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Frenchman Peak Cape Le Grand Esperance Woolly Net-bush

frenchman peak Calothamnus genus cape le grand national park esperance

Frenchman Peak

Frenchman Peak is an exposed coastal granite peak located in the Cape Le Grand National Park. From the summit you have 360 degree views of this remote national park and its stunning coastal scenery. The peak is an important place in local Aboriginal culture and is named Mandooboornup. It was the surveyor Alexander Forrest in 1870 who gave it the European name Frenchman Peak.

Granite domes and white sand

I made this image during a visit to Frenchman Peak in 1990. My tent was set up at Lucky Bay camp ground just set back from the beach. This is one of many stunning coves and beaches within the park. Other nearby coves include Thistle Cove and Hellfire Bay. All the beaches have fine squeaky white sand that is blindingly bright in direct sunlight. These sands amplify the clarity of the Southern Ocean turning the beaches almost turquoise in colour. Bald granite domes dominate the headlands, punctuating the beginning and end of each bay. In those days the beaches were almost deserted in the off peak season. I rarely saw more that one or two cars a day.

Taking time to explore

I spent several days walking along the coast and nearby peaks with my view camera in my back pack and my tripod resting on my shoulder. On this day I had hiked the slopes of Frenchman Peak, stopping frequently along the way to explore anything visually appealing. I found some interesting displays of moss gardens and pincushion plants as they tenaciously clung to life on the granite slopes.

The day had started off bright and sunny with a steady onshore breeze. By the time I had arrived at the summit the clouds had rolled in and the breeze dropped right off.

Distance versus detail

This change in light also changed the whole nature of my surroundings. The dominant glare of distant beaches was replaced by a softer presence. As my eyes adjusted to the light foreground objects became more detailed. The bright distant beaches diminished in their dominance. Distance was giving way to foreground details and objects. Shadows opened up to reveal delicate details of stone texture, wood grain, leaf litter and bright red flowers. The foreground colour also appeared more saturated than when in direct bright sunlight. The red Calothamnus flowers contrasted brightly against the verdant green.

Conscious recognition

After marveling at the coastal views afforded to me along the trail I now found myself staring instead at the composition in front of me. It was a strange moment of realisation as I became conscious that this was a photographic composition. My problem was that where I was positioned there was a steep rocky slope at my back. I could not climb it to gain height (or a tripod footing), nor could I move back and gain subject distance.

Saved by simplicity

I would just have to make the best of the situation. My camera kit consisted of only one lens, a 90mm Grandagon. For the first six years which I owned a 4×5 camera this was the one lens I possessed. This focal length has wider angle of view than a normal 150mm lens, allowing me to include more of the subject into the composition under such cramped conditions. I simply accepted that I had to make the composition work with what I had. Sometimes after lots of effort a composition just doesn’t work. However, on this occasion I think it does.

Frenchman Peak summit

Placing my chin over the centre of the tripod I placed it into the position I thought best worked for the image. Pulling my wooden 4×5 field camera from my ruck sack I set it up on the tripod. Then I quickly added my 90mm lens and with my head under the focus cloth brought the image into focus on the screen. In the low light the white lichen on the rocks took on a gentle glow. Shadows opened up with delicate details. And the red of the claw flowers stood out against the green. The image imparted a sense of stillness and peace which I was feeling at the summit.

I carefully measured the scene for exposure using my one degree spot meter. I made a single exposure on Fujichrome 100. With only 12 sheets of 4×5 colour transparency film for the entire 4 day trip my exposures were frugal.


When I finally saw the processed chrome at home on my light box I was initially delighted. Everything was better than I had hoped for. The contrast range and colour was just held within the film’s range. Only there was one problem. A speck of dust was photographed into the top left hand corner of the sky. Dust is always a problem with sheet film for two reasons. First, film substrate can become electrostatically charged with handling, thereby attracting dust. And second, the film’s large surface combined with manually loading of each sheet into a film holder also increases its exposure risk to airborne dust.

Roll films on the other hand do not suffer from dust imperfections so frequently. On the other hand 120 roll films and 35mm cassettes are loaded at the film factory in a dust free laboratory environment.


Imperfections are part of the film photography’s material process. I accept that I much rather have made the image with its dust than have no image at all. I eventually printed an original cibachrome 12×16 print of Frenchman Peak from this transparency in a friend’s darkroom. That fine speck of dust is visible but you have to really look for it. It is just a reminder to me about the medium of photography. Mastering your control of materials is awesome but in the real world things still happen outside of your control . These days you can easily remove dust from a digital scan with just a click of the mouse using photoshop. No need for a second thought. Maybe that’s a loss to the skill of craftmanship?

I am guessing at the identity of the bush on the summit of Frenchman Peak. Based upon an Esperance Wildflower Blog site I think it may be Woolly Net-bush – Calothamnus villosus (check out this useful site) . If you know for sure let me know.

Wista 4×5 wooden field camera, 90mm Rodenstock Grandagon lens, Fujichrome 100 4×5

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Albany South Coast Western Australia 4×5 Field Camera

Albany south coast Andersonia sprengelioides

Albany south coast, Andersonia sprengelioides

Albany south coast is one of my favourite locations. When the summer weather sets in, Perth can get hot.  The region offers a refreshing cool change with dramatic coastal scenery. Even in summer, small low pressure systems brush the coast near Albany. The change in weather not only means cooler temperatures but also changes in the quality of light.

Light Quality

I often think of light qualities in terms such as painterly, mysterious, dramatic, soft or hard. Approaching weather changes can provide a mixture of rapidly changing light qualities. That’s what makes photographing during periods of change interesting and challenging.

Cliff Tops

I was walking along the granite cliff tops near Albany when I made this image. It was late in the day and the sun was about to set.  The light was angled low casting deep shadows between boulders. In contrast to the deep shadows bare granite rocks glistened almost white. This is a high contrast scene that taxes your ability to record it on colour transparency. Interesting light is nearly always photographically problematic.

Colourful Coastal Heath

As I looked towards the direction of the setting sun I saw the various hues of green, brown, crimson and delicate white tips carpeting the foreground. Thanks to The Wildflower Society WA members who helped identify the ground cover is Andersonia sprengelioides rather than Andersonia caerulea as I had originally thought.

Tech: Wista 4×5 field camera, velvia 50 ISO, 90mm Grandagon lens, no colour filter.

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Back beach south coast Western Australia

coral vine beach Denmark Western Australia


Nearly every coastal town has a back beach, the one that is less popular with the visitors, but well known to the locals. It is usually accessed via a dirt track off the bitumen leading somewhere over the dunes.

Unlike the local surfers and fishers, I don’t use a 4WD, so I hike along the coast with my camera and tripod in my backpack. It takes a bit longer to get to my destination (OK, sometimes several hours longer), but in that time I get to see and appreciate a lot of things on the way.

Like the subtle changes in the landscape, the way the foliage and bush changes as I slowly advance towards the coast. Or perhaps which wild flowers are out and what bushes, trees and shrubs are flowering. The direction of the wind, the sun on you skin, the quality of the light, the softness of the sand beneath your boots, and the general quietening of your mind. These are all factors in influencing your mood, your perception for photography.

As you walk, you build up to a moment where a photograph presents itself to you, like a bubble that has risen to the surface. On a beautifully calm morning, how could I resist the intense red of the sprawling coral vine, with distant surfers riding the waves? Back beach Denmark region, south coast WA.

wooden folding wista  field camera 4×5, with 6x9cm roll film back, velvia 50ISO.

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Tracks Donnelly River south coast Pemberton Australia

Animal tracks Donnelly River
Animal tracks late evening

D’Entreacasteaux National Park

Tracks Donnelly River south coast Pemberton Australia was made at sunset. When you head south from Manjimup on the South Western Highway you cross the  Donnelly River.  It’s a short bridge barely wider than the highway.  Blink and you’d miss it. But downstream the Donnelly River is majestic. It passes quietly through dense tea tree before snaking around limestone cliffs to meet the Southern Ocean.

If possible I like to spend a bit of time in a location so that I can observe it at different times of the day and under different weather conditions. Several days and nights spent at this remote spot on the south coast near Pemberton gave me a chance to explore a section of coastline.

Sections of the coast are lined by limestone cliffs. Just behind these are sand dunes, wetlands, sedges and paperbarks. Beyond the paperbarks the landscape becomes drier. Here ancient marri forest extend inland towards the rich loams that support towering karri forest.

These landscape transitions between beach, fresh water, sedges, wetlands and forests provide a rich ecosystem through which a variety of animals move. Early morning and late evening are good times to observe that movement as the animal tracks become visible.

The almost pure white sand takes on the pink sunset colours reflected off clouds above. The sun’s low rays accentuating the sand’s wind swept pattern cutting diagonally across the animal tracks. Tracks Donnelly River represents on one hand the emptyness of the coast. Yet on the other hand there is clear evidence of life, even if it’s not always observed.

Velvia 120 roll film in a 6x12cm back and my wooden 4×5 field camera.

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Houseboat Walpole Nornalup Inlet Western Australia

Houseboat Walpole Nornalup Inlet Australia

Houseboat Walpole on the Nornalup Inlet. You will have to squint to see the houseboat it is the white spec on the left. This image needs to be big to enjoy it! One of the few mornings when I have found Nornalup Inlet to be totally smooth and not a breath of wind, although higher up the clouds were streaming inland. Who ever was on the hired houseboat moored to the island had a stunning morning vista to wake up to. I sat at Sandy Beach and enjoyed the peace and quiet of this south west inlet. Walpole Nornalup Inlet is popular with anglers, walkers and is part of the Walpole Nornalup National Park. Houseboat Walpole was photographed on 6x12cm velvia film and is available as 15×30 inch photograph and larger.

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Reflections Walpole Nornalup Australia

Walpole Nornalup Australia

Reflections Walpole Nornalup Australia. I am sometimes asked how I set out to make a particular landscape photograph. The impression is that I control the conditions under which I photograph. This is of course far from the case. I have no control over the conditions I will find on location. That does not mean I don’t plan for a successful image. I will look at maps prior to visiting an area, even if I have been there before. I will consider the time of year, what time and direction the landscape will be receiving light. It is my opinion that it is an error to enter a landscape with a preconceived idea of an intended photograph. Weather conditions on the day may thwart your plans. Your preoccupation with a preconceived idea may make you oblivious the other opportunities that are present. On this morning I had walked to a location to prepare for a sunrise image. The clouds obscured the rising sun and I did not make the intended image. Upon returning to my camp the clouds had advanced swiftly across the sky allowing breaks for the sun to shine through. At ground level the air was still and the inlet’s surface a mirror in which the clouds were reflected. In this instance those same clouds which obscured my preconceived photograph  became the subject of this unexpected composition instead.  Reflections Walpole Nornalup Inlet, within the Walpole Nornalup National Park Western Australia and is available as a limited edition 16×20 inch photograph and larger.

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Paperbark Tree Walpole Nornalup Australia

Paperbark tree Walpole Nornalup Australia

Walpole Nornalup National Park

Paperbark tree, photographed near Walpole reflects the tranquility on a quiet afternoon. Everything was still which is unusual. It’s right near the coast where you can hear the sound of the southern ocean’s pounding waves in the distance. Although there was no breeze where I stood, late afternoon clouds move across the sky blocking the setting sun.

I relish quiet moments.  My eyes scan the landscape. It is almost an unconscious process and unhurried. There is no immediate purpose in my mind. Thoughts float in and out without judgement as I absorb the visual information in front of me. After a while I become more conscious of my eyes being drawn repeatedly back to a particular area. This is the birth signs of the thought “would this be interesting to photograph?”. I guess in a nutshell this is what drives me to photograph. Is the visual information I’m receiving interesting to me? If so let’s explore it. Where will this photographic journey take me? In a way all photographs are an exploration of ones self as the photographer.

Personal Exploration

Paperbark tree is one such personal photographic exploration. How do I find a visual balance between key elements that I find important? The emphasis here is on “what I find important”. Yes, photography really is discriminatory.  It is by nature prejudicial because it is one person’s view. You have to decide what elements to include within your view or frame. That very act of inclusion is matched by what you exclude. So here, in a quiet moment within the Walpole Nornalup National Park, I was exploring my thoughts through photography.

Paperbark Tree

You can easily recognise paperbark trees. They have smooth creamy white papery bark. Sometimes sheets of papery bark are shed from the trunk and branches. Their white trunks and branches glow in the low angled morning and evening light. They create a stark visual contrast to the backdrop to a sea of green formed by the towering forests around Walpole. The region is renowned for its majestic karri forest and tingle trees of enormous girths. You will find the paperbarks residing on the margins of these giants, often in the swamps and wetland areas.


Paperbark tree shows a tenacity for life. At the base of the tree is a tangle of twisted tree roots. There are interesting shapes formed by root diversions, overlaps, twists, unexpected angles and knots. To me they are like lines in a face, a metaphor of a life well lived.

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Karri forest Walpole Nornalup Inlet Western Australia

Karri forest Walpole Nornalup Australia

Karri forest Walpole on the Nornalup Inlet. One of the more unusual locations where you find a small section of beach and karri forest up to the water’s edge. The Nornalup Inlet at Walpole has many moods, wild and woolly when those southerlies come blasting through, peaceful calm to misty and mysterious. There are two forested knolls that create the narrow channel between the Walpole Inlet and the Nornalup Inlet. Their steep dark slopes provide the perfect back drop to highlight the karri trees’ smooth creamy bark. During Spring you can find many delicate wildflowers growing in the forest understorey.  About hand made silver prints.

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Paperbark roots Walpole Nornalup Western Australia

Paperbark roots Walpole Nornalup Western Australia

Paperbark roots Walpole: located about 400km south of Perth, on the south coast, surrounded by magnificent karri and tingle forests, several rivers and two large inlets, Walpole Inlet and Nornalup Inlet. This photograph was made in the few remaining minutes of daylight, with me struggling to focus and compose an image on the ground glass screen that is not only upside down and back to front, but dark as well (the largest lens aperture was using was F6.8). Part of the process of composition in landscape photography is to find order within what we perceive to be disorder, and this tangle of paperbark roots at Walpole certainly provided an enjoyable challenge. About hand made silver prints.

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Donnelly River Pemberton

Donnelly River Pemberton

I was weighing up whether I should go or not, stay put and relax as the day draws to a close or get my backpack and tripod ready and head out?  The cloud had been building steadily all day with an increasing south westerly wind and now, in the late afternoon it was completely overcast. This was my last night at the mouth of the Donnelly River, in the D’Entrecasteaux National Park of WA. I could either stay put and get myself warm and settled for the night or I could use this last evening of this trip and see if there was an opportunity to make a final sunset photograph. The wispy high level clouds had all but disappeared behind darker, lower clouds marching over the horizon. I stared upwards trying to read the sky, watching the two layers of high and low cloud travel in opposite directions, as if to collide with each other. Definitely a cold front on the way. With the fast moving cloud thickening, and the western horizon becoming steadily darker I didn’t have high hopes of making an image before the end of the day, if anything it looked like I was going to get wet. But one thing is for sure, if you don’t go out and try then the result is definitely no photograph. But it is in exactly these unpredictable weather conditions that you can witness some of the most spectacular changes in light.

I grabbed my camera bag and tripod, put them in the dinghy and travelled down river to the wide sandbar that partially blocks the flow of the Donnelly River into the Southern Ocean. I anchored in the crystalline white sand and studied the limestone cliffs hoping to find a reflection in the tannin stained river if the sun should re-appear. The wind was picking up making it difficult to keep the camera gear clear of fine sand particles. Looking back towards the dinghy, I set up my Wista 4×5 field camera and a Calumet 6×12 roll film back loaded with 50 ISO Velvia. The roll film 6x12cm format suited the composition best and would possibly allow me 2 quick exposures in relatively short succession. Setting a pre determined aperture and shutter I then covered the camera in a plastic bag to protect it from the wind borne sand, and waited.

It was getting late with the sun setting and it looked like my chance of capturing some dramatic light was fading with every second that passed. Then the unexpected happened, for a brief moment a break in the cloud let a small sweeping sliver of light trace a path down along the coast. Removing the bag I cocked the shutter and waited for the sweep of light to hit the sand dune mound in the middle of the bar. I released the shutter,  exposed the film for one second, replaced the double dark and wound on the next frame. By then the light had gone completely, there would be no second image and sheets of rain were coming.

That night back at camp I cleaned my camera gear by candle light. In the relative quiet between the showers of rain I could hear various frogs calling in the dark and the lone call of a mopoke owl. Tired, I settled into my sleeping bag with the satisfaction of knowing that I had not foregone an opportunity to make a final image during my stay,  by making the effort of  being ready and just being out there.

Are you creating similar opportunities for your photography? Twelve months later I published this image as a double page spread.