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Introduction

2014 has been a very important year for me: Since I made up my mind to go beyond the plains, I have explored the Southern Alps of New Zealand two more times after I completed my Aoraki/Mt Cook Alpine Guides’ Mountain Experience Course (MEC, see link). In July 2014, Mark – my guide and friend, and I climbed Mount Cook Range. During that trip, I was able to make couple of nice pictures. The following pictures are probably the very first serious landscape photographs made from this place, because most of current pictures of Southern Alps were taken as snapshots by climbers.

Beyond the Plains: Touching the Sky

Beyond the Plains: Touching the Sky


The Above photo was made on 8 July 2014, around 3.30am after moon set. From a location of 1600 meters high, we witnessed the most stunning Milky Way I have ever seen. The lights down the mountain came from Aoraki/Mt Cook Village, while the curve line in the valley was the river from Muller Glacier Lake on the very right side outside this image.

Over Tasman Valley

Over Tasman Valley


Planning

Soon after I completed our Mount Cook Range trip with Mark, I started to plan a new mountain trip in November 2014. As an experienced mountaineer, Mark suggested that we climbed Darren Mountain near Milford Sound. From the high mountain ridge of Darren Mountain, we would get stunning high views over Milford Sound and surrounding mountain scenes. Since then, for three months, I had trained myself hard in order to enhance my physical fitness as well as climbing techniques.

Indoor Rock Climb Training

Indoor Rock Climb Training

Yun and I arrived in Te Anau on 1 November. According to our plan, we would first undertake a 2-day backpack trip to Lake Mckenzie before our Darren Mountain climb. However, after we arrived in Te Anau, it was heavily raining. By ignoring such bad weather, we still went on our backpack trip to Lake McKenzie (12KM from the Divide on the Routeburn Track) under the worst weather condition: heavy rains, strong wind and floods. It was an unforgettable backpack experience, though I was not able to take any pictures at Lake McKenzie.

Scenery along the Routeburn Track

Scenery along the Routeburn Track

After we got back to Te Anau, the weather had not been improved, and we were told that a major snow storm was being just across the most parts of the Southern Alps. One day later, I got a message from Mark to inform me that there was too much snow in Darren Mountain area which implied a high risk of avalanche. So we both agreed that we had to change our original plan. Mark suggested that the Ball Ridge in Mount Cook region would be a good alternative because from there we could gain a very unique glacier view and the avalanche risk was not that high according to avalanche broadcast.


Climbing the Ball Ridge

Ball Ridge is a mountain ridge on the other end of Mount Cook Range, its base is located near the terminal of glacier Tasman Lake. We quickly rescheduled our climb plan to Ball Ridge: On the first day, we would hike to the Ball Hut from the trail head of Tasman River, stayed in the hut for overnight. Then the second day we would climb to Ball Ridge with 700 meters vertical height, and camped along the ridge for two nights. Our climb path is showed as in the following topomap.

Topomap of Ball Ridge

Topomap of Ball Ridge

Ball Hut is a standard hut in the Aoraki/Mt Cook Area with three bunks, toilet, radio and water supply. We arrived in the hut around 4pm on 5 November 2014, luckily, no one was there. I found that although the space was small, the hut was quite cosy and convenient. The weather looked good after sunset, and we were hoping to start our climb in the next early morning. But unexpectedly, it turned out that it had an overnight snow fall in the area and the next day morning it was still snowing.

Ball Hut

Ball Hut

By 11am in the morning of 6 November 2014, when the snowfall became a bit light, we decided to start our climb. This was a harder climb compared to my previous two alps experiences in January and July respectively. The climb started with a steep but relatively clear track first, then after about 200 meter vertical height, it got very steep and most of the parts were covered by deep snow, and I had to use my ice ax to secure myself for each move. Finally, after six hours hard climb, we reached the top of Ball Ridge around 5pm. For the very first time, I got so close to such a stunning glacier landscape.

Climbing Ball Ridge

Climbing Ball Ridge



53 Hours

Mark found a flat spot for our campsite. We had to pitch our tent on the snow as the ground surface was covered by 50cm thick snow. We were surrounded by glaciers and mountain peaks. The Carolina Face of Mount Cook summit was just a hundred meters away from us, separated by a huge glacier gulley. This location was quite different from the one that we were climbed in July 2014, where we could see Aoraki/Mount Cook Village from 1000 meters above. Here, we were completely isolated from civilizations.

Mount Cook Summit - Caroline Face

Mount Cook Summit – Caroline Face

Although surrounded by ice and snow, surprisingly, we did feel extreme cold during the night, because there was no much wind. During our stay on the Ball Ridge, the weather was nice and we were able to explore the place thoroughly and made some interesting pictures. Again, as n our July trip, I believe that some of our pictures probably were the very first serious landscape images made from this location.

Ball Ridge: A Moment of Grace

Ball Ridge: A Moment of Grace

Moonlight over Alpine Glaciers

Moonlight over Alpine Glaciers

Mark devoted a lot of his time to shoot around Cook Mount summit. He told me that as a mountaineer, this place had some special meaning to him. One morning, when the first sunlight hit the summit, Mark run towards his position for taking pictures, and I captured his action.

The Photographer

The Photographer

7 November 2014 was a sunny day. After finishing our morning shooting, Mark suggested to climb a 1936 m summit near Caroline Hut. At beginning I was not so sure if I could make it because the snow was quite deep on the hills. Mark checked the condition, and ensured me it was safe. It was a delightful climb, we made to the summit in the mid day, and got back to our campsite at 2pm. Altogether we spent 5 hours for this climb.

On the Summit

On the Summit

It was early summer in south hemisphere. But no summer on the southern alps of New Zealand. The scenery of Ball Ridge was amazed me in every minute. Now I understand why people want to climb mountains. From this experience, for me, mountains have been beyond my photography subjects, more fundamentally, they give me complete freedoms, though they also impose various risks.

Mark and I got back to Ball Hut.

Mark and I got back to Ball Hut.

At 9:30am of 8 November, we started to descend. Physically, climbing down was not as hard as climbing up. But it had definitely more potentials to fall. I had to pay extra attention for almost each step down until we finally reached the flat base. We got back to Ball Hut around 2pm, and had a late lunch there. Then we continued hiking out. By the time we came back to Unwin Hut at 5pm, Yun had been already anxiously waiting for us for the whole day, as she thought we would come back in the morning.

As Time Passes By...

As Time Passes By…



Final Remarks

Climbing Ball Ridge was a milestone for my mountaineering experience. On the one hand, this trip greatly increased my confidence in the Southern Alps. During this trip, Mark has given me so much encouragement. He is not only an excellent mountaineer and photographer, but also a trustful guide, partner and friend. Each time with him, I have learned so many things. Now I think I have built good knowledge and foundation for climbing mountains. On the other hand, my mountain experience also made me understand potential risks in high mountains. To continue my journey, I should clearly know my limits – both physically and mentally. By the end, mountain landscape photography is such a wonderful field for that I can only follow my passion whenever my capacity allows.

More images made from this trip can be viewed from here.

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A professional photographer once told me that he saw the world in square: he used his medium DSLR camera to produce his square-framed photography works; and even if he used a 35mm full frame DSLR in shooting fields occasionally, he had to compose the scene in square in his mind. At that time, I didn’t really understand why the experienced photographer dedicated to such square ratio photographs. Since late 2011, I started to spend more time on making seascape photographs, and gradually realized that the traditional 2:3 ratio for a 35mm full frame DSLR camera indeed had some limitations from time to time.

Waking Up

Waking Up

One obvious problem with 2:3 ratio full frame DSLR camera is that it is just not sufficient to capture a big scene that you are interested. It is just like that you want to make a panorama photograph representing a wide landscape scenery, by cropping a single shot to a panorama ratio does not work at all. Another technical issue is the restriction of such 2:3 ratio. If there are both foreground and background elements that we want to stress in one frame, then quite often we probably need the same part or almost the same part of the space to represent them. A more complicated case is that there are foreground, middle ground and background that we want to give certain focuses on each of these parts. A situation like this often appears when we make mountainous pictures. In my view, a large square frame is a more rational option to handle these shooting circumstances.

The above photograph Waking Up is an example that I use this approach for seascape photography. This image was made through several successive shots in Sydney east coast in an early morning. Firstly, I focused on the foreground rock surface. It was a low tide period, waves were just washing on the rock bed surface that caused interesting wave traces. I took more than 50 shots in order to capture those interesting wave traces. When the sky started to change, I carefully tilted my camera up so that the frame covered about half sky and half water. By using a 3 f-stop ND, I was able to shoot using a relatively slower shutter speed, because I wanted the water far away to be smooth. Finally, I tilted my camera further towards the sky, with a proper shutter speed to shoot the dramatically changing clouds. The finally image was a result by stitching and blending these three shots together in Photoshop CS5. By the way, I prefer to do photo stitch manually, instead of using Photoshop photo merge function, as this gives me more flexibilities to make the final image.


Visit my photography homepage for more images.


2011 has been a very special year for my photography journey since I started landscape photography in 2007: I was first time being exposed to the beautiful New Zealand landscape, by attending Kah Kit Yoong’s 2011 New Zealand Photography Expedition; I visited the wonderful Li River at the fourth time in late 2011; and more interestingly, I have more landscape photograhy works been purchased by people from Australia and overseas.

I often said that doing landscape photography is more like doing scientific research in some sense, and these two have a lot in common. For instance, I think the simplest thing is usually the best yet hardest thing. This is true in both art and science. Simplicity is always an important goal in my photography. But it is also very difficult to achieve this goal. From December 2011, I started my new project which I named Ocean Spectrum. I try to shoot seascapes around Sydney area from a different perspective where purity and simplicity are the key criteria I want to meet.

This Moon Rise was taken in a clear night in South Coogee coast in early January 2012. My original idea was to take a starry sky over this small ocean pool. But when I arrived the place, just realised that it was a full moon time. It was a great experience to witness a golden moon rising from the horizon. Composition for this shot was challenging. I had to set up my tripod into the pool to achieve a lowest viewpoint – so that the pool edge merged with the horizontal line.

Moon Rise

Moon Rise

A New Day was taken in an early morning in Maroubra coast. I went out at 3.30am when it was still raining. I just wanted to try my luck – if it kept raining till sunsrise, I would waste this trip, otherwise, the morning light would be possibly interesting. The rain stopped before the first light occurred from horizon. In 20 minutes, the light was just beautiful. This image was blended from two successive shots, one with a fast shutter speed and one with 4 minutes exposure time while a 10 stop ND filter was used.

A New Day

A New Day


The following picture Alone was made in a saturday afternoon two weeks ago in Maroubra beach. It was a half sunny and half cloudy day. The beach was quite flat and I could not find anything interesting. Around 6pm, the sky started to change and an idea quickly came to my mind. Eventually, this image was a result from three successive shots: one with exposure time 0.6 second to capture the smooth wave line across the beach bed, one with exposure time 1/320 second to capture the man – that was myself, and the last one with 128 seconds long exposure to reflect the dramatic sky. The color version of this image was quite nice, but I found that turning it into black and white was much more powerful.

Alone

Alone


This image was taken in central coast of NSW – The Entrance. I have been to the Entrance countless times, because it has beautiful coast lines, beaches, a famous light house, and a big lake Tuggerah Lake. All these indicate that this place has infinite photography opportunities. However, getting a stunning shot in this location is totally another story…

The Entrance

The Entrance



I started my first blog in 2012 with Ocean Spectrum, I wish my photography journey will move further in 2012.


Visit my photography homepage for more images.

 

Since I came back from our New Zealand Photography Expedition (22 April – 10 May 2011), I have been so busy with my university work. But the idea of writing something about this great expedition has not been faded away. I will slowly start to refresh my memory about this photography experience.

Over many of my New Zealand photographs that I have been processed, the image “Moonlight” was one of my favorites. I clearly remembered it was the early morning of the day we were about to leave Mt Cook and it was the second time we came to Tasman River. The location itself had full of interesting subjects: rocks, icebergs, snowing mountains, rivers, etc.. However, to make a harmony and interesting image of them was quite challenging. My first day of photographing this place was not successful. This morning, when we arrived there about 6.40am, the moon was still hung on the sky, while the sunrise was about to start shortly. Comparing to the morning one day earlier, this time I was very impressed with the moon reflection in the flowing water of the river. I decided to include this “moon” into my frame and at the same time to also capture the moon in the sky. To make the moon reflection more visible, I set up my tripod into the water in order to get the closest viewpoint. One big challenge for this shot was the light difference between the foreground and the sky. I used my Singh Ray 3 f-stop reverse GND plus a 2 f-stop GND (soft). With a relative long exposure time, I captured the scene that was very closed to what I saw in the field.

The post processing was a bit tedious. While 2 GND filters had made the foreground rocks quite visible, the two sides of mountain backgrounds were still very dark. In Photoshop CS5, I used TK luminosity technique to isolate the two side mountains under “Super Darks”, and lifted the curve to make them brighter. Then through a layer paint, I kept the surrounding areas not been affected by such luminosity adjustment. The final result is showed below, and I am quite satisfied with it. “Moonlight” was recently published in 1x.com.

The shooting data as follows: Shutter speed: 30 seconds, ISO: 400, Aperture: f/5.6, Filters: Singh Ray 3 f-stop reverse GND, 2 f-stop GND (soft).

Moonlight

Moonlight