Another year comes to an end and my photo journey continues. This year we continued to muddle through the pandemic but by mid-year had moved out of lockdowns and constant mask wearing to a somewhat more normal lifestyle (albeit, for me at least, mostly working from home, endless Zoom meetings and very limited travel).
I continued to focus my photography on landscapes and seascapes, much of it around the local environs of Sydney’s northern beaches. I scouted out some new local waterfalls and had the added bonus of a work trip to Cairns in far north Queensland in September, which provided an opportunity to photograph a very different landscape.
So, here’s my favourite shots from the last year, organised in chronological order. Many of these have appeared on Instagram, Vero or Facebook but also were particularly memorable re technique and context.
“Mountain Flow”: 📷 OM-D E-M1 II, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/8 0.6sec ISO200 (high res)
This was a shot right at the end of 2021 – close to New Years (so perhaps shouldn’t be in this collection) but it was a very memorable trip exploring some of the big waterfalls and walks in this famous region. While it had started out hot and sunny on the drive up, by lunch time I’d decided to explore the waterfalls around Leura just as a huge storm cell descended on the mountains. As I parked the car along Cliff Drive, the rain poured down monsoon-like and thunder boomed overhead. As the storm moved on I walked through the heavy rain down the storm-damaged track to Bridal Veil Falls. I spent some time shooting this magic location which, with the heavy rain, was flowing aggressively. A magic feeling to be deep in the forest alone next to the roaring waterfalls!
“Rising Tide”: 📷 OM-D E-M1 II, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/16 2.5sec ISO200 + NiSi 3stop ND filter
During the pandemic I got into the habit of long afternoon walks along the local coastline listening to podcasts and exploring photographic compositions. This shot came from one of those walks in January. The low tide revealed this interesting rock formation covered in anemones and invertebrates which was now being overrun by the fast-incoming tide. I decided to shoot this as a bracketed long exposure to provide the smoothed out water while still allowing me to capture the vibrant colour of the sunset sky in the west. I probably should have called this image ‘The Octopus’s Garden’ as a large grey octopus took a liking to one of the legs of my tripod as I was shooting this! Never can tell what you’ll find on those afternoon reef walks.
“Purple Haze”: 📷 OM-D E-M1 II, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/7.1 10sec ISO200 (high res)
In February I decided to plan an early morning trip down to Kiama to visit the famous Cathedral Rocks. I’d seen so many photos of this famous location and after doing a bit of research and watching the cloud and weather forecasts, set a 3am alarm for the next morning. The drive down was pretty easy with the lack of traffic at that hour and at 5am I set off from the carpark along the beach to explore the famous rock spires and cave. This shot was one of the first I took that morning from deep in the cave out to the pre-dawn glow. The tide was still low but rising and I shot this on a tripod in hi-res mode. After this it was a mad 90 minutes of photographing the other vantage points to the south as the tide surged in, including another shot after sunrise from within the cave with the waves surging in! A magic place and so much fun shooting this famous location. By the way, lots of people commented on the mosquitoes in the cave, but I somehow missed these! A big swell the previous week had scoured the cave clean and must have taken the mozzies with it!
Pool Side Flow
“Pool Side Flow”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/8 0.5sec ISO100
In March I bought the new OM Systems OM-1 camera. Over the new year I had agonised about changing camera systems from Olympus to Sony, Nikon or Canon, but as I was heavily invested in the Olympus lenses and I enjoyed the functionality of the system re image stabilisation and weatherproofing, I decided to stick withe the system I knew and invest in the new camera body that had just been released. This was one of the first shots I took with the new OM-1 and it has become my most liked image on social media! The cloud forecast that morning was so-so, but with a rising high tide and decent swell I decided Mona Vale Pool was the place to be. Getting out to this spot on a big tide and swell is always a gamble as the water can easily come up to your waist on the wade out to the pool path. This was shot handheld at 0.5 seconds demonstrating again the amazing image stabilization these cameras have. I had to hoist my camera and backpack above my head on the deep wade back to the beach as the tide continued to rise, but as I like to say ‘if you’re not getting wet on a seascape shoot, you’re not really trying’!
“Cave Burn”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/9 1/5sec ISO200
Another sunrise cave shot but one I’m pretty proud of as I found this cave some months earlier on one of my local afternoon walks and thought it might make a nice shot with the right conditions. In this case, the right conditions were a very high tide and moderate swell (to get just the right amount of water coming into the cave without being dangerous) and a banger of a sunrise (to provide the colour). This was shot mid-April when the stars aligned re seas and sky and I was pretty happy with the end result – a bracketed exposure shot handheld and processed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop (re layer blending).
“Flowlight”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/8 0.6sec ISO200
You can tell I like sunrise seascapes eh! This was another April photograph from another of my regular Northern Beaches haunts. A rising tide on a big swell provided the flow in the foreground and this insane burning sky appeared just before sunrise. I was perched on this rock ledge shooting bracketed exposures to capture the flow of the water movement as waves rolled in as well as the vibrant colours of the sunrise as they intensified. Shortly after this shot, I nearly got bowled over by a bigger wave with the surge coming up to my thighs (luckily I kept my footing, but not good!). On the walk home the colour disappeared and a big rainstorm and southerly change blew in. As the old saying goes: ‘red sky in morning, sailor’s warning!’
“Autumn Leaves”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/13 1/10sec ISO200
May is autumn here in Sydney and I was keen to try and capture some ‘fall colour’ shots. Unfortunately, the La Nina summer and heavy rain continued through much of 2022, which meant autumn was a bit of a fizzer for colourful trees. However, I did a bit of research and on a sunny, blue-sky day drove up to the Central Coast to see if I could find an avenue of deciduous trees with the vibrant orange colours. While I did find just such a location, it looked like a lot of other people had been visiting on the previous weekend as the grass side-walks were gouged with tyre marks and much of the fallen leaves had been trodden into mulch. This was one of the remaining piles of fallen leaves on the sidewalk and I got very low and wide on this shot with the camera on the ground using the adjustable LCD on the OM-1 to compose the shot. I cranked down the aperture to provide the sun-star and also provide depth of field and bracketed the exposure to maximise dynamic range in post.
Welcome Back Sunshine!
“Welcome Back Sunshine”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/13 0.4sec ISO200 + NiSi 3 stop ND filter
Winter-time in Sydney was cold and wet but you wouldn’t know it from this image! Shot mid-June at my local beach, this shot came at the very end of a pre-dawn mid-week shoot as I was walking back up the beach to go home. At this beach, winter means the sunrise is well to the north and I could see this exposed rock ledge provided a nice leading line to the sun and headland. Usually after the sun has risen, I’ll put on a NiSi 3 stop ND filter on my wide-angle lens which slows exposures down a tad and allows me to still capture the flow of water in the harsher light. I also cranked down the aperture to f/13 for the sun-star and then got very close to this rock ledge as the water flowed out after a big swell had come through. Like most of my seascapes, I bracket 3 exposures (EV +/-0; EV -2, EV +2) and then combine these later in Photoshop as separate layers.
“Vortex”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/4 1/4sec ISO200
2022 was the third La Nina year in a row for Sydney, which meant lots of rain (and unfortunately, catastrophic flooding on the NSW north coast!). With all the rain, I spent quite some time exploring local rivers and creeks for new waterfalls, including one that is a 10 minute walk from home. This shot is something a bit different from my usual wide-angle waterfall images. Walking up a flooded local creek, I spotted this whirlpool of water that was pouring through a large hole in a rock shelf. I climbed up on the ledge and shot handheld directly down on the whirlpool experimenting with different exposures to blur the water flow. Some creative colour editing has been used in post-processing to maximise the tones and flow of the water. Lots of people have mentioned that this shot looks like some AI-imagined rose, but it is actually a real camera image!
“Sentinel”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/6.3 1/250sec ISO200
In July (after a second brush with COVID) we managed to get away for a family ski holiday to Falls Creek in Victoria. On the way to the ski fields we visited Mount Buffalo exploring the lower waterfalls and capped the day off with a sunset trek to the famed granite spire of the Cathedral which was adorned in a fresh fall of snow from the previous evening – a spectacular sight and well worth the hike up the hillside in snow-boots!
“Mirror Pool”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/8 0.8sec ISO400
Low tide is always something of a challenge I find for seascapes as there is often too much complexity in the foreground rocks and its hard to find a composition which does not confuse the viewer. This shot is an exception to that rule and was taken in August at another local beach at low tide, where a pool of water had formed the night prior during the high tide adorned with green rock weed. The cracks in the rock and vivid green colour of the weed provided a nice contrast to the vivid orange glow of sunrise on the horizon. Another handheld, exposure bracketed image.
Sunset Over the Valley
“Cave Burn”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/8 1/10sec ISO200
Another location I’d been wanting to visit for some time is the lookout near Katoomba looking out across the Narrow Neck trail and the Megalong Valley in Sydney’s Blue Mountains. In September, my wife and I had a day-trip to Orange and on the way home we stopped off at this lookout just as sunset was approaching. A magical vista as the sunset lit up the Blue Mountains cliffs in rich golden light and added some colour to what had been a fairly drab, overcast afternoon.
“Palm Burn”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/9 1/50sec ISO200
In late September I was lucky enough to have a week up in Cairns doing some research fieldwork on the Great Barrier Reef project I’m running. While the days were filled with interviews, the early mornings and evenings provided space for getting out and exploring the coast and hinterland with my camera. This image is almost the perfect tropical cliché and was taken at the famous Palm Cove as the sun pierced the horizon early one morning. The symmetry of the palm trees is uncanny and something I tried to accentuate with the wide-angle lens in composing this shot!
“Pyramid View”: 📷 OM-D E-M1 II, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/5.6 1/640sec ISO200
In addition to the sunrises, sunsets and waterfalls I managed to shoot in and around Cairns, I also made a point of visiting some of the famous landmarks. This is Walsh’s Pyramid shot from the perspective of a sugar cane field in its early growth. I took this on my last day as I was driving back to the airport after a rest day chasing waterfalls over the Atherton Tablelands. Just to let you know – some creative license has been taken in the processing of this image to increase the symmetry of the composition! I’ll do a full blog post on my trip to far north Queensland in a future post.
“Bombo Wash”: 📷 OM-1, M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/8 0.5sec ISO200 + NiSi 3 stop ND filter
The final shot in my 2022 recap was taken a few weeks ago during early December when I had some very early mornings scheduled– dropping my son off at a film shoot in Cronulla. In addition to shooting sunrises at Kurnell, on the third morning down there I figured that as I was up at 3am I may as well keep driving south and see if I could get some decent shots from down on the Illawarra coast. Bombo Quarry is of course very well known as a photo location and somewhere I’d always wanted to shoot at sunrise. When I arrived at 4:30am it was pitch black but I could hear the waves roaring and crashing into the rocky foreshore. A big 2 metre swell was pumping that morning and while the sky wasn’t quite the ‘burner’ I’d hoped for, it had some nice tones right on dawn. This shot was taken just as the sun peaked over the horizon, lighting up the basalt walls of the quarry. I copped a few good soakings that morning from waves that exploded over the rocks. Well worth it to see Bombo pumping and the hot breakfast in Kiama afterwards (shout out to The Hungry Monkey) was icing on the cake.
And so that brings us to the end of 2022. Who knows what 2023 has in store, but I’m hoping for lots more photographic discoveries and continuing to develop my passion for capturing inspiring images of places and people. Hope the New Year is good for you and look forward to keeping in touch on social media or in person over the coming twelve months.