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Protecting your camera backpacking Stirling Range Ridge Walk

Camera protection backpacking

Stirling Range Ridge Walk

Protecting camera gear backpacking is essential if it is to remain usable when traversing rugged environments. As you can see from the image below of the Third Arrow, the Ridge Walk terrain is challenging with a heavy pack. You should have a modern backpack with shoulder and hip harness. My advice is that all your gear should be stowed within your backpack.

I would avoid attaching bags or items on the outside of a backpack. In rougher terrain you may occasionally slide a pack down a slope in front of you or need to move down a slope with rocks jutting outwards into your pathway. Either way you do not want anything to snag on your pack or break. Worse still is unexpectantly falling because you to become unbalanced when turning your back.

Attaching gear to the outside of your pack moves the pack's centre of gravity further away from the body. This can result in addition strain on your back or again could cause you to lose balance. A simple rule of thumb, if you can't pack it in your backpack then you can't take it.

Stirling Range The Arrows
Stirling Range Third Arrow 4x5 field camera Velvia 50.
Protecting your camera backpacking
Protect your camera gear when backpacking

8 tips to protecting camera gear backpacking

Some of the techniques I find useful when backpacking with camera gear are:

  1. minimise weight: plan the photographs you are most likely to make and reduce your camera gear to the bare minimum
  2. do not attach bags or other items to the outside of your pack, keep centre of gravity close to body
  3. hand carry a light weight tripod - use it a hiking pole when necessary
  4. use colour coded waterproof inner bags to keep like items together in your backpack
  5. place camera gear at the top of backpack to minimise damage and give faster access
  6. use padded wraps with velcro access around lenses and camera body
  7. take lens cleaning tissue
  8. try to take items which can serve more than one purpose eg you might use your rain shell to double as a focus cloth, reducing weight and volume.

What would I change all these years later?

There have been massive changes in technology since my earlier ridge walks. There are mobile phones -although I am not suggesting you rely on them in the Stirling Range, there is GPS navigation, personal EPIRBS and of course there are digital cameras. Given the new professional quality digital cameras and software available there are more choices available for such arduous journeys.

If I was not making images for the calendar, the obvious choice to me would be one of the new mirrorless digital cameras with interchangeable lenses and a tripod. The later would benefit from being carbon fibre and therefore light weight. This would be far lighter than a current 35mm dSLR. If you are not concerned about the combination of electronics, cold, rain, grit and jarring, then by all means get out your scales and weigh up the options with a medium format digital such as Phase One.

If I wanted to use film in preference to digital it would be hard to go past the 4x5 sheet film format. Its camera system is simple and robust, able to withstand wet weather and dirt. Best of all it does not require batteries. Medium format film is also an option. The other alternative  35mm film camera. A tripod is still, in my opinion, essential for quality work. Galen Rowell made wonderful mountaineering photographs with 35mm Nikon and Kodachrome 64 (and then later Velvia 50).

 

Stirling Range Coyanarup Peak Western Australia
Grass trees below Coyanarup Peak Stirling Range

Navigation aids for Stirling Range maps compass

Navigation and Safety

Regardless of mobile phone and GPS I would still carry my maps and compass. With a map and compass you read the landscape that you are moving through rather than rely on a digital signal confirming where you have been. Given the affordability and compactness of new technology you should really have a mobile, GPS, maps, compass and these days a personal EPIRB with you, as well as a letting someone responsible know of your plans and when you should get back.

My final word on safety is that if you are planning to hike the Stirling Range Ridge Walk, do some research of the route first. You may want to look at the publications by AT Morphet. Use minimal impact bushwalking techniques which includes not lighting fires and disposing of your human waste properly. Go with a walking colleague of equal or greater experience than you.

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Stirling Range Ridge Walk Western Australia

Stirling Range Ellen Peak Pyungoorup The Arrows Australia

Stirling Range Ridge Walk with a field camera

Stirling Range Ridge Walk Bluff Knoll from eastern peaks

Horizon Calendar

In 1997 I was publishing my large format Horizon Calendar of West Australian landscapes. I had been photographing and hiking in the Stirling Range since the early 1980s with a 35mm film camera. But the Horizon Calendar images were all made from my 4x5 camera field camera using Velvia 50 iso sheet film. The calendar was printed on A1 paper stock here in Perth. The colour reproductions were superior to pro lab prints and the detail exceptional. Placing 35mm images along side 4x5 images in a calendar would harm its production value. I needed  to make 4x5 images on my hikes in the Stirlings. This was the dilemma confronting me on my in the pre-planning stage for a Stirling Range ridge walk in 1996.

Horizon Calendar Stormlight Publishing Alex Bond
Stirling Range images published in the Horizon Calendar

Stirling Range Ridge Walk

The Stirling Range Ridge Walk is a challenging walk even for experienced bushwalkers. It is an unmarked route through mountainous terrain with very limited water supplies. Weather conditions can change rapidly and visibility reduced to less than a metre if clouded in. There are many mobile phone black spots due to terrain and remoteness. Before undertaking the ridge walk you should have highly developed navigation skills, have a high degree of self sufficiency and be using appropriate outdoor gear. Research the Stirling Range ridge walk before attempting it. Be a competent maps and compass reader. Obviously a GPS now days would be a good idea and you should carry some first aid.

Preparations food water shelter

Hiking the Stirling Range ridge walk  requires some serious forethought in your pre-planning stage. Some hikers use caves for overnight shelter. My preference is a light weight alpine tent. This gives me further reach onto the ridge than where the caves are. Planning includes three days of food and fluids. I hope to find additional water en-route. Water cannot be guaranteed and if no water can be procured then it probably means abandoning the  walk at the first Arrow. You can also climb down to a spring and then climb back up with water.... if the spring is running.

Add a 4x5 field camera and a tripod into the above mix of prerequisites and your problems multiply. A heavy backpack can slow you down, is less manageable in rough terrain and tires you more quickly.

Working with a field camera presents its own unique set of challenges of volume and weight. The obvious concern is about camera weight. This is certainly a consideration, but you may be surprised to learn how heavy modern dSLRs and their lenses have become. A Canon EF 70-200mm digital zoom weighs 1.54kg. My 4x5 field camera weighs just 40 grams more! By comparison a 300mm Nikkor lens for 4x5 weighs about 390 grams, nearly the same as a Canon EF 50mm f1.4.

I restricted my food to 500 grams dry weight per day. To supplement the water I would need to find en-route I carried another 7 litres. Water was without doubt the single heaviest item I carried.

large format camera Stirling Range
1996 Author at Bluff Knoll on completion of ridge walk.

Camera basics

When using the 4x5 in this environment I cut down the camera gear to its bare minimum. I  study maps, estimate times of day and my position and think about the photographs I hope to make. What lens is needed? What is absolutely necessary and what can I leave at home?

My 4x5 kit consists of two lenses and two film backs. That is a maximum of 12 exposures on 4x5 inch film. So you are not going to blast those off in the first hour of hiking. I take a  light meter and focus cloth. Plus of course a tripod. It's rather pointless to make all this effort to walk the ridge if you can’t make the most of the photographic opportunities it presents. Up until the mid 2000s  I was using an aluminium Manfrotto 190. These days the price of light weight carbon fibre tripods has come down which I would certainly use in preference now.

In the next post I will give 8 tips to protecting camera gear when backpacking on extended camping trips.

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Contos spring Contos Beach Margaret River region

Contos spring contos beach

Contos Spring flows when the local limestone caves have received enough underground water. The spring seeps up out of the beach sand at the southern end of Contos Beach. Overhanging limestone cliffs dominate the beach and create a colourful and dramatic back drop especially towards evening.

On this particular evening there were several parties spread out on the beach enjoying the late sun and solitude. You can just make out a small dot on the far beach of one individual.

The foot prints in the foreground are testament to the beach’s popularity that day. Nearby is the Contos Beach camping ground and the Cape to Cape trail.

During this visit I made this image on 4×5 velvia film at 50iso using my wooden field camera. No filters required, image is as it appears on the transparency.

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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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Early morning photography Pemberton Western Australia

Lefroy Brook Pemberton

Early morning photography

Early morning photography provides the photographer with many opportunities. One such opportunity is this image of Lefroy Brook near Pemberton. It was the pay off for leaving my warm sleeping bag early, hiking along a dark track through karri forest with only my head lamp, until I came to my river location.

Scouting

When I headed out I new exactly where I was heading. My location was predetermined from the previous day’s walking and scouting for images. When I passed by this location the previous day the light came from behind me illuminating the scene. The direct sunlight made the shape and composition look too harsh in contrast.  To retain as many visual elements successfully in this composition I new I needed a quieter light. I was anticipating a sudden drop in the overnight temperature and combined with the body of water was expecting the possibility of mist rising from the river through the forest.

6×12 Roll Film Back

The evening before I selected equipment for the next day’s early hike. In my back pack I carried my 4×5 wooden field camera, two lenses and a 6x12cm Horseman Roll Film back loaded with Velvia 50 ISO. If the conditions were right I was planning on a double page spread image for my book, and the 6x12cm frame was the ideal format for this. This format allowed me to avoid the sky, the reason for which I’ll explain a little later. Other basic photo gear included my light meter, focus cloth, tripod.

The first dull blue-grey hues of morning light were barely perceptible when I arrived at my location. No real mist here, but there was a cool, calm stillness of the forest as it enveloped the steady sound of the brook. It was cold in the valley, and there would be no direct sunlight streaming through the forest canopy for several hours.

Leaning against my tripod surveying the scene before me, I could see some boulders near the river’s edge that could provide a good vantage point. In the dull glow of daybreak I picked my way carefully through undergrowth towards the rocks. Jamming my tripod legs at various angles onto the rocks, I confirmed my composition I had in mind. There would be no mist in this picture. Expectations had not matched what I was being presented with, time to let go of preconceptions and reconsider what is in front of me. I now wanted an image preserving the cool hues of this winter’s early morning photography.

Setting Up

I unfolded my wooden camera from my backpack and attached it to my tripod. The 90mm lens was chosen as it would give me a sufficient angle of view and afford me reasonable depth of field stopped down to f32. In this light with 50 ISO Velvia this was going to be a long exposure. With my head under the focus cloth I tried to focus the barely discernible image that projected upside down and back to front onto the ground glass. Under the focus cloth the ground glass fogged from my breath, obscuring my view.

Satisfied with my set up, I closed the lens shutter and set it to “B”. I read the scene in front of me with my one degree spot meter, allowing for adequate exposure in the low to mid tones. The 6x12cm format allowed me to compose an image avoiding expanses of sky which would have exceeded the film’s exposure latitude. Sometimes the best way to control excessive exposure latitudes is to exclude either the brightest or darkest elements from the composition. In this case I wanted to retain the darker, shadow details.

I don’t recall the exact exposure, but it would have been at least 60 seconds. Velvia, during exposures longer than one second displays a distinct colour shift towards blue-purplish hues. This film characteristic would enhance the coolness of the image.

The Final Spread

The image was published as a double page spread, with good shadow detail whilst retaining its “low light” atmosphere. With very little movement in the foliage and the lens stopped down, focus was maintained from the foreground rushes into the distance. The large film image holds plenty of detail and would work well in a larger image. If you are one who spends your mornings sleeping in you must try some early morning photography once in a while.

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Animal tracks Donnelly River south coast Pemberton Australia

Animal tracks Donnelly River
Animal tracks late evening

Animal tracks Donnelly River south coast Pemberton Australia. 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 on the remote south coast near Pemberton gave me a chance to explore a section of coastline. Sections of the coast are lined by limestone cliffs and just behind the sand dunes are wetlands, sedges and paperbarks. Beyond the paperbarks the landscape becomes drier and an ancient marri forest extends inland towards the rich loams that support the 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.

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

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Bull Creek tree ferns Cradle Mountain Valley

Bull Creek tree ferns

Bull Creek tree ferns is an image I am yet to print. It was made in 1988 on a friend’s property at Bull Creek,  in the Cradle Mountain Valley, Tasmania. We had spent a wet day hiking through myrtle forest and tree ferns on the slopes above Lake Cethana locating the old survey pegs.

In my backpack I had my wooden field camera, one lens (the only one I owned) and 6 sheets of film. The tripod I carried in hand was used more as a walking aid than for any photography. It was covered in dirt, mud and all manner of leaf litter, as I used it to support myself down steep slopes. I still have that tripod and it works fine, although these days I have opted for lighter ones.

During the day I used up my 6 sheets of film at various locations. Several images were made of Bull Creek in a deep valley where it runs through the property. Here the forest canopy was thick and light levels very low. Exposures ran to minutes even though I was using black and white film I had rated at 200 ASA.

Towards the end of our day the sun broke through briefly illuminating the forest and tree ferns with back light. I used my last 2 sheets of film making a vertical and horizontal format image of this scene. The image required additional exposure which it did receive, but did not receive reduced development, which it should. The exposure was several seconds, with a 90mm lens on a tripod. With split grade printing on multigrade (my preferred method), it should print up successfully into a 16×20 inch fibre based print.

At the time I made this image Bull Creek tree ferns, the property was pretty much in the back blocks, but now borders Lemonthyme Lodge.

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Bush – naming and possession

Bush Canning River Regional Park

The dust jacket of the book Gone Bush, edited by Roger McDonald, describes the Australian landscape as diverse. The writers’ essays in response to this landscape “explores a country defined by ideas of naming and possession”. In the next sentence if further elaborates that the collection of short stories by twelve Australian authors  also “… illustrates the fragility of an environment sometimes easier to hate than love….”.

The bush is a commonly used name for that area of relatively nondescript land covered in shrubs and vegetation. You can find remnants within the suburbs or it can also be a remote place far from any settlement. Unlike its fancier sister, Nation Parks, with her well defined borders, the bush is invisible on maps. Nor is it considered to hold any particular attractive natural feature or other value.

It is this invisibility and its relationship to the idea of naming and possession and therefore our perception of it that intrigues me. When further coloured with a love-hate sentiment it possibly flies under the radar of public scrutiny and enters the murky jurisdiction of bureaucrats. The area of land affected must be enormous. In European culture, maybe our problem is that we don’t have a name for this land. Not only does the nameless remain unspeakable, by definition it can be of no value and so it remains invisible to our psyches.

dumping rubbish bush canning river

 

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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 Walpole Nornalup Australia

Paperbark Walpole Nornalup Australia

Paperbark Walpole within the Walpole Nornalup National Park Western Australia. Paperbarks are easy to recognised. The trees’ smooth white papery barks contrast against the deep green backdrop that is the heavily forested Walpole. The region is renowned for its towering karri forest and tingle trees with enormous girths. The paperbarks reside on the margins of these giants, often in the swamps and wetland areas. Their tenacity for life and their reserve are expressed in their roots, much like the lines of face. There are interesting shapes formed by root diversions, overlaps, twists, unexpected angles and knots, an analogy of a life lived.