Archive for April 2011
In far north Queensland on the east coast of Australia, grow the most enormous fig trees. Travelling through the Atherton Tablelands southwest of Cairns there are many a giant fig to stop and gaze in wonder at. The two most famous are the Curtain Fig Tree (in Curtain Fig Tree National Park) and the Cathedral Fig Tree (in the Danbulla State Forest). They’re both strangler figs that are about 500 hundred years old.
I like old trees. It’s like getting in touch with the distant past. I like to imagine who else has come through and witnessed this same place before me. I’ve spent quality time gazing in wonder at the massive trees that grow on the west coast of Canada. The Douglas Firs and ancient cedars of Cathedral Grove (on Vancouver Island) are awe inspiring for their age (some are 800 to 1000 years old) and size (up to 9m in circumference).
It’s odd and perhaps not reasonable to compare the Douglas Fir of western Canada with the giant fig trees of northern Queensland, but they inspire similar feelings. Having visited both of these old-growth forests, I’m not sure which impressed me more. From a photographic perspective, the chaos and complexity of the root system of the fig trees makes them more visually interesting. I spent quality time with these fig trees just photographing the patterns in the roots. It’s interesting what you see the more you stare at the roots.
Way up north in Australia, toward the top end of the Northern Territory, is a little town called Katherine. Its population of just under 6,000 people actually makes it the fourth largest town in the Territory. It’s the only major settlement between Alice Springs and Darwin, which tells you something about population density in the Territory since Katherine is 1400km north of Alice Springs and over 300km south of Darwin. Agriculture, mining, a local air force base and tourism keep the town’s economy going.
The tourists come to see the nearby Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park. The gorge is, in fact, 16 separate gorges, and tourists typically only see the first few. The Katherine Gorge is in Jawoyn territory. Jawoyn are the traditional aboriginal owners of the land. Travelling through the gorge provides people with access to ancient aboriginal rock paintings and some insight into how the aboriginal people lived in this area.
The beliefs of the aboriginal people are explained in stories at signposts in the park. Some of these stories describe how the gorge was formed, the source of the water and the name of the park. The name ‘Nitmiluk’ comes from the sound of the cicada (‘nit nit nitnit’). It was given to the land by Nabilil, a dragon-like creation being from the Jawoyn Dreamtime who is said to have camped at the entrance to the gorge.
The local aboriginal people grant permission for boat tours to run through the gorges. This is only possible during the Dry season. During the Wet season, the water levels can rise by as much as 18m making the gorge impassable. I recommend trying the sunset dinner cruise as the light in the gorge is outstanding. Dinner on the boat, as the sun set and our boat became a little island in complete darkness, was a unique and thrilling experience.
In Australia, there is a clever and very novel photo contest called Canon EOS Photo5. It is the only photo contest that I have ever vigorously pursued. Its novelty comes from its approach to the photographic themes. It’s called Photo5 because once you register for the contest, Canon sends out a box (originally it was a cube, but they downsized in subsequent years) with five objects or ideas in it. Those objects or ideas represent the categories for the contest. In 2007 (the inaugural year), they sent out a piece of chalk, a balloon, a piece of cellophane and a roll of yellow stickers. The final categories was boxes (for the little boxes in which the objects were delivered). The only rule was that the photograph had to somehow include the object.
In 2009, one of the themes was bokeh. ‘Bokeh’ is from the Japanese word ‘boke’ meaning ‘blur’. In photography, it refers to the out-of-focus area of a photograph. It also refers to the specific patterns that occur in out-of-focus highlights that vary between lenses. Those blurred highlights can be transformed very easily to produce some surprising results.
Included in the box in 2009 were four stencils made from black construction paper. Each stencil had the same shape (an 8-pointed star), but each was a slightly different size to accommodate different lens sizes. By holding a stencil against the front of your lens, the blurred highlights in the photos take on the shape of the cutaway in the stencil.
To try it yourself, start with a piece of black construction paper (the thicker the better). Cut the paper down to a circle that has a diameter about five centimeters bigger than your biggest lens face. Draw your shape in the center of the circle and cut it out. Hold the stencil over the front of your lens while taking your shot. If you want to get fancy, you can cut tabs around the perimeter and fold the tabs over the end of your lens. You can use an elastic to hold the stencil on the front of the lens. It never worked for me though. It just kept springing off and was simpler to just hold in place.
If you want to try this, be aware that the effectiveness of this technique varies from lens to lens. I found that it worked very well on my 100mm lens, but didn’t work at all on my 24-105 zoom. Try it on different lenses and see what happens.
The effect is most visible when you have strong points of light in the background, but as you can see in the photo above you can shape more subtle highlights as well.
Processing notes: The only post-processing on this photo was a little increase in the saturation and the addition of the border.
It’s hot, humid, crowded, chaotic, and a lot of fun. The Mindil Beach Sunset Market northwest of Darwin city, in the Northern Territory, is a local cultural sampler and more than a bit feral. The first challenge is parking. When you arrive, cars are parked all over the place. For the most part, the cars are in traditional parking lot kinds of lines, but the car park is a dusty, grassy field. When it gets full, the cars start getting wedged any old place. If you come late (as we did) you might have a to take a couple of passes through the labyrinth until you find a nook big enough to squeeze your car into. Pay close attention to where you put your car!
Once in the market, you’ll find food stands of all ethnicities, arts and crafts vendors, clothing vendors, and performers. All this and it’s right up against a gorgeous beach that stretches off into the distance in both directions. Of course, it’s a sunset market, so as the sun drops below the horizon, the crowds come up from the beach and the market gets really crowded. Now is a good time to find a patch of dirt near some of the buskers and catch the evening shows.
There are bands, jugglers, dancers, and this fire breather. He was a man of many talents with comedy, juggling, skipping (with a flaming rope), and fire-breathing all part of his repertoire. I think he even juggled machetes at one stage. His big finish is captured above.
If you want to see the market, you’ll have to plan ahead a little. The market only runs on Thursdays and Sundays during the Dry season (late April to October).
This has been and continues to be a busy Easter Sunday so I’ll have to be satisfied with a very brief (and rather late) blog posting today. Four years ago, on Easter weekend, we visited Sydney for the first and only time (so far). My favourite Australian city will always be Melbourne, but Sydney sure is a beauty. Where else can you find such wonders so close together?
In a weekend in the city, you can easily cover some major sites purely on foot. In three and a half days we took in the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Opera House, Circular Quay, the street market in The Rocks, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour, the Sydney Aquarium and the National Maritime Museum. That was all with a 2-year-old taking long afternoon naps back at the hotel.
I’m pretty sure one look at the photo will tell you what it depicts. Surely there isn’t a roof more famous in the entire world.
Processing notes: I put this through a bleach bypass filter in Color Efex Pro, added structure using Viveza to emphasize the textures in the roof, corrected for some highlights on the rood using the shadows/highlights adjustment in Photoshop and finally added a border with Silver Efex Pro.
One of my goals while in Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory was to see and photograph a Thorny Devil. This little lizard is very hard to find – not just because they’re tiny (they only grow to 20cm), but also because of their colouring. They blend in beautifully with the soil of the Red Centre.
Leaving the family back at the resort, I set off to Kata Tjuta to do some hiking in the Valley of the Winds. On my way, I was speeding down the highway when I shot over what I thought was a piece of wood in the road. As this little piece of wood is receding in my rear view mirror, I thought the curve of the wood looked an awful lot like a Thorny Devil.
I almost dismissed it thinking I was just fooling myself hoping for a sighting. Surely it was just the piece of wood I originally suspected. But, I was alone in the car, the highway was completely empty of other cars and I wasn’t on a schedule so I stopped, turned around and headed back with my fingers crossed.
Obviously, it wasn’t a piece of wood.
I snapped on my telephoto lens, not wanting to scare him off before I got a photo, and proceeded to crawl around on the bitumen snapping shots from various angles. It never moved a muscle. I’m thinking one of its defensive tactics is to be really, really still and hope it’s not noticed. I considered picking him up and taking him off the road, but at the time, I didn’t know if any of those thorns were dangerous and who knows what effect my touching him could have. So, I just thanked him for crossing my path and patiently posing for photos and then went on my way.
I’m not sure there’s a more iconic image of Australia than Uluru, perhaps only rivalled by the Sydney Opera House. Uluru sits in remote, central Australia in the southwest of the Northern Territory. It’s 2,800 km from Sydney, 2,300 km from Melbourne, 2,060 km from Perth, 1,550 km from Adelaide, and 3,200 km from Brisbane. It sits 460km from the nearest town – Alice Springs. Because of this remoteness, the preferred travel method is flight. Some fly into Alice Springs and then drive the rest of the way, others fly right into the resort town of Yulara that serves up accommodation and food for visitors to the National Park.
Accommodation in Yulara is, unsurprisingly, expensive. For a family, a room (with a bathroom) will run you from about $250 to $480 in the low season. There are multi-night specials, but your wallet is still going to take a pretty big hit. Many tourists fly in and out on the same day partly because they’re on a whirlwind tour, but surely also to avoid the costs for a decent room. There are plenty of rooms, enough for 5,000 people per night. You should definitely take advantage of the accommodation and stay at least one night.
As it first comes into view, Uluru presents a striking image, rising about 350m from the relatively flat, featureless surrounding desert. Our youngest called it “The Big Rock!” and it was an apt description. You first see it from a distance of about 10km, so you don’t appreciate its size or its texture. As you get closer to the rock, you realize that it’s not nearly as smooth or uniform as it appeared and that it doesn’t rise gradually from the ground. It looks like it was just dropped there. The ground is flat right up to the edge of the rock.
As you approach Uluru, it takes over your entire field of vision. Up close, there’s nothing but you and the rock. It’s a sacred site for the Aboriginal owners of the land (the Anangu) so if you do go, don’t climb the rock, despite all the tour companies offering climbs.
If you want to see it from a little further back, I’ve posted a few more shots in my Flickr photostream.