Posted on June 16, 2019
What a crazy life this is. Last month I was rafting the Grand Canyon in short pants and flip-flops, this month I’m bouncing around the New Zealand countryside in my warmest wool and down. Between timezone shock and temperature whiplash, my body isn’t quite sure whether it’s coming or going, but the relentless beauty down here seems to transcend all that difficulty enough to keep me going.
Mirror Lakes is a must-stop on the road to Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. It’s a popular stop even in mid-winter, but with the help of our New Zealand-based driver, Don Smith and I have figured out how to thread the needle between the tour buses originating in nearby Te Anau, and the tour buses originating in distant Queenstown, and still make it just before the morning sun reaches the water and washes out the reflection.
When our van pulled up here on Friday morning, I was surprised to see a large tour bus right out front, but Steve (our driver) said don’t worry, they’ll be loading up any second—sure enough, within five minutes we had this gorgeous view to ourselves with at least 45 minutes of shade remaining on the water. As pretty as the scene is, limited views through the surrounding foliage make it a little tricky to photograph, so I’m usually content to stand back and let the group work with the prime photography real estate. But on this morning chilly morning last week, I found the clouds and reflection so irresistible that I went looking for a way to photograph the scene without getting in anyone’s way.
I soon found myself over in one the far corner of the most popular railed viewing deck, a zone where the patient (and not-so-patient) wait behind thick overhanging branches for better views to open up. My first thought as I eyed the scene was how cool the branches look—too bad they block the view. But then I realized that by lowering my camera almost all the way to the deck, I could completely eliminate the most dense set of branches at the very top of the frame, and use the lower branches as diagonal compositional elements—without blocking the snowy peaks, or their reflection.
The problem with this idea was that I needed my camera to be on the other side of the deck’s protective railing, and the vertical bars in the railing were too closely spaced to fit my lens through. But just for laughs I pulled the lens out anyway and tested its width against the bars. Sure enough, every opening was too narrow—well, every opening except one. For some reason, the gap separating one, and only one, pair of bars was about an inch wider than all the others, making a gap just wide enough to slip my lens through.
The technical part of the scene was pretty straightforward, though potentially quite awkward with my camera about eight inches off the ground (it’s not the getting down to ground level that’s a problem, it’s the getting up). These are the very situations where I’ve grown to love the articulating LCD on my Sony a7RIII. In this case I was able to compose, level, focus, and meter from the (relative) comfort of my knees.
After centering Mt. Eglinton, I focused on the branches knowing that at f/16 and 18mm, I’d be sharp all the way to infinity. The dynamic range was pretty extreme, but my histogram told me that it was workable if I was careful. With all that out of the way, the biggest problem remaining was the ducks that insisted on swimming through the reflection—fortunately, I’m nothing if not patient (stubborn), and was able to out-wait them long enough to click this frame.
Click an image for a closer look and to view a slide show.
Posted on July 9, 2017
I’ve been home from New Zealand for less than 24 hours, and I already miss it. I miss the mountains, the fiords (AKA, fjords, but when in New Zealand…), the lakes, the rivers, the skies, the people, and the winter—right now (when it’s 105 in Sacramento), especially the winter. FYI, picking a favorite season for photography is kind of like having to pick a favorite child—but asking me now would be like asking right after one of my children brought me breakfast in bed, so today I’m going with winter.
But anyway…. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was in New Zealand with Don Smith; we were scouting for our New Zealand workshop, scheduled to debut next June. When I posted my first New Zealand image a few days ago, I’d only been there a couple of days and had seen lots of clouds but not many mountains. That changed on the day we drove the road to Milford Sound, through Fiordland National Park. For the rest of the trip (with a couple of exceptions), the majority of the clouds we saw were the ephemeral, radiation variety that form when the air cools to the dew point. Sometimes the clouds swirled and hovered near the mountain peaks, other times they hugged the lakes and meadows in the still hours around sunrise and sunset. One day we spent a couple of hours driving in a dense fog that had lifted just enough to reveal trees and hillsides glazed with frost.
I’m afraid a scouting trip emphasizes quantity of locations over the quality of the photography—with so much territory to cover, it’s just impossible to time our visits to each spot for the best possible time to photograph it. The priority is to get our eyes on locations, as many as possible—first to see if they’re photo-worthy, and second to determine the lay of the land so we can bring our groups back when they are most photo-worthy. Which is how I happened to be at Mirror Lakes in Fiordland National Park carrying nothing but my iPhone.
We’d left the little town of Te Anau after a glorious sunrise at a remote location, found thanks to a local tip (thanks, Steve at Trips & Tramps), heading for Milford Sound. We were rushing to get in as much scouting as possible before doubling back and driving all the way up to that night’s hotel in Wanaka. So, at the turnout for the short walk down to Mirror Lakes, Don and I just hopped out of the car armed with nothing but iPhones. Fortunately, the scene was perfect for a pano, and the dynamic range was just within the bounds the iPhone could handle.
I’ve never been shy about snapping a quick shot with my iPhone to share on my personal Facebook page or with my wife, but this is the first time I’ve actually put an iPhone image in a blog. Honestly, I’ve never really scrutinized the iPhone images very closely, but I have to say that I’m pretty pleased with the results. Who knows, maybe this is the start of a whole new career….
(Most of these aren’t New Zealand images, and only one is an iPhone image)