Tag Archives: Orange

Autumn Adventures in Mount Wilson

Mount Wilson, in the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney, is a wonderful location for landscape photography.  Its specific appeal is the rich colours of the leaves during autumn, and many photographers venture to Mount Wilson to capture these colours.

The quiet little mountain township had been on my never-ending list of photography locations/subjects, and it was a place which required autumn weather for the kind of images I wanted to capture.

I missed the opportunity in 2017, so I was determined not to miss the opportunity in 2018.

I had been following and participating in an online discussion about locations in Sydney at which to photograph the autumn colours, and naturally locations such as Mount Wilson and other parts of the Blue Mountains entered the discussion.

There was a specific image I wanted to create.

A few years ago on Instagram, I had seen a fantastic image of a stone staircase in Breenhold Gardens, captured by landscape photographer Kalan Robb, whom I follow on various sites.  The image was rich with colour and atmosphere, and I wanted to create that kind of image.

Through following the online discussion, in which a few people who lived in the mountains (or had visited) reported on conditions, I had a good idea about when would be a good time to visit.

In the autumn of 2018, the cool change came quite late, as there had been unusually warm temperatures.  Usually mid-to-late April is a good time to capture the autumn colours, but the temperatures did not drop until early-to-mid May, resulting in late development of the colour of the leaves.

We happened to be going away to the Blue Mountains on the weekend of 12-13 May, 2018, and as the time for photographing Mount Wilson‘s autumn colours is very limited, a visit to this location was a must.

We departed early in the morning to get to Mount Wilson for two reasons: to capture the location in good light; and to avoid the crowds of day-trippers who would descend upon the area as the morning wore on.

We entered Breenhold Gardens, and wandered around.  I photographed a few locations, with one of my earlier images capturing Socrates Garden.

Socrates Garden

Socrates Garden

Socrates Garden is a tranquil enclosure within Breenhold Gardens.

High on my agenda was a visit to Laburnum Steps, which was the feature I specifically wanted to photograph.  We procured a map and made our way to the steps.

Armed with my tripod, camera and 14mm lens, I went about my particular routine of setting up my gear and composition.

Here is one of the images I captured:

Laburnum Steps

Laburnum Steps

I was fortunate to see some stunning autumnal colours, but based on other images I have seen, it did not look like it had reached the intensity exhibited during colder years.

The rich red colour of the Japanese maples was present, and there were leaves scattered around on the steps and the dirt path perpendicular to the steps.

In the distance was a mix of greens, oranges and yellows, so it was a smörgåsbord of colour.

I was quite happy with this image, but I felt that I had not captured this location at its best.

In an earlier shot, I moved closer to the steps and shot an image in portrait orientation. Here is the result:

Mount Wilson in Autumn

Mount Wilson in Autumn

Here, the orange and red colours of the the fallen Japanese maple leaves can be seen more prominently, and the viewer’s eye is led up the winding staircase into the distance.

Incidentally, I have never actually climbed that staircase, or even set foot on it!

From that brief visit, I came away with at least two pleasing images, plus a number of other images I captured at different locations within Breenhold Gardens.  I should re-visit those images and see if there is something worth publishing.

However, my work was not complete.  I did not feel that the autumnal weather conditions had peaked, and with Kalan’s image in my mind, I knew I had to return.

On our way out of Breenhold Gardens, we met one of the managers of the gardens, who lives on site, and often stands at the entrance, meeting and greeting visitors.

I spoke with her for a few minutes, telling her of my interest in the colours, and of being there early in the morning.  She said that she could allow me earlier access.  Normally the opening time is 10am, which is too late for moody photography, and too late if peace and quiet is what one seeks.

She told me that the following weekend would be the best time to visit, as the conditions would very soon deteriorate.  Heeding her advice, I contacted her later that weekend and made arrangements to gain access at dawn.

So, on the following weekend, we headed back to Breenhold Gardens, even earlier, arriving just before dawn.  I wanted to be ready to capture Laburnum Steps in great conditions.

Through the darkness, we took the short walk to the steps, where I again went through my fussy ritual of setting up my composition and waiting for the right light.

This time, I opted to shoot with my 24mm lens.  I felt that 14mm was too wide to feature the steps prominently enough, and I wanted a different image of the same subject.

On this morning, I found that the light was flatter and more subdued.  We were there earlier, and due to the mountainous location, the warm morning light falls upon the scene much later, by which time it is too late for serious photography, as all of the day-trippers have crowded the scene.

We were there for the better part of an hour, waiting for the light to change.  I realised that the sun would not hit the steps and foliage until much later, and continued shooting.

Here is one of the earlier images I captured during that morning:

Laburnum Steps Revisited

Laburnum Steps Revisited

The flatter nature of the light can be seen in this image.  This image was captured at 6:45am, whereas my image from the previous weekend had been captured at 9:37am — nearly three hours later.

What was also noticeable is that the colours had not dramatically intensified, and the number of leaves on the steps and surrounding areas had not really increased.

I was somewhat disappointed that the conditions had not improved much within a week.

As was the case during the previous visit, I also shot a vertical composition.

Enchanting

Enchanting

I shot a few more compositions of Laburnum Steps before I decided to wrap up and head off to find some other locations in Mount Wilson.

Only a few metres away from Laburnum Steps is another set of steps called Acer Steps. In fact, descending this staircase is one of three ways of accessing Laburnum Steps, and it was the route we took on both visits.

Heading back up Acer Steps, I noticed that the backlighting of the scene worked very well with the Japanese maple whose canopy shelters the steps.  The light and the intense colour instantly attracted me, so I scrambled to set up for another shot.

I struggled to compose (which is not a problem I usually have), and moved the tripod a matter of inches here and there (and sometimes even greater distances) to try to get the best composition from a tricky scene.  I was trying to avoid some distracting elements being positioned too close to the edges, while also prominently featuring the backlit red leaves, and avoiding any direct light from the still-rising sun.

After much fussing around and making of micro-adjustments, here is the image I eventually captured:

Acer Steps

Acer Steps

After this shot, we headed to Church Lane, where I found this charming entrance to a property containing the Koonawarra guest house, located in Dennarque Estate.

Entrance to Dennarque Estate

Entrance to Dennarque Estate

The rich reds and oranges in the distant trees looked radiant in the warmth of the morning light.

Church Lane itself can look fantastic in autumn, but it needs the right conditions, and there is the problem of power poles, power lines and parked cars polluting an otherwise quaint scene.

After shooting this image, we went looking for the chestnut picking farms, for which we had seen signs the week before.  Unfortunately there was no sign of any chestnut picking opportunities in the area, so I found one more spot to photograph before we headed home.

Along Waterfall Road, there are some picnic tables, and I focused my lens on one of them while a group of tourists/photographers engaged in some frivolity and portraiture not far from where I was shooting.

Breakfast Stop

Breakfast Stop

This spot would make a great location for breakfast in the crisp, autumn air.

Having captured what I decided was my final image for this visit and for this year, we headed back home.

It was an interesting couple of visits to Mount Wilson.  There is a lot to photograph, and I came away with some key learnings.

Firstly, it really is a location best photographed in autumn.  The conditions can make or break an image.  While I had some nice conditions, there was still something lacking.

Mount Wilson contains many locations to photograph, but some can be deceptive in photographic appearance.  For example, the quaint Church Lane actually contains ugly power poles along it, which detracts from the look and feel of the street.

Some locations simply look better when viewed with one’s own eyes, and producing a pleasing image which captures the essence of the place is not a simple matter of plonking down a tripod and pointing the camera at what looks good without a camera.

A location such as Mount Wilson really warrants planning, in terms of the specific location, time of day, and weather.  Of course, not everything is necessarily controllable. Sometimes it is a matter of luck, particularly when coming from a place where the weather can be quite different.

Mount Wilson is a location which needs more than one visit (or even several visits) to do it justice.  I am sure I will head back there again next autumn, but unless the conditions I seek all align serendipitously, I do not think I can achieve a better image of Laburnum Steps. What I captured is as good as I can get unless a specific set of conditions exists.

On that note, Kalan Robb happened to be a member of the site on which the online discussion about autumn photography was taking place, and joined in the discussion.  I suspect it came to his attention because I had mentioned him there and provided a link to his excellent article on photography in Mount Wilson.

About his image of Laburnum Steps — the image which was my source of inspiration — he provided some insight into it.

Firstly, he does process his images quite differently to the way I process mine, which I suspected, and which he confirmed.  His processing is more intense, but effective.

What was more important was the conditions, which he said made up for 70% of the result.

He shot his images in 2015, during whose autumn it got colder much faster than what I had experienced.  Crucially, it was wet at the time.  On that morning, he explained, it had been raining steadily, which produced the misty glow.

What my images lacked was wetness and mist.  It simply had not rained and was not cold enough to produce those highly atmospheric conditions I wanted.

Kalan explained that the abundance of leaves on the ground was due to heavy rain and wind the day before.  My deduction is that while many of the leaves had fallen from the trees, they had not been blown away; and that the rain-soaked ground may have played a significant part in keeping them in place.

So, there is some insight into the conditions. These conditions would have been perfect for my desires, but on both visits, it was not to be. It could take me years to encounter conditions like that, and it may simply never happen.

What I do have is a chance, so I will return next autumn and see what I encounter.  There is more work to be done at Mount Wilson.

2015 Retrospective: Intense and Focused

Now that we are well into the year 2016, it is time for a retrospective look at my photographic journey in 2015.

The year can be summarised as intense and focused, as the majority of images I captured during 2015 were in the Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, where we embarked upon an incredible seven-day safari with our friend and safari leader Mario Moreno.

Looking at my statistics, I shot more images in 2015 than I did in the years 2013 and 2014 combined.

Had the Kenya trip not happened, I suspect I would not have shot much.

Photographically, my year started quite late — near the end of April — with a macro/still life image of a new watch I had been given:

Certina 1888

Certina 1888

We had some family in town from overseas, so I took the opportunity to shoot some cityscape images from a location at which I had not shot before.

One afternoon we headed to the Glebe apartment and I waited for the right light to capture some views of the beautiful city skyline.

This was the result:

Dusk Descendence

Dusk Descendence

And a little later, during blue hour:

The View Sucks

The View Sucks

I also took the opportunity to capture this tight view of the Anzac Bridge as twilight fell:

Anzac Bridge

Anzac Bridge

In May, we all had an outing at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbour.  I took a camera and a couple of lenses, but I did not shoot a great deal of images.

This image of a kangaroo was one of the more pleasing images I captured on the day:

One of Skippy's Mates

One of Skippy’s Mates

Later in the month, I felt compelled to head out and shoot another cityscape.

In the mid-to-late afternoon, I scouted for some vantage points along the western side of Circular Quay, and finally settled on the observation deck of the International Passenger Terminal, which affords a higher view, and additionally was empty and free from passers by.

I waited for the blue hour, and captured this view of Sydney which I have not seen (or photographed) before.

Circular Quay West

Circular Quay West

It had been a slow, but pleasing enough start to the year.

In June, the photography I had been eagerly anticipating since we booked the trip the previous year, would finally happen.

We headed to Kenya to spend seven days in the Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we would re-ignite our passion for wildlife and landscape photography.

So far I have published over 100 images from that trip, so I will not publish a great deal of those images in this article; but as the trip brought us a lot of first-time encounters, I will instead present some selected highlights from the trip.

We were based in the luxurious eco-lodge Elephant Pepper Camp, which afforded us total isolation and positioning right in the middle of where the action was.

This is a view of one of Elephant Pepper Camp‘s honeymoon/family tents:

Elephant Pepper Camp's Honeymoon Tent

Elephant Pepper Camp’s Honeymoon Tent

And this is a view of the camp at twilight, depicting the dining tent, lounge and camp fire:

Around the Camp Fire

Around the Camp Fire

Highlights of the trip included one of my finest bird images, which was my first frame of only two I snapped while this pied kingfisher was bobbing up and down in flight:

Suspended

Suspended

Just about every day, we were treated to lions — most prominently, the Cheli Pride.  One of the fantastic things about the Cheli Pride was its abundance of cubs, and on this trip, it was our first time seeing wild cubs, such as this cute little lion:

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

On one afternoon, we were fortunate enough to spend some time, in pleasing, afternoon light, in very close proximity to a lilac-breasted roller, where I captured this and a number of other images of the national bird of South Africa:

Plumage

Plumage

Naturally, a safari in Africa encompasses more than just wildlife — there are amazing opportunities for stunning, iconic landscape shots, and we certainly took advantage of that, rolling out into the plains in the pre-dawn darkness before other safari-goers were even awake.

This was one of my earlier landscape shots, captured during a moody morning:

The Moody Mara Plains

The Moody Mara Plains

On another morning, we captured the ‘postcard shot’ of a rising sun behind a lone acacia tree:

Sunrise on the Mara

Sunrise on the Mara

This particular tree is known as Mario’s Tree, as Mario often photographs it.  We certainly did — several times — including one particular morning which greeted us with a colourful sky:

Lone Acacia

Lone Acacia

On only our second day on this trip, we were treated to a number of first-time encounters.  In the morning, we encountered our first Mara leopard, who was also also the first leopard we had seen in a tree; and in the evening we found our first male lion of the trip, again a member of the resident Cheli Pride.

We had gone back to Leopard Gorge to look for the young male cat, when we found a large, dominant male lion in the area instead.  If the leopard was around, he was hiding and would not be seen.

Here is the beautiful young male leopard perched high in an elephant pepper tree:

Leopard of the Day

Leopard of the Day

We not only encountered one male lion, but two!  His brother also emerged from the distance and joined him for some bonding and lazing before the night‘s hunting commenced.

Here is one of the stunning Cheli Pride males we encountered:

Surveying

Surveying

The day after we met the dominant males, we encountered numerous members of the pride, minus the males, feasting on a zebra kill the next afternoon.  This was another ‘first’ for us, as we had hitherto never seen lions feasting on a kill.  It was quite a sight, as this wider image shows:

Feast

Feast

The next day, we spent a dramatic afternoon with the Cheli Pride again, firstly as we encountered one of the mothers on her own, out in the open, calling for the pride.

Here is an image I captured of the lioness in the warm afternoon light:

Cheli Mother

Cheli Mother

Before long, a mighty rainstorm descended upon us, which made the big cat uncomfortable, as well as presenting challenges for us.  As the rain began to subside, camera shutters sounded like rapid gunfire as we captured action shots of the lioness shaking the water from her head.

Shake It Off

Shake It Off

Towards the end of the trip, we spent one day further south in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we experienced yet another first.

So far, the one species of African big cat we had never seen in the wild was the cheetah.  On that trip, we finally encountered wild cheetahs.  It was an exciting experience to firstly see them from a distance, and then drive to position ourselves optimally to be ahead of where they were headed.  It became more exciting as the cheetahs got closer, and I had a few opportunities to photograph the family, which consisted of a mother and four sub-adults.

Here is one of the nicer images I captured of these amazing big cats:

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

It had been a long wait, but finally we spent some time with wild cheetahs.

Our next morning in the Mara consisted of a portrait shoot with Maasai tribesman called Baba, with whom we travelled to Mario’s Tree, where we shot some dramatic silhouette portraits of him as the sun rose on one of our final days in the Mara.

Here is one of the more striking images I captured during the session:

Baba the Maasai

Baba the Maasai

Our final evening in the Mara brought something we could have never predicted, and something which is quite rare to see: mating leopards!

At first, we spotted a young female leopard high in a tree during the warm afternoon light, but within a short time, a large, amourous male emerged from the thicket, and the two leopards began (or continued with) their ritual of rapid, exposive mating sessions, which can last for days.

We spent the rest of the drive witnessing this amazing sight, and the following image captures an intense moment as the female expresses her displeasure at the male’s advances:

Growl of the Leopardess

Growl of the Leopardess

The next morning was our final, somewhat subdued game drive in the Mara before we would fly back to Nairobi for a night and another day before departing Kenya.  We were fortunate to encounter a small pod of hippos in a watering hole, where I had the opportunity to capture some relatively close-proximity images, such as this large hippo on the bank, less than 30 metres away:

Hippo on the Bank

Hippo on the Bank

Before too long, this amazing photographic journey came to its conclusion.

After the intensity of our Mara trip, and my generally low photographic output before the trip, it was not surprising that I did not shoot much afterwards.  In fact, I shot only one more image for the remaining six months of the year!

The one image I did capture was a macro image of some red and orange roses to commemmorate our anniversary.

Fifth

Fifth

And so concludes my photographic journey for 2015.  It indeed was an intense and focused year, with Kenya dominating my photographic output, but with a few other images here and there.