minimalism

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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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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