landscape photography

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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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'.