less’ ; implying that an inundation of social media content can result in ‘meaningless’ interaction and actions that are based on obligation rather than a true desire to engage. Then there’s the flipside that ‘less is more; meaning that if you post rarely and only the very cream of your content , each post will have more value. While I agree that both are true from an ‘artistic intent’ point of view, a simpler interpretation of volume content tends to hold true for social media. That is plain and simply ‘more is more’ and ‘less is less’.
It’s this very demand of social media interaction that leads to a photographer forcing content out when perhaps there isn’t content to be had. I’ll be honest in saying that I certainly felt this pressure but a few years ago, the positive reinforcement of genuine engagement kept driving me to fulfill my post obligation for the day. Sure there was some degree of quality control I would impose upon myself but many of the posts were 2nd and 3rd preference images from a scene I had shot in the past. Some would argue vehemently against this kind of posting behaviour but I guess it all depends on how a photographer wants to portray themselves. I personally don’t mind showing to the world that not every picture I take is of gold quality. Perhaps by showing the lesser versions of an image and the ‘B sides’ others can learn from my mistakes. Perhaps if the leading landscape photographers did this more there would be a portrayal of more fallibility thereby making them more ‘relatable’. It could even be through a ‘BTS’ account which I see many have already done.
I see this in my line of work as a physician. Too often, case presentations are given where the clinician speaks of an interesting patient using a tone of congratulatory ‘high fiving themselves’ for their ability to pick the final diagnosis. I feel that I learn more from the exact same presentation, but with the emphasis changed to discussing errors and limitations of the team during the process of coming to the final diagnosis. These give invaluable lessons as to how the same diagnosis could be reached in a more efficient way in the future. Relating this back to photography, I’m sure many of you reading this have tried an approach to editing a difficult image where said approach just wasn’t working. Maybe you came back to it a few times, maybe you scrapped it entirely or maybe you asked someone else for some advice in order to achieve the final image you’re proud of. This process of experimentation and ‘fails’ is rarely something that is discussed perhaps for fear of not being seen as an ultimate player in the broadening world of landscape photography. Having said all of this, I do strongly believe that somewhere ,there should be a spot/site reserved for the cream of the crop, a place for pure inspiration to show off what we are most proud of. For me this is our ‘everlookphotography.com’ site (not facebook or instagram)
I’m writing this knowing that many people will disagree but if I had a resolution to make about my life in general, it would be to help others through pointing out the mistakes I’ve made and how I learned from them. I’d like to extend this to my photography for a period of time and hope that you can learn through my error prone eyes 🙂
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.