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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Anatomy of a travel photography assignment part 2

It's only a short hop, skip and a jump from my home in Cairns to Darwin. My plane got into Darwin airport late at night and I picked up my hire car from the airport. A flash, black four wheel drive with all the mod cons! Checking up on the map I printed out before I left home I drove into the heart of Darwin and checked into the Darwin YHA at about 10pm.

First problem. The World Cup's on. Italy is playing. There's a lot of very noisy Italian supporters downstairs. Sleep wasn't much of an option. When I got up (had I slept?) at 6 the next morning to get some sunrise shots of the front of the YHA (requested for publicity purposes) there were still drunk revellers stumbling out of the front of the hostel. A few of them even helped me frame my shot which was very helpful!

The other little hiccup was that there were roadworks happening right outside the hostel. Big SLOW DOWN signs everywhere gave me a very narrow window to shoot through. I set myself up in the dark and waited until the sky started to turn a lovely shade of blue. A nice tour bus out the front, streaked lights of a passing car and we have quite a nice shot of the front of the hostel.

Because my National Parks briefing wasn't until later in the morning and no tours had been booked until the next day, I had a morning to wander around Darwin a bit, take some photos and see the sights. I had already got in touch with my stock agency to see what images they needed from the area, brainstormed some things I would like to see and had a short list of places I could walk to. It was a lovely morning so I just wandered off with my camera. When I'm in a city I usually prefer to walk then try and drive and find parking.

When you aren't photographing somewhere instantly recognisable, photographing the local plants can put you in a rough geographic location. Bougainvilleas and palm trees scream 'the tropics'. A slightly telephoto lens makes the background palm tree appear nice and close.

I also popped over to parliament house to have a wander through and take a few shots. This is a natural light shot taken with the camera on a tripod. I always shoot RAW anyway but even if you shoot Jpeg I recommend you shoot RAW in indoor situations like this just so you can adjust your white balance easily.

While I was wandering around I got a frantic call from my contact in Darwin.

They had stuffed up my accommodation in Kakadu and were asking if I could stay in a dorm. I try not to think of myself as an inflexible person but when I'm travelling with over $10,000 worth of gear and having to work at night in my room there's no way I can stay in a dorm.

So I politely refused and asked her to see what she could do. She called back a few minutes later and said that I could get my own room but I'd be in a different town each of the three nights. (there are only two towns in the whole national park!) So I would have an 80km drive at the end of every night to get back to my room and I'd have to pack up my gear every morning! Not ideal but what can you do?

I quickly went back to my Darwin room and checked out my tour schedule, confirming where each tour left from. I knew that the tours picked up at both towns but they picked up one later than the other. I then completely changed my schedule around so I would be at the right accommodation house every night to get a bit of a later start each day and hopefully avoid as much driving as possible. Always know as much about your itinerary as you can because often you will be the one responsible for making changes.

At about 11 I headed off for my National Parks briefing (which basically involved the woman reading out to me the paperwork I'd already signed - word for word!) and started the 4 hour drive down to Kakadu. There wasn't much to photograph on the way down and my time was pretty tight so I just made a quick frame of the entrance of the park. Place name signs are always a good thing to photograph.

I knew what time sunset was and also that my first night's accommodation at Cooinda was right next to beautiful Yellow Waters, not on my list of tours but something I really wanted to photograph. So I had timed my arrival so that I could check in and then wander down for sunset. Murphy and his law had other plans...

When I got there the hotel had never heard of me, or had any vouchers for all the tours I was supposed to take part in over the next few days. I couldn't get through on the phone to the Darwin office so I sent a fax off. Still not having checked in, and with sunset rapidly approaching, I left the hotel to figure it out and went off.

It had already been a long, frustrating day and I needed some shutter action to get me feeling good again. And Yellow Waters didn't let me down.

The first thing you learn about photographing in the tropics is not to set your tripod up too close to the water! Yellow Waters has approximately 180 crocodiles in a 5km stretch of waterhole. Unless you want to become a saltie's next meal stay well back!

I got about an hour or so of sunset pics from the moment I arrived till the moment the sky went dark. I started off using a 400mm lens to concentrate on all the birds perched in the trees around the billabong.

Because most of the birds were too far away even for the reach of that long zoom I switched to a wide-angle zoom and concentrated on the sky as it changed colours and started to light up a bright band of clouds above.

By about 7pm the sun had gone down, I stumbled my way back to the car with the aid of my little torch and headed back to see whether I had a place to stay that night! As luck would have it I got a donga (Australian slang for a tiny cubicle not big enough to swing a cat around!) and settled in.

On travel photography assignments I stay in everything from $1500 a night suites to little cubicles like the one in Kakadu. To tell you the truth I spend so little time in the room that a nice one is kind of a waste on me. (Although I do have to admit the $1500 one was pretty flash!) At the end of the day all I need is a place to lay down and I'm happy.

My diary tells me that after a dinner of a Territorian Pizza (kangaroo fillet, tomatoes, roasted capsicum, sour cream and Cajun spices) I went back to my room, backed up my cards, made a second back-up to my laptop and went to bed about 11. Ready for day 2!

Not always a lot of photography involved in professional travel photography is there? :)

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