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

Friday, August 22, 2008

Anatomy of a travel photography assignment final

My final day in the park dawned without me. Yes folks, for all that talk about professionalism and whatnot - I slept in! I had two alarm clocks set and slept through both of them. The day before I had booked a Yellow Waters cruise for 0645. It wasn't on the list of things to see but it was somewhere I had read about and couldn't imagine not doing so I attempted to squeeze it in.

When I eventually did wake up I had well and truly missed the cruise. I had another tour lined up at 9am so it was looking like I couldn't do both. But I rang the 9am people to see if I could move it a bit later, which they kindly agreed to, and slipped on to the 9am Yellow Waters cruise.

As it turns out it was a blessing in disguise. This was my first overcast, rainy day. The earlier tour would have been too dark to take photos in anyway. A sunny day at 9 would have been a contrasty disaster but on this cloudy day it was perfect and I came away with some shots I was really happy with. Birds in the rain, crocodiles and female jabirus up really close. Even though they weren't specifically mentioned in the piece many of those images made the publication.


Always remember that your photographs are there to complement what either you, or another writer, writes. In other words don't feel you have to photograph what you write about. If anything you want to avoid that so that you get a more complete coverage.


After I got back from the cruise I got an unexpected phone call. I had been trying to organise a scenic flight over the park because no coverage is complete without some aerials. Unfortunately the airline company didn't want to take me up because they had heard that I was connected to Lonely Planet Images, and apparently they'd got a bad review in the latest guidebook. I tried to tell them that I had nothing whatsoever to do with the guidebook side of things, that the images were a totally separate entity but to no avail. Well apparently they had changed their minds. The weather was pretty ordinary for aerials but who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth. So I arranged to go up after my next tour.

Which was the Guluyambi. Indigenous culture is a huge part of this region of Australia and the Guluyambi tour was one of the best I had ever been on. From a writer's perspective it was great. Really funny guide, lots of information and a great tour. From a photographer's perspective it was pretty hopeless. We saw a crocodile with a wallaby in its mouth and I got a shot but you can't really tell there's a roo there. So I concentrated more on photographing the people mixing on the tour and this was the shot that ran.

After the tour it was a mad rush to the airport for my flight over the park. I would like to tell you that the sun miraculously came out and covered the land in beautiful light but....that would be lying! The gloomy weather stayed around and it was very hard to shoot. Whenever you have a lot of fog it's hard to shoot with a long lens because it just compresses the fog and makes it look even thicker. So you have to use shorter lenses. Added to that you need at least 1/500 second shutter speed to get a clear pic in a plane and suddenly you have to bump up your ISO to get hand holdable shots. Not the ideal situation and if I'd had another day I might have tried to re-schedule it but as it was I was late getting back to Darwin.

And this was my final shot of a four day adventure before starting the long drive back to Darwin.


And that folks is it in a nutshell. I needed to leave for Darwin at about lunchtime because the last thing I wanted to be was on the road at sunset. There are a lot of kangaroos around and they have a tendency to jump right out in front of your car at the most inopportune moment and usually at around sunset. During the middle of the day they're usually resting up under a tree so that's when you want to be driving.

By the time I got back to Darwin it was well and truly past dinner time though. I checked in, unloaded my stuff in my room and went through my usual back-up routine. Digital has made a lot of things easier but some things a lot more tedious! Once again I treated myself to a luxurious dinner of canned spaghetti and crashed!

And that's pretty much how a standard assignment goes. It's certainly not all glamour and not all photography but I wouldn't do anything else. Sitting on top of Ubirr Rock is one of those moments where you have to pinch yourself and say Is somebody really paying me to do this? How lucky am I? It's long days and hard work but when you see the images later all the pain is forgotten.

If you'd like to look at a wider selection of images from the shoot head to my Kakadu page and if you'd like to see how the article turned out head to the Backpacker Essentials site.

I hope you have enjoyed this little interlude and insight into what I do. I would like to thank Janet McGarry from Backpacker Essentials magazine for popping by and giving us a look at things from an editor's perspective and next week I shall return to our regular viewing.

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1 comment:

Janet McGarry said...

Thanks for the week's blog, Paul...it's been fun seeing the commission through your eyes!

A final commment to anyone thinking of approaching editors about their work - be passionate and persistent. Both of which Paul is. As an editor, I get lots of half hearted approaches through the year. But I've published the ones who know what they have to offer, have researched my publication and make an approapriate pitch (e.g. don't send a hotel story to a backpacker's magazine! Laugh not, it happens...), and those that don't take no for an answer. If you have the talent, you will get published.