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.