Sigma 50mm f1.4

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.