“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
I spent a few days recently at Port Campbell, home of the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road.
The 12 Apostles are one of those locations that is always packed with photographers. Especially at sunset, it is hard to find a small square of real estate on one of the viewing platforms to set up a tripod. Its a bucket list kind of location.
Many people though pack up and head home when they’re done shooting the Apostles without taking the time to explore some of the other less well known but just as worthwhile landmarks. Being just before holidays start, most of the area was fairly quiet, except for the Apostles themselves which is constantly packed with tour busses.
Although I did fit in one session at the main attraction, this trip, I tried to spend more time exploring other parts of the coastline, and there is lots more to see. This wallpaper image is from London Bridge (no, not that one).
Just click on your resolution to download and please hit “Like” below if you do.
I’ve made some recent additions to the Portfolios section of the website. Included are a new gallery of images from my recent visit to Vietnam as well as some more recent landscapes from Far North Queensland and Victoria’s Phillip Island to the Wild section.
Please check out the updated galleries by clicking HERE.
While in Saigon recently I was lucky to join up with Adam and the team from Saigon Unseen for their Moto Foto Tour.
The Moto Foto tour is an essentially Vietnamese experience where you are guided around several locations in Ho Chi Minh City on the back of a motor taxi and depending on your level of experience, spend time learning photography or accessing some great photo locations off the tourist path.
The first location we visited was an open air café in a park, where over caphe sua dah, we discussed camera techniques and composition before moving on to make some photos of people practicing tai chi then back on the bikes for a visit to Ba Chieu Market in Binh Thanh District.
This is a thriving, colourful local market packed full of characters, most of them more than happy to be photographed. On a couple of occasions I was practically kidnapped by some guy wanting me to make some photos of his family and friends. They asked for nothing in return, for them the reward was simply the pride of having their family photographed.
We spent a magical couple of hours wandering the narrow alleys of the market laughing with the locals, playing with children and making many, many photos.
Following the market, and in the middle of a downpour where we had to stop the bikes to put on ponchos we headed to Jade Emperor Pagoda where the mood was somewhat more subdued.
It was difficult to adjust from the rush and fast pace of the market, to the muted atmosphere of the temple, with its dark corners and fading beauty, but that is one of the challenges of travel photography.
Overall this was an insightful half day that reminded me how much fun hanging out with other photographers can be. Enthusiasm is infectious and even after the best part of 2 weeks in Vietnam photographing daily, I came away with a renewed energy.
Click an image above to open a gallery.
More information on Saigon Unseen’s tours can be found HERE.
Back home from Vietnam and starting on the process of cataloguing, keywording selecting and developing a new batch of images for release into the big wide world. It’s a lengthy process but I think I’ve worked out a workflow to get them out there in good time.
As for Vietnam, this was my first visit and what I found was a beautiful country full of warm, friendly, hardworking and industrious people. We started in chaotic Hanoi dodging motor scooters in the Old Quarter before heading to Hue, an ancient capital full of history. Then on to Hoi An with its beautifully preserved old town before finishing in Ho Chi Minh City (still Saigon to its friends).
The only disappointment was not being able to visit Ha Long Bay due to a cyclone. That one will have to wait until next time.
I’ll post more on the experience in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, here are a couple of things I learnt:
1. In a location where sights, sounds, smells and textures can be overwhelming, often the best thing to do is choose a theme for photography and stick to that for the session. We always talk about broadening our vision, but we can do this in small steps. Try looking for interesting faces in the morning, colours and textures in the afternoon and movement and motion in the evening. I found that this way I was able to capture a broad range of subject without becoming overawed by every detail around me.
2. Vietnamese coffee is one of the best inventions in the history of humans.
3. You can fit anything onto the back of a motor scooter.
Lastly, I’ve made the above image into a new desktop wallpaper to enjoy. Just click on your resolution to download and please hit “Like” below if you do.
Things have been a little quiet around here lately, and they’re about to get even quieter for the next couple of weeks. I’m about to board a plane for Hanoi, Vietnam where I have the chance to visit a place I have wanted to see for a long, long time: Halong Bay.
Following that, I’ll be heading south an planning to stop and photograph at Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City with a detour to the Mekong Delta.
I hope to come back with some new images, stories and lessons learnt to share, unless I get too distracted by the food to pick up a camera. That could happen.