I went for a walk on a snowy morning in Calgary. I loved the geometry of these rooftops set against the blank canvas of a snow-filled sky.
The wife and I took a day off recently and headed down to Werribee Mansion. It’s a huge old stately home which has been turned into a public attraction, and has some enormous and very beautifully manicured grounds. We spent the afternoon enjoying the patchy sunlight and exploring the gardens.
The home itself is an attractive piece of grand architecture which makes for a nice backdrop to the flower beds. The light was challenging- but this made it interesting. Shifting clouds meant that catching enough light on the foreground to reduce the difference between light sky and darkened ground (dynamic range) was tricky- but when it worked, the cloudy sky was full of movement, interest and contrast. There were a couple of classic old greenhouses beside the flowerbeds, starting to sag a little round the middle, and they made for interesting subjects as well. The day’s photoshoot was a fun mix of portraiture and scenery, full of colour and soft lighting.
Here are a few of my favourite shots, these ones of the grounds themselves:
I’m not a fan of photographs from windows- any windows- as a rule, but when you’re in the field you spend so much time in four-by-fours (see Field Visit Bingo) that sometimes, you have no choice.
Shots from car windows tend to be bland and blurry. It’s a rule of thumb in landscape photography that you don’t take a landscape from where you are, but you move into the landscape to take the photo. Very rarely do the elements line up to give you the right composition- and when they do, they’re usually shooting by so fast that if you’re late by a tenth of a second you miss the moment, and if the shutter speed isn’t high enough, they blur right out. It’s rare to get a sharp image- although by shooting more forwards and less sideways, you reduce the movement of the landscape relative to yourself.
For me, the above image, snapped from a speeding Land Cruiser several hours out of Nairobi, isn’t perfect- but it somehow works for all its imperfections. There’s no hiding what it is- a photo taken hanging out of a car window: the location of the cyclists and the little corner of road make that clear. The foreground is blurred, and the cyclists moreso. The rear tyre of the second cyclist has been clipped by the edge of the frame, and there’s even a little lens-flare catching against the low sun.
But I love the elements. It was a gorgeous sunset, and the sky and terrain were both full of drama. The cyclists- one in a football shirt- are typical of the area and tell their own story about place. And I actually think their blur adds something to the image, a sense of moving towards a brighter horizon. For all its quirks, I was pleased with how this shot turned out.
I love Baobab Trees. Their bulbous trunks and gnarled, clawing limbs make such a stark profile in a landscape often dominated by low scrub and dry grasses. They have an odd, distorted sort of form, and even the way their name comes off the lips- round and taut and satisfying- seems to reflect their tub-like demeanour. They’re such a feature of so many African landscapes, they’re deeply evocative to me.
I took this little series that follows out of a moving car window in southern Kenya. It’s a general no-no for me in photography, but sometimes, especially on field visits where you spend so much time in running up and down the countryside in a vehicle, you don’t have much option.
We were lucky enough to have a moody skyscape to provide as a backdrop, so I exposed for the sky and let the trees stand in silhouette. This had the added advantage of requiring a faster shutter-speed, reducing the foreground blur. Two rules of thumb, if you have to take pictures from a car window: First, the faster the shutter speed, obviously, the lower the blur- so try and maximise this. Second, due to the relative motion of the landscape past the car, objects nearest the car (e.g. pedestrians) will blur more than those further away (e.g. mountains), so try and ensure that the object you’re shooting at isn’t right outside the car window, and if possible cut out the objects closer to the car in favour of those further away.
As the sun went behind the clouds towards the end of the afternoon, the effect was beautiful, with beams of light breaking out across the sky. It was a memorable drive, and while I would much have preferred to stop every few minutes to take proper photos of the glorious landscape, at least I have a few visual mementos of a trip across one of my favourite countries in the world.
The trees are, to the best of my knowledge, Adansonia Digitata.
I admit it: I really haven’t been all that busy this year from a travel perspective, so I don’t really have much of an excuse for not blogging. I’ve only had a handful of trips away from home and the family, and those have all been moderate in length. However it’s still been a pretty interesting year so far, and it ain’t over yet. Here’s a little photographic synopsis:
We started the year with a trip on the Murray River in Echuca, with good friends of ours who own a boat and a couple of wakeboards. At that time of year, the river is warm (but muddy) and reasonably crowded, but if you get out during the hottest part of the day, most people are cowering indoors and you can get some beautiful runs in. This is T doing his stuff.
A work trip to South Africa was followed by a long weekend trekking the bays and clifflines of glorious Wilson’s Prom, on Victoria’s southern coast.
From there, I had myself another work trip, this one out to Kenya, followed by a detour into South Sudan. That was pretty much the last time you really heard from me on this blog, here, here and here…
On my way back, I joined the family in Thailand for a bit of a well-needed break from the southern hemisphere winter, where we pretty much threw Magic into the pool and let her splash around for ten days while we slept. It was a very nice pool though…
I had a couple of trips cancelled after that, so I spent a considerable amount of time hanging out in Australia with the family, which was actually lovely and refreshing. I also hung out at pirate-themed parties…
My latest work trip took me to the US, where I was able to swing past Arizona to visit friends
Then to our training base in the backwoods of the Florida panhandle
Before wrapping it all up in Savannah, GA, with a visit with more friends, and a bit of time on the beach.
I’ve got more adventures coming up, but I’ll fill you in on them as the time draws near. Which shouldn’t be too long now, God willing.
In the meantime, I’ve more photos to share from my collection this year which I hope you’ll enjoy, and before long hope to have this blog back up to full steam again.
1. Clouds above Atlanta
2. Wakeboarding in Echuca, VIC
3. T lays down some spray
4. Fairy Cove, Wilson’s Prom, VIC
5. Kilimanjaro & Kenyan hill-country
6. Resort Living, Phuket, Thailand
7. X marks the birthday party, arrr
8. Viewers at the Melbourne Aquarium
9. Saguaro cactus, Pheonix, AZ
10. Sunlight catching in pine forest, northern Florida
11. Dune grass beneath a moody sky, Tybee Island, GA
While I’ve not been quite as prolific a photographer during the first half of this year (something I’m looking to change), I have managed to break my camera out a few times. And likewise, although my travel schedule has been light-on, I’ve popped up here and there to get a few images that I feel are worth sharing from around the place. Once again, I’ll let the images do most of the talking.
These first few are from the East Coast of the South Island, a ways north of Kaikoura. We were blown away by the beauty of this little pocket of the country. I’ve travelled pretty much every corner of New Zealand, with only one or two exceptions, and this was one of those exceptions. A winding coastal road clings to the rocks and cliffs along this rugged coastline, with dramatic breakers on one side, steep hillsides rising to mountains on the other. The weather was glorious and the scenery rich. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
We found this little church and it’s environs along the same stretch. The churches around Christchurch and northwards are beautiful and would be well worth a photography excursion on their own merit.
Another area of fresh exploration for me was Golden Bay. This exquisite pocket of the South Island, along the north-western tip, is a lfiestyle haven with delightful scenery and a rugged, secluded feel out of the main township areas. We did a short walk to Wainui Falls to one of the more dramatic waterfalls I’ve seen for a few years (partly due to Victoria’s general rainfall scarcity).
The bush walk up is lovely, but the falls make it totally worth the effort. Heavy and gushing and surrounded by dripping temperate rainforest, it’s a gorgeous spot to explore.
Heading northwards through the middle of the North Island and it’s so-called desert centre, we stopped on a windy afternoon for a view of Mt. Ruapehu across the barren plains. Wind-tossed wildflowers made for a nice inclusion into the frame on the first shot.
Catapulting west a considerable distance, I snapped these images of downtown Cape Town, South Africa, from my hotel window. Just to mix it up a little.
And finally, a weekend break took us down the Great Ocean Road here in Victoria, where we came across this little waterfall at the end of a roadside footpath into the Otways. One of the under-rated treasures of Australia, the Great Ocean Road is full of pathways and corridors through the bush to explore, and could be mined for weeks for little gems like this one.
More to come as the camera gets out for more walks…
I drove out to the lighthouse at Split Point (Airey’s Inlet, on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road) to take some sunset shots, only to find, to my dismay, that a DSE back-burn was taking place in the hills behind the town, and the sky was choked by a column of smoke. So much for a pretty sunset.
What I got instead was the dramatic lighting and colours of the smokey sky, mingling with the warm hues of a colourful dusk, and on into a dramatic, fire-filled night.
Framing the lighthouse against the smoke and the contrasting blue sky (above) created some otherworldly images that really caught the eye. The lighting was quite surreal.
As the sun set (pink glow behind the smoke and clouds, left) the towering smoke was blown in different directions as it rose against the sky by different winds at altitude. The column was dark and dramatic.
The colour palette as the sun set and caught high-level clouds with warm pinks and magentas was a stark contrast to the dark clouds of smoke and again leant a surreal air to the scene- quite a unique vista. With the lighthouse as a point of interest in the foreground, I was thrilled with the shots.
As night fell, the stars came out in the clear sky, while the location of the fire along the ridgeline in the distance was marked by a fierce glow that reflected in the clouds. The chimneys of the lighthouse keeper’s home made for a point of interest in the foreground.
As full night took hold, the glow of the fire against the clouds was intense. I’ve celebrated the interplay of light between starlight, fire glow and lighthouse beacon in another post.
Several hours after sunset, and the fire was burning strong. This view was taken from the top of the hill descending from the lighthouse station, overlooking the small town of Airey’s Inlet to where smoke continued to pour from the hills behind- more than a little disconcerting. I later took some more shots of the fire from another vantage. All up, the shoot was an interesting and quite unique one that pitted a variety of curious lighting sources against one another and left me with some very individual shots. I’m so pleased I didn’t give up before sunset and head home like I very nearly did.
My trip to Nepal remains among my favourite of all time, and sits right at the very top of my want-to-go-back-to list. Each year that passes makes me itch a little more. I revisit my photos often as they trigger an array of memories and feelings. I’ve posted quite a few from Nepal over the months on this site, so here are a few more which take my fancy, and I hope interest you as well.
The image at top is of the unmistakable Macchapuchare, also known as Mt. Fishtail. Nicknamed the Matterhorn of the Himalayas, it is one of the singly most beautiful mountains on the planet, in this blogger’s humble opinion. At 6,997m high, it isn’t among the highest peaks of the Annapurna Massif (many of which tower well into the high 7,000s and even top 8,000m), but its prominence is so striking and dramatic that it remains an icon for all those who have visited this region of Nepal. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Here, early-morning side-lighting shortly after sunrise casts horizontal shadows across a rural landscape. These little stone cottages made a lovely foreground to add a sense of place to the dramatic sweep of the Annapurna Range at back. The vista includes (from left to right) Annapurna South, Annapurna I (at 8,091m barely visible behind the peak of Annapurna South), Hiun Chuli, Annapurna III and Gandarbha Chuli (tucked into the saddle between Hiun Chuli and Macchapuchare), Macchapuchare, Annapurna IV, Annapurna II and Lamjung Himal. Note that the Annapurnas are listed not according to proximity or geographical succession, but altitude, with I being the highest and IV being the lowest (not that at 7,525m we would call Annapurna IV ‘small’).
Here, early morning dawnlight catches on the south face of Annapurna South. At 7,219m, Annapurna South is one of the smaller peaks in the Annapurna Himal, but its presence is a constant during the 10-day Annapurna Base Camp trek, never absent for more than a few hours at a time while behind an inconvenient shoulder. Burning like vapourize copper in the angular light of a rising sun, the fierce edges of a mountain scoured by millenia of wind, ice and crustal uplift can be seen in dramatic contrast. Poking into the jetstream, high-altitude winds whip past the peak tearing off a tail of snow and ice granules which hang like a blowing scarf in the morning air. Up close, the sound is audible as the roar of powerful engines, but at the distance I took this shot, the calm quiet of a village dawn belied the fierce battle taking place among the jagged heights.
(click to see detail)
This next photo for me captures three things that make my heart ache just a little. The first is the beautiful north-east face of Annapurna South (and across to Annapurna I at right) as viewed across the dry basin of the Annapurna Sanctuary. It remains one of the most beautiful, spectacular locations I have ever stood in in my entire (and moderately well-travelled) life. The second is the marvellous blue sky which accompanied us for most of the trip and made both the trekking and the photography so memorable. The third are the prayer flags, so symbolic and such a powerful marker in my memory for that place, as well as being a visual feast with their bright colours, and their ethereal spirituality in the face of such intense and tangible physical beauty.
Back in the lowlands, and I snapped this rather undramatic shot of the terraced fields which are the only way in which villagers can farm a living out of the steep-sided valleys. Among the foothills of the first few days of the trek, before the landscape gave way to rock and glacial moraine, these terraces were the main geographical marker and the symbol of a hardy resilience that the mountain peoples of the Himalayas have had to adopt. I enjoyed the play of afternoon light across the terraces, and wish I could have done more exploration of them, both on foot and with my camera.
Perched in a village on a rideline overlooking Annapurna South and Hiun Chuli, the name of the teahouse at centre is “Nice View Lodge”. Talk about understatements…
(click to see detail)
Trekking into the Annapurna Sanctuary, one of the joys was that after five days with the mountains slowly getting larger, but appearing largely unchanged in terms of appearance, suddenly we had come around behind the peaks we had been watching during our uphill slog, and they appeared totally different. While not the tallest mountain in the Sanctuary, Annapurna South viewed from the north-east was certainly one of the most beautiful of the peaks we saw, with a certain elegance to its primal and inhospitable face. I loved shooting these mountains in the strong sunlight against a blue sky, as it cast the details of the rock and ice into sharp contrast and allowed for some lovely textured detail.
(click image to see larger)
And back to the prayer flags. I really can’t get enough of them. I took a series of shots of Annapurna I viewed through the tangle of prayer flags at the shrine above Annapurna Base Camp South, and the combination of vast mountain (8,091m), blue sky, white ice and coloured flags was spine-chilling in its impact at the time. I could post these images all day long…
Nepal is a spectacularly beautiful country, with photographic surprises around every corner, and so much to explore. As you can see from the amount I post & talk about it, it impacted me deeply. I am still plotting my return…
Flitting along the main road north of Hobart up Tasmania’s east coast, we stumbled upon the little hamlet of Buckland, an otherwise forgettable assortment of homes set back from the highway and with no discernable impact on the landscape.
This church was a little different. Sandstone hues painted in the afternoon sunlight, it was framed against the blue sky and I instantly felt the urge to pull the car up the access lane for a quick shoot. I think we ended up spending a good half hour there, enjoying the play of light on the scenery and exploring the little cemetary around the front.
Any outdoor shoot is at the whim of the weather, which in turn dictates both the light, and the backdrop. For this subject, the warm yellows and oranges in the brickwork contrasted beautifully with the blue sky and its faint streaks of white cloud whisping in the heights. The strong, almost 2-dimensional face was bathed front-on in lightly-angled sunshine, making the bricks radiate a visible warmth.
The church itself is reminiscent of many on the Tasmanian landscape. I lost track of how many I saw that matched it in style and structure, and each of them was visually appealing- although this one took the cake for its prominence and the beautiful lighting. I particularly enjoyed the bell-tower, almost reminiscent of the Hispanic-style churches of the American south-west, and the buttressed corners. The simple, symmetrical architecture is visually appealing, and the textures of the brickwork are a joy to explore with the eyes.
While I fired off some shots of the building, A. took a few of her own, including a couple of me lining up the shots- a bit of a rarity actually, so I’ve taken the opportunity to share one with you here. As you can see, funky angles don’t happen by accident…
Shooting with an ultra-wide-angle lens (12mm on a full-frame Canon EOS 5D) always gives entertaining angles on architectural subjects. For this shot of the face, I was standing probably 3 steps back from the base of the wall- so you can see how much the lens manages to suck in its surroundings. It’s a beautiful piece of glass.
I enjoy exploring a particular subject from different angles- and admittedly while this set of photos isn’t perhaps vastly differentiated, for me each of the shots captures a slightly different take on the church, and I like how they fit together.
Next stop: Freycinet Peninsula
I’ve earlier commented on some of Australia’s hidden gems. As a big country, I reckon there are a lot of places to hide things in Oz where people don’t hear about them. The Opera House, Kakadu National Park, Surfer’s Paradise- these are the names that bring tourists. A little local exploration uncovers the really fun stuff. Wilson’s Prom was a great example. Travelling the Oodnadatta Track in South Australia was another.
Tasmania is rife with such underrated pockets. The Belgium to Australia’s France, it’s considered an addendum to the mainland, windswept and cold compared to the tropical beaches of Queensland and Bondi, and without the classic desert stonescapes of the Red Centre. Inbred jokes about Tasmanians rival sheep jokes that plague Kiwis. It’s not really big on the backpacker circuit.
Which, in my opinion, is great. Though the backpackers certainly miss out.
We start with Hobart. A sleepy seaside city, its population of a quarter of a million people are dotted about on a series of wooded hills around a series of bays and harbours. A compact Central Business District which takes twenty minutes to cross by foot is clustered around the old fishing port- once the commercial heart of the city, and still the focus for attention. The artsy Salamanca area hosts a vibrant Saturday market loaded with local produce and crafts- an absolute must-see if you have even the slightest inkling of interest in either markets or food. After-hours, a string of pubs and bars provide a good array of vibes, cuisines, and a pretty good selection of beers as well (I feel posts on beers coming up in the near future…).
Half an hour’s drive from the CBD is the parking lot at Mt. Wellington. With its peak at 1,271m, it provides an eagle’s-nest view of the city and its environs, and juts defiantly out into the freezing gales of the Roaring Forties. This reality can’t be underestimated. The winds here are ferocious, and even in the height of summer, bitterly cold. Getting out of the car involves careful manouvering to ensure that the door is not ripped from its hinges and next seen fluttering like tin-foil past the mast of some circumpolar racing yacht somewhere off the Ross Ice Shelf. Taking a photo involves finding shelter and bracing yourself. I lost my sunglasses here after they were plucked from my head.
There’s not a lot to do at Mt. Wellington, to be honest, unless you like geology, or landscape photography. A fifteen minute visit gives you the views of the city and the rock formations by the visitor centre (a merciful haven from the howling winds). However if you can handle the weather, there’s a short (1+ hours return) walk from the parking lot out to a series of vertically-aligned weather-rounded rocks which I assume are igneous in origin, and painted a pleasing array of orange hues. There is network of little pathways across the flat top of the mountain which are not arduous, and the views of both the clusters of rocks and the valley below make for good scenery and interesting photo opportunities. Below the summit is a distinctive fluted cliff-face known as the Organ Pipes, but we managed to miss this.
Although it was overcast when we arrived at Mt. Wellington, during our stay there the clouds broke up and became dominated by blue. Fluffy puffs of condensed moisture scudded past in the sky, making the skyscape changeable and dramatic, and a perfect counterpoint for the rounded bulges of warm reddish rock. Personally I think landscape photography works far better when there is some cloud to add contrast and depth to an image, than a flat blue sky, and I really liked how some of the cloud-forms seemed to add this third dimension to the photos I took. All up it was a fun detour and a bracing burst of fresh air. Dress warm!
Next up: The Church and the Field