Rattle & Hum Car Show With The Sigma SD-H

Many moons ago I was a car magazine editor. As such, you might say I have a certain appreciation for a fine automobile, plenty of which could be found at the 2019 Rattle & Hum car show at Castle Hill RSL. I decided to go along with the Sigma SD-H and 50mm 1.4 to see if I could hunt down some abstracts. The results came up nicely. Can you guess what models of car these are?

As this was an Australian vintage car show, you might not be familiar with some of these models, but there was plenty of American muscle on hand as well. I’ve found with this style high key-like photography I’m into these days that direct sun on your subject works best when it comes time to process. A subject in shadow can prove difficult to get the effect right on.

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This is something I’ve be keen on shooting for quite a while, so I’m thinking about expanding it out to air and truck shows when I get a chance. If nothing else, it’s a great way to get the kids out exploring what everyone got around in back in the ‘olden days’.

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Here’s the full gallery:

Tin City, Stockton Beach With The Sigma SD-H

I have many fond memories of the Stockton Beach growing up. Located about an hour-and-a-half from Sydney, access is 4WD only. It’s one of the few beaches along the coast where you can drive along the sand and, to a smaller extent these days, the dunes.

Amongst the dunes is a strange settlement of ramshackle structures known as Tin City. At first, rising from the sand, you expect to see a Stormtrooper and a droid, perhaps an Interceptor, but it’s actually the last legal squatters settlement in Australia.

The ‘city’ started in the early 1900s as tin shacks for shipwreck survivors. In the 1930s it grew out to around 36 huts, around 11 of which stand today, and yes, people were here the day I visited. As I understand it, the huts cannot be sold, but are sort of passed down from generation to generation. Since my last visit 20 years ago, many had been repaired and added upon, some looked pretty well sorted! Fishing seems to be the predominant pastime.

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It didn’t stop raining all day, which meant we did have the beach to ourselves, but it did make photography difficult. I was initially disappointed, hoping for blue skies and strong light for the high  key style I use these days, but on reflection I like the way the rain added an ethereal mood to the images. It actually gels very well with the subject matter—lone buildings left out in the elements.

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I also shot some of the dunes, focussing on some timber fencing that had fallen (read: been run) over. I like the minimalist feel of these images and hope to return to take more. Of course, the famous wreck was another shoot hot spot but it was, drum roll, underwater when we arrived. Next time.

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Check out the full gallery:

Prism Fun At The Sydney Royal Easter Show (Fuji X-Pro2)

Recently I sold all my Canon gear and moved to a Fuji system (X-Pro2) for my personal photography. I still have the Sigma SD-H for my landscape projects, but the Fuji comes out whenever a family friend wants portraits or there’s a birthday party, etc. The quality of the JPEGs it produces has cut down significantly on my processing time… and I find I have less and less of the latter as the kids grow!

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I’d already taken my Sigma to this year’s Royal Easter Show, focusing on daytime abstracts of the carnival area, which you can see here. However, the thought occurred to me I should bring the Fuji X-Pro2 and 40mm f2.8 pancake lens back at night to see if I could get some interesting high-ISO shots. As I was gearing up at home, I noticed a glass prism I had bought for playing around with portraits of the kids (see below) and decided to throw it in and see what I could come up with.

The result, as you can see, is fairly interesting. The prism lent itself perfectly to the clash of colours and lights you see at a carnival. Did it inspire some strange looks seeing me wrangling this piece of glass in front of the lens? You betcha, but I’m happy with the results, which have a nice Blade Runner-cum-Tron-cum-’80s movie poster-type feel to them. I’m thinking it may even be worth exploring a little further.

The prism was originally intended for portraits of my children. It’s really quite fun to play around with.

The prism was originally intended for portraits of my children. It’s really quite fun to play around with.

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What do you think? Am I losing the plot. If it’s anything like my hair, that’s very likely. Perhaps I’ll get a couple printed up just because. In the meantime, here are the remaining images:

Finally, there was one image I took without the prism using the Sigma, just to see how far I could push it (Read: Pretty damn far NR-wise with the new Sigma Photo Pro). The image was out of focus and far from sharp, but I still love the look of it. It’s a wonderfully retro vibe to it.

New Zealand With The Sigma SD-H

I’ve decided to title this latest series Long White (all images here), not after New Zealand itself, but the cruiseliner we travelled on. I was born in Auckland, have returned many times over the years, but I found travelling this way offered a new and unique perspective. It also provided the opportunity to visit many ports and cities I otherwise would never have seen, such as Port Chalmers, Dunedin, Picton, Akaroa and so on.

Milford Sound offered mood in spades. It’s a South Island must-see.

Milford Sound offered mood in spades. It’s a South Island must-see.

Once more I aimed to look for the unique in the ordinary and seemingly banal. I’m constantly trying to refine my compositions down, to really simplify them to their most essential elements. It was an interesting journey. In fact, I found a lot of material in the ports themselves, the higher vantage point offered by our balcony provided a sort of aerial view.

There was plenty of visual interest in the ports, the cruiseliner we sailed on offering a high perspective.

There was plenty of visual interest in the ports, the cruiseliner we sailed on offering a high perspective.

Of course, a cruise is also the perfect way to see the sounds of the South Island. We travelled through Milford, Dusky and Doubtful. They are, as you would expect, extremely scenic, especially layered in mist and cloud, the sun breaking through sporadically. If you have never been to New Zealand, and especially the South Island, do make it a priority. There’s endless photographic material.

Finding a way to show the scale of Milford Sound and its towering peaks can be difficult.

Finding a way to show the scale of Milford Sound and its towering peaks can be difficult.

Many would say light is the most important element of photography, but I disagree. For me, composition trumps all else, and while great light is nice, it’s not essential to making an interesting photograph. Unfortunately, composition is one of those elements of photography that’s hard to learn, hard to teach and ultimately in the eye of the beholder. I don’t think even in the space of a lifetime you could master it.

My favourite image of the trip, taken in Dunedin. The city itself was full of art and life.

My favourite image of the trip, taken in Dunedin. The city itself was full of art and life.

In terms of equipment, I took the Sigma SD-H with the 50mm f1.4 ART and left the 24mm at home. I didn’t find I had need for a wider focal length, so I think the ‘one body, one lens’ idea will carry through from now on. I prefer it this way, getting used to the one focal length and not having to change lenses, to remove one more barrier or choice, of thinking, during a composition. The more I can minimise my gear and photography to its most essential elements, the better.

As usual, the Sigma performed extremely well. The weather sealing on the SD came in useful. For the first time I had to raise ISO during our trip through the sounds owing to the dark, wet, and windy conditions. It was a real test for both photographer and camera.

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A tight crop of the image above showing the impressive detail the Sigma SD-H is able to capture.

A tight crop of the image above showing the impressive detail the Sigma SD-H is able to capture.

I also find myself watching a lot of film channels, such as William Verbeeck’s, Negative Feedback and so on, and idolising many film photographers as well. I’m still tugged towards film from time to time, the tones and feel, so perhaps the next trip I will take both the Mamiya RB67 and the Sigma SD-H, to compare and try to settle this once and for all.

The colours here really say New Zealand to me, the green and black and white. I think the fact this crop means the word parlour has a sense of ambiguity about it.

The colours here really say New Zealand to me, the green and black and white. I think the fact this crop means the word parlour has a sense of ambiguity about it.

Am I happy with this series? Yes and no. With Broken there was only ever one type of weather: real damn hot and bright as can be. In New Zealand, you could have four or five different weather systems in the space of an hour, the darker and moodier of which don’t work well with the usual post-processing treatment for these images. As such, I worked on the more traditional landscapes as if they were just that.

I guess cohesion is the issue. I wanted a cohesive look to the images, but they seem to be in two camps: modern minimal and LOTR eat-your-heart-out. Still, I’m happy with many of the final compositions. This observational style of photography has really opened up a world of possibility for me, because you don’t need to chase light, so to speak, nor seek out grand landscapes. You’re simply looking for anything of visual interest.

Where to next? I have no immediate plans, but stay tuned. You never know where I’m likely to pop up.

There were plenty of compositions to be found on the ship itself.

There were plenty of compositions to be found on the ship itself.

These striped pedestrian crossing poles are unique to New Zealand (I think), but it took me a while to find a suitable background for one.

These striped pedestrian crossing poles are unique to New Zealand (I think), but it took me a while to find a suitable background for one.

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Outback NSW With The Sigma SD-H

A few weeks I flew out to Broken Hill, driving back through White Cliffs and Cobar. It was clear to see the effect the drought is having on both the land and the people. It’s an extremely unforgiving environment, and I’ve tried to impart that in this series of photos I’ve titled ‘Broken’. It’s also uncompromisingly Australian, and again, I hope that cultural quirkiness shines through.

The lunar landscape that is White Cliffs, NSW.

The lunar landscape that is White Cliffs, NSW.

This also marks a new direction in my landscape photography, one more aligned with why I was drawn to the medium in the first place. It places emphasis on composition and minimalism, influenced by photographers like Christian Fletcher and artists such as Jeffrey Smart. It’s a far more observational sort of photography, turning the trip into a sort of photographic treasure hunt. There’s no more getting up at the crack of dawn or using a tripod. In fact, these kinds of photos work best in the glaring right on the midday sun. It’s almost the complete opposite of traditional landscape photography.

Old tanks at the Junction Mine in Broken Hill. The texture the SD-H picked up is incredible.

Old tanks at the Junction Mine in Broken Hill. The texture the SD-H picked up is incredible.

And I loved it. Every. Moment.

This is the first trip I’ve taken with the Sigma SD-H after my DP1 gave up the ghost. I took the Sigma 50mm f1.4 ART and also the Sigma 24mm f1.4 ART, though I only used the 24mm for a few shots. Both lenses are excellent, as is to be expected, but I did find the 50mm length (which is slightly tele on the cropped SD-H sensor) was better suited to this work and probably all I need.

I haven’t had this much enjoyment from photography in a long time. It’s definitely a move in the right direction.

I haven’t had this much enjoyment from photography in a long time. It’s definitely a move in the right direction.

The 50 1.4, as great as it is, though, is HEAVY. The biggest benefit of the DP Quattros was their small form factor. They are so light and transportable, but the 50/SD-H combo is much more in line with a DSLR. Coming from a Phase One, even the RB67, however, it felt like a feather!

Few things weather well in the Australian outback. This was a disused fuel tank.

Few things weather well in the Australian outback. This was a disused fuel tank.

I was really impressed with the SD-H. It improves on the Quattros in many important areas, notably AF, dynamic range, focus peaking, EVF etc. It’s still a niche product that won’t be useful to 90% of photographers, but for this kind of work it’s almost unbeatable at this price point. It’s not ‘medium format in your pocket’ any more, but it does provide medium format-like results at a fraction of the cost—the detail and tones are just that good.

My main focus these days is minimalism. It’s harder than you would imagine to find clean, uncluttered compositions.

My main focus these days is minimalism. It’s harder than you would imagine to find clean, uncluttered compositions.

Yes, the software still sucks, and yes, it’s slow, but it’s always worthwhile when you open up the files and see all that juicy information on offer. Scrolling around the images at 100% I was amazed how much I’d missed taking the shot in the first place-a treasure hunt within the treasure hunt, so to speak.

The side of a charity clothing bin—Not your usual subject fodder

The side of a charity clothing bin—Not your usual subject fodder

I did start to get overheating warnings with the SD-H, though it was around 38 degrees Celsius in the sun, nor did it probably help I’d left my camera back in the back of a cooking car for a few hours. I haven’t had the same issue since.

Trip-wise, I’d never been to the outback before, so this was a real eye-opener. The textures and colours on offer were wonderful. Even the most banal and mundane subjects provided unique photographic opportunity, and I’m certainly looking forward to finding more in 2019.

See the full gallery HERE.

There were some impressive murals spotted during our road trip. There’s a lot of artistic talent in the outback.

There were some impressive murals spotted during our road trip. There’s a lot of artistic talent in the outback.

This brickwork has such a distinctly Australian feel to it. It’s a common sight around the country.

This brickwork has such a distinctly Australian feel to it. It’s a common sight around the country.

Simple, as they say, is often best.

Simple, as they say, is often best.

White Cliffs offers up an alien landscape perfectly suited to this kind of photography.

White Cliffs offers up an alien landscape perfectly suited to this kind of photography.

This solar farm was once at the cutting edge of solar technology.

This solar farm was once at the cutting edge of solar technology.

Mamiya RB67: The Joy Of Medium Format Film

While my landscape work is predominantly digital, I do like to use film from time to time for a change of pace, to shoot the kids, etc. A good photographer friend of mine was kind enough to send up his father’s Mamiya RB67 medium-format film camera a few years ago with the 90mm f3.8, a couple of backs and so on. It sat around for quite a while until I finally decided to give it a crack.

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Having never shot medium-format film before, the learning curve was steep. Even now I’ve got a good handle on it I make mistakes, which is costly when each shot is around $5 AUD considering developing, processing and scanning (I use Atkins in South Australia). However, the results you can get from medium-format film (and I’d happily assume large format if I could afford it) cannot be beat.

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I use Porta 400 exclusively now after finding 100 too slow and the grain negligible between the two. It’s such a wonderful film that provides perfect skin tones every time and offers monstrous dynamic range. It’s almost impossible to overexpose. The creamy highlights, the tones… It’s everything film should be. I rate the film at 200 and use a basic phone app for metering even though I have a spot meter, always aiming to shoot 1/125th or higher to avoid shake and slap, especially with a mirror of this size. When the Mamiya takes a shot, you know about it!

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It sounds straightforward, but there’s a real process you have to follow with each shot (unlock, dark slide, orientation, cock, aperture, speed, focus), which can be difficult when you’re dealing with jumpy kids keen to get on with playing or running about. The hardest part for me has been nailing focus, especially at the pointy end of f3.8, but shooting at f5.6 has helped a great deal, and simply taking my time. This is not a run-and-gun camera, folks.

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I challenge anyone, photographer or otherwise, not to look down into that viewfinder and fall immediately in love. It’s such a beautiful thing, almost another world in there. I know the RZ67 is often touted as the better camera given its faster lens offerings, but I like the fact the RB is all manual, having to wind each shot and so on, plus it makes for a handy self-defence tool should anybody get in your way. I’m serious, this is the M1 Abrams of the camera world, utterly indestructible.

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This series was shot over the course of a few months using 10 rolls of Porta. My keeper rate was probably 75%, which is better than it has been in the past, but it’s still an expensive way to take photos. I could learn how to develop and scan myself, true, but I simply don’t have the time. I know a lot of people enjoy that part of the process, but that’s not me.

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People often ask me what the appeal of medium-format film is, especially when the difference can seem small to those unfamiliar with photography compared to digital but the cost so prohibitive. But when they look at the files, there is always the same response, because people are simply drawn to that warm sense of nostalgia they seem to evoke. The photos have ‘life’…

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As a photographer, I put it down to the silky tonal graduations, smooth highlights, and unique separation offered by this combo of film and larger format, but to everyone else they simply look timeless, and that is really all you can ask for. If you’ve never shot film before, give it a shot. You might be surprised how much it fills the soul (and empties your wallet).

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Lord Howe Island: Mamiya 7 Film Photography

I’ve been wanting to visit Lord Howe Island for quite a while. Only a few hours from Sydney, it’s a true paradise. I recall reading an interview with someone who had travelled to every country in the world. Their favourite place of all? You guessed it, Lord Howe.

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We were lucky enough to stay at Pinetrees Lodge, voted by Tripadvisor as the number one hotel in Australia. It’s not hard to see why when you arrive, given the wonderful food and service on offer. It’s on another level. Of course, the epic surroundings help, and they’re easy to find.

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I took the trip in the middle of a gear conundrum. When my Sigma DP-1 died, I finally decided to jump into a P-series Phase One system. I’ve been lusting after a Phase One for as long as I can remember, but never quite had the funds. Funnily enough, I soon as I started to use it I knew it wasn’t for me. I think I expected to point and shoot and only get magic in return. The results were great, but given the size and bulk of the system, the dual batteries, the cumbersome AF and glitches, I couldn’t do it.

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Impressed by the results I was getting from the Mamiya RB67 and looking at the work of Patrick Wack, I decided to go all-in with film and purchase a Mamiya 7 with 65mm f4 lens. It wasn’t cheap, but it’d done my homework and subsequently decided ‘this is the camera that will make my work great!’.

Many people call the Mamiya 7 the best camera ever made. Using one, it’s easy to see why. They’re just naturally fun (and easy) to use. There is little clutter to get in the way of process. It really helps you get on with the job. It’s also beautifully designed and feels great in the hand. I used Porta 400 exclusively, running through about a roll a day for the half-week we were there. I was having a blast on the island using the Mamiya. It seemed like this would be ‘the one’, even if it was a bit nerve-wracking getting the film through the airport.

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The results, as you can see, are fine. The 6x7 format works, the tones are wonderful and it gives a real, soft sense of the island. So, why did I sell the Mamiya when I returned home? I was excited to get the files back when I got back. I processed the whole lot in about an hour, but every time I zoomed in I was disappointed. The edges weren’t as sharp as I was expecting, the grain was more prominent… It sounds ridiculous, but I missed that clinical cleanliness of my digital files and the latitude for post-processing. The expense of processing and developing also played a factor (around $5 a shot AUD), so I made the hard decision to give the Mamiya up. I still have my RB67 to personal work, preferring its ability to focus closely over the 7 as better suited to portraits.

If you are considering a Mamiya 7, I’d go for the Mamiya 6 instead, which is more or less the same thing but with a square 6x6 format and a hell of a lot less in terms of cost. There are only a couple of lenses for the Mamiya 6, but I think this is actually an upside in many ways. Many 6 owners have the full set. Either way, there are both wonderful cameras and probably the pinnacle of rangefinders. If film is your thing, you’d be hard-pressed to find better. For me, it’s back to Sigma.

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As for Lord Howe itself, I’d love to return. It’s hard to beat a BBQ by the beach, Mt Gower looking on, pristine water ahead with barely a soul around. Then again, I’m pleased it remains a hidden secret of sorts.

While I got around to most of the island’s iconic locations, including the hike up Mt Gower, I never got to the one I wanted to see most: Ball’s Pyramid. This giant sea stack alluded me all trip. I could see it out there on the horizon but could never get close enough given the conditions. There was not a boat on the island willing to go out. I even tried to charter a plane, to no avail. But as the hotel staffer told me, ‘You have to leave something to come back for, right?’. Hopefully next time I’ll get to see it up close and add it to my Icons series. Time to get saving again then, I guess…

Some more images for you:

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Western Australia's South West With The Sigma DP-1

In late 2017 a friend and I made the journey to south-west WA. I’ve long wanted to visit this part of the country, and it did not disappoint. After a day in Perth, we drove down to our base of Dunsborough from which to explore everything this region of Western Australia has to offer.

If you’re looking for pristine, postcard-like beaches, rugged coastlines and more, this is it. It’s a wonderful part of the world ripe for landscape photography. We visited Christian Fletcher’s gallery in Dunsborough for inspiration and I was blown away by the work on offer. It’s a must-see if you’re ever down that way (with a great café next door to fuel up).

Not the actual Sugarloaf Rock, but uniquely impressive in its own right come sunrise.

Not the actual Sugarloaf Rock, but uniquely impressive in its own right come sunrise.

If it is drama you are looking for, the South West coast of Australia does not disappoint.

If it is drama you are looking for, the South West coast of Australia does not disappoint.

We tackled the usual spots, including Sugarloaf rock, driving around the region and getting as far as Cape Leeuwin. A big ol’ python managed to find me in one of the bush toilets, which was fun, but most the wildlife was to be found in the second part of our trip to the Sterling Ranges.

The Sterling Ranges are reasonably remote. I think we saw maybe a couple of cars the whole time. There’s a single café and… that’s about it. It is a unique landscape in constantly changing weather. In a word, dramatic.

Fremantle offered so many photographic opportunities. This is actually my favourite image from the trip. It’s where I want my photography to head.

Fremantle offered so many photographic opportunities. This is actually my favourite image from the trip. It’s where I want my photography to head.

While there are many hikes you can do in the park, we stuck to the most popular—Bluff Knoll, ascending in an hour or two. Bluff Knoll has its own microclimate, so what started out as a sunny day at the beginning of our hike soon turned into a complete gale-force whitewash at the top where you could barely see in front of you. It was still a great walk, though, and highly recommended no matter the conditions.

We stayed in the very unique Dakota DC-3 plane accommodation at The Lily in the Stirling Ranges. It’s an odd sensation sleeping, and showering, in the interior of a plane, but it’s a great story to tell when you back, and the owners are fantastic.

A rainbow near Bluff Knoll in the Sterling Ranges of Western Australia

A rainbow near Bluff Knoll in the Sterling Ranges of Western Australia

There’s plenty of vineyards in the region… and plenty of great food to match. Here I was aiming for a more painterly approach

There’s plenty of vineyards in the region… and plenty of great food to match. Here I was aiming for a more painterly approach

Throughout the trip I used my Sigma DP-1. It still looks pretty amusing in that giant backpack I have, but it performed admirably, waiting until our very last day to die to finally give up on me (I couldn’t lock in a fixed aperture). I don’t imagine the sea spray and general wear and tear I’ve put it through helped, but hey, at least it was an excuse to go shopping for a new system. More on that soon.

In short, if you can get down to Western Australia’s south west, you’re in for a treat. Don’t miss it. Here are some more images from the trip.

The mighty Sugarloaf Rock is such a striking formation. I thought black and white would serve it well.

The mighty Sugarloaf Rock is such a striking formation. I thought black and white would serve it well.

No photographer can resist a lone tree in a field.

No photographer can resist a lone tree in a field.

I could have shot in Fremantle for hours. There was just so much to take in the general public no doubt passes on by.

I could have shot in Fremantle for hours. There was just so much to take in the general public no doubt passes on by.

The famous Quindalup boat ramp.

The famous Quindalup boat ramp.

This was such an iconically Australian coastal scene I simply had to take a shot.

This was such an iconically Australian coastal scene I simply had to take a shot.

The microclimate of Bluff Knoll means you never know what you’re going to get weather-wise. It can change in an instant, and does.

The microclimate of Bluff Knoll means you never know what you’re going to get weather-wise. It can change in an instant, and does.

Boranup Forest with its towering trees is another must-see.

Boranup Forest with its towering trees is another must-see.

A few days wasn’t enough to take in all the Stirling Ranges had to offer.

A few days wasn’t enough to take in all the Stirling Ranges had to offer.

The Three Capes Track: Thoughts

I’ve been meaning to do the Three Capes Track in Tasmania for a while now. TL;DR, it did not disappoint. From the memory-foam mattresses, to the USB phone chargers and excellent track work, you can tell a lot of thought and planning has gone into the track overall to make it as enjoyable as possible. But the real standout is the scenery—cliff lines towering hundreds of feet, dolerite galore and shimmering turquoise waters. It surely has to be one of the most scenic walks we have to offer.

The Blade overlooking Tasman Island. You can see my friend Rob at the very top.

The Blade overlooking Tasman Island. You can see my friend Rob at the very top.

The track runs a span of 46km over four days, with three nights of (luxurious by hiking standards) accommodation. The walk is far from taxing. In fact, I’d hazard most of our group firmly fell into the later end of life. It’s designed in such a way you can really take your own pace, as fast or slow as you want, and I’d err on the latter if you’re looking for maximum enjoyment.

The price of admission includes entry to the Port Arthur Historic site and a boat ride to the start of the track courtesy of the excellent Pennicott Wilderness Journeys. There is talk of expanding the track to include Cape Raoul, but as its own I think it’s just about right.

The view from the helipad at one of the huts as a storm cleared.

The view from the helipad at one of the huts as a storm cleared.

There’s also a great deal in terms of environs. The last day in particular sees you moving through a mossy beech forest that could well be the South Island. There is almost always something to see, including a variety of keenly placed sculptures and art installations with apt names like ‘My Blood Runs Cold’.

Photography-wise, it can be a bit of a challenge. I took just one camera, the Sigma DP1, but it would have been nice to have a lens in the tele range, especially shooting from some of the huts where the capes are a bit further out.

Part of the magical beech forest heading up Mt Fortescue.

Part of the magical beech forest heading up Mt Fortescue.

The highlight was, of course, the Blade, a sharp, towering formation overlooking Tasman Island and the infinite beyond. This required a very early start the night before and a climb up in the dark and rain, but the view was well worth the effort and a must if you’re looking to capture the Blade in its best light. For astrophotography, it would be great, though the Sigma isn’t much good above ISO 100.

Having done a bit of rock climbing in the past, I was especially excited to see two young men tackle the Totem Pole at Cape Hauy while we were there, a rarity given only 20-30 climbers take it on a year. It required the lead climber to abseil right down to the water and then bridge the gap by penduluming off the main face and lunging for an anchor point, all while the swell tossed and turned only feet below. Talk about a heart-racing climb!

My favourite image from the trip showing  a sudden storm moving out into the ocean. Sights like these are a regular occurance.

My favourite image from the trip showing  a sudden storm moving out into the ocean. Sights like these are a regular occurance.

As for track tips, pack as much fresh food as you can, at least for the first day or two before everyone inevitably pulls out their Back Country dehy meals (never again). The kitchen facilities are excellent. I even managed to smuggle in a half-dozen fresh eggs. People were cooking up steak and vegetables, dhal, hand-made pasta… You name it.

I’d also suggest packing as light as you can, keeping in mind you can leave unwanted bulk at the Port Arthur Historic Site (at the visitor’s centre at the top, not down near the jetty). It’s a very short walk on day one, so you’re better off taking the later boat and exploring the port. The same goes for the last, and most strenuous, day to Capue Hauy and the postcard-like Fortescue Bay. The last thing you want to be doing is rushing to catch your bus.

A similar view prior to the rain and storm activity.

A similar view prior to the rain and storm activity.

Pack for all weather. We had everything—hail, rain, sun, storms. As it’s Tassie, the UV is a lot stronger as well, so be sure to bring ample sunscreen and a hat/long-sleeved clothing. While you’re at it, allow a day or two of R&R in Hobart. Visit MONA, eat at the Machine Laundry Cafe and take it all in. It’s a surprisingly happening part of the world.

More information HERE.

Tasman Island as seen from the very top of the Blade. I have to admit, it's a rather daunting position with the wind and exposure, but what a view!

Tasman Island as seen from the very top of the Blade. I have to admit, it's a rather daunting position with the wind and exposure, but what a view!

The track includes a boat tour. Here we have what our captain referred to as the 'nostril cave'.

Landscape Photography In The Warrumbungles: A Year With The Sigma DP1 Quattro

I recently spent a weekend in the Warrumbungle region, which apart from having the greatest name ever for a national park, is also ripe with photographic opportunity. We stayed at Coonabarabran, roughly a half hour from the Warrumbungle National Park. Coona itself is five hours from Sydney, so not too bad in the scheme of things. This trip also marked my Sigma DP1’s first birthday, but we’ll get to that later.

The big draw is the Grand High Tops circuit, a roughly four-hour loop that takes in all the famous peaks the park has to offer. The rock formations themselves are remnants of an eroded volcano active 13-17 million years ago. The volcano itself was estimated to be 1km high and 50km wide, so rather large. Standing up there, you can certainly picture it.

The Grand High Tops walk is impeccably maintained. There’s a paved track for a fair heft of the way, new staircases and plenty of rest areas. It’s far from the bush track it used to be. Even the camping facilities down the bottom are first rate. Just make sure you remember where you parked your car…

About 15min into the walk I realised I was going to get some serious blisters trying to break a new pair of boots in, but I pushed on. Suffice to say, make sure you’re prepared with not only proper footwear, but water, food and warm clothing, as it gets quite cold after sunset.

I didn’t realise that the region is dubbed the ‘astronomy capital of Australia’, but at night it soon became clear why. I have never seen so many stars so vibrant in the sky. The Sigma, with its lack of high ISO prowess, doesn’t do astrophotography, but if you have a camera that does, you’re in for a treat.

The main attraction in the Warrumbungles is the famous Breadknife, a thin (surprisingly thin) blade of rock that juts from the earth like something out of Jurassic Park. Rock-climbing is prohibited, but if you’re a crag fiend, fear not. There are plenty of other peaks to scale.

We headed up for sunset the first day where I shot the Breadknife from the top lookout, leaving Coonabarabran the following morning at 2:30am to catch sunrise back at the Knife at 5:30am. A word to the wise, camp at Balor Hut and save yourself the hiking.

Sunrise gifts you with golden light smacking the side of the Breadknife, but you have to be careful, as during certain times of the year the sun is blocked by Belogery spire to the right. I wasn’t aware of this, the sun only making it through by metres, enough to light half of the rock during the best light directly after sunrise. I don’t mind the look, however, as it provides shape to the dome in the background.

At the top lookout you can turn in any direction and find a mighty peak. Here’s Crater Bluff, an imposing peak that looks ripe for climbing. It was lit with the most magical light during sunset, but I wanted a comp a little out of norm. The result is actually my favourite image from the trip.

While the Grand High Tops is great, there are so many other peaks around the area that seemingly go missed, such as Timor Rock right next to the road. One morning we waited for sunrise and drove madly shooting all the peaks we could in the good light. Although the bushfires a few years ago were terrible, what they have done is remove the vegetation from many of these peaks, giving them an alien, spiny look. The lack of trees really allowed you to see the shapes and structures of the peaks unhindered. The new growth coming through is also photogenic in its own right.

Often I find the journey to a destination is just as interesting as the destination itself. The ‘Golden Highway’ is alive with expanse fields and rolling hills, but I was particularly drawn to abandoned structures, such as the motel and train station below in Dunedoo. I took these images handheld and they are perhaps the least processed of any of the shots I took during the trip.

A perfect stop on the way back to Sydney is Lake Windamere with its haunting trees. I could resist a quick long exposure (read: 30sec).

So, what are my thoughts on the Sigma DP1 Quattro after a year then? It truly has been a game-changer for me, putting me much closer to the kind of images I want to take. The detail and dimensionality continue to blow me away, but it is not without its faults. My biggest gripe is dynamic range, especially when the Sony sensors offer so much. I’m hopeful the new SD-H might address this, and a few other issues, such as a viewfinder and exposures longer than 30sec. It will be interesting to see how it compares.

Perhaps the greatest part of travelling with the DP1 has been its portability. It really is a pocket camera, taking up barely any room in my bag but delivering files that rival medium-format. Given its lack of high ISO usability, average screen and so on, it’s very much what I imagine using an older Phase One P25 would be like. I’d love to do a side-by-side some time.

People still look perplexed when I pull the DP1. Sitting next to a Mamiya RB67 on my shelf here it looks very, very small indeed. Honestly, I don’t think fellow photographers take it very seriously at all. Their loss, I say.

As for the Warrumbungles, get there ASAP if you can. The walks are super-accessible and I dare say the view from the top of the Grand High Tops is one of the best in the whole country. It’s ancient, mysterious and complete cat-nip for photographers. Go and see why.

Sigma Quattro DP: Medium Format In Your Pocket

For the last couple of years I’ve been agonizing over a replacement camera for my landscape work. My Canon 5D MkII served me well, but it was time to move on. At one stage I was a mouse click away from an A7R, looking forward to the increased dynamic range, portability and lack of an AA filter. When I started looking a little closer at the kind of photos I wanted to produce, however, I realised what I really wanted was the look and feel of medium format, that depth, detail and clarity you can never get with a 35mm sensor. So, I got serious about an older Phase One, something like a P25+ in the range of $10,000 AUD second-hand with body. I realised it would be no good at high ISO, slow and outdated, but it seemed like the only way to get on the Phase train.

Sigma DP1 - Looking up at orange lichen-covered rocks at Cape Forbin on SA's Kangaroo Island. f10, ISO 100 1/3sec

Sigma DP1 - Looking up at orange lichen-covered rocks at Cape Forbin on SA's Kangaroo Island. f10, ISO 100 1/3sec

The Pentaz 645Z popped up. I started looking at the older 645D as well, but both were still a grand investment. This was around the time award-winning Australian landscape photographer Christian Fletcher started preaching the Sigma Quattro gospel. I’d looked at the Quattros before, thought of them as a gimmicky love child of a boomerang and a remote control, but the more I looked at Christian’s Sigma files, the more I could not tell them apart from those shot with his Phase. Even Christian himself admits the Sigma Quattros are ‘medium format in your pocket’ and some of the best value cameras on the planet. When he told me you can happily print the Sigma files up to 60x40 inches without a problem, I was sold. Combine that with a frame and you’ve got a serious piece of art on your hands. It’s certainly large enough for my purposes.

Honestly, the last camera I expected to buy was a Sigma Quattro. I was expecting to pay $10,000 for a medium format camera, not $999 for a glorified compact, but I’m glad I took the gamble. What I’ve discovered since is that Sigma’s Foveon sensor combined with the fixed lenses of the Quattro series provide mind-blowing amounts of detail and a dimensionality (there’s a word for you) much more in line with medium format. It instantly stands out. I look at my Canon files now (anything non-Foveon, actually) and cringe. The Sigma ‘look’ is something that cannot really be defined, but something I believe will help distinguish my images from everyone else's out there. As someone said once, somewhere, in some place, if everyone is headed in the same direction, the only to stand out is to go against the stream. Amen.

Sigma DP1 - The unusual and remote Cape Borda Lighthouse. Defined subjects like this work very well when converted to 32bit HDR files from the DP1 if you want to suck out every last drop of detail. ISO 100, f7.1 1/125sec

Sigma DP1 - The unusual and remote Cape Borda Lighthouse. Defined subjects like this work very well when converted to 32bit HDR files from the DP1 if you want to suck out every last drop of detail. ISO 100, f7.1 1/125sec

 

ERGONOMICS

To put the Quattro DP1 to the test, I recently thrashed it on a three-day family holiday to South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, staying at the remote Cape Forbin. I took my 5D MkII as well, mostly for shots of the kids, but what actually happened is that the only shots the 5D took were of the Sigma.

The Quattros are fixed lens but come in a few different models. I went with the DP1, around 28mm converted, so wide, but not ultra wide. Much like Sigma’s Art-series lenses and complete brand overhaul, the Quattros share that same Batman-esque, minimalist aesthetic, one that has actually grown on me. Many have been quick to level criticism at the camera’s handling, but once you know how to hold them they’re actually much extremely stable (see here).

The slick styling runs into the menus and every aspect of the camera. It really is a stripped down, image-dedicated machine without fluff like video and 10,000 user modes. It has few buttons and many quirks. For example, shutter speed is limited to 30sec, ISO is only really decent between 100-400 before serious noise and the screen's a bit hard to see in direct light. Once you get to grips with everything, though, and the minimalist approach, it’s actually a beautiful and very simple camera to use.

Almost always looking for maximum detail and DOF without diffraction, it was simply a case of setting focus to infinity on screen, manual mode, ISO 100, a 2sec timer and somewhere typically between f8-f11. With those settings locked in, I found I was freed up to spend more time on what matters—subject and composition.

Sigma DP1 - The infamous Remarkables are massive, the size of houses, and a perfect study in composition. ISO 100, f8, 2sec

Sigma DP1 - The infamous Remarkables are massive, the size of houses, and a perfect study in composition. ISO 100, f8, 2sec

This is where the Sigma has improved my photography. I had to work within the constraints of the camera. That forced me to think and to shoot in different and unique ways. It was so refreshing not having to consider what ISO I needed, what f-stop and what lens to grab. All that was removed, allowing me to concentrate on the landscape itself and spend my time poring over possibility,

From the very first image that popped up onto the back of the camera, I knew I was onto something. I don’t know what voodoo is going on in that sensor, how many virgins have been sacrificed putting it together, but it is amazing. Almost like film, I’m dying to get back home and open the files up to 100% just to see the detail gathered—every little pebble, grain and blade of grass. The lack of an AA filter helps, but it’s the fact Sigma has been able to match the lens perfectly to the body that delivers such incredible results. Just look at what they’re doing with those Art lenses of late.

The portability is a thing of beauty. Medium-format cameras weigh a ton, as do DSLRs to an extent. This was like carrying around a feather. My Induro tripod (number six in a long line and the best so far) weighs about five times as much as the Sigma. The two look especially silly combined together, but I like things rock solid. And yes, you can fit the Sigma in your pocket, albeit awkwardly. It just looks a bit… weird. Definitely don’t try it on the subway.

Yes, the tiny Sigma looks very, very silly atop my Induro tripod, but its strength lies in its portability.

Yes, the tiny Sigma looks very, very silly atop my Induro tripod, but its strength lies in its portability.

It’s all so damn light in the backpack. Hell, you don’t really need a full backpack for it. You’d never guess it either, but the Sigma attracts a lot of attention from other photographers, mostly keen to see what the hell that “doorstop-looking thing” on your ballhead is. True story.

Sigma DP1 - The use of a polariser did away with glare and allowed the camera to see right through the crystal clear water surrounding Kangaroo Island. ISO 100, f11, 1/2sec

Sigma DP1 - The use of a polariser did away with glare and allowed the camera to see right through the crystal clear water surrounding Kangaroo Island. ISO 100, f11, 1/2sec

 

PROCESSING

Workflow has been serious issue for most who have tried the Quattros. They key is keeping it consistent. I shoot RAW and JPEG HI together. This allows me to quickly look through the JPEG files back home to see what I want to process before moving into the Sigma RAW editor, Sigma Photo Pro 6.

Much has been written about Sigma Photo Pro, most of it scathing. Many suggest it’s a deal-breaker in terms of speed, but with recent firmware updates I found it fine. You wouldn’t want to process a wedding with it, no, but for landscapes and a small group of files, it’s more than adequate. Speed isn’t blistering, but even with my humble PC it was a non-issue, especially batching.

The software itself is actually quite good. It really makes the most of the RAW files, tampering noise and doing away with the fringing that seems to plague this sensor. The fill-light function in particular is rather magical. Even shadows can be rescued significantly.

For more urban or structured images, I will use the camera’s in-built auto bracketing to shoot +2 0 -1 and then convert this to a 32bit HDR image in PS. It can then be worked on like a RAW file retaining all detail. The clarity slider can be pushed to new extremes in this way. Often, though, I find myself processing a single RAW file, or even using the JPEG if there are no fringing or noise issues that need addressing in SPP.

Sigma DP1 - A handheld shot down by the beach at Cape Forbin. Sometimes I find that when you can't find a comp or something interesting looking ahead, you have to look down. ISO 100, f5.6, 1/100sec

Sigma DP1 - A handheld shot down by the beach at Cape Forbin. Sometimes I find that when you can't find a comp or something interesting looking ahead, you have to look down. ISO 100, f5.6, 1/100sec

From SPP, I shift over to Photoshop for the bulk of processing. Oddly, I’ve found myself doing less processing than I normally would with these files. I’m also adding a lot less sharpening, actually removing it on the web files in many cases. Colours in particular took some getting used to given they’re much more on point. I use the ProPhoto colour space almost exclusively but sometimes delve into the Joseph Holmes DCAM 3 profiles if an extra push is needed.

Note that the dynamic range of the Quattro isn’t amazing compared to the Sony sensors. It tends to be quite harsh with highlights especially, but this is nothing to worry about if, like myself, you are familiar with blending exposures with the use of luminosity masks and the like. It’s a bit of extra effort in post, but given the extra detail and depth offered by the Sigma, I think it’s worth it. It’s also possible to focus stack, but I found at f8, f11, etc. I had no issues with DOF.

Sigma DP1 - You can bet I was hanging onto both tripod and camera real tight hanging out into the open over this drop. ISO 100, f8, 1/3sec

Sigma DP1 - You can bet I was hanging onto both tripod and camera real tight hanging out into the open over this drop. ISO 100, f8, 1/3sec

 

IN THE FIELD

Because it was winter, the weather was really on and off during the trip. Sun, rain, fog, seaspray, mud… the Sigma took it all on and came out unscathed. It does burn through a lot of batteries (Sigma actually supply two in the box), so I took four with me, but really the kit was super simple—the camera, a cloth and two filters (an ND10 and a polariser in 77mm). I just held the latter against the lens when I needed them, but in the future I might grab some with the right thread. I did have a release for the Sigma, but the 2sec timer was so effective I found I didn’t need it, so don’t waste your money. The ND10 was probably overkill given the 30sec exposure limit, so perhaps consider something a little less savage if you’re a fan of long exposures.

Sigma DO1. Yes, the Sigma does handle long exposures up to 30sec (camera limit) fine with no additional noise. ISO 100, f10, 20sec ND10

Sigma DO1. Yes, the Sigma does handle long exposures up to 30sec (camera limit) fine with no additional noise. ISO 100, f10, 20sec ND10

I’d read from the internet elite the Quattros were useless handheld, with poor AF and read times that killed any idea of candid shots. Funnily enough, I ended up using it for all the shots of wildlife/kids (same thing, really) on the island. In decent light the AF is surprisingly fast, and accurate. The colour rendering on the Sigma is also much better than the Canon, and the detail… well. That said, it works brilliantly tone- and detail-wise for the porcelain skin of kids, but your SO might not be too happy when you look at the files and can suddenly see every single little wrinkle and pore on their face.

Sigma DP1 - A candid of my daughter Emilie. I actually found AF to be surprisingly good. ISO 100, f2.8 1/320sec. Here's a look below at 100%. Note the detail in the hair above and below the lips and even specs of sand on her face even at f2.8. This is a straight JPEG from the camera. No additional sharpening added.

Sigma DP1 - A candid of my daughter Emilie. I actually found AF to be surprisingly good. ISO 100, f2.8 1/320sec. Here's a look below at 100%. Note the detail in the hair above and below the lips and even specs of sand on her face even at f2.8. This is a straight JPEG from the camera. No additional sharpening added.

SDIM0590.jpg

 

THE WHY

To wrap up, this is a perfect example of why you can’t always buy into what you read online, especially from keyboard warriors stuck taking pictures of their cats and coffee mugs. Take the advice of those out there using this stuff on a regular basis and be surprised. I know I was. I’m excited about photography again, excited about getting out there and then getting home to check out the tones and detail offered by the DP1.

Sigma DP1 - The Quattro DP1 is especially good in B&W thanks to the tonal graduation offered by the Foveon sensor. ISO 100, f8 10sec

Sigma DP1 - The Quattro DP1 is especially good in B&W thanks to the tonal graduation offered by the Foveon sensor. ISO 100, f8 10sec

It is said a good photographer doesn’t need good gear, but I think you should still be inspired by the equipment you have. The Sigma has provided this inspiration. There’s a lot it won’t do, but what it does do it does amazingly well. I’m actually going to grab a second Quattro soon in the telephoto range (DP3). I think the combination of semi-wide and tele will allow for most subjects. Stay tuned for more on the Super Sigs soon. In the meantime, check out more images from the trip on 500px.

Sigma DP1 - The grass was especially green after recent rains. ISO 100, f16 1/15sec

Sigma DP1 - The grass was especially green after recent rains. ISO 100, f16 1/15sec

Note: If you’re keen on giving the Sigma a go (and for $999 you’d be mad not to), I highly recommend Team Digital in Western Australia. PS: They’re also Phase dealers should you need to forgo a house deposit and grab the medium-format real deal instead.

Note note: I am not sponsored by Sigma (sadly). These are just my honest and truthful impressions of the camera. Don’t buy one. Just like Kangaroo Island, It’s probably best kept a secret.

Sigma DP1 - That water. Second Valley heading towards the Cape. ISO 100, f8, 1/20sec (blended)

Sigma DP1 - That water. Second Valley heading towards the Cape. ISO 100, f8, 1/20sec (blended)

URBAN DECAY

Along with the natural world, I am always interested in the urban environment, and especially that in decay.

These houses are all set for demolition, abandoned now for almost three years near my day job in Sydney's inner west. It's been quite remarkable to see these structures literally break down and the natural world begin to take over again. They have also made for an interesting composition study. I hope to do the interiors soon.

INFOCUS, YET AGAIN

Tada...

I apologise if I harp on about Infocus Australasia a lot, but it's just a fantastic magazine. I've been a traditional magazine editor for almost a decade now, and while I've watched as print mags have withered away to almost nothing in terms of readership and sustainablity, mags like Infocus are the future. The readership is there, the advertising is there and, most importantly, so is the content.

I was lucky enough to have one of my images grace the latest cover again recently. Inside you'll find an extensive feature I put together on dynamic range and panoramas, including many of the tips and techniques I have learned over the last few years.

The image on the cover was taken at a glacier on the South Island of New Zealand, handheld at at a low shutter speed to retain a low, and thus noise-free, ISO. It was absolutely freezing. I actually thought my hands were going to drop off as I was taking this in the rain and sleet. I didn't make it to start of the glacier, but I couldn't resist popping off a few frames of this very Lord of the Rings-style scene on the side of track as everyone just kept walking on by. As they say, it's sometimes the journey, not the destination, that matters.

Grab Infocus today. It's free!

Top 10 Landscape Photographers 2013

This list could be a lot longer, but for now here are my fave 10 landscape photographers in no particular order. I've also updated this a bit since my first list back in 2011.

 

1. Marc Adamus - www.marcadamus.com

For me, Marc is the ultimate landscape photographer. He spends lengthy periods in nature searching out the perfect, off-the-track spots, picks his moment perfectly and then wraps it up in post with cutting-edge techniques. It’s a shame that some people have started up a personal attack on the guy. Jealousy, I can only assume. Marc’s always pushing the boundaries, blowing me away and is my current fave landscape photog. I think the high standard of sharpening around also owes itself to the odd, but awesome Adamus method.

 

2. Zach Schepf - www.zschnepf.com

In a similar ‘hyper-real’ style to Marc, Zack’s work is, in a way, just as impressive. Some of his shots of mountain ranges hurt my brain they are that good. Again, it’s just a case of someone waiting it out for the right moment and being there to pull the trigger, or press the shutter, rather. Zach’s part of the Photo Cascadia team, all of whom are extremely talented photogs. There’s a heap of quality info on their site and blog. Zach’s recent downloadable Luminosity Control tutorial is also a fantastic resource. It goes through some advanced concepts, but is well worth the time. Hopefully it will take my own landscapes to the next level.

 

3. Ken Duncan – www.kenduncan.com

ProbablyAustralia’s most well-known landscape photographer, Ken’s done the time and helped get panoramic landscape photography out there to the world. Ken’s probably the reason I got into landscape photography to begin with, having visited and been amazed by his galleries when I was younger. He’s also a genuinely good human being, a vessel of wisdom and a true-blue philanthropist, or so I’ve heard. What amazed me recently is that all these years he’s been shooting 3D alongside his 2D work waiting for the time when the technology arrives to put out 3D prints. Given what I’ve seen of late, I don’t think that will be too long.

 

4. Christian Fletcher - www.christianfletcher.com.au

Heading a little more to the fine-art side of things, Christian Fletcher is a household name amongst the Australian landscape world, particularly his recent work with Phase One. I find Christian’s work hard to put into words. It’s a very ‘painterly’, organic and natural style that’s quite different from the other photographers I have listed here, falling into the fine art realm. The compositions and framing, too, are quite unique. Plus, it seems like Christian’s got a great sense of humour if you follow his blog for any length of time.

 

5. Matt Lauder – www.mattlauder.com

I really admire NSW photographer Matt Lauder. Working with both film and digital, he’s certainly covered a lot of area, with some really incredible panos. His processing is towards the natural side of things, but what I find really crazy is that he also runs the Rubbing Pixels website, a paid resource full of hours and hours of Photoshop tutorials specifically geared towards landscape photographers. At the current price of $69 for six months, it’s almost criminal how much insider info he’s giving away. His recent aerial work, too, is excellent.

 

6. Mark Gray – www.markgray.com.au

Yet another Aussie panoramic master, Mark Gray’s work tends to be a lot more saturated and colourful than most, which I actually quite like. He’s also got quite a bit from the far south coast of NSW, which seems to be a really untapped region in terms of locations. His processing is great, his work full of life and just generally spot-on. If I could put out work a fraction of his, I would be a happy man.

 

7. Peter Lik – www.lik.com

Peter was one of the 617 pano pioneers here in Australia before eventually taking his galleries to the US. He's the photographer photographer's love to hate, so I guess it's just as well his work isn't marketed to photographers... Regardless of what you think of his work, and in my opinion he does have a lot of great material, he's a marketing machine, carefully cornering the top end of town. Famously, one of his single edition prints sold for a million dollars. My own single edition prints will probably sting you a little less...

 

8. Dylan & Marianne Toh – Toh www.everlookphotography.com

These guys are a husband and wife team, but I'll list them as one. Personally, I think Dylan and Marianne could be the most talented landscape photographers in Australia. Certainly, they have an extremely strong prescene on websites like 500px, a few of their images having been viewed 10s of thousands of times. In particular, their compositional sense is absolutely spot on, and this is often neglected by most. I must admit, having been faced with the same locations, I couldn't resist borrowing one or their compositions or two. 

 

9. Peter Eastway  – www.petereastway.com

Peter's style, to me, is much in line with Christian Fletcher as above. That's no surprise, given both are part of the ND5 group, hold regular workshops together and shoot the same format. Peter also runs Better Photography and has an extensive landscape photography course online that looks pretty comprehensive. He's also been to some truly incredible parts of the globe, from icy continents to the hidden kingdom of Bhutan. Another Aussie great that's given a lot back.

 

10. Kilian Schoenberger – www.kilianschoenberger.de

Kilian is probably the oddball on this list. His style is quite different, fresh and he shoots European landscapes most of us would not be terribly familiar with. Always, however, he features excellent light, and at the end of the day that is what counts most

InFocus Australasia Magazine

For a few months now I've been a contributor to the iPad-only InFocus Australasia Magazine. It's been a great experience and I've had the privilege of interviewing some of the biggest names in Australian photography. Putting together the cover story for each issues has also been interesting, so far detailing everything from the rise of UAVs to current copyright practices. It's provided much food for thought, put it that way.

If you haven't checked out the title yet, definitely grab a copy. It's free! The company behind it is putting in the hard yards making sure it's as polished as possible, and it shows. Coming from a traditional print magazine background I can see that this digital format is the future, videos and multimedia able to be incorporated right there into the magazine itself, making it highly interactive and entertaining. The iPad layout also makes flicking through it a breeze, plus it doesn't take up space like a regular magazine.

You can grab a copy here, each new issue out monthly.

Chris Morrison - Interview

Welcome to our series of photographers who inspire me. This time it’s Chris Morrison, an Australian-based landscape photographer who I originally stumbled upon quite by accident. I was blown away by the detail in his images and careful compositions. It’s rare to find photographers who can so seamlessly switch between film and digital, but Chris is one of them. You only need to look at his monster list of awards to realise the universal appeal of his images, including AIPP ACT 2012 Landscape Photographer of the Year.

What are the greatest/most extreme lengths you’ve gone to for a photo?

Photographing “Alpenglow on the Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia”. It may not be in the “Bear Grylls” category of story, but for me it was a big challenge and very rewarding.

To start with, I was about 40,000km and 70 days into a 60,000km, 92 day round the globe expedition – although I love travelling and photographing, you do get tired if you don’t get enough rest and look after yourself.  The trip took months of planning and I was also 60 rolls into my 80 rolls of 617 velvia film – hard to acquire at the best of times, let alone in Patagonia.

It was day 3 of the trek, and I had heard word there was one bed left at Refugio Chileno, the mountain hut I needed to stay at in order to get up to Torres del Paine for any hope of a sunrise shot. Luckily I secured that final spot with some negotiation, got up at 2:30 the following morning, and started the 2.5 hour walk up to the mirador lake. Some people kindly warned me “there may be pumas around this area, but don’t worry, there has only been one recorded death a few decades ago”.

When you’re backpacking completely alone in the dark in the middle of Patagonia with only a few metres of light from your head torch, and only the sound of your footsteps, your mind can certainly conjure up some fear of pumas at the sound of some leaves falling from a tree! I got up to the mirador about 30 minutes before dawn. As it was still very dark, it was difficult to walk over the bouldery terrain as they all had snow on them. I got down to the lake, and set up in an awkward spot where it was neither comfortable to stand or sit. I then had the frustration of seeing the beautiful light begin to appear and try and take light readings, calculate long exposures taking filters into account, and change film, all with freezing fingers.

I shot two rolls of film (only eight shots, and really only four shots, as I bracketed) before the magic light disappeared, but was quietly confident I got the shot. The worst part of it all was having to then wait another three weeks to get home, and a further two weeks, to see the developed shots on the lightbox, and a further two weeks to have the shot drum scanned, before I could process it to the final result I had visualised at the time of capture, over two months prior.  I suppose in hindsight, it was a whole combination of factors which were satisfying to overcome for the final result, as I had eyed off this location for years and managed to capture it as I wanted with only one chance.

 

What’s on your current Australian location ‘hit list’?

This is always a tough question for the landscape photographer! I did a phenomenal trip to the Flinders Ranges last year and came back with many more images than hoped for, sometimes the weather is kind to you and sometimes it’s not – this time it was. As for a hit list, you start making lists, as the more you see, the more you realise you don’t even know about. There are so many beautiful areas in Australia beyond the tourist brochures that the majority of people never know exist, or even bother to explore or notice. To answer the question, however, for a short trip I’d like to see the Great Otway National Park in Victoria, and I’m going there in two weeks. For a medium length trip, I’d love to see much of the Kimberley region, and Karijini National Park. I haven’t been to Western Australia yet, but this place is amazing on all accounts and it’s at the top of my aussie list.  Apart from those two ideas, I plan to explore and capture more of the alpine region (both NSW & Victorian alps), Tasmania and the NSW South Coast.

 

You use both 617 film and also digital. What do you find are the specific challenges associated with each?

617 film: film presents its own challenges, and medium format film multiplies these challenges. 617 format, although shot from roll film, is really large format. As mentioned above, the fact you have four shots on a roll before changing (which takes time) is certainly a burden. When shooting with other photographers who primarily shoot digital, it can be frustrating hearing their shutter go off constantly, while I’m still feeding my film delicately through the holder and rolling it on, taking light readings and doing calculations in my head – you get into mental head space where you really have no idea what’s going on other than the task at hand. Having said this, this is a both a constraint and a blessing. Being limited to four shots means you better make sure that when you press that shutter, you’re photographing something good. Don’t bother with light that’s almost good enough. This forces an extremely selective approach to subject and composition, and has improved the way I see. This approach has benefited me when shooting digital, as I think my ratio of keepers:trash is surprisingly high compared to other photographers. However, when I want to experiment, then digital wins hands down for freedom. On the post-capture end of the challenges, everything continues to be slow in the process. As mentioned above, the process of developing, selecting slides on a (physical) lightbox and having them scanned is expensive and time consuming.  However, when you see a final, well exposed, sharp scan (800mb tiff file) the result is amazing and much more detailed than my 5D2. It really is amazing. Additionally, the colours you obtain from sunrises/sunsets from velvia are almost impossible to replicate with digital. One more thing, carrying all your film in lead film bags when travelling overseas – takes up a lot more room than a few CF cards!

Digital does have its own challenges too, for instance, shooting star trails on film is great as there is no noise from the sensor and no battery – you just leave your shutter open as long as you want (but do have to remember to close before sunrise!).  So that’s one thing the 617 has over my Canon 5D2.  The other challenge, and probably less obvious, is composing 3:1 ratio panoramas. With digital, I find this very difficult when merging photos as you can’t put a frame around it.  With my 617, I can walk around with my ‘finder’ (a small attachment about the size of a miniDV tape) and frame exactly how I want to compose the 3:1 panorama. They are custom made to the lens and the camera by Linhof, and unfortunately cost about $1,000 each (should give an indication to the price of the actual 617 schneider lenses)!  Additionally, as you’re shooting the 3:1 composition with one shot, through one lens from one fixed position, the perspective feels very natural, which is difficult to achieve when merging digital files. Also, I have multiple finders for my 617 camera, so I can instantly choose which composition I want for two different prime lenses, as opposed to having to put both lenses on my DSLR, and having to switch lenses, just to see the difference. They really have made the difference Not having these on a DSLR is a definite frustration for anyone shooting prime lenses, for which there is no solution other than to have a finder.

 

What’s involved with your post-processing workflow, and what tips do you have for readers in regards to post?

This is a very important part of the process.  I take an approach that I remain true to the original scene whilst allowing my creative expression to come through. I also believe in the value of hand-crafting as much of the process as I can, to make the image unique. This means I have few automated actions where I apply the same processing to all my images. I’ll usually start with the raw image or raw scan, and think about where I want to take the image, which means each workflow varies and prevents repetition and all my images looking the same.  The main rule is not to overdo it, and always ask for feedback on the image, as it’s easy to go too far. Another tip is to process an image and come back to it a few hours or a day later, as you may have a different take on it. Your mood can also affect the way you process it. I love to listen to specific music as I find I can lose myself in the creative process and enter a good mental ‘flow’, but this may not work for everyone.

 

What can we expect from you in 2013?

A new set of images released shot during 2012, including some shot on the Phase One IQ160 which are beautiful and detailed. More trips, including an international trip (destination TBA) and possibly an exhibition in conjunction with the Canberra centenary celebrations, among a few other things in between.  I’ve also expressed interest in becoming a landscape category judge at the AIPP state awards late next year.

 

You can check out more of Chris’s work via his website www.chrismorrison.com.au

Tim Wrate - Interview

I discovered Tim through Flickr. He’s one of those annoying photographers who every time he posts a photo you go ‘damn, this guy’s just too good’ and hang up your gear. He has not only an excellent sense of composition, but a love for his surroundings, which I think filters down into his photography. As yet another master medium-format Aussie landscape shooter, he was a shoo-in for our interview series.

1) What’s the most challenging photo you’ve taken to date and why?

The concept of what defines a ’challenging photograph’ is an interesting one. Many of the images in my portfolio were challenging for a number of reasons, including adverse conditions, technically difficulties and challenging journeys to capture the image. I will take the liberty to explain a couple examples below.

 

Technical Difficulties

I principally use a medium-format film camera, a Fuji GX617 with slide film. As a consequence of using slide film, which inherently has a narrower dynamic range than digital camera, I frequently face a myriad of challenges detached but still akin to the challenges faced by a digital photographer.

Technically, the most difficult image I have captured is my image of Sylvia Falls in the Blue Mountains entitled ‘Nature’s Veil’. Shooting a fixed focal length lens has its drawbacks: when a zoom lens can go from narrow to wide, I must use my feel. In this image, I found myself knee deep in cold water with wild rain and fog being blown off the valley causing a range of metering headaches. During my exposure, the ambient light changed about 2 stops (from 4 minutes to 1 minute) combined with the added complexities of reciprocity failure (the film’s exponential inability to record light during long exposures) I was looking at a change in shutter speed from approximately 10 minutes to 2 minutes. I did some quick calculations (read: guessed the exposure) on the fly and released the shutter at six minutes. Thankfully the image turned out. The fog blew off the valley, and I only had one opportunity to capture this scene. Thankfully, it worked.

Challenging Conditions

In regards to challenging conditions, my image of Craig’s Hut entitled ‘Stockman’s Ride’ is near to the top of the list. This was the third time I actually attempted to shoot Craig’s Hut as it has always been high on my list of locations. The first two attempts ended short of the goal due to road closures from snow and flash floods. My third attempt almost ended the same way with the main access route closed for the winter season. Thankfully, with a little bit of initiative, we found our way in via a 4×4 trail. After a bumpy and sometimes treacherous journey we found ourselves at Craig’s Hut just as a snow storm was blowing in off the mountains  As the sun dipped and the incredible light stretched across the scene, the snowfall got harder and harder, and the temperature dropped below freezing. I reached into my bag and found an old plastic shopping bag that I modified into a raincoat for the camera and a umbrella shielded snow from hitting the lens. Despite the conditions, it certainly was a rewarding shoot and I came away with one of my personal favourite images.

Challenging Journey

As far as challenging journeys go, it’s hard to beat my recent 18-hour canyoning expedition that almost ended in disaster. Ever since I saw the incredible images by National Geographic photographer Carsten Peter, I had an insatiable yearning to photograph Claustral Canyon in the Blue Mountains. The day started before dawn and we reached the entry point at 7am to find the entry route closed by private property. Unperturbed we ventured in the style of Bear Grylls, wildly bush-bashing through the eulcytpus forests and abseiling down cliffs. We reached the canyon proper just before lunch and were immediately met with three 10m-15m abseils down waterfalls in the narrow constrictions of the canyon where the ambient light was almost nil.

Once we hit the bottom of the canyon, the landscape was like nothing I’d ever seen; like the canyons of the Antelope slots meets the Amazon. Due to time constraints, we only managed about 30 minutes of shooting before we had to start the exit. This is where the story turns pear shaped. We took a wrong turn at the exit ravine, and soon faced a cliff. Naturally, we thought, we had to climb it. Once at the top, we quickly realised it was a mistake and we were bush-whacked. After consulting the map, we quickly figured out where we had to be, but it involved a 60 metre abseil with 30 metres of rope (we had a 60 metre rope, but when abseiling you double the rope on itself). Thus, we had to abseil half way down the cliff, then pendulum swing across 10 metres at the bottom of the cliff to a tree where we rigged up another abseil. We hit the bottom of the cliff just as the light was fading into darkness and were faced with a 600m vertical climb (over 5km) out of the canyon to the safety of the road, in the dark. The climb was utterly exhausting and the track at times non-existent as our supplies of food and water dwindled. We finally reached the safety of the road at 1am the following day.

… all that for 3 rolls of film. I haven’t had the images scanned yet, but they will be uploaded in due course.

 

2. How did you find the transition to medium-format film photography? What are its advantages/disadvantages?

As I alluded to above, shooting on medium format slide film presents its own set of unique challenges, but for this very reason I find shooting film enriching and more rewarding than shooting on digital. The most apparent challenge I faced when I initially started using medium format film was the inability to review images on-site. The modern convenience of hitting a button and reviewing the image for exposure and composition was lost and I was forced to shoot on instinct. Understanding the concepts of appreciating light, the mechanics of exposure (aperture, ISO and shutter speed), reciprocity and the aesthetics of film became critical to developing this instinct.

The advantages of medium format film photography are obvious. The aesthetics of Velvia 50 (my film of choice) hallmarked by rich saturated colour and crisp contrast are hard to replicate in Photoshop. It all makes sense upon seeing a well exposed transparency on a light table. Furthermore, the image clarity and sharpness are second to none, not to mention the huge file sizes.

It wouldn’t be a fair comparison without mentioning the cost of film photography. It’s expensive, very expensive. The costs are not limited to film and processing costs but also the cost of scanning the image for digital production and display.

Learning medium format film photography certainly was a steep learning curve but I feel that I have crafted an approach to my photography that emphasises the interplay of light and form within a landscape.

 

3. How has your post-processing style developed?

Despite shooting on film, post-processing is still central to my image making. Digital post-production techniques range from simple image improvements at one end of the scale to outlandish and imaginative image alterations that bear no semblance to reality at the other. My approach sits firmly in the former, not the latter.

Many film photographer think it’s ‘cheating’ when you use digital techniques to change an image from its original capture as it augments reality, however it is my opinion that this is not a logical argument. No film-based photograph truly represents reality, so why should photographers limit themselves in a digital world, despite the method of capture? A photographer must possess a combination of skill, patience, knowledge and a vivid imagination to create wonderful vistas and striking landscapes. It’s my opinion that digital post0production allows me more creative bandwidth to transform my observations into my visualisations. I don’t use wholesale digital editing techniques; rather I use my digital post-production to enhance my photographs through minor contrast, colour and exposure alterations.

 

4. What’s on your ‘to shoot’ list?

Like many photographers, my ‘to-shoot’ list is a dynamic list: it grows longer by the day and rarely shrinks as for every location I shoot another two are added. While I have ambitions of photographing some of the world’s most striking landscapes, I want to concentrate on building my portfolio of Australian images first, thus locations in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Tasmania are high on my list.

 

5. What can we expect from you in 2013?

I have a 10-day trip to Cairns booked in March 2013, so (weather and conditions pending) I’d like to come away with an array of images from the Tropical North, including plans to shoot the Great Barrier Reef from the air. Furthermore, I have plans in the works to photograph the Snowy Mountains in winter, so hopefully I get the opportunity to capture some unique images of Australia’s alpine region under snow.

Chip Phillips - Interview

There are some scary, scary good landscape photogs in the US, and right up there is Chip Phillips. I would go as far to say that he is one of the best not only in the US, but the world. I came across Chip through the Photocascadia website, a fantastic resource for landscape photography, and was blown away by his attention to light, detail and composition. Chip has also recently released a series of instructional videos via his website. I would strongly suggest you check them out, as they offer a keen insight and great overview of how he works. Chip was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us:

1. Hi Chip. How did you get started in landscape photography?

I have always been active in the outdoors. I have hiked many miles with my dad in the Alpine Lakes Region of WA State. About 6 or 7 years ago, my wife showed some interest in my dad’s old Pentax film SLR. We got it rebuilt by a local camera shop and I began using it. I was immediately hooked. I had no idea how much creativity and control was involved in “real” photography, as opposed to point and shoot. From there, I just kind of went with it purchasing a digital SLR soon after. Shooting in the outdoors was a natural fit.

 

2. What locations are still high on your ‘to do’ list? What are your personal favourite locations?

I have always wanted to shoot deep in the Southwest and probably will this season. I am also always trying to explore new areas closer to home such as “off the beaten path” spots in the Palouse and Cascades. Rockies as well. I recently backpacked in the Wind River Range of Wyoming and have to say this was a highlight. I can’t wait to go back. I also made it deep into the backcountry in the Tetons and loved that as well. Two of my all-time favorite locations are Banff National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. (And now the Wind River Range as well).

 

3. Is there one particular ‘shot’ you find forever alludes you?

Not necessarily one particular shot, but abstracts in general. I am constantly shooting them, and seldom do I get ones that really speak to me. When I do, I really feel I have accomplished something special.
It is easier for me to shoot the grand landscape. I like to try and challenge myself to look beyond that as often as I can.

 

4. How has the reaction been to your video tutorials? Are there plans for more down the track?

My videos have been a great success – more than I had imagined. I am so glad that so many people are finding them useful. I definitely plan on making more sometime early 2013.

 

5. What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I have many more adventures planned and am constantly shooting, so expect many more images, and more learning material in the future.

 

To see more of Chip’s work, and to download his instructional material, visit www.chipphillipsphotography.com

Brent Pearson - Interview

Brent Pearson is a prolific, Sydney-based photographer that not only takes great images but is extremely generous in what he gives back to the community via photo guides, tutorials and instruction. He’s forever pushing the boundaries and looking at new techniques, including exploring light-painting, off-camera flash and night photography well before the masses. He’s also been lucky enough to travel the world and we caught up with him after he’d just arrived back from the Burning Man festival held annually in the Nevada desert, USA. He was kind enough to answer a few quick questions.

1. Hi Brent. What landscape photographers inspire you?

I really like Christian Fletcher’s work in terms of ‘traditional landscape’. I also love some of the minimalist B&W photography from photographers such as David Fokos and Michael Kenna.

 

2. What locations are still high on your ‘to do’ list? What are your personal favourite locations?

DefinitelyIcelandis high on my ‘to-do’ list. Hopefully I will do that in 2013. Also,South America. I’d love to travel and photograph many places in that continent. I haven’t yet photographed theKimberley… but I will get there one day.

My personal favourites? Namibia is one. Karijini NP is another.

 

3. You’ve said you love photography too much to make it your day-job. Do you think trying to monetize photography takes away from your enjoyment of it?

No, I don’t think it is the act of monetizing photography that takes away from the enjoyment, I think it is about photographing because you have to, not because you want to.

If you are taking assignments to pay the bills, you can’t be too fussy unless you are very, very good at what you do. That inevitably means that you are doing work that you wouldn’t choose to do, and there is a good chance that it doesn’t inspire you artistically… so it becomes ‘work’.

I’ve met quite a few professional photographers who have lost the ‘love’ of photography… and some of them have even said they don’t even take their cameras away with them when they go on holiday because they want a break from it.

When I pick my camera up, it’s always because I want to, not because I have to. Big difference!

 

4. What are some of the specific challenges you’ve found shooting and light-painting landscapes at night?

Specifically, I found understanding the quality of portable lights challenging — even-ness, colour temperature, power, quality. Also, estimating the exposure as you are light painting and getting it right.On top of this, you have to blend it with a well-exposed ambient image.

 

5. What can we expect to see from Brent Bat in the future? Are there any new techniques you’ve recently discovered that have you excited? 

I’ve been getting more and more into off-camera flash lately… and enjoying the control and creativity that strobes can bring to photography. I like to use flash out on location rather than in the studio, and in situations where flash is not typically used. The work I have just done in Burning Man is a good example of that.

 

To see more of Brent’s work, visit his website and blog at http://brentpearsonphotography.com

Colin Bates - Interview

I follow a lot of photographers on popular photo sharing site Flickr. One that has always stood out to me is local photog Colin Bates. For me, its his minimalist B&W images that really stand out. They always look so effortless, so well-composed. Colin has a style you just recognise right away, a signature  if you will, but he’s not just limited to B&W, producing great work across a variety of genres. Here’s what he had to say.

1. What draws you to minimalist black and white photography?

Just the pure simplicity. As the saying goes, sometimes less is more.

 

2. What are three photographic tips or tricks you wish you’d known about five years ago?

- Always make sure your horizon is straight.
- Knowing what ND grad filters are and how to use them.
- How to open Photoshop, let alone use it.

 

3. What photographers do you look up to?

That is a hard one, as there are so many talented photographers out there. You only have to look at Flickr or 500px. But I would say some stand-outs would be:
- Peter Eastway: His landscape work and post-processing really appeals to me, so much that I purchased his masterclass workshop. Money well spent.
- Christian Fletcher: An amazing landscape photographer, and his Photoshop skills are brilliant.
- Brent Pearson: His seascape work is fantastic which inspired me to contact him for a private lesson.
- Andy Brown: A master of the B&W long exposure. His minimalistic work is just breathtaking.
- Ian Bramham: Creates some amazing images in colour and B&W. A class act indeed.

 

4. Where are your favourite spots to shoot and why?

I absolutely love shooting the NSW south coast. This coastline and countryside holds a special place in my heart. I still remember my first sunrise shoot at the Glasshouse rocks in Narooma. It was just before first light when I walked onto Cemetery beach and saw these two huge rocks. I felt a real presence and it still sends a shiver down my spine. As the Blue Mountains is right on my doorstep, this is another place I enjoy taking the time to explore, discover and shoot. It just has so much to offer – from the windblown peaks to the gorgeous waterfalls, canyons and rainforests.

 

5. What can we expect from Colin Bates in 2013?

2013 is shaping up to be a good year with quite a few plans and ideas on the go. Some adventures planned so far are a two-week shooting fest in New Zealand’s South Island, Hill End in the Autumn, as well as a trip to Lightning Ridge and Tasmania.
I am also planning on advancing my skills in natural light portraiture as well as strobist work and upgrading to the Nikon D800E.

 

To see more of Colin’s work, visit his Flickr page here.