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Dawn at London Bridge. Port Campbell Coastal Park on the Great Ocean Road (Mark Eden)

Arriving pre-dawn at London Bridge, I can hear the ocean rumble from the carpark. It sounds both distant and very near in the way of a building storm. Nature in surround sound. The still black sky seems to amplify the effect.

It is hard to imagine the magnitude of the cliffs below me, even though I have been here many times before. The giant sandstone cliffs of Victoria’s coastline have always seemed unreal to me, seen from the viewing platforms. Like looking at a miniature model. Only when down on the sand beneath do I appreciate their true size.

The land and sea around me are ancient, and feel all of their years. Leaving the Great Ocean Road and pleasant seaside villages that dot it, it is easy to feel like time has somehow missed this place. Like nothing has touched this terrain for thousand’s of years. Ancient rainforests of fern tree, redwood and myrtle beech grow in the Otways hinterland. This land strips away all pretence of significance, and reminds me that our lives here on earth are but fleeting. These forests and coastline were here thousands of years before us, and will be here for thousands of years after.

Slowly the black curtain lifts and the source of the rumbling becomes visible. The Southern Ocean seems angry today, bashing away at the sandstone as it has done for all time, wearing it down little by little and causing great chunks to break off and fall into the sea. To feel the glass smoothness of these rocks is to understand the power of the ocean.

The rock that is unveiled by the dawn is called London Bridge for the arch that has been worn into its belly. This outcrop was once connected to the mainland until part of it fell victim to the ocean’s rage, just as many of the original 12 Apostles have done at various intervals.

The gathering light seems to diminish the power of the ocean, though I know this isn’t the case. The sunny morning belies the danger in the swells and reefs just offshore, which have famously claimed many ships caught in their swirling power.

Heading back away from the clifftop, the roar once again fades into the distance and I am again back amongst the scrub and bushes that cover the area. The contrast between this peace and what is happening only a few short metres away is hard to ignore, and is perhaps the perfect example of this area of Australian coastline; where both nature’s power and finesse are on display.

 

 

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In southwest Tokyo, where the subway station opens its mouth and spills the city’s commuter masses onto the street, lies Shibuya Crossing. This is where all roads meet. Shibuya is the Tokyo of our futuristic dreams. A place of towering buildings, blinking lights, pinging pachinko machines, giant screens, neon and lasers. Surrounded by the glass skyscrapers is Tokyo’s and possibly the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection.

Like a dam that fills and breaks over and over, Tokyoites pour from Shibuya Station, from shopping boutiques and games parlours onto the curb waiting for the lights to change. While they wait, they watch trucks pass carrying advertising billboards with images of a chart topping J-pop group and blasting their latest offering. They watch and listen to a football player tell them why they should buy the newest Honda. Then the lights begin to change, the traffic that had been buzzing through the space slows and stops and rows of headlights shine like spotlights onto a stage. There is a brief pause. For a moment it is calm, almost peaceful in this city of over 30 million. A collective deep breath is taken before the lights change from red to green and the scramble begins. Pedestrians break from the teeming curbs and make their way to the other side across one of several zebra crossings, ducking and weaving through other people heading in every direction with casual dexterity, narrowly avoiding a swinging shopping bag here and a foot there. It feels like the entire city is here. They have come dressed in their finest to eat, to shop, to see and also be seen. On this Saturday night, Shibuya is the centre of the world.

Eventually the crowd on the street thins, the lights go green again and the cars and busses that had been patiently waiting, watching the performance move off again. As vehicles pass through Shibuya Crossing, the crowds on the curbs begin to replenish and the humming of friends chattering starts to grow again. By the time the lights change again, the dam has been refilled and the show repeats itself as it will throughout the night until stores, bars and restaurants finally close and it is time to catch the last train home.

 

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This photo took me two years to make. Let me explain.

“Is it left or right”

“Um, not sure,” said Amy.

“What do you mean, not sure?”

“Well, the map says go left, but the sign says go right.”

“The map isn’t that clear. Lets follow the sign.”

This, as it turned out, was the wrong option.

We were in search of Wreck Beach, a stretch of coastline at Moonlight Head along the Great Ocean Road, infamous for being the final resting place of the Marie Gabrielle (1870) and Fiji (1890), two cargo ships bringing tea from China and supplies from Germany, and most of their crews. It is one of the Great Ocean Road’s most sought locations, yet one of the most difficult to find.

As we drove along in the late afternoon, the road became narrower and sandier and littered with deep potholes. By the time we realised our mistake there was no room to turn around so we had to keep going to find somewhere we could manoeuvre the car into what became a somewhat awkward, bumper scratching 9 point exercise in patience. This done, and despite the now fading light and increasing chill, I noticed that we were on a ridge above rolling green hills and a beautiful vista and the dusk had started to pick up a pale pink colour. I decided to set up my camera.

“Um, don’t you think we should be getting back?” Amy was getting nervous.

“Yes. Just give me a few minutes first.” Clearly we weren’t going to make it to Wreck Beach today, but I was a photographer dammit, I wasn’t going to leave without making a photo. Amy just rolled her eyes.

It was dark by the time we started back again, and cold. It was the kind of winter day where the morning dew never really lifts. The abundant potholes were still filled with water from earlier rains, which was good since it made them easier to see and avoid. Becoming increasingly paranoid about these craters, we slowed to a crawl, steering one way then the other to creep around them and at the same time stay out of the brushes. Then it happened. Thunk, scrape. Metal on gravel.

We both stared at each other for a moment, neither able to find the words. Then we did. The car exploded in a series of expletives and fists pounded on dashboard. The accelerator was tried, and tried again knowing it wasn’t going to work. Pushing didn’t help either. We were stuck. Stuck on a potholed country track in now pitch blackness. There was no mobile phone signal here either. The only thing to be done was to start back to the main road, which we did first by torchlight and then, when the battery failed, using the light from a mobile phone. We walked mostly in silence. I didn’t dare say a word for fear of having my eye socket rearranged by the end of a torch.

After what seemed like hours, we finally came to a house and amid barking dogs, knocked on the door and asked the owner, Tom, to borrow a phone to call roadside assistance.

“Shouldna taken the right fork,” he offered after hearing our story. I bit my lip to stop from mentioning we were well aware of that now. The guy was trying to help us after all. He shook his head to himself as if to say “Another one”. Tom was typical rural Australia, complete with flannel shirt and the kind of accent that blends all of the words in a sentence into one long vowel.

Roadside assistance turned out to be 3 hours away. Seeing our faces as we processed this, Tom shrugged and started to reach for his keys, “Guess we’d better shift ‘er ourselves then. I’ll just get me truck”, and with that shuffled off to his shed. After much clanging about, there was a cough and splutter of a car engine and Tom reappeared in an ancient Toyota Landcruiser with torn vinyl seats and a cracked windscreen.

“Sorry took s’long. Hadda find a tow chain. In ya get.”

Seconds later we were tearing back down the same gravel roads we’d just trodden along so carefully, the springs in the Landcruiser creaking with each bump. Tom didn’t seem at all bothered by the dips, bumps, squeaks and creaks. Picking up speed even as the road deteriorated. This, I decided, must be how the windscreen cracked.

Eventually, after much cursing and tyre spinning the car was hauled from its ditch and we followed Tom back towards the house and civilisation, only getting stuck once more on the way.

After a warming cup of milo and a quick chat we headed back to our rented cabin, grateful and looking forward to a hot shower. The car fine apart from being covered in mud.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I made my way back to Wreck Beach. This time in early morning in the middle of summer and making sure to take the left fork. I walked the beach for the hour or so that the tide allowed and made the above image. Driving down the beach road and back I passed Tom’s house and thought about stopping. I doubted he would remember me though, if he still lived there. For him it was probably just another Saturday night rescuing some idiot tourist who’d taken the wrong turn.

 

 

 

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Tailor at a market in Ho Chi Minh City

This young Vietnamese man is a tailor at Ba Chiu Market in Saigon’s District 6. All day, every day he works away at his ancient Singer machine stitching trousers and shirts for his neighbours and attending to repairs of old garments brought to him by those who simply cannot afford new clothing.

Ba Chiu Market is not on the tourist trail, and the locals here are surprised and curious to see a white face. The tailor looks up from his work as I pass for the first time his small tent stall, raises an eyebrow in surprise, then smiles broadly, genuinely. I give him a self conscious nod as I pass. He goes back to his stitching.

After a time wandering aimlessly through the narrow market alleys, I end up quite accidently back outside the tailor’s shop. I’m so focused on photographing other stall holders and the goings on of the market that I don’t even notice that I’ve been along here before. But the tailor notices me. He’s stopped work completely now and when I eventually look up and see him, he beckons me over and offers me one of the fried rice crisps he’s been snacking on. I take one gratefully and, not knowing a single word of Vietnamese, make the appropriate mmm noises and gestures to indicate a tasty treat. All I have to give him in return is a few pieces of fruit I’d bought earlier in the food section of the market. Knowing that he likely eats this stuff every day, I hand over some rambutan and sour star apples which he accepts graciously and puts away for later.

We spend a time trying to communicate through the ancient system of hand signals and body language and I manage to convey that I have come from Australia, at which point his eyes light up and he starts making the internationally recognised gesture for Australia: a kangaroo hop. His friend, who has been watching our little slapstick comedy show the whole time with an ever widening grin, finally can no longer contain himself and bursts out laughing. A loud, honking laugh that stops the tailor mid hop and he sits down again a little self consciously.

We continue on and he tells me his name: Còng (which I later find out means skilful or industrious), he also says he has two little children and has been working at the market since he was 16.

Finally, I sense it is time to move on and thank him for his time with another nod, which he returns in kind. On my way down the narrow alleyway heading out of the market I glance back and see him again bent over his machine in concentration.

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Yellow Eyed Penguin

“Do the penguins know we’re here?” asks the little girl.

“Yes, they do,” replies Dan, our tour guide and penguin expert. “But because we’re looking at them through such a small hole in the wall, the penguins can only see very little of us and so they think that we’re smaller than them and not a threat”.

Our group start to laugh at this little nugget of penguin logic before remembering we have to keep quiet so as not to scare the incredibly shy bird that has waddled up the beach and is now standing and preening only a couple of metres away.

I’m sitting in a camouflaged wooden hutch on a private beach at The Penguin Place on New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula. The temperature is dropping fast as dusk creeps up, but no one seems to mind. We’re here to see the Yellow Eyed Penguin, the rarest and most elusive of all penguin species, and the first has just waddled up out of the ocean and begun to climb the slope and head inland. These penguins nest on land and they will spend the night here before heading back out into the ocean at dawn to fish and eat. It is April and Dan explained earlier that this is their fledgling period, where last season’s chicks have begun to go out to sea, and adult penguins need to eat and put back on weight they lost before being confined to land while they moult their coats and grow new ones in preparation for a new years courting season.

They have only a few weeks to do this and it is a dangerous time for the penguins as energy levels are low and they are exposed to starvation and attacks by predators, which include foxes and ferrets on land, and sea lions, fur seals and sharks in the water. It seems like everyone is out to get them, and indeed only 20% survive to adulthood.

There are only around 3,000 Yellow Eyed Penguins left, and The Penguin Place offers a sanctuary free from predators for these rare and elusive animals who otherwise may be too afraid to venture back to land because of who might be waiting for them. Their numbers have been gradually increasing since 1990 when there were estimated to be only about 300. This is due in no small part to the dedicated team at The Penguin Place, who fund their conservation work entirely from the informative and entertaining tours that have run daily since 1985 when Howard McGrouther gave over his own farmland to care for the penguins and provide them a safe place to raise their young.

Also to be found on the grounds are New Zealand fur seals, blue penguins - “the smallest penguins of all but with the biggest attitude,” offers Dan - and the occasional yellow crested penguin who are more common on the west coast but occasionally take a wrong turn and end up on the Otago Peninsula.

Yellow Eyed Penguin

The penguin outside our hutch cranes his neck, stretches his wings outwards and with a wiggle that starts at the neck, gathers momentum as it travels downwards and ends up in his tail, lets out the kind of squawk that could be expected from some giant, prehistoric ancestor. Then, as if he just realised he’s forgotten his house keys, turns around and waddles quickly back down the slope from where he came. His little head dips below the horizon and we can no longer see him, but we can hear more squawks. Everyone looks around at each other, confused, wondering if we’ve scared him away. Then we hear the same squawk from another voice, and the response from our penguin. A moment later two little penguin heads bob above the horizon and our friend returns with what Dan explains is his penguin girlfriend. Still squawking at each other, they sound like a bickering married couple. Which I suppose may not be far from the truth.

Yellow Eyed Penguins

Despite the apparent argument, the two penguins seem happy to be in each others company and spend a few moments circling each other before continuing their waddle along the small hilltop and into the brush to find their nest.

No one speaks for a moment, just a lot of silent grins at the rare sight just witnessed and the similarities to humans in the way these little birds interact and communicate with one another. Then a moment later, a whisper: “Look, there’s some more!” and we all turn to look out onto the beach again as more Yellow Eyed Penguins, a whole extended family this time, hurl themselves out of the water, bellies full of fish, onto the sand and begin the long amble back to the safety of home for the night.

Yellow Eyed Penguins

The Penguin Place is located outside of Dunedin on New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula and is a privately owned and fully self funded conservation reserve dedicated to the survival of the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin.

 

 

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“Damn flies”. I was cursing again after checking my screen to find another fuzzy blob right in the middle of the frame.

They warned me about this. The staff at the lodge said there would be plague proportions of sand flies at Milford Sound. They even offer guests a free bottomless supply of insect repellent, an ominous sign in itself which I took full advantage of, coating every last bit of exposed skin before heading out. What they don’t tell you is that these little bugs are drawn like magnets to camera lenses. Like some innate 6th sense, they know when you’re about to hit the shutter and are able to  time their landing to cause maximum nuisance. My only defence was to waive a lens cloth in front of the camera until just before making the frame, make several exposures of the same scene and hope that weight of numbers would mean I came away with at least a few flyless images.

I spent 2 mornings and 2 evenings photographing at Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s best known landscapes, and was inspired by how the mood of the place changed with the weather. And there was every kind of weather in the short time of my stay. From driving rain and brooding clouds on arrival, to an unworldly dawn that cleared to a bright sunny day, which I am told is a rare occurrence in this part of the world. This is actually on of the wettest places on earth, with around 7 metres of rain annually.

Shooting 4 sessions in all at the foreshore, I managed to capture it in several different moods, but always peaceful and serene. I had intended to photograph some other locations around the area, but there was enough variation just here to keep me going back, so I’ve filed away some ideas for my next visit. Despite my new friends the sand flies and managing to break a tripod by tightening the plate so hard the lever snapped off in my hand, I think I managed to capture a sense of one of the most isolated areas of New Zealand. Some of the images in this gallery had to be made by resting the camera on my bag, composing a bit wider than I intended the final frames to be to allow for cropping and straightening. This caused a whole lot more swearing as I struggled with the slippery rocks, and trying to get down low enough to look at the scene, but what kind of photographer isn’t happy face down in a couple of inches of cold water while shooting an iconic landscape.

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Moeraki Boulders

 

This was supposed to be a postcard from New Zealand, but I didn’t get a chance to put it up.  So instead it has turned into a kind of recap of my time there. Albeit a very short one. The above image is also a desktop wallpaper you can download by clicking on.

I spent near two weeks travelling New Zealand’s South Island and at least half of that time with my jaw on the floor of the rental car at the sheer majesty of the landscape. There were several occasions where I drove around a bend and had to pull over and just stare at the epic snow capped mountain range or rolling valley I was confronted with for a few minutes before remembering I had camera with me and I should probably make a photo or two.

In heading to New Zealand I had a few specific locations I wanted to visit and a broad idea of what I was looking for, but I really wanted to relax and let images find me instead of chasing them in the hope of making stronger images. This was not easy. In preparing to travel anywhere, you tend to look at images, get inspired and start thinking you’d love to do something similar. The end result being images that feel forced. Its a hard practice to undo. Especially as the excitement of pending travel grows. Sometimes I succeeded and sometimes I didn’t. Regardless, it was an inspirational and humbling time during which photography again taught me many things about myself. Not least of all that I have no patience. None. I think I actually have negative patience. Not an ideal trait for a landscape photographer.

The above image is of the boulders at Moeraki on the Otago coast. These huge, spherical stones were created by minerals solidifying around a central object in the same way a pearl grows, then due to the erosion of the coast line, fell or rolled from surrounding cliffs to their current place on the beach. Not by erosion from waves as commonly thought. Here’s the full Wikipedia explanation for the geologically inclined.

This image and the others I shot at this area were made by resting my camera on other boulders, my camera bag and the beach itself, sometimes propped up by pieces of clothing, books, driftwood and anything else I could find to do the job. I had managed to break my tripod earlier at Milford Sound (more on that another time) which was somewhat restrictive, but also forced me to be creative and innovative in shooting on the last couple of days. I also discovered I have more confidence than is warranted in my ability to hand hold a camera for a 1/45 second exposure in strong winds. Another lesson learnt.

More thoughts on New Zealand and images to come.

 

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I spent a few days in and around Hobart recently enjoying some of Tasmania’s beautiful scenery and fresh air, not to mention food and wine while doing some scouting for a longer trip. Below is a gallery of images from Salamanca Market, Mt Field National Park around Hobart waterfronts as well as historic Richmond.

 

 

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I’ve always enjoyed looking at images in panoramic format and the epic sense of scale they give to a photo. But in terms of creating them, I’ve always put them in the “too hard” basket. I suppose I’ve always been more in love with the shooting part of photography than the post processing and put off trying this because of the sheer time involved.

Recently I decided to take advantage of some downtime to give panoramic photography a go, and am reasonably pleased with the results. I also have a new appreciation for Photoshop’s Adaptive Wide Angle filter.

Click on any of the above images to view them larger.

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I recently had to replace a remote shutter release and after reading some reviews online decided to try TriggerTrap.

TriggerTrap is an app and device that allows you to use remote shutter release via phone or tablet, and includes some features for doing fun things with long exposures which I haven’t yet had the chance to explore fully, but here are my first impressions.

The setup is as simple as downloading the app to your device and connecting to your camera via the headphone jack. You just need to turn the volume to full and you’re ready to go. The app itself is free to download, but you do need to order the right cable for your camera. There are dozens of different cables but the website has a search feature that lets you enter you camera make and model and be directed to the right cable. Prices vary slightly but are around $40 to $50AUD so no more expensive than a good cable release.

Once up and running, there are a number of different shutter release modes, for different situations. From a simple tap to take a picture, to hold down and release to shoot, to a timed release that allows you to dial in a specific shutter speed.

There are also some time lapse and HDR features that allow you to dial in specific intervals or exposure variations then trigger and just let the camera do its thing. This is something I’ve not done much of in the past but am looking forward to exploring more. Especially the star trail settings that set up a number of exposures of set duration with a specified gap between each. The images can then be blended later to create star trail photos while reducing noise.

I also found the calculators that are included to be pretty useful. These include a solar calculator which reads your GPS location from your device and calculates sunrise and sunset times, and a ND calculator to help choose the right shutter speeds when using ND filters.

Other features I haven’t been able to try out yet but are worth a mention are the ability to trigger via sound i.e. clapping or whistling, and wi-fi capabilities. 

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5 minute exposure using Timed Release mode

As for drawbacks, the only ones I found are related to using the phone or tablet itself and not necessarily the app itself.

We photographers often to silly things like stand waist deep in water or on precarious cliff tops to get an image, and having to have your phone with you is one more piece of equipment that you need to be concerned about.

You also need to stand and hold the device while the shutter is open as the cable is not that long. I did find myself wishing for some gaffa tape to attach it to my tripod somehow, although there is an accessory available to mount a phone to either a camera hot shoe or directly onto a tripod. I’d imaging that this is where the sound sensor or wi-fi triggers would be handy.

All in all I found this to be a good value cable release with some useful extra features. I’d recommend first downloading the free app and looking through the features to decide if they might be usefully for you before ordering the cable.

More info on the TriggerTrap website.

 

 

 

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