Photos taken during a single shoot at the sand dunes of Mesquite Flats, in Death Valley National Park shortly after dawn.
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Photos taken during a single shoot at the sand dunes of Mesquite Flats, in Death Valley National Park shortly after dawn.
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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
This photo of Wineglass Bay on Tasmania’s Freycinet Peninsula was taken using an extremely slow shutter-speed of 80 seconds. With most cameras you won’t be able to keep the shutter open for 80 seconds without a) ending up with stacks of motion blur and b) ending up with a completely white image (because too much light reached the sensor). In fact in broad daylight shooting at ISO100 and a normal 35mm (or digital equivalent) camera, you probably won’t be able to keep the shutter open for more than about 1/10th of a second without ending up with some serious overexposure issues; most of the time in sunlight I’m shooting at 1/250 and f/8, or thereabouts.
The joy of long exposure is the way in which moving elements either disappear (they don’t stay long enough in one place for the light they reflect to register on the sensor) or, if repetitive or slow moving, become blurred. Here, while the beach and the mountains behind are static and remain relatively sharp (sadly the gusting wind meant that a little fuzziness crept in to the frame), you can see that the clouds have streaked into long wispy things, and the sea has mellowed out into a soupy azure mist.
I get this effect (one which I’m very fond of but don’t generally have much time to invest in or perfect, hence the scarcity- and frequently, paucity- of images in this style in my portfolio) by using a Neutral Density filter. ND filters, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, are effectively colourless grey (hence ‘neutral’) gels of varying darkness that fit in front of the lens. They come in a range of values, the most common being ND2, ND4, ND8, ND50 and ND400. The numbers relate to the darkening factor- an ND2 halves the amount of light as would normally enter the lens, an ND8 lets in 1/8th as much light, and so forth.
The above shot was taken with my favourite and oh-so-subtle ND400. I’ve always figured if you’re going to go for an effect, you might as well go the whole hog. That basically means that just 1 in 400 photons that would normally reach my filterless sensor can get through the gel, or in other words, the image is 400 times darker- and the shutter needs to be open 400 times longer than in normal conditions to get the same exposure value. To add to the effect, I’ve shot at f/22 (the smallest aperture) and stacked the ND with the polarizer to get more colour, and to stretch out my time window as long as possible to magnify the blurring effect. It goes without saying that I had to trek my tripod onto the beach to get this image.
I’m moderately pleased with the output here. The colours are great, though the frame was slightly overexposed, and as mentioned above the gusting wind knocked the tripod about a bit so I didn’t end up with as crisp an image as I might have liked (click the photo to see it larger). I do truly love the effect, although shooting such a calm waterfront on such a wide-angled lens meant that the relatively gentle waves washing on shore didn’t make for as dramatic an image as a rougher sea would have done, where large portions of the beach would have been turned to mist.
Landscape photographers with a penchant for water features make use of the ND filters a lot, though generally the lighter filters (ND8, for example) which allow for just a second or two of exposure, giving the water that lovely milky texture you find on some of those wall-prints that people who actually get paid for their photography tend to produce (should I be learning something here?). I really want to take more time and apply the neutral density technique more widely. Unfortunately once you find an appropriate subject in the right light, it then takes time to set up the tripod, prefocus, set the camera up for long-exposure (turn off Auto-focus and Image Stabilization), get the polarizer set up, then add the ND filter (without altering the polarizer-because once the ND is on you can’t see anything through the lens- it’s too dark), plug in the cable-release, and so-forth. It takes a couple of minutes to re-set for each shot, and in changing light you don’t get much leeway for making mistakes- especially when you really have to guesstimate the amount of time to leave the shutter open (with the ND400 stacked with a polarizer at f/22, usually between 45 and 90 seconds, depending on the light).
That’s a lot of talk about what is a pretty niche little application of some fairly uncommon photographic gear. For those of you who have read this far- congratulations! I appreciate your commitment. For the rest of you, I hope you liked the photo at the top of this post before you got bored. To reward you, here’s another shot- the same vantage, but this time shot with a 1-second exposure (by opening up the aperture to let more light in) rather than 80 seconds.
I came across this grave marker in the grounds of a little sandstone church in rural Tasmania, a couple of hours out of Hobart. Some kind of red lichen had spread over the stonework of the cross, seeping down the masonry like liquid stains. The combination of colour, textures, the power of the subject and the visual metaphor really spoke to me.
Photo Notes: Shot taken with a wide angle (16mm) and shallow depth of field (f/5) to cast the background out of focus, shooting slightly upwards from a lower vantage for a sense of perspective. The sun was high (mid-afternoon) behind my left shoulder. In processing the RAW image, selective desaturation was used to remove colour from all but the red and orange channels (note residual red/orange hues on tree bark) and a layer mask used to further darken, desaturate and soften the background to make the red stand out.
Tasmania, for those who aren’t sure, is that little triangular-shaped island hanging off the south coast of Australia. I say little, but of course in true Australian fashion it’s actually a decent size- for our European followers, somewhere between the size of the nations of Switzerland and Austria, or about half the size of England. Or, for our American friends, a chunk smaller than the state of Maine. It has a population of about half a million people, roughly half of whom live in the capital, Hobart, on the south coast. Tassie is seperated from the Australian mainland by the heaving Bass Straits, a 9-hour ferry ride from Melbourne, and is plonked in the path of that belt of circum-polar winds known as the Roaring 40s, which belt both it and New Zealand (about 2,000km due east) with ferocious blasts of wintry air and drive a changeable and unpredictable climate consisting of large amounts of cloud, rain and, during the winter, snow.
(And yes, for those weaned on Warner Brothers cartoons, there is such a thing as a Tasmanian Devil- one of the ugliest marsupial-cum-rodents to ever scuff along the planet’s surface. No they are not cute and crazy like the cartoon. They are gruff, unpleasant things with little interest either in appearance or character (other than their endangered status), and in this Kiwi’s lexicon, sit only slightly higher than possums on the ‘animals I have no time for’ list.)
No, we didn’t see any.
We did, however, see a lot of Tasmania in our six-day tour. And, belying the climatic trends stated above, we also had fabulous weather. A day and a half of somewhat overcast weather with a few spots of drizzle divided what was otherwise largely sunny with clear afternoons and marvelous cloudscapes which made landscapery a joy.
I took a lot of photos.
I won’t be posting all of them here (although for those who are interested you can find a lot of them on the Morealtitude Photography Facebook page), but will put up a smattering of shots from the different places we went to for those who are interested, and give a bit more detail about some of the delights tucked away on this thoroughly under-rated little block of real-estate.
Arriving off the ferry from Melbourne, we docked in Davenport and drove straight down to Hobart. The trip from one end of the island to the other takes about 3 1/2 hours if you take the main highways, and is an easy run. The roads (for the most part) are in great condition (we drove through the Great Western Tiers in the Central Highlands, where sections of the road are unsealed). The best bit about driving in Tas is the utter scarcity of other road users. Seriously, the place is deserted.
(Which allows me to lie down on highways and take shots like this one)
From Hobart, we swung up the east coast, first hitting up the area around Swansea, and then up to Coles Bay and the Freycinet Peninsula. The Freycinet Peninsula is a spindly finger of mountains reaching out into the ocean, a rugged feature whose rocky abuttments are seperated by some of the most spectacular beach real-estate you’ll ever find. The water in the sunlight is clear as a spring and a turquoise so pure you want to set it into a ring and wear it away with you. Here we hiked into the spectacular Wineglass Bay before continuing northwards.
Reaching St. Helens, we then continued up to the Bay of Fires, a stretch of remote coastline on Tasmania’s north-eastern corner. Listed by the Lonely Planet as its top destination for 2009 (I didn’t know that until somebody mentioned it today), Bay of Fires is actually a series of white-sand beaches and rocky outcrops, where azure waves of the most outrageous colour crash themselves into oblivion beneath a warm sun. Not as unpopulated as it may once have been, it is none the less an amazing location, and would be right at the top of my list for future visits.
From the Bay of Fires, we stretched our last day in Tasmania into an epic marathon and swept in a single afternoon across to Cradle Mountain National Park. The heart of the highlands, the dramatic volcanic behemoth that is the park’s namesake stabbed upwards into a clear blue sky at sunset just as we reached the park, and the views were magnificent- and made the cross-country sprint completely worthwhile. A fitting finish to a beautiful little journey.
I’ll go into a little more detail about some of these locations and photoshoots in later posts. Hopefully for now, this will whet your appetite for a little more.
1. Pristine waves wash onto the pristine beach of Wineglass Bay.
2. Blue skies and puffs of cloud support a leaning gum tree in a field in Tasmania’s rural interior.
3. The Organ Pipes, geological rock formations, atop Hobart’s Mt. Wellington.
4. An empty rural highway in inland north-east Tasmania.
5. The dramatic Freycinet Peninsula (behind) as seen from Coles Bay.
6. Clear waters in Biralong Bay, at the start of the Bay of Fires.
7. Cradle Mountain at dusk.
8. Lichen-stained rocks and azure waters in Wineglass Bay.
Just back from Tasmania and have done a partial run-through of the photos taken in a variety of shoots. We had an awesome time with beautiful weather- couldn’t have asked for any more. Lots more to come, but here’s a little taster… Cradle Mountain and Wineglass Bay (I’ll leave you to work out which is which…)
See you shortly with more!