Storm season is really kicking in here in Queensland Australia. The last week has brought wide spread storms to the region, some becoming very nasty super cells with tornados of all things. It’s the first time in my memory I’ve seen the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) issue a tornado warning, with several dropping a few hours north of Brisbane and causing widespread damage.
Thursday saw a good chance for something around home, as I work full time I took all my gear with me on the off chance I’d have an opportunity to get something. Driving home I started to see cloud to ground lightning bolts (CGs) dropping to the west, but pretty close. I headed for the Brisbane River near Goodna as there is a great spot there with good views. Arriving I quickly worked out I needed a better view west so I moved a few k’s up the road to another higher spot.
As I pulled up I started to see the most amazing colour come across the scene. The sun was setting and throwing out amazing shades of red and pinks, with the actual storm cell being illuminated. I’m pretty sure I set a new record in getting setup and shooting. Camera on tripod, turn it on, into manual mode, aperture to f/6.3, ISO to 100, and shutter speed to live composite. I was getting a well exposed photo with 1.6 second updates. Start shooting. I normally run live composite for 20-60 seconds depending on cloud speed as they can start to look weird if they move too much. Second frame there was a massive flash in front of me, and this amazing bolt appeared on my screen.
We’ll jump for joy and high fiving myself, I quickly went live on my facebook page to show the scene and what was happening. As luck would have it, the colour soon faded and no more bolts dropped, I got “the” shot and my best bolt this year by far.
This ended up going a little viral on Facebook and ended up on Sky News Weather Channel, ABC News and Sunrise on Channel 7 the next morning, it’s great when others appreciate your work.
I’ve also sold a few prints on canvas of this shot now, if you’d like one for yourself, simply contact me and I’ll send you pricing details.
I had no luck chasing storms this weekend. They all developed further north of my location, too far away for me to get to in time as they formed quickly and moved quickly.
However, one thing I’ve learnt over the last 10+ years, some of the most amazing light comes during and just after bad weather. There were still a few unsettled systems around, the clouds were moving quickly, and it was midday. I figured it might be time to head out and have a play with some long exposures, all the while keeping an eye on the radar just in case something developed further.
I headed out Gatton way and met up with my good mate Craig. Craig is a local and with that comes local knowledge, and access to some amazing locations. We headed to a nearby property where there is a great old building. Waving to the lovely elderly owner as we came in, we setup around the shack and played with various filters, settings, framing, compositions while the clouds streamed across the sky. The colours were great, however it was very harsh light. We soon worked out around 12-16 stops of ND filters would give us around 4-6 minute long exposures if the sun was behind a cloud. Over the next hour or so we took a lot of photos.
In my mind I knew I wanted to get a black and white image. I put a polarising filter on, which had the two benefits of making the blue really pop in the sky (helps it go dark in conversion) and adding around 1-1.5 stops of darkness. Then I also put on a 10 stop and 6 stop filter. So all up, quite a lot of darkening to really get that super long exposure. Thankfully, Olympus has a great feature called Live Time. I set my aperture to F8, ISO to standard 200 for my camera, and the update interval to every 30 seconds. Then I press the shutter and the camera goes for it. Every 30 seconds the back screen updates with the exposure, and the histogram. It’s simply a matter of waiting until I think the exposure looks good and stopping the photograph. I converted the image to Black and White in Photoshop using Nik Silver Efex Pro and decided the darker moody look really worked with the side lighting that was going on and the amazing textures of the shack contrasting against the smooth sky from the long exposure. Here is the final result :
This session was a lot of fun. We were in no rush and could really take our time and experiment. I showed Craig how I shoot panoramas, we played with taking time lapses, can’t beat a time like this. Finally we started noticing the colours were getting a little warmer, wow it was starting to get close to sunset.
Making the call, we moved locations to another fantastic shack that sits in the middle of a wheat crop. I’ve photographed Astro here before with Craig and this time were we hoping for one of those magic sunsets. As soon as we arrived and saw the colour of the golden wheat I told Craig we needed to get this photographed while the sun was still up as it would make the whole place glow. Well with the clouds still moving towards the west, the sun was breaking in and out so it was a bit of a race to setup, work out a composition and get some shots in the bag. I wanted to emphasise the amazing crop so I put the sky towards the top of the frame. I also didn’t want to make it all about the sun so I put it right off to the edge as best as I could while keeping a good angle on the shack. I used a Lee 2 stop hard Grad filter, angled slightly to the right to help balance the brightness of the sky with the ground. Within 5 minutes the sun broke through and I captured this photograph :
I honestly think this is the best rural landscape photograph I’ve captured to date and I’ve added it to my Landscape Portfolio. I’m absolutely in love with this image and it brings to my mind some of the awesome building/shack photographs that my idol Ken Duncan has captured over the years in panorama format. I work in 4:3 ratio as that is the standard of my camera and I really just love how everything fell into place with this photo. This will be 100% going on the wall at home.
We stayed until well after sunset, right through blue hour, hoping for more colour in the sky but the clouds to the west ended up blocking the rest of the light. I’m so happy we got here early enough to get this photograph. The title of this photograph was not selected by me, it’s actually the owner of the property who insisted we call it this if we get a photograph, so in honour and with many thanks for the access to his private property, I have called it Little Brown Shack, may she stand over the fields of gold for many years to come. Please make sure you have permission to get access to any locations on rural properties, it’s so important to respect their land.
As a bit of fun, I’d love to know what you think would be a great title for this photograph, post your ideas on the comments below!
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this weeks post. I do sell my photographs if you are interested in making a purchase. I can create whatever you need from Fine Art Prints, Framed Prints, Canvases, Prints on Acrylic, whatever you need I’m happy to help to get you the artwork you want on your wall. Just contact me and we’ll work it out.
This would have to be one of the best afternoons I’ve had in photography for quite a while. I didn’t really have any fixed plan. I knew of a spot with a cool looking hut that I thought might be okay, if the weather played ball. Unfortunately it looked like there was going to be lots of cloud towards the horizon at sunset, so I wasn’t feeling hopeful and notched this down to just an exploration day.
There are a few lines of mountains that run north/south as you approach the Great Dividing Range. Some of these have valleys between them with access. It was one such valley I headed for. On the way in, the peaks started appearing. This one caught my eye so I quickly pulled a u-turn and captured this shot. It’s nothing amazing, but the diffused light on the hill was really illuminating the brighter parts, contrasting against the darker sky.
Heading right up the the end of the Valley I found the hut I was looking for. It’s actually an information centre for the area (not manned) and there is a nice campground across the way, I definitely will be back here in winter astro season, the landscapes around here are fantastic. For this next photograph I thought I’d try a fun technique. I don’t have what is called an Ultra wide angle lens. The widest mine go is 12mm on Micro Four Thirds which is equivalent to 24mm on a full frame camera. Pretty wide, but it’s certainly not ultra wide. Ultra wide lenses make objects very close to them appear very big, and objects further away very small. This is used to great effect by a lot of landscape photographers. To achieve a similar effect, I used a Panasonic 20mm prime lens (equivalent to 40mm) and took a 3×3 grid of photographs starting point almost straight down to well up into the sky, with good overlap side to side and up and down. Make sure you have your camera in full manual exposure mode so nothing changes. I set the exposure with the camera aimed at the brightest part of the scene, and leave it fixed there.
Focusing is also important with this technique. I was very close to the front fence, and that peak is off in the distance. I also was using a very normal lens. It’s physically impossible to get everything sharp in one shot for the framing I had. So I simply used autofocus, set the focus point to centre, stopped down a bit. Each shot focused at the prime position and not only does stitching the photos together create one big, ultra wide angle looking photograph, it also has the effect of focus stacking the images as well for front to back sharpness.
Now, yes, this is a lot of work you may say, and what if something moves, then it won’t work. It took all of 30 seconds to capture the images, and it took 5 minutes in Photoshop to join them. The wind was blowing quite strongly and I can’t see any stitching errors. I also ended up with the equivalent of a 60+mp photograph which is awesome 🙂 I think I’ll be using this technique a lot more often until I can get my hands on an UWA lens.
Next was time to wait a bit. I was here to try and capture this hut at sunset with the peak behind. Unfortunately the trees were not letting me get the angle I was initially thinking of. I spent a good 40 minutes walking around with my phone, taking shots from various locations and I kept coming back to a wider view of the shack and the peak. So I settled on trying to create a 3:1 panorama photo. This will need around 6 shots with the camera in vertical position. I kept the Panasonic 20mm lens on, it has almost no distortion, and is so sharp. This lens is just awesome for panoramas on my Olympus, just keep an eye out for chromatic aberration in really high contrast areas.
So I setup the tripod, made sure it was 100% level, took a few test runs and then just waited…and waited…and waited….I was beginning to worry nothing really would happen. The sun had already gone behind the mountains behind me, clouds were streaming across, and the wind was picking up again. Right through golden hour I got nothing, the light was just flat. And then literally the moment of sunset, something west of me must have cleared and this amazing light hit the peak behind the shack, also bouncing off the clouds and lighting up the whole scene. I captured my 6 shots as quickly as I could while making sure everything was in sharp focus (let your tripod settle a few seconds after each camera movement). I got two runs at it and then incredibly the light was gone! I worked out looking at my photos it lasted a total of 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Wow…it really proved to me preparation is king.
I hung around for another 10 or so minutes but it was becoming obvious that there wouldn’t be a second run of light. I packed up my gear and started to make the couple of hour drive back home. As I went past a local pecan farm, I spotted a water tower in amongst the tall trees. It was getting very dark, but I make it a habit, if something catches my eye, go back and look and take a photo, whether you like it or not. I changed to my Olympus 12-40mm pro lens, quickly setup the tripod and went for the vertical composition. I really just liked the height of everything and the contrast of the water tank to the pecan trees. A bit of fun in editing with the colours and this has to be one of my most favourite Instagram type of photographs I’ve captured. This will be going up on my photo wall for sure.
After capturing this photograph, I remembered a collection of structures further up the road I had passed on the way in. I was thinking if there was still enough light I might be able to capture an interesting photograph with them. Coming to the location I had to shoot fast, and work out a composition. This is what I finally settled upon after trying wider and closer. I like the balance between the 3 structures, the low low light gave a bit of an ethereal feeling to the scene, and the clouds still moving quite fast overhead blurred out quite nicely.
One thing I simply love about mirrorless cameras is having an EVF viewfinder. I managed to focus on the middle barn, in near darkness (exposures were out to 30 seconds) manually and could see 100% I had the focus nailed. The live view couldn’t even keep up, but boy, does that EVF with it’s auto gain and focus peaking really make it so easy in low light, absolutely love it. I cropped this to a 2:1 ratio to give a nice balance to the scene.
It pays to get out and visit new areas. It also doesn’t hurt when mother nature decides to play ball and throw some great light around. I’m going to be exploring more of the back valleys and roads, to find more of those little gem locations that mostly only locals know about.
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