Thursday, 8 March 2012

Best of 2011

I know this is a little late but it seems like a really important process in improving ones photography. By reflecting on my achievements over the last year, Im able to look at where Ive improved as a photographer and, more importantly, identify the areas I really need to work on.

1. Spotted harrier with plains mouse, Andado Station on the edge of the Simpson Desert

Although this shot would ideally have had the harrier facing towards me, I was pretty stoked with the composition and the angle of the wings. It really tells the story of the gibber plains down on Andado. Most of the time they are incredibly barren and harsh but after good rains the grasses and forbs grow, produce seed and the fauna booms! For me, it demonstrates my improvements in fieldcraft, including being able to stalk wary fauna, hand-holding a long lens reasonably steady and having patience!

2. Salt lake panorama, Newhaven Reserve

 This was one of my first attempts at stitching photos together in photoshop to make a panorama. In the end I used four landscape orientated shots to produce the image. The light at sunset was simply spectacular and although there isn't a standout feature that draws attention, the feeling of space in the full sized image is incredible and is exactly what I was after. One day I'd like a large printout of this image on my wall. 

3. Euro, Heavitree Range above Alice Springs

Ive always loved backlit shots of wildlife and this was my first solid dig at a macropod using this approach. Its flawed because the vegetation at ground level is a little distracting and the body isn't as sharp as I'd like but apart from that I wouldn't change a thing. Also, I now have a monopod so hopefully I'll be a able to gain more depth of field without lumbering around with my full-sized tripod. 

4. Dead barn owl, Todd River south of Alice Springs

This shot is simple and tells a sad story, the unfortunate collateral damage caused by barbed wire fences. I think for shots like this, where the light is nothing special, angle and composition is everything and this is an area where Ive really improved over the last year. I don't usually add vignetting but for this image it helped focus attention on the bird and I think adds to the somberness of the mood. 

5. Sand dune, Andado Station on the edge of the Simpson Desert

Although this is such a cliché, I really couldn't help myself. Simple lines, subtle texture and the red/blue contrast are what makes it work. Its actually really difficult to find bare sand dunes in central Australia and this one on Andado Station is about the best I know of.

6. Great Cormorant, Ormiston Gorge in the West MacDonnell NP

This may not appeal to everyone but you can't deny that Ive captured a very unique pose. This cormorant actually held this position for about a minute and I think the eye contact makes it a very candid, almost comical shot. I also think the lack of colour makes it work, with the yellow on the face really standing out and drawing the viewers attention.

7. Track, Old Andado on the edge of the Simpson Desert

I took this shot handheld but wish I'd taken the time to set it up on the tripod. This place has so many good memories for me and this image helps bring them back. Composition wise, I don't think I could have done much better with the track leading the eye to the swamp in the background.

8. Black-fronted dotterel, 2-mile in the West MacDonnell NP

I love the colours in this one and for me was a good demonstration of what can happen if you sit still enough in an area with abundant wildlife. Patience is not my forte but im getting better!

9. Brown Goshawk, Sudan Station on the Barkly Tableland 

Another good lesson for me in patience as I spent a couple of hours carefully following this goshawk as it hunted doves and finches. I think it really tells the story of the brown goshawk too; a bird that loves to sit in deep cover before bursting out in the open to chase or pounce on unsuspecting birds.

10. Campsite, Old Andado Homestead on the edge of the Simpson Desert

Apart from bringing back fond memories of camping under the stars, this shot really demonstrated to me the high ISO/low noise potential of my 5D mkII. I hope to get creative with some more star shots this winter.


2011 was my best year so far for wildlife photography and Im pretty comfortable with where this aspect of my photography is heading. Ive entered quite a few photographs into the 2012 ANZANG competition ( so it will be interesting to see if I get a look in. In order to improve my wildlife photography this year, I feel as though I need to work in one or two locations more often in order to increase the likelihood of nailing exceptional wildlife images with good light and/or spectacular behavior. 

In terms of my landscape photography, 2011 was a real disappointment and there so much room for improvement. Part of the reason was that I tended to focus on wildlife but also I really struggled to find the combination of composition and lighting needed for exceptional landscapes. I have some great locations in mind for winter 2012 so I just need to get out there as much as I can. This year we're also planning a couple of trips outside the centre (Samoa and the Top End) so Im really excited about the prospect of taking photos in some new locations. 

In terms of my inspiration for 2011-2012, there's so many good photographers out there but my favourite photgrapher at the moment is Kah Kit Yoong. He's Australian and although he hasn't been taking photos for all that long, he's portfolio and competition achievements are very amazing. He shoots mostly landscapes but also dabbles in wildlife photography (and has done very well out of it!) and I think he's website is one of the most impressive out there. Check it out

Monday, 5 March 2012

Filter + photoshop = good!

I was a little disappointed with this image as it stood in the last post. The sunrise on the cliffs lacked vibrancy and the area in shadow in the gorge I felt was too dark. Here is the same image with the following changes made:

- applied these changes in raw: brighten exposure, slight increase in colour temperature, increased vibrancy, reduce vignetting
- cropped top of pic to reduce amount of dull sky
- hand blended two different processed raws (one underexposed and the other with the changes listed above) to bring out the texture in the sky
- applied sharpening (unsharp mask) to entire image

Of course, I couldn't submit this to a competition that requires minimal editing, but overall I think the image is vastly improved without going too far as to look over processed (although I may change my mind on that after a day or two). By going ahead with the photoshop editing, I probably sound like Ive contradicted my last post a little. However, the blending process I undertook would have been far more difficult (to get seamless) had I not used a GND filter and I think, for my photography at least, there is definitely a role for both techniques.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Just add water

Finally, the creeks and rivers of central Australia have flowed! I headed out to the West Macs over the weekend to make the most of it. It looks as though the wet weather may continue for the remainder of this month so hopefully I'll be able to realise more of the creek and waterfall shots Ive been planning.

I recently purchased my first graduated neutral density (GND) filter and have been loving it! Even though many photographers are now relying on manual high dynamic range techniques (such as luminosity masks), using the filters correctly means a lot less work in front of the computer. Also, for many photography competitions (including the prestigious Veola wildlife photographer of the year) you are simply not permitted to apply such techniques. I just wish I'd started using them earlier.

I took this photo below the main waterhole at Ormiston Gorge on dusk. There was just enough light for me to focus and compose the image. Its the kind of shot that could be anywhere outside of central Australia, until you see the red gums and cliffs in the background.

Canon 5D mkII, ISO 100, 17-40mm f4 @ f22, 25 sec exposure, 2-stop GND filter (to hold back the 'misty' white look in the foreground), tripod

This is a shot Ive been pre-visualising for a while and is a good demonstration of the value of GND filters. It was taken in Ormiston Gorge with the big red cliffs bathed in light from sunrise and the creek and gorge floor in shadow. I positioned the dark part of the filter over the cliffs and sky to hold back the brightness and this resulted in an image with a reasonably well balanced exposure. Apart from some minor sharpening, I didn't touch this image at all, though I may try and lighten the foreground just a little for the final version. 

Canon 5D mkII, 17-40mm f4 @ f18, 1/2 sec exposure, 2-stop GND filter, tripod

I took this last photo in Redbank Gorge. Unfortunately, we didn't time our visit well so the light was way too contrasty. Im pretty keen to head back a couple of hours before or after midday when the indirect light refracts off the walls a little. I used a polarising filter to try cut down on the glare. This place has so much potential for amazing photos, stay tuned!

 Canon 5D mkII, 17-40mm f4 @ f11, polarising filter, tripod

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Ghost Gum

This is my favourite shot of the year so far. Its a really pretty spot in a band of ghost gums on limestone that's only a short walk from the Ormiston Gorge accesss road. I like the mixture of the cool colours from the stormy sky and shadow combined with the warmth of the sunset on the gum and on the Heavitree Range backdrop. Ive always struggled a bit with the messiness of eucalypt leaves, particularly when its windy like it was on this evening, so I simply chose to exclude them.

 Canon 5DmkII, ISO 100, 70-200mm f2.8 @ f8, tripod

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Celebrate the storm

With the recent interesting weather around Australia, I thought it would be a good time to share some of my favourite storm photos from the last year or two. All were taken in the Alice Springs region. Hope you like...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Stormy nights

I love lightning photography! Its really fun but there's really not much skill involved, just making sure the scene is in focus, setting a fairly wide aperture and allowing a long shutter to do the rest. However, there's still a large degree of luck in where the lightning will strike and how many times and I always end up deleting dozens of photos for every one I keep.

For a while now Ive been waiting for the right storm to loom over the pituresque Mt Sonder. Finally, a couple of evenings ago my wish came true as an intense electrical storm approached Mt Sonder from the north west, just after dusk. Although not entirely satisfied with these photos, I do quite like the first one. With a moon over my back, there was just enough illumination to bring out some detail in the front of the mountain. Unfortunately, the shutter mechanism in my canon 5D broke the day before so I had to use my alternative camera. Not sure when I'll get the 5d back from the canon technicians but im missing it already!

 7D, ISO 100, 70-200 f2.8 @ 2.8, 15 sec


7D, ISO 100, 70-200 f2.8 @ 2.8, 20 sec

Thursday, 5 January 2012

2 mile

Most mornings of late Ive been cruising down to the 2 mile area at sunrise. 2 mile is the name given to the uppermost section of the mighty Finke River and includes a string of long, reed-fringed waterholes. There's a stack of birdlife there at the moment, including various ducks, egrets, herons, ibis, spoonbills, cormorants and more. In country where wildlife viewing can be hard work, 2 mile can be a real gem. All of the following pics were taken there over the last few days.

 Pink Cockatoo, Canon 7D, ISO 320, 400mm f5.6 @ 7.1, 1/1600

 Dingoes, Canon 7D, ISO 500, 400mm f5.6 @ 5.6, 1/320

 Black-fronted Plover, Canon 7D, ISO 200, 400mm f5.6 @ 8, 1/160

Darter, Canon 7D, ISO 400, 400mm f5.6 @ 8, 1/500

Darter, Canon 7D, ISO 200, 400mm f5.6 @ 8, 1/800