Donnelly River Pemberton

The distant boat was the only means of access from my campsite to the coast. I spent 3 days photographing in the area. This my last night at the mouth of the Donnelly River, in the D'Entrecasteaux National Park

This was my last night at the mouth of the Donnelly River Pemberton. 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 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. There were two layers of high and low cloud traveling towards each other, as if to collide.

Definitely a cold front on the way. The fast-moving cloud thickening and the western horizon is 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. It is in these unpredictable weather conditions that you can witness some of the most spectacular changes in light.

I grabbed my camera bag and tripod, placed them in the dinghy. Heading downstream I reached 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. Could there be 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. I was planning to use 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 quick exposures in relatively short succession. Setting a predetermined aperture and shutter I then covered the camera in a plastic bag to protect it from the wind-borne sand. I waited.

It was getting late and with the sun setting and it looked like my chance of capturing dramatic light was fading. 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 lost 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 in my book Pemberton Wine Region.

Wista 4×5 field camera, 6×12 roll film back, Velvia 50 ISO film. Photographic prints of Donnelly River Pemberton 15 x 30 inch and larger available.

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Since 1989, Alex Bond has published cards, calendars, books, and posters under his imprint Stormlight Publishing. His images showcase the West Australian environment. Bond's handcrafted, silver-gelatin, fibre-based prints are personally made by the author in his darkroom.
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