Last week I moved to Australia. Can you believe I just said that so flippantly?! If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook this may not come as a surprise to you. If you don’t, it quite likely does! The story behind our move is probably one for another time. For now I just wanted to say ‘hello’ and share a few initial thoughts on our first week here.
Blue Skies. What the...?
It’s fair to say that photographically I was apprehensive about making the move to the bottom of the world. Burning sunshine, bright blue skies and red rocks seemed to be the antithesis of what I’d adopted as a dark, moody, and desaturated photographic style in the UK.
Of greatest concern to me was the weather. Blue skies lack all of the mood and drama that get me excited. It is said that the worst time to make photographs is in the middle of the day, and I rarely venture out during the day unless the weather is poor. I've been worried that Australia would be like shooting in the middle of the day all of the time.
Yet the creative spirit rises to a fresh challenge. Whilst my style is certain to evolve, I'm confident that the experience will be a positive one. A totally fresh photographic adventure, another step on the journey.
I’m relieved to say that after a week here I’ve already found ample photographic opportunities - and even some clouds and fierce waves! - and have really enjoyed numerous forays along the coast from my base here in Yamba NSW. Already I’m confident my photography will prosper rather than suffer. Indeed I’m now actively relishing the prospect.
Until you get here it's difficult to comprehend just how big this country is. Ok, you know it's big, but the scale of the place is incredible. It's the world's 6 largest country at nearly 8 million km2. Contrast that with the UK's 242,900 km2 and you begin to appreciate that a 'long drive' to Scotland for a photo trip is like a trip to the shops here! Ok, not quite, but being 4 hours from Brisbane and 10 hours from Sydney there are a lot of kilometres to cover to get anywhere.
Where I'm based we're surrounded by national parks. Compared to the UK, national parks are very common and unsurprisingly very large in Australia. Nonethless they're still a bit of a drive away. I have a couple very local to me (one within 5 mins drive) but it's inland to the mountainous wilderness of the New England Tablelands that I find myself strongly drawn to.
Part of the mountainous spine running down eastern Australia known as the Great Dividing Range, the New England Tablelands are the largest highland area in Australia. Most people don't think of Australia as being mountainous thinking instead of beaches and vast desert but these are proper mountains. For example Round Mountain is 1,586m making it 242m higher than Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain. There are 25 national parks here, 3 of which are World Heritage Sites. The opportunities that lie up there are mind bending. Plus one of the national parks is Guy Fawkes National Park, named after my great great something uncle, so I have to go don't I?
The downside is that although these are 'close by' they are still several hours away from me here. Whilst I expect to visit them regularly it will be relatively infrequently, spending several nights under canvas to make the most of it.
I don't believe in over-travelling to make photographs. Setting aside the environmental concerns, I think finding locations to work with nearby is important for repeated and frequent visits. This also provides a more personal challenge to produce more intimate and deeply satisfying images than relying on dramatic and iconic locations alone, and helps with my creative progression.
So I'll be picking my way along my little stretch of coast. We sit on the mouth of a large river, the Clarence, with a ferry required to cross. A five minute drive to the south is Yuraygir National Park which at 65km is the longest stretch of undeveloped coast in New South Wales. So I've got between here and there to work with before I have to pack the tent and pull on the hiking boots (which I will of course!).
Hey Dude, Where's My Twilight?
Beyond the size and the seemingly perpetual sunshine, the other thing that has struck me so far about Australia is how short twilight feels and how quickly the sun rises.
This morning I was climbing over rocks by head torch only 30 minutes before sunrise. Once the sun is up, it rises into the sky very quickly giving the ‘middle of the day’ problem of high contrast white light. In the UK I would expect to be shooting for up to an hour before the sun came up.
At the other end of the day the sun sinks and darkness seems to set in unbelievably quickly. One minute I’m making an image, the next I’ve got the head torch on trying to find my way back to the car. We don’t so much get a Blue Hour and a Golden Hour as 30 minutes but Golden Half Hour doesn’t sound quite as good!
The weather also reduces the shooting window. Post-sunrise in the UK you often get more usable light due to ample cloud cover. This is one reason I love being out when it’s cloudy. If it’s overcast you can basically shoot all day. So far I’ve experienced little cloud cover so the light quickly turns harsh forcing me to pack up the camera. Of course part of my adaption to this new landscape will be making best use of this light. I don't believe there is such a thing as 'bad light' rather it's about adapting your approach to the available light.
Nonetheless as a Scot living in one of the wettest parts of the UK, bright sunshine is a bit alien to me and definitely provides me a challenge. With time I expect my images will become lighter, and will play on light and shadow and the graphic shapes they produce. I am also sure that I will be ever more grateful for the short windows of blue offered to me by twilight.
Some Images to Finish With
Anyway that’s a few opening thoughts on my time here. It’s a big country, full of fresh wonder and adventure for me. Already my early apprehension is fading, filled with renewed confidence and excitement that I can produce some great work here. I hope that you stick with me to see some of the results.
Here are some images from the last week. You can see more in my freshly created Australia gallery.