Outdoor Photography by David Munro
Feel as if your landscape photography isn't going as well as you'd like? Are you tired of producing the same old images time and time again?
A guaranteed way of improving your landscape photography almost immediately is to leave the car behind and immerse yourself in the living breathing world of the outdoors. Walking is good not only for your health, but also for kick starting your photographic creativity.
Bushwalking does require a bit more planning and effort than your regular walk, but the rewards for getting away from it all can be wonderful.
If you're new to bushwalking consider joining a walking club or a guided walk. They are available in all parts of the country, and are a great way to learn about navigation skills and bush craft. Better still there are tours through wilderness areas specifically arranged to suit the photographer. You may even be given an opportunity to use some equipment provided by the tour operators.
We are very lucky in Australia, in that we have areas of bushland only a short drive away, even from our most populated cities. Most of these parks or nature reserves have a good system of walking trails, and many provide camping areas. Other, more comfortable accommodation may be available nearby, if you don't wish to rough it.
Wherever you're headed there are bound to be a number of tourist guides and even books on your chosen location. Places to contact are state and local tourist bureaus, National Parks offices, even libraries and book stores. Many regions have their own web site allowing you to access the information you need, without all the running around. Once you have a good knowledge of the chosen area you'll be able to plan a more productive trip.
If you're going to be walking some distance, then it would pay to pack as light as possible. This goes for camera gear as well. So what should you take? A camera body, of course, and another as a backup in case something should happen to the first. Rather than taking a whole range of lens, take a couple of zooms. I keep a 28 - 85mm on my camera most of the time, with an 80 - 200mm in the pack should I need to get in closer to a subject. Take more than enough film than you think you'll need, and a spare battery.
A tripod is an essential tool in outdoor photography, but what sort should you take? Personally I prefer a heavier tripod, even though this means more weight. A good solid tripod is less likely to blow about in the wind, and will support your camera better. The legs should all be able to move independently, and be fully adjustable, as you often have to work on uneven surfaces. Don't skimp when it comes to buying a tripod. A good quality brand is worth every cent when it comes to reliability in the field.
When deciding what sort of film to take consider what it is you'll be photographing. It seems that a lot of the film manufacturers out there are pushing their 400 speed print films as the ones to use in all situations. It's true that these films will suffice for most photographers, and are indeed acceptable when photographing subjects from landscape to wildlife. But if you want to use a slow shutter speed to blur waterfalls' cascades, it would need to be pretty dark in order to get it slow enough. A slower film, such as 100iso (or 25 if you can get it), is my preferred film for landscapes. After all the landscape isn't going to move, is it? When using a tripod and cable release there is no need to worry about using a fast shutter speed to avoid camera shake.
In the other extreme you might find 400 film too slow to photograph wildlife, especially if you're using a telephoto lens and the light is poor. Faster films are available, although you may need to shop around, and their quality is improving all the time. To help steady the camera, a monopod is a much better alternative than a tripod. They are much lighter, and don't require the same amount of setting up. They also make a great walking stick.
One thing that you will need on your trip is a reliable camera, so it pays to have it serviced at least once a year. If you're going on a particularly important vacation then it might pay to book your camera in for a check up beforehand. Basic camera maintenance can be carried out by yourself, such as ensuring the inside of the camera is kept free of dust and your lenses are clean, but anything more serious should be seen to by an expert before you leave.
Some of Australia's National Parks have an entrance fee for day visitors. The money helps to fund conservation projects and to improve visitor facilities. If you plan to visit a park or two over a period of time then it would be more cost effective to purchase a weekly or monthly pass. These can be obtained from local National Parks offices and State Departments of the Environment.
By purchasing a detailed map of the area you are visiting you can make a list of possible locations for photography. A good map will usually show the location of walking tracks, scenic lookouts, waterfalls, etc. Some outdoors maps will even have a list of suggested walks on the back. Make yourself a list of walks you would like to do most and try to allocate enough time to visit them. Include one or two extra days in your itinerary as bad weather can strike anywhere at any time.
When you arrive at your location layout your photographic equipment so that it's within easy reach. (This is also a good practice before leaving home as it minimizes your chances of forgetting something).
All the planning in the world can't account for the unexpected changes that can affect an area. Things such as floods washing away bridges or walking tracks closed for repair are seldom listed in travel guides as not all of them are completely up to date. Talk to the staff at the local visitor centre or National Parks office about what you'd like to see in the area, and they will be able to tell you whether any of these walks/roads are closed and may even suggest a few places where you could go to take photos.
Heat and dust can be problem in some areas so it pays to store your film in a cool dry place. Film can be kept inside an airtight container in the refrigerator and transferred to your backpack for daily excursions.
Since the best times for taking landscape photos are early morning and late afternoon, what do you do for the rest of the day? This time is best used for finding suitable locations from which to photograph that evening or the following morning.
Since you maybe venturing into the bush, it pays to take a few precautions. Dress appropriately for the environment you'll be walking through. This could range from a simple slip, slop, slap in warmer areas to thermal underwear, gloves, woollen trousers, etc., in cold regions. A good pair of walking boots is essential as they provide support for your ankles on rough terrain and can be made waterproof with special sprays.
Stick to well formed tracks as you could get lost venturing away from them. If you're going on an extended walk inform someone trustworthy about your intended route and estimated time of return (remember to contact them once you return). Travelling in a small group is advisable in case something should go wrong. It would be wise to have a couple of experienced walkers in your group.
Equipment and supplies are best carried in a backpack to even out the load. There are also a range of packs specifically designed for carrying camera gear, providing pockets for lenses, extra camera bodies and films. Available through camera shops, some of them come with waterproof covers, although most are generally water resistant. A useful addition on some models are straps to secure your tripod. More detailed information on bushwalking skills should be obtained from specialist outdoor stores.
If you're going to the trouble of planning the photographic trip of a lifetime then it doesn't make sense to return home and let just anyone process your beloved film. A processor that you can trust is a valuable asset indeed, and if you're not sure where to go talk to some professional photographers and ask where they send their work.
It may not seem all that important at the time, but labelling your slides/photos after returning from your journey can save you hassles later on. Whilst on your trip keep a diary, including names of walking trails, lookouts and special features. You don't need to record the exact spot from which every photo was taken, but these notes will prove useful.
Prints can be labelled individually with a stick on label or with a waterproof pen, or you can simply write the details on a pieces of paper and slip it in the envelope. There are also labels specifically made for slides. Cataloguing can be done on your PC with a spreadsheet program, or by purchasing a program which is designed to catalogue slides. If you're serious about correctly labelling your photo then it's a good idea to build up a personal reference library on the subjects you photograph. I keep a bird, mammal, reptile and plant guide, amongst others, to help with identification.
Have respect for all the creatures in the wild. It is not in the best interest to trample vegetation, or stress an animal simply for a photo. In other parts of the world there are restrictions on photographing certain subjects, and entering certain areas, because of people's thoughtlessness. It would be a shame if such restrictions were imposed here in this country.
With so many different varieties of landscapes and wildlife, Australia offers the outdoor photographer a wealth of opportunities few other places can match.