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Compliments of the Season

ABOVE: The background for this message is a panorama of Lake Wakatipu, the South Island of New Zealand, at the Devils Staircase, a ridge of rock that descends from the Hector Range, reaching bony fingers into the lake, making this it’s narrowest point. The morning fog made this image impossible to stitch automatically, so the 21 images were imported into photoshop, overlaid manually and blended with the use of layers and masks.

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Impressions of Gold and Yellow

It’s Spring. I’m looking for new ways of capturing impressions of all that colour

ABOVE: This image is a stitched panorama, made up of images shot with a slow shutter to capture the plants moving in the wind. I used a very cool software called Trimaginator to generate polygon patterns from the image and then blended them with the original in Photoshop using layer masks.

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Another Great Season in Queenstown

Our landscapes are all the more spectacular because they’re always changing.

ABOVE: Patterns of melting snow on a remote sheep station in the Lower Nevis with the Remarkables range as a backdrop.

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Animated Images

Captured this gorgeous cloud bank on the Nevis road, near Duffer’s Saddle. Playing around with animating photos using Plotagraph software.

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Baby, It's Cold and Wet Outside

As photographers, we embrace weather because it makes for some of our best images.

ABOVE: Two old boats, laid up at Bluff, New Zealand’s southernmost port. I sheltered under a bush for almost four hours to get this shot, as rain squall after squall blew over this scene. I was captivated by the play of light as sun broke through clouds to illuminate the water and gusts and rain danced among the waves, but it took many tries to capture all the elements.

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The "Roof" of the Wakatipu


ABOVE: The Eyre Mountains and upper reaches of The Mataura River caught in the glow as light breaks through heavy clouds, seen from the Garston end of the Nevis Road.

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Weather is the Photographer's Friend

Most people hope for fine weather and clear blue skies when they visit Queenstown and the Southern Lakes of New Zealand.

ABOVE: Well into November, the ski fields have been closed for a month and spring is in the air. Anything possible in Queenstown and after weeks of warm weather a winter blast gave us a bit snow dump down to low levels. Next morning dawned fine with frost in Arrowtown and across the Crown Range.

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High Plain Driftin'


ABOVE: Falls Creek Dam is for me the embodiment of Graham Sydney’s vision of the Maniatoto. Tiny, lonely shelters and relics of the pioneers’ existence in this sparse vastness, dwarfed by distant walls of weathered rock. It pays to plan shots like this. We arrived as the sun was setting so in my rush I used too high an ISO, resulting in very noisy images which required a lot of editing.

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Winter is Back


ABOVE: A light dusting of snow over ploughed fields, morning glow through low clouds, caught with 10mm wide angle to create some dramatic perspective, and you have a magical scene.

Here in Queenstown and Central Otago, the cherry trees have started to blossom and spring is well under way. Winter was light-on this year, as it was. Sure, the mountains got their coat of snow, we skied a few weekends, and we got some great shots of an icy morning in Skippers canyon. But winter came late and left early, so it was exciting when a polar blast hit the country yesterday, forcing us all back into puffer jackets and thermals. We awoke yesterday to a “winter wonderland” with snow from the bottom of the garden to the mountaintops. There were occasional blizzard-like gusts right through to afternoon. Low cloud swirled, occasionally letting bits of sun and blue sky through, making for interesting light and expressive skies.

I couldn’t let these conditions pass without getting out and capturing them, so I headed south to Pukoraki, an imposing range of hills standing sentinel over the headwaters of the Mataura River, before it winds on past Garston and Athol into Southland.

ABOVE: The road south from Queenstown passes the little hamlet of Kingston and then heads arrow straight across the the boulder strewn moraine of an ancient glacier toward a range of mountains – Pukoraki, the triangular headstone of which, leads you into Southland. This imposing feature reminds me of the mountain in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. I have alluded to the movie with the shot, above, of the road taking you toward the mountain.

With so much low cloud around, this was not a day for venturing high up. The colours and textures of this rural landscape, just waking from winter sleep and juxtaposed against a backdrop of white mountain walls, were what caught my eye. Verdant hills, blocks of felt green, next to rectangles of corduroy, fences separating them like dotted lines – an abstract vision, seen best through a long lens.

This was a day for testing out my new 70-300mm Nikon lens. At long focal lengths, the elements in the landscape become compressed. Whereas with wide-angle glass, perspective is enhanced, a telephoto removes it. A flatness is introduced that imposes a different and often poetic reality.

ABOVE: Rural landscapes can appear as abstract compositions of colour, shapes and texture. These were taken with a 300mm telephoto.

Within these abstract planes and patterns, are glimpses of rural life in full swing. Farmers mending fences. Sheep are lambing. Giant tractors trundle up and down the highway, delivering feed to hungry stock. I love the honesty and closeness to the earth. It’s our food and clothing being wrought from the land. Only 45 minutes south of the beating metropolitan heart of touristy Queenstown, this series of images feels like a relief from the dramatic, super saturated, sunrise/sunset, mega cloud form, glowing astro nightscape images that seem so de-rigeur there.

ABOVE: In this scene I liked the retreat from horizontal, strong lines and colour to the triangles formed by hills further and further away.

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Photographer's Block


ABOVE: Shot with a 10-20mm wide angle, this image shows the dramatic effect of capturing the very close and the distance together. Here, dramatic foreground detail catches the viewer’s attention, then the stream, a strong leading line, leads the eye on a meandering path to the mountains and sun rays in the background.

When I first settled near Queenstown in the South Island, surrounded by mountains, rivers, lakes and ever-changing skies, I found the standard picture format too restricting. I didn’t want to have to compose elements within the standard frame. It was the vastness I wanted to capture, so I started making panoramas. I shot landscapes as a series of adjacent images which I stitched together in post processing. This technique helped me create images that expansive and immersive, rendering scenes more like we see them. It was also a way of capturing greater detail and bringing together some of the compression that comes from longer focal lengths, with the expanse of a wide angle.

Over time this has become a default technique and almost a habit. So much so that for a while now I have lost the urgency I once had, to go out and create. It has become too easy to not really look at a scene and really work out what the elements are that inspire me.I end up snapping a whole lot of of adjacent images, really just collecting all the visual information so it can be assembled in Photoshop or Lightroom to be cropped and composed later. I had become lazy about making the creative decisions and composing images in camera. Creating these big panoramic images was taking so much time and lots of extra disk space for results that were no longer inspiring.

ABOVE: This wide angle view captures the expanse of Lake Wakatipu and the mountains behind, but it’s the jetty in the foreground that captures the eye and leads you into the distance. To simplify this composition a 20 second exposure was used to blur the movement of the water.

On a recent trip west along Lake Wakatipu toward Glenorchy, I decided to to challenge myself and limit myself to one lens, shooting finished compositions in black and white. The hope was that imposing these restrictions would force me out of my habits and maybe, give me new direction. The lens I chose for the day was my beautiful Sigma 10-20mm 1:4-5.6. This very wide angle lens would dictate my compositions for the day. Using this lens would force me to work to get the elements of a good design into the picture. Simplicity would be key.

With such a wide angle view you need a dramatic foreground, as well as a really strong direction to lead the eye through the image to the background. I had to get really close to those foreground elements. This often meant bringing the camera down to ground level.

ABOVE LEFT: Wide angle lenses are great in the confined spaces of a waterfall. They bring the surrounding rocks and trees into the image. They allow you to capture so much, from the micro drama of water cascading over foreground rocks, right through the scene to the macro scale of the cascading stream in the background.
ABOVE RIGHT: This rusting car wreck on the way to Kinloch is forlorn on it’s own, but I added an element of a possible past by getting into an old leather coat, sitting in the seat and spinning the steering wheel fast with the camera on a slow shutter to blur the movement. The image was blended in Photoshop with another of the empty cab, then the figure ghosted by partially masking parts of him out.

As much as I love photographing the landscapes of New Zealand and the Southern Lakes, it also important to me that I say something. Adding a human element brings a hint of story and meaning to the image. To this end I always go out prepared with a range of props, coats and hats so I can be a character in my images.

ABOVE: These ragged looking willows in Lake Wakatipu at Glenorchy are such a popular photographic subject they are becoming icons. I wanted to try something different so by getting into the water and raising my arms I joined the trees in their reach to the sky. I also wanted the figure to be blurred and ghostly as a contrast to the strong linear character of the trees so I shot the image on a slow shutter speed and moved around lot during the exposure.

If you are looking for a creative challenge, identify your photography habits and break out of them. Get out of your comfort zone. Use a lens you usually ignore, climb over that fence and get in close or choose a subject you’re not “good” at. You could be surprised and delighted with the results.

If you are in Queenstown or the Southern Lakes, come with me on a Remarkable Imagery Photo Tour. I’ll can take you to iconic locations like the trees at Glenorchy and places you only a local would know. Together, we’ll work to bring the magic and wonder of this part of New Zealand into your photos.

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