Anyone who favours sunrise as the prime time to be out chasing landscape images (like me) will be familiar with early rises and hikes by torchlight to get to your chosen location. This can sound a little daunting if you haven’t done it before, and in an unfamiliar location it certainly requires some planning and care. But it’s a part of the process I really enjoy, and never moreso than when the hike includes an open ocean beach. If you haven’t walked a beach lit only by the moon and stars, I’d recommend giving it a try – it is an exhilarating experience. Even on the darkest of nights it is usually possible to do away with the torch and be guided by the white foam-line of waves pushing up the shore, and to see and avoid any obstacles like driftwood or rocks.
Early in April I decided to visit the north shore of the mouth of Currimundi Lake – there are several ways to get there (including by wading/swimming across the mouth of the lake in the dark – doesn’t sound very appealing to me!) but my favourite is to park at Wurtulla and take the ~2km walk along the beach. After parking the car, I hit the beach at 4:30am under a starry but moonless sky.
A few minutes into the walk I came to one of the few obstacles along this stretch of coast, a low, flat outcrop of rock on the edge of the wave zone, that is sometimes mostly covered by sand but, on this morning, was exposed. I’ve spent several mornings photographing around these rocks – even though they are low and fairly featureless, they do provide some interesting leading lines, shapes and textures that make great foregrounds for compositions looking out to sea or along the beach.
From there, it’s an unbroken stretch of sandy beach all the way to the mouth of the lake. I arrived at 5am and spent some time searching around the lake edge and coffee-rock outcrops by torchlight for possible compositions. Overnight tidal flows had created some intricate and unusual patterns in the sand along the lake shore, so I was careful to skirt around these and not spoil them with my footprints. One little patch of sand with a scalloped pattern caught my attention and I tried out a couple of different compositions that would highlight this pattern.
As sunrise approached, so too did a big dark rain-cloud from the south-east. It was over me before I was ready for it and a sudden heavy shower sent me running for the nearest cover. The soft coffee-rock provided the perfect escape in the shape of a small cave - I crawled in to wait out the rain and then noticed that it might make an interesting image if I used the cave entrance to frame a composition.
17mm, f11, 0.8sec, ISO100
The rain only lasted a few minutes and started to clear away just as the sun was rising, so I hurried back to my chosen piece of sand and set up the composition below. The clearing rain had left behind a particularly clear atmosphere with vibrant early-morning light that I hope is captured in this image. I tried a few other compositions, both portrait and landscape, but this one conveys the feeling of the moment best.
17mm, f16, 1.3sec, ISO100
The stroll back to the car along a sunlit beach was the perfect way to finish the session. The morning could have been a complete wash-out - if I'd heeded the weather forecast I probably would have stayed in bed - but instead it produced an image that I'm happy captured a particularly beautiful moment. And it gave me one of those little memorable experiences that nature is so good at manufacturing if we make the effort to get out and enjoy it.
I spend a lot of time in the warmer months concentrating on seascape photography on the Sunshine Coast, so it is always a nice change to head for the hills and some different scenery. Gheerulla Creek Falls in Mapleton National Park is a spot I've visited and photographed many times - the falls can be reduced to a trickle over the winter dry period, but I've also seen it flowing so thunderously that it was impossible to get within 50 metres without being drenched in spray and mist.
After some good rain in late March, I was half expecting the falls to be in one of its more thunderous moods. But being located so high in the catchment, most of the flow had already moved through the area and the creek had dropped back to a more normal water level. One of the lingering results of the recent high flows was the presence of flecks of foam in the plunge pool below the falls, and in other pools down the creek. Anyone who is familiar with the images of photographers like Joseph Rossbach from the US (among many others) will have seen some of the creative ways that the patterns created by drifting foam can become a central part of the composition of creek-scape images.
So this became my main mission for the morning - to incorporate foam-trails into my images using long exposures, or to build compositions around the patterns created by foam-trails. All of the images below were captured using a circular polarising filter which performed the dual roles of reducing the amount of light reaching my camera's sensor and thus allowing longer exposures, and of reducing glare on the water surface and wet vegetation to produce richer and more saturated colours. I also used either a 3-stop or 5-stop neutral density filter on many images to further lengthen the exposure time and reveal the slow-motion movement of the foam.
17mm, f8, 122sec, ISO100
20mm, f13, 13sec, ISO100
17mm, f8, 2sec, ISO200
17mm, f11, 4sec, ISO100
17mm, f11, 20sec, ISO100
24mm, f11, 4sec, ISO100
The Trachyte Circuit is an easy 6km walk through native woodland in Glass House Mountains National Park. The easiest access point is a carpark near the base of Mount Tibrogargan - from there, the circuit winds past the base of Mount Tibberoowuccum and on to Jack Ferris lookout on Trachyte Ridge. The morning I hiked to Jack Ferris lookout was clear and warm - the only thing spoiling the peace was a cloud of hungry mosquitos trying to bite through my rolled-down shirtsleeves and coating of insect repellent. I won the war but lost a little blood along the way!
One of my aims for the morning was to shoot a couple of timelapse sequences. I've been experimenting with these lately but still have plenty to learn about the whole process - I'll post some of my efforts when I'm happy with the results. So in the end, after battling with mossies and fiddling around with timelapse settings, I didn't capture many still images...apart from this one. That's Mount Tibberoowuccum in the middle, with Mount Beerwah in the left distance and Mount Ngungun on the right.
22mm, f8, 1/15sec, ISO100
The rocky stretch of coastline between Coolum Beach and Point Arkwright has been a favourite go-to spot of mine over the past few years. Most of this stretch is easy to access as long as your legs can get you up and down one of the steep walking tracks - there are even concrete steps leading down from one of the carparks. Once down at shore level, you'll find a series of protected little bays with sandy beaches and craggy headlands that make great fuel for seascape images.
I visited a couple of different locations along this stretch during April. Despite the area being awash with visitors making the most of the school holidays, an early morning start meant I had it pretty much to myself apart from the occasional rock fisherman and sunrise beachcomber. And despite having photographed here many times before, I still managed to find new and different angles and compositions among the rocks, beaches and waves.
On that last point, it may be a little self-aggrandising to claim that I found these new angles and compositions. A more accurate assessment might be that these new options presented themselves to me - all I did was recognise and accept them. That might sound like an abstract distinction, but it illustrates a facet of landscape photography that I've come to embrace - that finding meaningful images among the chaos of nature is mostly about responding to the conditions at the time, not about detailed planning or trying to force the landscape to fit with your preconceptions. Momentary interplays between light and land (or sea) that make you catch your breath are the ultimate prize for landscape photographers (in my opinion) and these can rarely be planned for.
So ends my short foray into landscape philosophy....here are my new images from the Coolum coast.
17mm, f11, 130sec, ISO100
20mm, f11, 4sec, ISO100
25mm, f11, 1sec, ISO100
17mm, f11, 4sec, ISO100
31mm, f11, 1/10sec, ISO100
The sand-spit on the south bank of the Maroochy River at Cotton Tree is worth a visit at sunrise or sunset. To the east lies an expanse of sand and calm water with Pincushion Island in the distance - to the west across the river is the Maroochydore business centre skyline. I spend most of my time facing east when I visit because office towers don't really interest me, but there is certainly an opportunity there if architectural or urban landscapes are your thing.
The shape of the spit is ever-changing with tides and river flows so it holds different photo options every day. There are always new patterns in the sand, new pieces of driftwood or shells washed up or exposed by the tides, and new leading lines created by the shifting shorelines. It's also another one of those places that is popular with early morning walkers so get there early if you want to beat the footprints.
84mm, f11, 1sec, ISO100
26mm, f11, 0.6sec, ISO100
17mm, f11, 1/2sec, ISO100
The first thing you're likely to notice as you step onto Mudjimba beach is the rocky form of Mudjimba Island just 1km offshore. Apart from being a famous surf-break, it's also an enticing subject for photographers chasing sunrise seascapes. It lies due east of the beach so it only takes a short walk up or down the beach at any time of year to create a composition with the sun rising directly behind or to either side of the island.
The options for different compositions that include the island can seem a bit limited at first but there is a range of approaches I've found useful here. The classic 'near-far' landscape approach, with the island being part of the 'far', can work well if you're able to compose a pleasing foreground (the 'near'). Although the beach is mostly flat and sandy, there are reefs of rock hidden under the sand whose crests are sometimes covered with sand and sometimes exposed depending on recent sand and water movements. The amount of visible rock has been different each time I've visited, but there has always been at least some in view to provide leading lines and interesting foreground shapes.
17mm, f8, 30sec, ISO100
17mm, f11, 1/6sec, ISO200
17mm, f11, 0.8sec, ISO100
The most common 'near-far' approach is to get in close to the foreground with a wide angle lens - this works well at Mudjimba but it means the island is going to appear as a small blip on the horizon (as in the three images above). A useful variation is to try a longer lens so that the island becomes more prominent in the composition. I've used this approach several times here (see image below), but it takes some care to ensure that both the foreground and background are in focus when using a medium telephoto lens. This can be achieved by moving back up the beach away from the foreground interest, setting a small aperture (eg. f16), and setting the focus with reference to a hyperfocal distance chart. A couple of test shots followed by review on the LCD screen will soon tell you if everything is as sharp as you want it to be.
81mm, f16, 1.6sec, ISO100
Another option is to use a medium telephoto lens to bring the island closer and then compose the image either around cloud formations or wave shapes. In the image below, I liked the shape of the clouds so gave them prominence by positioning the horizon low in the frame. It can work equally well the other way, by placing the horizon higher in the frame and using lines of breaking waves to fill the foreground. I think this works best when the waves are breaking cleanly, with smooth faces and curling crests, as you're more likely to get with an offshore breeze.
122mm, f11, 1/3sec, ISO100
And of course there are other photo options that don't include the island. Longshore shots, towards Mt Coolum to the north or the open beach to the south, are always worth considering. Just be aware that Mudjimba is a popular beach for early morning walkers, joggers and surfers so it would be a rare day to find the beach free of footprints or people out enjoying the new day.