Redgate Beach Western Australia walking the Cape to Cape trail. I was walking from Bob’s Hollow to Redgate Beach. The day had started outed breezy but pleasant. Now it had suddenly turned stormy.
A blustery cold front was fast approaching the coast. Low scudding clouds moved rapidly across the sky. Dramatic displays of bright spots and dark shadows moved across the coastline. A break in the clouds low on the horizon gave a late burst of sunlight illuminating the foreground rock. The surrounding tidal patterns made gentle swirls in the sand.
The light was rapidly changing and I needed to move fast. It’s times like these that familiarity with your photographic gear really helps. Luckily my camera is very simple to set up. Basically it is just a wooden box with leather bellows. There is a lens at one end and a sheet film at the other.
It was already spotting with rain and the wind had picked right up. I quickly opened my tripod and got my wooden field camera from out of my day pack. At my back were some low dunes. These just sheltered me from the full blast of the wind but also restricted my movement for composition. But without this shelter it would have been almost impossible to focus my camera with my head under the focusing cloth.
Sometimes to get a memorable image you have to take your camera out into dramatic and changing weather conditions. Salt spray, sand and rain can all take a toll on your gear.
Making the exposure at just the right moment was critical. I wanted the pyramidal spray of distant surf breaking against Isaacs Rocks to be central in the horizon. Redgate Beach Western Australia was made with a single exposure on my last remaining 4×5 sheet for the day.
Velvia 4×5 inch film Wista Field Camera and 90mm lens.
Forest floor Porongurup National Park Western Australia. The weathered granite domes and outcrops of this range were formed deep underground when Australia collided with Antarctica to form Gondwana. In the valleys formed between the domes grow the most eastern remnants of karri forest.
Karri trees shed great strips of bark around Autumn and the forest floor was littered with it. Rain had dampened the bark further enhancing its deep red colour. Karri leaves also littered the floor and their bright yellow contrasted with the red bark.
I remember having to kneel down on my hands and knees for this image. The light level was so low in the rain that the exposure took about 2 minutes on velvia 4×5 inch sheet film.
Denmark Native Pigface Wilson Head Western Australia.
This beautiful headland near Denmark has views across the Wilson Inlet towards the stunning Nullaki Peninsula.
Hidden around this rugged headland are sheltered coves which afford some semblance of shelter from the prevailing winds. As a result the botanical diversity clinging to these sandy wind blown slopes is amazing. In a single square metre you will discover a myriad of small plants and bushes. This is especially noticeable around spring time when the different plants produce their distinctive flowers.
Most dominant are the striking pink or mauve flowers of the Native Pigface. This unfortunately named dune loving succulent has a yellow flowering South African relative. It is more common than the pink flowered variety. You can easily find South African variety growing profusely in coastal dunes around the west and south coasts.
Sundews South West Australia take their family name from the word Drosera. This family name refers to the plants’ dewdrop like sticky secretions. If you look carefully you will see them covering their leaves.
Most of the coastal regions have ancient soils and as a result are poor in trace nutrients. Sundews have evolved their own way of dealing with this problem by eating insects. Although they do not have teeth they are carnivorous plants.
Insects searching for food are attracted to the flowers. They become stuck in the delicate but highly sticky honey-like secretions. Unable to move the unfortunate bug is then digested by these secretions. This leads to the release of nutrients the sundew could otherwise not obtain from the soil.
Warren River Moons Crossing Pemberton. This is a popular camping and fishing spot with the locals within the Warren National Park. It is best approached by 4WD, especially in wet weather as the track is steep and parts can become slippery with mud. Fringed by towering karri forest the river alternates between broad open sections of slow moving water to shallow rapids over rocks and through tea tree thickets.
This image was used for a double page spread in my book about the landscape surrounding the Pemberton Wine Region.
In the days of the first Europeans moving into the area there were of course no roads or bridges. They traveled through the forest on horseback towing their belongings in a cart. Obstructed by the river they were forced to search for naturally shallow areas of the river they could cross. Moons’ Crossing is one such place.
1989 marked the publication of my West Australian Postcards series. Starting out with just one lens and one 35mm film camera I set about the self inspired project to make a postcard series of a region that I have been associated with all my life.
The common theme for the series was the coastal ribbon of national park located between Cape Leeuwin in the south and Cape Naturaliste in the north. The region is broadly referred to as the Margaret river Region. Scattered between the two capes are the coastal hamlets of Augusta, Hamelin Bay, Margaret River, Prevelly Park, Gracetown, Cowaramup, Smiths Beach, Yallingup and Dunsborough. Named after the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park, this was the first postcard series in Western Australia to focus on a national park and reserves theme.
Over 25 years and 1.5 million postcards later, I tell the story behind creating this award winning West Australian Postcard Series. Stormlight Publishing 25 years of south west postcards is a fascinating look at how I came to photograph, produce, publish and distribute postcards in a time prior to digital technology and mobile phones.
Southern Forests and Southern Coast Porongurup and Stirling Range Series
With the success of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Series I was able to expand the national park postcard range to include the Southern Forests Series, South Coast and Porongurup and Stirling Range Series. The card range eventually extended east to Esperance with Cape Le Grand National Park, and west to Albany near Torndirrup National Park. Neighboring Denmark and William Bay National Park followed. Postcards were added from the south west's mountainous regions: Porongurup Range near Mount Barker with the rugged Stirling Range National Parks. In the south west more postcards were made of D' Entrecasteaux National Park and Walpole Nornalup National Park near Walpole. The postcards also reached the forested regions of Northcliffe, Shannon National Park, Windy Harbour and Pemberton.
This makes it the most extensive West Australian postcards series of national parks to date.
Leeuwin Naturaliste - Southern Forests - South Coast Postcard Series
I finally got around to completing Stormlight Publishing 25 years of South West Postcards.
For those of you familiar with my work you would know that I have been publishing and distributing images of Western Australian national parks since 1989 under my imprint Stormlight Publishing. Many of these images have been as postcards, as well as greeting cards, posters, calendars and books.
When I started publishing my postcards series in 1989 I had no idea where or how far it would go. Postcards series specific to national parks did not exist in WA at that time. Some retailers were sceptical about selling images that were not of something. They wanted identifiable subjects such as a recognisable memorial or a building. It was said to me that they were just pretty images of nothing. Others asked me where these places were as they could not be local places.
Starting out with a 35mm film camera and one lens I set about creating a postcard series that endured for a quarter of a century. 1.5 million postcards later, I reflect on the processes behind creating this award winning national park postcard series in a time prior to the prevalence of digital technology and the social phenomenon of mobile phone “selfies”.
Luckily for me I found plenty of south west retailers willing to give the postcards a go. Even more lucky for me is that they sold. This allowed me to eventually produce images covering regions along the south west and southern coastline of Western Australia. These included Esperance, Albany, Denmark, Walpole, Pemberton, Northcliffe, Augusta, Margaret River, Yallingup, Dunsborough, the Stirling and Porongurup Ranges.
If you are interested in landscape photography or just appreciate the unique beauty of the national parks in south west Western Australia then you will enjoy this collection of 70 postcard images. I have a limited number of copies on hand which I can post within Australia, otherwise copies are available directly from Blurb.
Hard cover | dust jacket | 82 pages | 70 images full colour | 10 x 8 inches landscape
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.
8 tips to protecting camera gear backpacking
Some of the techniques I find useful when backpacking with camera gear are:
minimise weight: plan the photographs you are most likely to make and reduce your camera gear to the bare minimum
do not attach bags or other items to the outside of your pack, keep centre of gravity close to body
hand carry a light weight tripod - use it a hiking pole when necessary
use colour coded waterproof inner bags to keep like items together in your backpack
place camera gear at the top of backpack to minimise damage and give faster access
use padded wraps with velcro access around lenses and camera body
take lens cleaning tissue
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I commenced publishing the Leeuwin Naturaliste Series of postcards back in 1989 I started with just 11 cards. By the following year I was needing more new images. In particular, I needed images made in the 35mm film format I had designed my postcards around. As I explained in “25 years of south west postcards” cropping images from other camera formats that did not fit the 2:3 ratio posed a bit of a problem. I had been using 645 medium format and 4×5 inch large format well before 1989. Both have a similar aspect ratio and when I composed an image for that format it did not necessarily crop well into a 2:3 image for postcards.
So in 1990 I set about hiking about the south west with the only 35mm camera I had and a 28mm wide angle. The majority of the postcards I made over 25 years were produced with this single combination. Although I did own a 100mm short telephoto for my 35mm Pentax LX, I can’t recall taking it on a hiking trip with me. This may sound contradictory it was just a little too short for landscapes.
I arrived at Yallingup to a cool crisp winter morning, well before sunrise. There was a faint yellow glow in the east and a deep violet earth shadow descending across the western horizon. A light offshore breeze felt cold on my back as I set my camera up on a tripod and pointed it towards the west. In the distance far offshore the breaking surf was lit up by the first of the sun’s rays.
In the foreground slanting rocks facing the sun stretched out in small parallel lines into the ocean, drawing the eyes towards the breaking surf. The sun was slightly diffused through some cloud as it first lit the scene. I managed a few frames with the distant break working, before the sunlight broke through the cloud completely and the contrast became too high turning the shadow details to black.
Placing my camera inside my backpack and shouldering my tripod I continued my coastal walk to see what else might be around the corner. The light at this stage was fast losing its morning warmth and the movement of cloud predicted an overcast day was soon to follow. As I walked below Rabbit Hill at Yallingup beach the steeply angled light hit the plumes of spray blown off the tops of the waves.
I attached a zoom lens which I had borrowed from a friend. It was an odd 3rd party lens -I can’t remember its make- of around 140mm maximum focal length. At its maximum I managed to compose a small section of water below the cliffs in which the waves were breaking. Timing is everything in photographing breaking waves. The shutter speed has to be fast enough to “freeze” the image while the success of the composition is totally dependent on the placing of the waveform. Each sequence of waves offers a different image potential, no two sequences are the same. So I made a series of exposures from the same tripod position until the sun faded under the clouds and the lighting effect lost.
Both images were made on the same morning within an hour, yet show vastly different views. The Surf Rabbit Hill Yallingup, postcard was published in 1992, two years after I had published Yallingup Sunrise. Although it was made with a short telephoto lens it still required some cropping in the final drum scan. It became a hugely successful postcard card. Both images were made on Fujichrome 50 Professional RFP 35mm ISO 50, which I used up until the introduction of Velvia 50 ISO film not long after 1990.
I go for long walks in the bush or along the coast with my wooden field camera, a few sheets of film, a tripod and sometimes a tent and food. I like to take my time to absorb the environment, to rediscover and to reconnect. My direct involvement with the materials and techniques for making an expressive photographic print is of importance to me. I continue to develop my own films and hand print all my black and white silver gelatin prints in my darkroom. read more