One of my favorite childhood books was “Upside-Down Town,” about a little town where everything was opposite the rest of the world. People walked backward so they could see where they’d been, stores paid people to take their goods, and (my personal favorite at the time) schools were only in session on holidays.
That’s kind of the way it feels visiting New Zealand in July. When I left Sacramento it was 110 degrees. After a week on Kauai (I was working the whole time, I swear), where it was tank tops and flip-flops 24/7, I arrived in the teeth of a Queenstown, New Zealand winter. Every day has been some variation of gray and drizzly, with high temperatures around 40 (that’s Fahrenheit—still haven’t embraced the Celsius thing) and lows in the 20s. Overnight my summer-wear was replaced by fleece, wool, and down full body armor. But I’m not here for comfort, and New Zealand has reminded me why winter is my favorite season for photography.
Of course this Southern Hemisphere winter in July wasn’t a surprise, but it definitely was a shock. Other adjustments (driving on the left; to leave a building, we don’t look for the Exit, we have to find the “Way Out”; and what’s with these power outlets?) have been relatively minor. And I’m still not used to the fact that as far as my wife and family back home are concerned, it’s pretty much always tomorrow here.
But one thing that’s universal is beauty, which is simply off-the-charts here. I was last in New Zealand in 1995, and though I wasn’t here as a photographer (in my previous life I traveled to train programmers), I found New Zealand so beautiful that I carried a camera on my seven-mile sunrise run each morning. Now I’m back with my good friend, frequent partner in crime, and fellow professional photographer, Don Smith. We’re here to scout for a New Zealand photo workshop that will debut in June (winter!) of 2018.
Our first couple of days were in the Queenstown area, where we explored the shores of the spectacular Lake Wakatipu. We could probably do an entire workshop in the Queenstown area, but that would only just scratch the surface down here. Today (tomorrow to you) we’re in Te Anau, having just returned from an all-day cruise on even more spectacular Doubtful Sound. Other locations on this week’s itinerary include Wanaka, Milford Sound, and Fox Glacier.
I’m sharing here my first of what will be many New Zealand images. On the road from Queenstown to Te Anau, we skirted the shore of the south arm of Lake Wakatipu. It had been raining on and off all day, a light rain with no wind, ideal conditions for photography. The snow-capped mountains that flank the entire west side of the lake were shrouded in clouds, but the light was great and we stopped at several locations to photograph.
Rain felt imminent as we pulled off at an unmarked roadside vista, hopped out for a quick reconnaissance, and rushed back to the car for our gear. Taking different routes to the lake, we each found scenes that excited us. Don concentrated on a creek flowing into the lake near the car, while I walked a hundred yards or so up the shore toward a tree topping a dark rock that sloped into the lake, pausing to click a frame or two along the way.
The crescent-shaped beach was naturally sheltered, especially down in my direction. With no wind or waves to disturb the surface, the lake surface here was like turquoise glass that clearly revealed the small, smooth beach rocks continuing beneath the water, and returning crisp reflections of the cloud-shrouded mountains across the lake.
Using the tree and sloping rock to frame the right side of my scene, I played with a variety of compositions. I started with a foreground that included two or three microwave-size rocks lodged in the beach and protruding from the water, gradually moving closer to the tree until my scene was simplified to what you see here. I could have stayed and worked this spot for hours, but soon the wind kicked up and a light rain started and it was time to move on. Later today we’ll drive back by this spot and my fingers will be crossed that the mountains will be out and I’ll get an opportunity to capture it differently.
After four days in New Zealand I’ve completely adjusted to the weather, can now quickly navigate my way out of any building, and am pretty confident I’ll be okay with the left-hand drive thing by the time I fly home. But I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that according to my airline itinerary, I’ll actually arrive home before I left. Tomorrowland indeed.
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