Shot Planning for the Strawberry Moon

Last month I missed the full moon by a day. The following evening I watched it rise an hour after sunset into darkness. It was quite magical. I determined I would go out on the next full moon, rising mere minutes before sunset in the hope of something interesting.

June's full moon is called the Strawberry Moon. Not, as it happens, because it turns pink as many are led to believe. Rather it's the name given by Native American Indians because it marks the start of the strawberry picking season (see here or here).

I've spent a lot of time back on the beach at Angourie since that night, mostly around Mara Creek. My first inclination was to return to there. I have  something in mind for a rising full moon with the creek rippling in the foreground. Yet I was concerned that with so much time spent there recently I might end up making something derivative of the rest. I almost felt like I'd gone too far down a tunnel and might be becoming blind to other possibilities.

Deciding that a change is as good as a break, I chose to go to a different location. I say different but it still a familiar location as I tend to revisit the same half dozen places local to me that I've developed an affinity for.

I thought back to an image I made in March that I titled Eternity. This was made just a bit further north, on the rocks by what are known as the Blue Pools. The shot then was of a near new moon just before sunrise, sitting above the channel through the rocks. I wondered if I could use these rocks and that channel in a similar composition with the full moon rising. The key question of course was would the moon be in the right position this time around?


Tip: if you use TPE ( on iOS you can "Add to calendar" in the Sharing options (the box with the upwards arrow in top corner) to set a reminder in your calendar for a particular shot you have planned out.

I like to use The Photographer's Ephemeris ( on web and iOS to help me plan my photographic outings. However on anything but a grand scale the maps lack the resolution to see a particular composition. Typically I use TPE to give myself a high-level understanding of where the sun and moon will be, and so how it might interact with the landscape of a location.

Normally I know the location, and can fuse the knowledge from TPE with my experience of a place to reassure me of its potential. I think of myself as a 'finder'. By that I mean I like to go out and find things for myself. I find it can be difficult to repeat shots I've made before as so many elements tend to be different - light, weather, tide, my mind - and so try to find fresh things each time.


Screenshots of TPE showing the sun and moon positions on 19th March (top) and 2nd June (bottom). In the top image, the line of interest is the thin dark blue line above the yellow one which shows the moon’s position at the time I have selected (06.14). In the bottom image, the light blue line towards south east shows where the moon will rise.

But on this occasion I wondered if I could improve on or, more accurately, create a complement to Eternity. I decided to use TPE to reverse engineer the photograph to see if a recreation might be possible. The photograph's metadata in Lightroom told me that I made that photograph at 06.14 on 19th March. TPE lets you see the sun/moon position for any time & date in the past or future, so I rewound the TPE clock back to 19th March. This told me that the moon was 90.1 degrees. Fast forward to Tuesday 2nd June, and the moon would be rising at 109.7 degrees - almost 20 degrees difference which I knew meant the same shot wasn't possible.

[A less instinct led and more scientific based approach would probably consider the angle of view (Aov) of the lens I was using (Zeiss 21mm) to determine quite where the full moon would be in relation. But remember, I'm a finder!]



As another check, I opened up another photograph from this spot, this time looking further south. In TPE I dropped the secondary pin on Angourie Headland which is visible on the horizon. TPE told me this was at 137.8 degrees. So the moon was going to rise towards the left hand side of this photograph. With the channel still prominent in the foreground here I was reassured that even if my initial idea wasn't going to work that I could make something of it.

My final part of planning was checking the tide. Whilst there are many possibilities in the rocks at this spot, given I was after a 'certain look' I wasn't sure I could fulfil my own brief. More importantly, these rocks are prone to getting battered by the sea and rogue waves occasionally wash right up the rock slabs. Angourie translates to "Noisy Ocean" and is a surf reserve for good reason! If the sea didn't behave, I might not be able to get to the rocks in question and even if I could I might not be able to move freely on them.

The tides on 19th March (top) and 2nd June (bottom). The tide was lower on the 2nd but with more of a swell there were some decent sized waves washing up the rocks.

Comparing the tide tables for 19th March and 2nd June I could see that the tide would be lower and that I should be ok. I packed the car and drove the mere 5km down the road to Angourie.

Upon arrival, I noted a layer of cloud on the horizon that would assuredly block the moon's initial rise. Despite clear skies forecast and above me it's always what's on the distant horizon that catches you out.

I managed to get onto the rocks I wanted without problems, and started setting up. I checked out the channel and there were a few potential compositions as well as confirming that my original composition wouldn't work (using TPE on my phone I could see the moon would be out of shot).  I don't tend to get too fixated on a certain composition, set-up and wait. When photographing by the sea possibilities come and go by the minute and you may even find your position swamped by the time the 'big moment' arrives. I tend to spend time looking about to find different possibilities rather than fixating on one shot.

Part of my finder instinct is that if something catches my eye I go for it. Quite often I go out with one idea of what I'll photograph and return with something quite different. So it was here as I watched the big waves rolling in, the light of the setting sun catching their spray as it filtered through the palm trees behind me. I pulled out my 100-400mm lens and started adding to my series of "Waveforms", a combination of "short long exposures", panned and ICM wave portraits.



As the moment of moonrise approached, I switched back to the 24-70mm and started to re-check compositions along the edge of the channel, paying particular attention to the sea. The tide may have been further out but with a bigger swell than in March the waves were still coming some way up the rocks, ruling out some shots I had sighted close to the rock's seaward edge.




As the moon breached the distant blue cloud and moved into the pink sky, I took a few telephoto snapshots with my Fuji XT1 before returning to my Canon set-up on the tripod. I made a series of shots as I worked up and down the channel, until the sea pushed me back and the colour faded from the sky. The resultant shots were not quite what I had originally envisioned, but made for a worthwhile trip. I've fallen in love with moonrise, it feels like a truly magical moment. Next month I shall probably try my luck down at Mara Creek.

New England Tablelands Part 3: Gondwana

This post is the 3rd instalment from my trip to the New England Tablelands a few weeks ago. This time around I’m going to take you into New England National Park itself (link | brochure PDF).

The defining feature of New England National Park is the Great Escarpment - huge basalt cliffs - overlooking rainforest clad wilderness as far as the eye can see. The landscape has been forged by the lava flows of the massive Ebor Volcano over 18 million years ago.

Just below the escarpment are cold temperate rain forests, home to Antarctic Beech which are some of the oldest trees on earth. The name speaks to the history of these trees. Their pollen has been found in Antarctica and the distribution of the trees around the Southern Pacific Rim are proof that these trees were once widespread in rain forests across the ancient continent of Gondwana (modern day Australia, Antarctica and South America) when the dinosaurs roamed over 100 million years ago. As the Earth has warmed, these trees have sought sanctuary in the cooler upper climbs of the Tablelands here in Australia, and are protected by the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. You can read more about the Southern Beech, the genus to which the Antarctic belongs, here.

Point Lookout sits atop the Great Escarpment and, as for so many photographers before me, was where I went to take in sunrise, looking east over the wilderness. Well, that was the plan anyway. My headlights diffused through ever thicker patches of fog as I climbed Point Lookout Road. I walked the short distance to the viewpoint to be faced with the inevitable - thick cloud and fog as far as the eye could see. Which was about 3 metres.

At an elevation of 1,564m it’s not unusual to be stood in a cloud here, though on clearer days the view extending east towards the coast usually sees the fog nestled in the numerous valleys. I sat in the rain and the darkness waiting for the cloud to clear, knowing from past experience that it wasn’t going to happen. A hole into the landscape beyond offered hope for the briefest of moments before quickly shutting closed again.

Not a sunrise.

Plan B

Clinging to the escarpment below Point Lookout.

So no glorious sunrise to speak of, but my main intention here was to explore the rainforest below which the weather was perfect for. The walk descriptions warned of unsteady and slippery terrain, so I decided to travel light. Given the fairly persistent rain I wanted to avoid lens changes too, so I took my Fujifilm XT-1 and XF18-135mm lens. This gave me a lightweight, flexible and weather sealed combination plus I’ve always liked how the Fuji renders trees.

Dropping below the escarpment and into the green gloom of the rainforest was like entering into another world, and given its age I suppose it was. It's difficult to quite put into words the feeling of being in this place. The vegetation was thick, vines and moss hanging from the trees, lichen crusted to the rocks and trunks. Precipitation fell from above, from the clouds or the trees I no longer knew.



Before arriving in Australia I had read and looked at the wild forests of Tasmania, and enjoyed Peter Dombrovskis’ beautiful work from there. The Gondwana rainforest I was now standing in evoked in me that same sense of ancient, primeval woodland. Here it was on my relative doorstep and I was in awe of it. The colours, the shapes, the sense of entaglement, the visceral experience all soaked into me as the rain.

Ordinarily when walking somewhere new I have an impulse to move too quickly, eager to overcome any obstacles earlier rather than later. This often impacts my photography, not allowing myself to dwell too long. Eager also to escape the rain, I would hasten along until the wild forest would give me pause, and then it begged me to stay a while longer until I lost all sense of time.

With so much potential it was easy to feel overwhelmed at times. Many of my images were shot handheld, relying on image stabilisation and higher ISO to get me sharp pictures in the murk. When surrounded by the confusion of branches, vines and mosses, looking through the viewfinder provided a welcome respite and it becomes easier to find compositions. The danger is that almost anything looks good through the viewfinder here. The challenge I find is to keep focused on strong shapes and contrasts to provide the viewer a clearer path through the undergrowth.


Once I found something I was happy with I would then use my tripod for a sharper result. However, as is so often the case, I came home really loving the 'sketch shots' (for want of a better word) I had made while exploring the forest. At high ISO (a couple are at 3200), relying on IS and without the finesse offered by careful composition on the tripod they lack technical perfection. Nonetheless I love them and for me they have captured the spirit of the place. Indeed, technical perfection in a place like this almost seems at odds with its wild nature, thought that does sound like I'm making excuses! I will quite happily print them, so it’s all good.

I’m returning to New England in a few weeks. With the benefit of a longer trip I'm hoping to go slower, work more deliberately, and lose myself - metaphorically rather than literally - in the forest for a while. I often find that first visits happen all too quickly, eager to see everything rather than enjoying the gifts to be found in what can be just a small area. It’s often in the return visits, after some reflection and with a slower pace that I find better images present themselves.

Wright's Lookout

Finally let me leave you with Wright’s Lookout from where the featured image at the top was made. Wright’s is a couple of kilometres from the road through the forest, perched atop an ancient trachyte remnant of Ebor Volcano. From here the views back towards the basalt cliffs below Point Lookout and again east across the rainforest are quite remarkable.

The view stretches for mile upon mile over wooded mountains and valleys, the like of which I have never seen with my own eyes before. A real advantage to this 'lookout' is that it is a wide plateau. Due to the poor soil the vegetation is low lying heath. This means that there are many more views and compositions that can be made here than from most, manmade, lookouts.



I really loved my first visit to New England. I’m excited about returning and spending more time exploring the rainforests of Gondwana, with the hope of creating a new body of work that evokes at least some of its wonder.

New England Tablelands Part 2: Wollomombi Gorge

During my recent visit to the New England Tablelands (see Part 1 here) I travelled to Wollomombi Gorge. Within the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park and afforded World Heritage status, the Chandler and Wolomombi rivers plunge over the plateau into the deep and dramatic gorge below. The name Wollomombi is said to be derived from the Aboriginal word “Wollumbi”, which means “meeting of waters”. "Wollomombi". It's a wonderful word isn't it? I love place names, particularly non-English place names. In Scotland, Wales, Iceland, or here in Australia, the native names for places inspire in me a sense of adventure and fantasy, they spark my imagination. It also seems to me that the native names are part of the landscape. Not just a name to put on a map so that someone can find it, they are descriptive and evocative of the place itself. They almost sound like the landscape.

I’m minded, perhaps tangentially, of an article that appeared in the Guardian a few days ago by Robert Macfarlane talking about “rewilding our language of the landscape”. I think the language of a place helps our connection to it. It’s well worth a read and a think about (link).

Returning to Wollomombi, my goodness it is some sight. Being 4 hours away it’s not exactly on my doorstep but I never expected to have such a grand spectacle so close to me. From other photographs I’ve seen, it is particularly breathtaking after heavy rain where the rivers turn into huge torrents and the base of the falls obscured by the spray thrown up. The conditions I experienced were less dramatic, but nonetheless very beautiful.

I arrived about an hour before sunset hoping for some special light. As this was my first visit it was difficult to be certain where the light would be in this complex terrain just from looking at maps, Google Earth, TPE and other photographs. Conditions were pretty much as I expected however, the yellow sun catching the top of the gorge, deep blue shadow falling on the rocks below.

There are several lookouts as well as bush walks along the escarpment’s edge. As with Ebor in my previous post, most photographs of Wollomombi are taken from the couple of lookouts near to the car park. I started out with the ‘tourist’ shot but quickly switched to my 100-400mm lens to allow me to get closer to the falls and the gorge. As is often the case these detail shots were the most pleasing of my time there, though the stiff wind did its best to ruin a number of them with the lens fully extended to 400mm.

wollomombi gorge

With the obvious lookout shots done, I decided to follow the well worn cliff top path towards Chandler’s Lookout. It sounds like it offers brilliant views but sadly it is closed, I believe due to erosion. Note to NPWS it would be great if you could put the ‘lookout closed’ sign at the start of the path rather than at the end of it!

This is Chandler Falls on the far side of the gorge using a 400mm lens. I loved the more abstract nature of the shot from the longer focal length, light and shadow. I particularly like the illuminated tree at the base of the shadow.

One of the main things that makes the mountainous parts of Australia that I’ve experienced so far quite different to Scotland - other than that they have cattle ranches on top of them! - is that they are swathed in thick vegetation. For the most part British mountains have been denuded of their trees and vegetation, revealing their rugged rocky skeletons.

However in large parts of Australia, and certainly in the large and numerous National Parks, nature is left to its own devices and appears to conquer all. It is quite wonderful, and a real delight to spend time in this wild environment of rich biodiversity, some of which goes back to prehistoric times.

As a photographer it does present some difficulties though. With trees everywhere, if you want to photograph something that isn't a tree then you can have a bit of a tough time. There are few tracks through the wilderness, and ‘going bush’ is at best left to those with more experience of this terrain and at worst discouraged. Even if you were to brave it, with limited detail on topographic maps and little hope of actually finding a clearing where nature doesn’t dominate, it seems pretty unlikely that your time would pay off.

Contrast this with open access land in the UK, such as in the Peak District or the mountains of Scotland, where you can roam freely looking for something to take your fancy almost completely unimpeded (other than from the contours of the terrain itself). I remember wondering if, over the course of history, a human foot had trodden on every inch of land that I was looking at. Out here there is no doubt that nature dominates and man’s presence is very limited, albeit partly because a line has been drawn around it and the loggers haven’t moved in (yet?).

There is a huge irony here. I catch myself cursing that I can’t get a particular shot because the trees are in the way, because vegetation seems to infringe the frame on all sides. And yet, is it not this glorious expanse of nature-run wilderness that I/we should be celebrating?

As photographers I think we are too often guilty of wanting to tame the landscape, to turn it to our own advantage and a beautiful picture. Perhaps in many parts of the world, the landscape is willing - or has been bent too far - and photographs come more readily. Here though, on the fringes of man's domain, the natural landscape is less willing to pose brazenly for a photograph.

Here and there can be found lookouts. On the roadside, or at the end of long bush tracks, where the land rears up and has been partially cleared to offer a better look at the wilderness that we walk through. Wooden platforms with metal rails. I’ve always tried to avoid using them for photographs.

In most places with high visitor numbers, this is where a million photographs are made with naught but a few inches and a different time of day to pick between them. Laybys, lookouts and famous locations seem to me to be the least likely places to make compelling and emotive photographs. Yet here in this dense vegetation they provide the only respite from the claustrophobia one might feel spending hours walking alone in the company of trees and the strange sounds beyond them.

It’s a strange dichotomy indeed.

The walk above Wollomomibi was most lovely, yet the many trees continued to interfere with my photographic vision. As I walked, I would look for gaps through the foliage to the dramatic gorge and the snaking river below. Sadly few presented themselves.

At points I caught a glimpse of an opening and went off the path to take a look. But clearing one tree meant bringing in another couple. With the ground unstable and slippery, and a pretty big drop below, I decided that I would just have to make do as best as I could. I made a few shots that I was originally happy with, but my enduring feeling is that I have unfinished business here. I will return. And here I will learn to make the most of the wonders that nature presents me. I will worry less about simple, denuded compositions. I will instead use the trees as a more effective element in the photograph to tell a truer story of Nature's Domain.




G'Day World! (Aka a New Life Down Under)

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.

"My" kind of weather.

"My Idea of Hell" type of weather. Next Thu/Fri look like fun though!

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!).

On paper twilight lasts about 20 minutes less than back in the Peak District but it seems to go from pitch black to light very quickly here.

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.