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Hopetoun Falls, Great Otway National Park, Victoria, Australia (Mark Eden)

Inland from Australia’s Great Ocean Road, tucked hidden behind the pretty coastal towns, winding road and imposing cliff faces, is the immeasurable beauty of the Great Otways National Park. A wonderland of undulating hills and valleys covered by soft greenery and veined by gentle flowing rivers. At the ends of these rivers are some of the most beautiful and serene waterfalls in all of Australia.

One of the most well known of these, Hopetoun Falls, is a short but steep decent from the carpark on a winding path that at first shelters the sound of falling water and builds anticipation as you slowly round corners and hear the sound increase in volume. Ducking under tree branches and pushing through fern leaves, often wet with raindrops, you can hear birds overhead as they nest in canopies above. Cockatoos, Kookaburras and Bowerbirds are all common.

As the path ends, Hopetoun Falls is revealed. The distant undercurrent is now an unmistakable crash as the water flow hits the Aire River after its 45 metre drop. Scrambling over the soft ground and smooth rock close to the waterfall, a refreshing mist can be felt from the water’s spray.

Further downstream it is much quieter. The Aire River trickles peacefully around soft bends, over and around rocks and moss and carries with it small twigs and fallen leaves. It feels disconnected from the rushing water a short distance away. The crystal clear water is gentle enough to see the bottom of the river bed,  filled with pebbles.

Detail of fern leaves and rocks at Hopetoun Falls, Great Otway National Park, Victoria, Australia (Mark Eden)

Buried deep in the forest, Hopetoun Falls feels so far away from everywhere. It is easy to feel like an explorer in a place such as this. Like you are the first person to come across this natural wonder, so untouched is it by human presence. Making the return journey in the cool shade provided by ancient trees and emerging back into the carpark feels somewhat like a return to civilisation.

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Each year at the first signs of spring, fields around Victoria change colour quickly and dramatically from a lush green of plants and grasses fed by the winter rains, to bright yellow carpet, sometimes covering fields as far as the eye can see. This is the annual flowering of canola, grown across the state to eventually be harvested for rapeseed oil. For a few glorious weeks each year however, a patchwork of fields glow with happy golden flowers as a precursor to the summer to come.

Being springtime, the weather is moody and changeable. Hang around long enough and you are likely to see yellow fields in all conditions, often on the same day. Clear blue skies complementing golden fields perfectly, and as stormy weather rolls in, the cheerful colours seem to defy brooding clouds.

Provence has its Routes de la Lavande which are internationally renowned for a good reason, but the lesser known annual canola blooms that occur not just in Victoria, but around Australia are just as spectacular.

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Sunrise at Uluru with clear sky and sun flare (Mark Eden)

I spent a week recently amongst the red soil of central Australia around Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Watarrka feeling very small and insignificant amongst the expansive desert and these ancient and sacred monoliths.

Flying into the tiny single building airport and Yulara, the domes of Kata Tjuta and single expanse of Uluru can be seen rising from the earth and it is possible to get a sense of sheer size, but it isn’t until you stand in their shadow and see the texture worn into these rocks over thousands and thousands of years that you feel their power and immutability. At dawn, the rising sun lifts a blanket to reveal Uluru as a charcoal shape, which soon lightens to tones of reds and burnished orange as the light contours and pock marks the rock wall. The only sound to be heard is that of birds awakening with the dawn, and the near silence in such a desolate place only ads to the awe of watching the day begin just as the ancient Anangu did 60,000 years ago.

Silhouette of Uluru with clear sky at sunrise (Mark Eden)

This colour will change throughout the day as the hot desert sun moves overhead, the air still and dry. Looking around, at first it seems like there is nothing there, but everything is moving, everything is alive. It takes a lot to survive out here, but plants, animals and people call this desert their home. Hidden amongst the shrubs and trees that dot the landscape are kangaroos, dingoes, birds, snakes and lizards and many varieties of desert dwelling mammals who have learned how to adapt to this harsh land. Dotted around the area, and mostly hidden from the view of the casual visitor, are communities of Anangu people, the traditional land owners who’s nomadic lifestyle has also adapted over the years to meet the demands of a modern world, but still live by the ancient laws of Tjurkurpa. These laws are told to new generations through stories of the creation time, of which the Anangu believe Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Watarrka are physical proof. It still surprises many people that there is such a huge part of this huge country that has English as a second language, or does not speak English at all.

There is a sense of permanence in this place, like nothing, not an asteroid, not even hoards of tourists, could destroy these landmarks. A sense that everything around them, the trees, plants and humans will all eventually wither and disappear, but the rock will remain.

For more images from this series, head on over to the main website.

 

 

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sleeklens ss

A little while ago, the folks at Sleeklens asked me to try out their landscape photography workflow for Lightroom. So after a few days of playing, reprocessing some old images and working on some new ones, these are my thoughts.

What is it?

The workflow is a collection of presets and brushes that can be stacked to make photo editing faster. Included in the bundle are installation instructions, access to a help forum, video tutorials and “recipe lists” which are before and after images and the presets and brushes used to edit them to the final result. These are good as examples of what can be achieved, but rarely relevant unless you’re looking at editing a very similar image. Essentially, its the presets and brushes that you’re paying for.

Installation

The download comes in a zip file, which you need to extract and save onto your PC or Mac. Installing Lightroom presets is pretty simple, just navigate within Lightroom to the folder where they are saved and import. Installing brushes is a little more complicated, but the instructions given are clear and easy to follow. The whole process took me about 10 minutes.

Using the workflow

Using the presets is quite intuitive. There are some “all in one” presets that aim to give an overall mood to the image, or for more control, there are several categories of global adjustments such as base adjustments, exposure, colour corrections, tone/tint, polish and vignettes. To me, presets are always a good starting point but it is easy to fall into the trap of letting them prescribe how your finished image should look rather then following your own vision. So I tended to adjust these to suit anyway, meaning that the total processing time wasn’t as quick as I’d hoped initially. Most of the changes applied are quite dramatic and were a bit over the top for my taste. I found myself making some toned down versions of the same adjustments, but once I did that, working with them became quite fast. This is, of course, a matter of personal taste and others might find that the original ones suit them just fine.

The brushes, I like. As with presets, these are also grouped into effect types, but I found them much more useful. Although I found myself wanting to tone these down sometimes as well, I found I was able to add a lot of depth to images quickly using these.

I couldn’t see myself using a workflow like this for every image. Its just not the way I like to work. But for editing several similar images together its a great tool. Its also adjustable to suit your own vision. If you’re willing to put in the time to learn how each adjustment alters your image, you will be able to cut down editing time as well as find a consistent style.

More info

More detailed technical info can be found on the Sleeklens website, as well as introductory videos. The workflow is also available for Photoshop if that is your preferred editing tool. The one I trialled is the Into the Woods workflow for landscape photography, but they also produce separate workflows for portrait, food and architecture amongst others.

Samples

Below are some images processed using only this workflow. Each took around 2 or 3 minutes from start to finish

 

Dog Rocks, Geelong

Dog Rocks sunset

Presets:

Base: Tone and colour

Colour: deepen skies

Tone: desaturate

Polish: add clarity

Vignette: subtle black

Brushes:

subtle clarity

cloudy sky definition

Jetty at Point Richards, Portarlington at sunset.

Point Richards Pier

Presets:

Base: basic film

Exposure: darken shadows

Exposure: less highlights

Colour: deep blue skies

Colour: cool down

Brushes:

add clarity

darken shadows

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Lighthouse at Point Lonsdale, Bellarine Pensinsula, Victoria. (Mark Eden)

One side benefit of photography is a deeper connection with the world that comes through the study of subject. Most photographers have at least one subject they return to again and again. A place, person or thing that holds a significant meaning. Mine is a small outcrop of headland on the Bellarine Peninsula, about an hour from Melbourne called Point Lonsdale. This was one of the first places where, with a few rolls of Ilford 100 in my pocket, I fumbled with an old Nikon and a borrowed tripod that weighed as much as a sledge hammer and pinched my fingers every time I tried to adjust it. Where I created my first overexposed, poorly composed, out of focus images of seascapes and the surrounding coastline. I’d like to say they were impressionist, but really they were just bad photos. Really bad photos. Where there any image that was half decent (by which I mean in focus) I would hurry to the darkroom, enlarging it to poster size and hanging it on my wall for the world to see. It was crap, but I was proud of this crap.

I returned time and time again to this place, partly because it was convenient, but also partly because it began to hold some meaning. Sometimes I’d walk around for hours before even thinking of taking out my camera, sometimes I wouldn’t even bring it. This beach became a place to reflect.

Rockpools at Point Lonsdale Beach (Mark Eden)

As I practiced and slowly improved, I felt I was able to do some sort justice to the place. I began to understand how to capture the tranquillity of low tide when the rock pools were exposed and clouds were reflected in them, the best angles for each time of day to shoot the lighthouse that stands proudly above the cliff tops, and the long jetty that protrudes from the beach and is used by fisherman all year round.

Dawn at Point Lonsdale Pier, Victoria, Australia (Mark Eden)

I’ve kept coming back for 15 years. It is only a small area, but I somehow always manage to find something new that I’d never before noticed. It has taught me, not only about the technical aspects of photography, but also about seeing, about being observant and slowing down. I’ve learned to appreciate what is around me. This is a place I will always return to. I feel I owe it a debt for the gift it has given me. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be able to honour it in photographs.

 

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Under the dusty sun of North West India, in crowded cities and quiet villages, the story of Rajasthan is told in the faces of its people. Lined faces tell of a lifetime of toil while retaining a contentment that comes with a hard day’s work. Elders appear proud of their wrinkles and sun-cracked skins, understanding them to be symbols of what is important to them: to care and provide for family and community.

The above is an extract from a new article on my time spent with people from cities and villages of Rajasthan, India. To read the full story and view more images, click the link to the full story on Maptia.

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Woman in colourful sari walking past blue house in Jodhpur

Under the watch of Mehrangarh Fort, within the twists and turns of medieval laneways and alleys, Jodhpur’s Blue City feels a world away from the chaos of Rajasthan’s second largest city. An oasis of calm in the midst of the noise and calamity that is India.

Under the clock tower, a bustling market signals the beginning of the old town. This is the unofficial border between modern Jodhpur and the city’s origin. Indeed this is the part of the city that attracts most tourists, however as I make my way uphill slightly and through streets that become narrower with every turn, the clatter falls away and a sense of calm begins to take hold. It is as if the Brahmin blue painted cube houses themselves are having a soothing influence. The streets smell of spices and burnt votive candles.

After a few minutes I’m lost. In a good way. I have a map I could check, but somehow it doesn’t seem important. This is a place to wander, the ideal setting for being lost. I wander up and down, taking a left turn here or a right there, with no other intention than to see what might be around the corner. I pass children playing in the street, old men and women sitting on doorsteps, sleeping dogs, tiny neighbourhood temples and shops. Occasionally the peace is disrupted by a motorbike barrelling through the narrow lanes, but soon returns to normal. The day is warm but it feels cool in here, partly because only shards of sunlight filter down through the buildings, and partly because the coloured walls soak up the heat.

Around one corner, a grandmother sits with her grandson on her lap, playing a game of peek-a-boo. I wave as I pass and they both waive back, both surprised that a foreigner has wandered this far away from the tourist area.

Around another corner, two boys are blowing bubbles, watching them float upwards into the sky. So engrossed that they don’t notice me at all.

Along another street, women in bright saris pass on their way to buy supplies for home, their colourful dress exaggerated by the soft blue walls. Some are curious I am there, others pay me no attention.

Finally and suddenly, and quite by accident, I am back near the clock tower market. It is dusk now but the market is still trading, bargains being struck and goods and money changing hands. This will go on late into the night, but back in the neighbourhoods of the Blue City quiet prevails. Occasionally their is the bark of a dog, or sound of a rickshaw, but they are short interruptions to the peace that exists in the midst of the chaos.

 

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Something is tugging at my leg. I’m oblivious to it at first, concentrating on making a photo of the surrounding landscape, then become dimly aware as the tugging continues. I look down to see a pair of  big brown eyes above an even bigger grin, too big for the small face that contains them.

“One selfie please,” she says. It’s more of a demand than a request, I’ve learnt from experience over the past week of being in India. In a sign of the times, I’ve also learnt that “selfie” is one of the first words of English anyone learns. If someone knows no other English, they know “selfie”.

“Ok,” I say, knowing full well I have no choice in the matter. Not that I mind. It is refreshing as a photographer to visit a country where people, children especially, are not only open to having their photo made, but often bluntly insist on it when they see camera in hand. There is an openness about people here. Where we in the West are instinctively guarded around strangers, having been told of dangers posed since we were old enough to understand what our parents and teachers were saying, most Indians have no hesitation or fear in rushing over to a foreigner and asking for a photo. I’ve taken a few thousand photos while I’ve been here so far, but I think I’ve been in even more.

I kneel down to the girl’s height and start making photos as she poses confidently. This isn’t the first time she’s done this. Probably not the first time today. We pause for  a moment so I can show her the images on the back of the camera. She giggles happily. All of a sudden we’re surrounded by many more eager little faces straining for a look, and more delighted giggles. Inevitably, everyone wants to be in a photo too. Little bodies scramble over each other and shove others out of the way to get in front of the lens. Poses are struck, and costume changes made. There is much laughter and use of the “ok” hand sign, a universal expression of approval. A few aren’t entirely happy with their result though and insist on another try, to which I oblige until a satisfactory outcome is achieved.

This scene goes on for a while (there is a small army now) and could go on all evening, but friends are waiting for me. I start to move away and the crowd moves with me. They’re not done yet. Fortunately, I’ve now had some experience in extricating myself from these situations. Whereas a week ago I would have been stuck there until they lost interest, now I put the camera back in its bag and simply keep walking. The cries of “Selfie, selfie, photo, photo,” gradually turn to ones of “Bye, bye.” Turning to waive before leaving I see that no one looks too upset, not even those that didn’t get their chance to be in a photo. Instead they waive, and begin to scatter, presumably in search of the next foreigner with a camera.

Just before climbing back in the jeep, I hear faintly a small voice speaking to someone else: “Selfie please…”

 

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Indian boys

I’ve been in Mumbai the past few days before heading onto Delhi and Rajasthan, and was fortunate to meet some of the happiest, friendliest people I have ever come across. These are the people of Baiganwadi slum, a slum in West Mumbai of around 200,000 mostly Bangladeshi residents.

Many assumptions are made of the living conditions and people to live in Mumbai’s slums, which have existed for centuries but have come into a more worldwide consciousness only recently due to movies like Slumdog Millionaire. Rather than the despondent, disconnected and lazy people they are stereotyped to be, people here are happy and exuberant. They are industrious and hard working. Some travel outside of the slum area to work long hours of hard labor, while others set up business in their homes tending to the needs of neighbors with services such as tailoring or furniture making. Others collect and sort the city’s garbage for recycling.

Children play happily in the street at marbles, hopscotch or cricket, improvised with fence paling bats and bound rags for balls. They are exited to see a stranger, especially one with a camera, and jostle and shove each other out of the way good naturedly to have their picture taken.

Below are just a few of the many wonderful people I met here.

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Earlier this year I visited Christchurch at the end of a trip around New Zealand’s South Island. Although I was only in the city for a few hours, the small part of it I managed to see carried the weight of the recent tragedy that befall the city, but also a sense of optimism amongst the rebuilding of the downtown area most effected.

In September 2010 Christchurch was hit with a 7.1 Richter Scale earthquake, devastating much of the city’s east and surrounding area and causing mass power outages. This was followed by several aftershocks, the most damaging being in February 2011 which measured 6.3 and resulted in the deaths of 185 people. Christchurch’s CBD had 80% of its area demolished in total.

Today, walking around the effected area, the devastation is still apparent, but so is the rebuild. It is often hard to see which buildings are coming down and which are going up. City blocks of nothing but rubble sit across seemingly untroubled green spaces. If the saying that adversity breeds character is true, then then the character of Christchurch and her people is one of resilience and ingenuity. Tragic as they have been, these events have given the people the opportunity to create a new way of living by the repurposing of old materials and use of green, renewable energy sources.

Shipping containers at Re:start Mall in Christchurch (Mark Eden)

Perhaps the best example of this resourcefulness is the Re:START mall. A mall constructed of disused shipping containers in an effort to encourage retailers and customers back to the city centre as soon as possible. Since beginning with 27 businesses, the mall now houses over 50 permanent businesses as well as food stalls and buskers.

Shipping containers at Re:start Mall in Christchurch (Mark Eden) Shipping containers at Re:start Mall in Christchurch (Mark Eden)

The Cardboard Cathedral was built after the destruction of the original cathedral and is one of a kind, being made substantially from cardboard and shipping containers. Described as a transitional cathedral, the building will eventually be replaced by a more permanent structure, but in the meantime serves as a reminder of Christchurch’s bright future.

Exterior of Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch (Mark Eden)

185 empty chairs is both art installation and memorial to those lost. Amongst blocks of grey rubble and a few crumbling office buildings, sit 185 white painted chairs of all shapes and sizes. Dining table chairs, wheelchairs and children’s chairs amongst others represent the people from all walks of life who lost their lives to the earthquake. It is a somber but beautiful sight, and an insight to how a community has come together to both remember and move towards the future.

185 empty chairs memorial for Christchurch earthquake (Mark Eden) 185 empty chairs memorial for Christchurch earthquake (Mark Eden)

 

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