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Before and After – Under the Stars

Sitting under the stars in Pimba, South Australia
Sitting under the stars in Pimba, South Australia

In the last few years I’ve been in awe of the work by Michael Shainblum who is just one of the many people  upping the game when it comes to silky clean milky way and star photographs. I have to admit, milky way photography has never been one of my strongest points and I’ll often blame the age of my Canon 5D Mark II being limited in lowlight as an excuse to not get out and shoot milky ways. With a recent trip I was keen to challenge myself with this photograph titled Under the Stars which features me, sitting on a hammock attached to a tree wrapped in fairy lights under the milky way with a fully stoked fire keeping us warm. The end photo required a few shots at varying exposures to bring it all together which I’ll look to walk you through in this post.

Challenging your in camera and post processing techniques

On a drive from Melbourne to Perth (50 hours of driving) I was keen to explore some of the night skies in the middle of nowhere and add a couple of milky way shots to my gallery. Yes, the Canon 5D Mark II struggled at ISO 3200 but unless you’re looking close, it’s not too noticeable (well I think so anyway..!)

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]My Melbourne to Perth roadtrip post has more photos from this trip where I explored some of the best parts of Australia[/box]

This is one of my favourite photos of the trip and is something that was just a concept I was keen to try. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off in getting the right exposures and post processing it correctly but I’m pretty happy with the end result. 

The hammock wasn’t just for decoration and was the perfect way to kick back before the sunset

Coming up with a concept that’s outside your comfort zone and giving it a go is the only way to really push your development in hands on photography and post processing. There were other concepts that I toyed with while we were away and you know what? They didn’t come off. But it was fun taking them and giving them a try. Next time you’re planning a photography outing, why not set yourself a lofty goal and see how you go executing it? If you fail, you’ll learn so much on how to do it different next time. If you succeed, you’ll no doubt pick up on things you can do better next time while learning little techniques that you may not normally use in your normal post processing workflow.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]I recently bought a new travel tripod and compared the 5 most popular tripods on the market. Give my travel tripod guide a read if you’re looking for a lightweight tripod for your next trip![/box]

About the photograph

Unglamorous camp photo. I couldn’t resist and camped without my tent cover. Sleeping under the stars was something amazing

For this photograph, Under the Stars, we were camping in Pimba, South Australia which is basically in the middle of no where. As we were driving around the area looking for somewhere to set up our tents for the night, we found this secluded part located just off the salt lake and surrounded by this tree you see in the photo. Straight away we knew where we were camping for the night. It was perfect, silence that was almost eerie and skies that were darker than some of my brother’s music tastes in high school (really dark! Sorry Rich 😉 ) 

After shooting the sunset and then shooting the milky way down at the salt lake for a few more hours, we eventually headed back to our tents but were still keen to shoot for a while longer to make the most of the dark skies.

With a hammock already in the tree from some lazy beers in the sun earlier and the fire lit to warm up, we decided to pull the solar powered fairy lights out of the car which we had bought on the first day of our trip and neglected ever since. I knew they would eventually come in handy..!  

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]Interested in landscape photography? My guide to landscape photography shows you how to get started in this fun part of photography[/box]

Taking the photograph

The final photo was a mix of 4 images with the other 6 very loosely used where required (i.e. detail in the tree or fire)

When experimenting with an image concept I have a habit of going overboard with my image brackets. Throw in the poor performance of the Canon 5D Mark II and you have 10 bracketed images. Ok ok. I probably could have got by with less but better safe than sorry right? 

There is some reasoning to my madness with the need for having 10 different images coming from:

  • Tree and fairy lights –With a light wind around this meant a shorter exposure of the tree and fairy lights was needed to avoid any shake. This had to be a high ISO shot to get a shorter exposure (5 sec)
  • Me sitting in the hammock – Trying to sit still in a hammock with no subtle movements should be an Olympic sport. Either that or I have ants in my pants. With this said, I needed a shorter exposure  (2.5 sec) of me sitting in the hammock to minimise the risk of any subtle movements
  • Exposing for the stars behind the tree – With the plan to make this a two image panoramic (one for the scene you see in most of the frame and another for the milky way sky) it was important to bracket a shot of the stars behind the tree which would allow for a seamless alignment of the two images
  • Positioning the camera further up to capture the milky way – I won’t lie the milky way wasn’t directly above the tree like the photo suggests but it was close! Unfortunately it was hovering just to the right of the tree however by angling the camera up I was able to capture a frame which would later be used above three
  • Short burst for the fire – The plan was to capture the fire looking more natural rather than a blur of orange light. Even at ISO 25600 I wasn’t able to get an exposure short enough to get the fire how I wanted it. At ISO 25600, the Canon 5D Mark II really comes into its own with its amazing handling of noise (sarcasm intended). 
  • Couple of extra frames for good measure – I’ve got nothing. Press the button and hope for the best for a few frames?

Bringing it all together


I’d love to tell you that I processed this with the same level of precision like Marc Adamus in the space of 10 minutes. But in reality of me being sleep deprived after driving 12 hours the day before and not really knowing what I was doing, the edit for this photo took a couple of hours or so of extreme procrastination and trial and error. 

The key elements to processing this image (after we get past the trial and error):

  • Bringing all the concepts together with layer masks – As mentioned earlier in the post, I shot a series of frames at different ISO levels and shutter speeds to minimise noise where possible and capture specific detail (i.e. me in the hammock or the detail of the fairy lights).
  • Cloning out the car – Not sure when composing that I didn’t notice a small part of the car in the frame. Whoops. A quick touch over with the clone stamp tool had it removed.
  • Colour grading – Sorry, that sounds wanky but it also sounds like I know what I’m talking about so let’s run with it. Colour grading was selectively applied to the image using layer masks. The intent here is to control the colour to parts of the scene which may have been affected by noise. Parts of the image where these minor tweaks were applied include adjusting the blue hues in the sky and dialling back the orange glow on the sand.
  • Overlaying the milky way – Dropping the milky way into the shot was either going to make or break the photo. In an effort to make it look as natural as possible, I used the bracketed image with the stars as the base image of the sky. I then used the image which had the milky way with a very subtle transition through the tree using an inverse selection. 
  • Noise reduction – Shooting at ISO 3200 and higher does leave you with some ugly noise in parts (i.e. around the dark parts of the sand where I’ve tried to pull back some detail). Fortunately Nik Collection’s free Dfine tool works wonders for the removal of noise. I don’t apply noise reduction across my whole image and prefer to just apply it selectively to parts of the image most affected. When you are applying noise reduction, you are reducing the sharpness of the image so it’s important to ensure you are only applying it where needed to minimise any loss of sharpness. 
  • Dodging of the scene – As I was using exposures of various dynamic ranges, there wasn’t much needed in the way of dodge and burning of the scene. With only some minor dodging applied to the fairy lights to make them appear brighter and further dodging around the fire to create the flare effect you see in the final image.

To help give you a sense of how the different adjustments were made and effected the image, I’ve put together this short clip which gradually introduces the various layers to reach the final image.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]If you enjoyed this post, be sure to give my Before and After series a look for similar posts[/box]

Feel free to use the contact page if you have any comments or questions about this post.

Thanks for reading!


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74 Places to Photograph in Victoria

After putting together a list of my favourite Tasmania photography locations back in 2009, I thought after 5 years of living in Victoria it was time to start developing a list of great photography locations in Victoria.  This list provides you with 56 locations around Victoria to photograph and is constantly being updated as I get out and explore more.

This list of photography locations is by no means definitive and something I’ll be building on over time. I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface which is what I love about Victoria. As I write this, there’s a few locations I’m kicking myself for not photographing but has given me a good spur of motivation to get out more.

For the moment though, these are some of my favourite Victorian photography locations which may be of interest to tourists coming to Victoria or locals looking to explore their backyard. Hopefully there’s a surprise or two for you! I’ve tried to mix of Melbourne night photography locations and seascape and waterfall photography locations following. 

Feel free to leave your favourite photography locations in Melbourne or further abroad in Victoria that may be missing in the comments. Would love to add them to the list 🙂 

Melbourne CBD & Inner City Locations

One thing that Melbourne does best (sorry Sydney we have you here but you beat us with your coastline) is its great city. Its no coincidence that Melbourne has been named the world’s most liveable city twice in a row largely due to  a diverse offering of international sport, food, coffee and art. It really does live up to the hype with its awesome cityscapes.

Flinders St Station


For anyone travelling to Melbourne and looking to somewhere to photograph, Flinders St Station is the first location that comes to mind. Conveniently located on the corner of a busy road,  Flinders St Station is an ideal spot for night photography to capture long exposure photographs with the traffic of trams and cars passing by.

The best time to photograph Flinders Street Station is around sunset and into blue hour as this gives you two nice options to photograph with the light shining up Flinders Street lighting up Finders Street Station a beautiful yellow/orange before the sun disappears behind the buildings. As the light fades and the blue hour light comes out, this gives you some nice options to capture the blur of the car and tram traffic passing Flinders Street Station from different angles. 

China Town


Stepping into Melbourne’s China Town is quite like stepping into parts of Asia when walking down lane ways. While it’s obviously a great place for yum cha and dumplings, it’s also an interesting part of the city for photographers looking to photograph some grungy lane ways and practice their street photography skills with the restaurants and lane ways making good backdrops.

Batman Ave Overpass

Batman Avenue makes a great spot for long exposures looking back towards the city

I’m always a little amused by Melbourne being called Batmania in tribute to it’s founder, John Batman before being soon named to what we know it as today – Melbourne.

This overpass is named in tribute to John Batman and is one of my favourite overpasses to photograph in Melbourne.

The Batman Avenue overpass is located above the City Link entrance to Flinders and Exhibition St in Melbourne. This makes it an ideal spot to capture the constant flow of traffic entering and exiting the city. The overpass itself is quiet and has some light foot and bike traffic but nothing to worry about.

During AFL season, foot traffic increases as people use the overpass to cross to the MCG. Once again, nothing to worry about but just something to be conscious about if planning to shoot here when they’re expecting a 80,000+ crowd at the MCG on a Saturday night.



Docklands is conveniently located just near Etihad Stadium and is accessible via tram or a short walk from the inner city. Victoria Harbour is a nice location to photograph on sunset/blue hour as the water is generally calm which makes for nice reflections. My favourite location to photograph in Victoria Harbour are the pylons with the little white hats which come up great with a long exposure. 

If pylons with funny little white hats aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of modern architecture in the area to photograph. With the constant flow of cars and trams, you’re bound to get a nice long exposure with traffic passing by in the foreground with one of the more interesting buildings in the backdrop. 

Hamer Hall


After Flinders Street Station, this angle of Melbourne would have to be up there with one of the most popular and there’s no guesses to why. Best photographed on sunrise to capture the golden hour light hitting the city skyline, the slight elevation from the view allows you to avoid the busy crowds of Southbank. 

Morell Street/Anderson Street Bridge


Located only a short walk from Flinders Street Station, the Morell Street Bridge is a pedestrian crossing between the Botanical Gardens and MCG. The bridge provides a nice view up the Yarra River with the city buildings making a nice backdrop. 

There’s also more bridges further down the Yarra River but I find the view of the Melbourne skyline doesn’t quite compare to the Morell Street Bridge view.

Yarra River


The Yarra River is a great Melbourne night photography location which presents many options for photographers. The best time to visit the Yarra River is on sunset with a walk from the Crown Casino to Birrarung Marr. You’re bound to get some nice reflections of the towering buildings as you make your way up the river. 

Birrarung Marr Bridge


The Birrarung Marr pedestrian bridge is a great spot to take up-close photographs of the Melbourne skyline. The old wooden bridge has plenty of character and works as a great leading line to direct your viewers eyes to the city of Melbourne. My favourite time to photograph the Birrarung Marr Bridge is just before sunset so you can capture the golden hour light hitting the bridge. 

Once you’ve finished photographing the Birrarung Marr Bridge, keep walking to the Batman Ave overpass for some traffic long exposures or down to the Yarra River for some reflections of the Melbourne skyline. Both locations are conveniently located only 5~ minutes walk from the bridge and look great on sunset or into the blue hour. 

Webb Bridge


The Webb Bridge is located along Southbank and makes a great spot to add to your list of places to stop and photo as you wander through the Melbourne CBD. The Webb Bridge provides a few different angles to photograph it from whether it be from outside the bridge (as captured above) or inside the bridge capturing the detail of the ‘webb’. A great spot to shoot at night time when the Yarra River is calm and the lights of the Webb Bridge turn on.

St Kilda Road


If you haven’t picked up already, I’m a sucker for overpasses and interesting architecture. St Kilda Road is worth a wander if you’re staying in the area and looking for an overpass to photograph late at night. My favourite is the Bowen Crescent overpass which sits just off St Kilda Road. A nice overpass to shoot that always has a constant flow of traffic. 

St Kilda Pier


St Kilda Pier is a popular spot for tourists looking to enjoy St Kilda Beach and the local area penguins at dusk. Of a weekend the pier can be challenging to photograph with all the people especially during summer.

If you’re looking to avoid the people, I’d recommend photographing on sunrise or if you enjoy your sleep too much, do what I did for the above photo and use a neutral density filter to capture a long exposure and blur the movement of people out of your frame to create an empty scene. Works a treat!



Running in early March around Labour Day, Moomba is a summer festival located along Melbourne’s Yarra River. The festival is a great opportunity for fireworks photography with the event having nightly firework displays at 9:30. The Melbourne city is a great backdrop for the fireworks and makes it well worth a visit if you’re in Melbourne around this time of the year.

The crowds at Moomba can get hectic so if you can, plan ahead and arrive at your location in advance so you can get a good view of the fireworks before the crowds flock.

[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Travelling to Melbourne and need a lightweight tripod for the trip? I’ve reviewed 5 of the best travel tripods[/box]

Train Stations


Melbourne is home to a vast public transport system. The train stations are fun places to photograph long exposures of trains passing with the city as a backdrop. Some of my favourite stations include: Parliament Station (long escalators here are great), Hawksburn Station, Richmond Station and Jollimont Station.

It’s worth noting that Metro Trains have some rules around taking photos in train stations. Generally handheld photography is fine (provided you’re shooting from a safe distance) but you cannot use a tripod unless given a permit by Metro Trains. From my understanding, getting a permit for hobbyists is pretty straight forward. It’s more if you go down the path of getting a permit for commercial photography or video is where it becomes a bit more difficult.


Shrine of Remembrance 


The Shrine of Remembrance is Victoria’s war memorial and an iconic landmark in Australia. Conveniently located only a short tram ride from Flinders Street Station, the Shrine of Remembrance has a few different options for photographers with the old architecture, views back towards the city skyline and the eternal flame.

If you’re looking for somewhere to photograph after, keep walking towards Morrell Street Bridge for a photo looking back towards the city and then keep walking towards the AAMI Park overpass for a night shot of one of the world’s more unique sports stadiums. A nice way to kill a few hours in Melbourne.

Melbourne Laneways


A post about places to photograph in Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Melbourne’s alleyways. Melbourne is renowned for its street art filled alleyways which can be found throughout the city and inner city suburbs. Some of my favourite laneways in Melbourne are Hosier Lane, ACDC Lane, Caledonian Lane and Union Lane just to name a few. You won’t struggle to find a good laneway with street art in Melbourne.



The Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (or AAMI Park as it’s commonly and commercially known), is one of the world’s more unique sports stadium and sits in Melbourne’s ‘sport and entertainment precinct’. The building is best photographed when there is a sports event on and the building is lit up and if you’re lucky, fireworks are being let off as a team kicks/scores a goal/try (depending on which sport is on..!)

My favourite spot to photograph AAMI Park just off the Main Yarra Trail near the Morell Street Bridge which gives you a nice angle of traffic entering the Citylink tunnel and the stadium in the background. Well worth a visit if you can time it around a sports event on that night.

Princess Pier, Port Melbourne


Princess Pier located in Port Melbourne is a popular spot for long exposure photographers. The iconic pylons make a great composition for long exposure photographs. One thing I really like about the Princess Pier is that it works well for different weather conditions. On a sunny night, the light bursting on the horizon can create a great effect. If there’s a bit of cloud in the sky, a long exposure capturing the blur of the clouds passing above the pylon’s can also look great.

Port Melbourne Pier

port melbourne pier

If you’re planning on photographing the popular Princess Pier location, I’d recommend finishing the night out with a quick photo of the Port Melbourne Pier. The lights on the pier work really well for a night time shot.

Ingliss St Overpass


Located not far from Port Melbourne is the Ingliss St overpass. This is one of my hidden gems around Melbourne as it’s not as commonly shot as the Sturt St overpass (below) or Batman Avenue. Like all inner city overpasses, this has a constant hum of traffic and makes a great spot for long exposure photography or timelapse if you’re keen. 

Sturt St Overpass


If you’ve followed my blog or Instagram, you’ve no doubt noticed that I have a small love affair with overpasses. It’s what makes Melbourne special. You can go to an inner city overpass late at night and there will always be a constant hum of traffic. Compared to my home of Hobart, you’d be waiting a few minutes just for a pass to drive through in the early hours of the night.

Studley Park Overpass


Located on Yarra Bend Road and overlooking the Eastern Freeway, this overpass gives you a curved view looking back towards the city. While not my favourite overpass in Melbourne (is there anything wrong with being an overpass snob?), it always has a steady stream of traffic flowing in and out of the city so is worth a visit if you’re in the area and eager to take some long exposure photographs.    



As Melbourne is quite flat, this limits your options when trying to find elevated vantage points that look back towards the city. One of my favourite locations that isn’t obstructed by buildings is Ruckers Hill in Northcote.  Ruckers Hill makes a great Melbourne night photography location with its Melbourne skyline view and passing trams which work great in a long exposure.

By the Sea

An ongoing list which I hope to update over time. For the moment though, below are a handfull of locations that I’ve photographed that don’t fit under some of the other groups (Mornington Peninsula, Great Ocean Road, etc). 



Ricketts Point in Beaumaris is one of my favourite sea locations to shoot in Melbourne. The markers on the point make it one of the more reliable locations to shoot a sunset in Melbourne.  Whether it be a sun burst on the horizon through the markers or just moody sunset clouds above, the location works well for most conditions and is worth a trip if you’re staying in Melbourne and can’t venture far.

Clifton Springs


Located 90 minutes from Melbourne, the ruins of an old jetty at Clifton Springs are a popular location for photographers looking for a good long exposure composition. The location is best photographed on a high tide when there is some water movement around the pylons. Clifton Springs is a great spot if you’re in the area but I wouldn’t go out of your way if your time in Victoria is limited.

Jan Juc


Being close to Bells Beach, the home of Australia’s surfing world tour event, Jan Juc is a great location for both photographers and surfers looking for consistent swell. I’ve only photographed Jan Juc the once but would love to re-visit. Highlights for me are the consistent swell, surrounding cliffs and rock ledge on the point. Well worth a visit if you’re passing through and looking for somehwere to photograph on dusk (just like we did on a trip down The Great Ocean Road).

Mornington Peninsula

Moving from Hobart to inner city Melbourne, the one thing I quickly missed was being by the sea. Luckily the Mornington Peninsula isn’t far from Melbourne (1hr~) and has some diverse coastline to photograph with lots of jetties, interesting rock formations and plenty of swell.

The Peninsula is quite unique where you have Port Phillip Bay on one side which for the most part doesn’t get much in the way of swell but is still worth a visit for its jetties and little bays. On the other side you’re fully exposed to the raw ocean of the Bass Strait which always has some swell kicking about. 

If you’re pressed for time, I’d recommend stopping by Cape Schanck, Rye Backbeach and the Sorrento jetties. I love London Bridge but it can be a bit hit or miss with the swell and limiting. On a low tide it’s great as you’re able to walk around the rocky outcrops which gives you more variety to photograph than just being limited to the London Bridge. 

Eastlink Hotel


Travelling down the Eastlink to the Mornington Peninsula at night time, its hard to miss the hotel on the city-bound side of the road as you make your way down. I’ve written about the Eastlink Hotel and its origins in a previous post. A fun spot to shoot as you make your way back to Melbourne after sunset.

Flinders Blowhole


Flinders Blowhole has quickly become one of my favourite locations to photograph the sunrise on the Mornington Peninsula. This is largely due to the location giving you a great vantage point of where the sun rises from but also has some interesting compositions available to photograph. 

At Flinders Blowhole you have a few interesting options to shoot. These include:

  • View from the main lookout at the top overlooking the bay
  • Rock shelf reflections
  • Walk left from the main rock beach around to the next little bay which has lots of little rock ledges and little rock beaches to photograph

This location is best photographed on sunrise.

Cairns Bay

Watching the milky way rise above Cairns Bay

Located not far from the Flinders Blowhole, Cairns Bay is a 1km walk into an open view of the ocean and cobble and grey boulder beaches.

From experience, this location works best above from the lookout with a long lens. If shooting from the sea level, the rock face can be quite over powering and block out light from the sun setting.

Cairns Bay also makes a great spot to photograph the milky way rising above the ocean. Just be sure to plan it through an app such as Photo Pills to make sure it’s rising in the correct spot.

Point Leo


Point Leo is located on the Western Port Bay side of the Mornington Peninsula and features an old jetty that works great for sunrise and milky  way photos. 

Unfortunately the photo above doesn’t do the jetty justice due to being a side on photo but it’s well worth a visit!

Bridgewater Bay (Blairgowrie)

Bridgewater Bay also makes a great spot for milky way photography

Bridgewater Bay is one of the best seascape locations on the Mornington Peninsula. With the big rock formation to the end of the Bay, this provides plenty of different options depending on the tide levels.

If photographing on a high tide, you generally can’t get very close to the rock but this creates nice opportunities of the water rushing into the shore (like the above shot). If you’ve timed it for a low tide, you generally can get quite close to the rock and also get further around the headland to capture different angles of the rock. Obviously be careful with the swell as it can get quite big and unpredictable down here.

The location also makes for a great milky way location to capture the milky way rising above the rock formation. 

Note that in summer Bridgewater Bay is a popular spot for swimmers especially people jumping off the rock. 

This location is best photographed on sunset.

Pirates Bay


Pirates Bay is a lesser known and photographed part of the Mornington Peninsula. The location is best suited for photographing down at sea level with the water hitting the little bay (as above) or from above at the cliff level when there’s a lot of surf like in the photo to the right,

Pirates Bay is best accessed from the Bridgewater Bay carpark. Walk to Bridgewater Bay along the cliff track. Rather than stop at Bridgewater Bay, continue walking and you will eventually end up at Pirates Bay.

This location is best suited for sunset photography.

London Bridge (Portsea Backbeach)


London Bridge is located towards the end of the Mornington Peninsula and is known for its large rock formation. The London Bridge is best shot on a low tide when the rocky outcrops further up become accessible and opens up more options.


Sorrento and Portsea Jetties


Sorrento and Portsea have some great little private jetties which work well for long exposure photography. As these are private jetties, you can’t walk on some of the jetties however they still give plenty of options if shooting from the beach with a side profile. One of my favourites is Shelley Beach which is featured above and is a discrete jetty not far from Portsea. 

This location is best photographed on sunset.

Sorrento Backbeach


Sorrento backbeach is one of my favourite backbeaches to photograph along the Peninsula. Being a 1.5km~ drive from the Sorrento shopping precinct, we’ve often headed down in day light savings when the sun sets later, grabbed something for dinner and headed towards the beach lookout to watch the swell roll in.

There’s quite a few options at the beach to photograph including rockpools on low tide, stairs to enter the beach (as to the right) and an interesting rock formation on the point just near the carpark.  

Cape Schanck


Cape Schanck is my favourite place to photograph on the Mornington Peninsula even if I do have a love hate relationship with the place! Sitting at the southernmost tip of the Mornington Peninsula, Cape Shanck sits between the entrance to Port Phillip Bay and the wild ocean of the Bass Strait. As far as seascape locations go, it doesn’t get much more raw than Cape Schanck on a windy afternoon with the swell of the Bass Strait thundering through. 

Some of my highlights for Cape Schanck:

  • Cape Shanck Lighthouse – The lighthouse makes a great backdrop against the wild coastline of the area. Being located near the carpark, we’ve stopped a few times on our way back to the car after sunset and captured a moonlit photo of the lighthouse. With the strong beam of its lantern reaching a range of 26 nmi (48km) the beam creates some interesting opportunities after dark with a long exposure under the stars
  • Pulpit Rock – Eroded slowly over the years, Pulpt Rock is an iconic rock formation that stands tall and is uniquely separated from the mainland by a wild sea channel. While you can’t physically get onto Pulpit rock, you can get some great photos of the rock with the waves crashing around it. Every photographer needs at least one photograph of Pulpit rock in their portfolio!
  • Pebble beach – As you make your way down to Pulpit Rock and leave the board walk, you’re immediately greeted by the black boulders in pebble beach. As the water rushes across the stones they develop a vibrant shine which comes up well in photos
  • Rock pools – Having photographed Pulpit Rock many times, I was keen to explore the area further and find some unique compositions. Walking down towards Pulpit Rock, continue walking around the headland and you will come across stunning rock pools with beautiful blue hues. Just a word of warning, the rock pools are quite deep so don’t forget a head torch if you’re planning on shooting these on sunset and walking back in the dark. Not a place I’d be rushing back to the car from. Slow and steady! 

This location is best photographed on sunset or sunrise during winter.

Point Nepean


Located at the end or the most western point of the Mornington Peninsula, Point Nepean is a beautiful but challenging location for photographers due to the restricted beach access (due to unexploded mines, etc). You are generally limited to photographing at the road/cliff level which can still work OK for photographs depending on the conditions.

Access to Point Nepean is limited and does require a bit of walking to get to the fort area (as pictured above). The carpark is open between 10 AM – 5 PM during the day and is around a 2.5km walk (each way) from the carpark. If you’re visiting outside of these hours, you will need to park further outside of the national park and walk further (5km~) each way.

If you’re looking to capture an image of the milky way rising like the above photo, generally the best time to visit is between early to late April when the milky way rising lines up perfectly.

Rosebud Pier


Rosebud Pier is a nice spot to photograph if you’re short on time and need to fire a frame off. I’ve photographed it a few times when I’ve been running late to photograph the sunset and needed to find somewhere to pull over and get a photo of the colour in the sky before it disappeared.

Rosebud Pier can be quite busy especially around summer so bear this in mind if you’re looking to photograph the pier without people in it. Although there’s always long exposures to hide the people like I talk about in my long exposure photography idea’s post!

This location is best photographed on sunset.

Dragon Head (Rye Backbeach)


Dragon’s Head is located at Number Sixteen Beach, Rye and is a popular location to photograph on sunrise. You may have to get your feet wet to get upclose like I did from my morning at Dragon’s Head but the results are well worth it.

This location is best photographed on sunrise during winter.

Pearses Beach


We’re incredibly lucky to how much variety the Mornington Peninsula has to photograph. Pearses Bay isn’t one of my favourite places to photograph but at the same time, I appreciate some of the various options available to photograph including:

  • Photographing from the cliff tops as the swell hits the cliffs
  • Capturing the many streams of water flowing to create waterfall like effects (as above)

This location is best photographed on sunset.

Sunnyside Beach (Mount Eliza)

sunnyside beach mount eliza Location

Ignoring the fact that there is a nudist beach right around the corner 😉 Sunnyside Beach down Mount Eliza is a great spot for sunset photographs. Being on the bay side of the Peninsular, you’re not going to get much swell come through unfortunately but with that said, the lack of swell does mean you get some nice reflections like the above photo.

This location is best photographed on sunset.

Ranelagh Beach (Mount Eliza)


Situated on the bay side of the Mornington Peninsula, Ranelagh Beach is home to some of the many beach huts you will find when travelling down to the Peninsula.

The beach huts can be photographed from many angles including:

  • Looking between them (similar to the right)
  • Standing knee deep in water looking back towards them as above
  • Using a drone and photographing them from above

Unfortunately there isn’t much swell at Ranelagh Beach to play with different water effects of waves crashing, etc due to it being situated on the bay side of the Mornington Peninsula. 

This location is best photographed on sunset.

Mt Martha


Calm before the storm at Mt Martha

Facing the Port Phillip Bay side of the Mornington Peninsula, Mt Martha doesn’t get much in the way of swell.

Walking along the the small rocky beaches, you can’t help but think of the possibilities with water rushing over them. You’re best visiting Mt Martha when there”s some swell on the Bay which brings some of these rocky ledges to life.

This location is best photographed on sunset.

Oliver’s Hill


Work commences on the new Olivers Hill jetty

Once upon a time, photographers flocked to Oliver’s Hill to capture the iconic jetty. It wasn’t unusual for a few photographers to be at the location on sunset photographing the jetty. I feel bad for leading you astray with a photo (the above) of the old jetty but hey! It’s nice to dream 😉

In 2016, this changed with the jetty being pulled down and replaced with a new jetty. Still worth a shot but not as great as it once was.

This location is best photographed on sunset.

Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road needs no introduction. Known for its stunning coastline and inland waterfalls in the Otways, the area is truly the perfect playground for a landscape photographer. I feel like I’ve only touched the surface of the Great Ocean Road but hopefully the photos I do have make a good reference to what can be seen on the Great Ocean Road. 

Lower Kalimna Falls


One of the first waterfalls you will find as you embark on your journey down the Great Ocean Road. 

Lower Kalimna Falls is a great waterfall to stop and admire with all the different angles available to photograph.  These include (but not limited to): 

  • Capturing the waterfall front on
  • Standing behind the waterfall in the cave (as in the photo above)
  • Capture the waterfall side on (as to the right)

Marriners Falls


Marriners Falls is just a small drive from Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. Unfortunately the track for Marriners Falls is now closed due to trees falling over and making it dangerous. However I’m sure you’re able to find a track if you look hard…

If you are making the walk in, be sure to pack at least gum boots or if possible waders for this one as there’s a 3-4 river crossings to be had before you make the main waterfall. Be safe and watch for falling tree limbs on windy days. 

Stevenson Falls


Not to be confused with Steavenson Falls in Marysville, Stevenson Falls is located in Barramunga as you make your way down the Great Ocean Road via the in-land route. Often Stevenson Falls is over-shadowed by the more popular waterfalls such as Hopetoun and Beauchamp Falls but is well worth a stop with its 15 meter drop.

The waterfall is spectacular and has a few different compositions to photograph:

  • Side on from the tourist lookout located at the end of the walk into the waterfall
  • Front on to the waterfall (you might get your feet wet a little bit!)
  • From the other side of the river if you’re game enough to cross the river. Definitely do-able if you have gumboots or waders.

Hopetoun Falls


Hopetoun Falls is by far my favourite waterfall in Victoria. Located in the Great Otways National Park, Hopetoun Falls is a short trip from the coastal surrounds of the Great Ocean Road. Upon entering Hopetoun Falls, it has a similar impact to Russell Falls in Tasmania with its wow factor.

The waterfall is stunning and has plenty of angles and options for someone looking to get their own unique take.

Beauchamp Falls


If you’re in the area photographing Hopetoun Falls, I’d also recommend driving another 15 minutes and spending some time at Beauchamp Falls.

Surrounded by beautiful green foliage, Beauchamp Falls is quite confined compared to Hopetoun Falls which does limit you in your angles you can photograph from. With that said, you’re bound to get something nice from the angles you can photograph from. 


[box type=”info” size=”large”]Keen to get your feet wet? Give my waterfall photography guide has some tips![/box]


Apollo Bay


Located just under 3 hours from Melbourne, Apollo Bay makes a good stop over town for those wanting to split their drive up from Melbourne. Apollo Bay Beach makes an ideal spot to stop, grab some food from one of the many nearby shops and enjoy a quick bite before taking photos. Apollo Bay has a few options to shoot including the lush beach and the rocky point further down the beach. 

Wye River


Wye River is the perfect town for those looking to avoid the crowds and have a stop over on their way down the Great Ocean Road. Located 35~km before Apollo Bay, the town of Wye River was devastated in the 2015 bushfires when 95 houses were burnt down. Even more reason to stop and get around the town!

The Wye River area is beautiful and gives plenty of options for you to photograph including the canal that runs off the main beach, a rocky point and jetty ruins. I’ve shot the area under differing weather conditions from overcast skies to star filled skies and have always managed to find something to photograph. Wye River is well worth the stop if you’re looking to add a stop over on your way down to the 12 Apostles.

12 Apostles


Looking in the other direction at the 12 Apostles lookout

A post about photography locations in Victoria wouldn’t be right without a mention of the iconic 12 Apostles (or 8 if you’re counting!). The 12 Apostles needs no introduction and is one of the most popular photography locations in Victoria.

With the popularity of the 12 Apostles, my best advice would be to photograph it on sunrise to avoid the crowds. There’ll still be a few people about who you may have to share the same vantage point with but it’s much more tolerable than during the day or sunset when it’s busy with tourists. 

The 12 Apostles can be quite limiting to photograph with access restricted to the viewing platform only with no beach access. This still gives you a couple of options which are best explored on a sunrise when you have more free reign and aren’t battling others for space.

[box type=”info” size=”large”]Travelling to Tasmania and looking for locations to photograph? I’ve developed a similar post ‘Photography locations in Tasmania‘[/box]

Gibson Steps


Gibson Steps marks the first major sightseeing stop as you venture down the Great Ocean Road to Port Campbell. Arriving at Gibson Steps you have the option of photographing from the lookout or continue walking down the 86 step staircase which allows you to get up close and personal.

There’s something to be said about how special Gibson Steps is when you’re at sea level looking up. The sheer size of the two rock stacks (No joke, named Gog and Magog in case you’re wondering…) are awe inspiring up close. Better yet, the location is much more quieter than the 12 Apostles and you’re bound to find a nice secluded spot to take some photos on the beach whether it be at sunrise or sunset. 

Loch Ard Gorge


Just a further 3-5 minutes drive from the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge offers photographers another great variety of options for seascape photography. Whether it be the blowholes, tall limestone cliffs or offshore rock stacks, Loch Ard Gorge provides plenty of opportunities. Your best to use the open access to the cove (as photographed above) to your advantage and shoot Loch Ard Gorge at sea level. If this isn’t doing much for you, wander back up to the cliffs for views of the cove.

Bay of Martyrs


Located a further 25 minutes down the road from the 12 Apostles, The Bay of Martyrs offers spectacular views of the towering rock stacks located out to sea and surrounding limestone cliffs. 

While perhaps not an opinion shared by all, the Bay of Martyrs is the highlight for me along the Great Ocean Road. I love how quiet The Bay of Martyrs is compared to other parts of the Great Ocean Road especially around sunset or sunrise where you can often find yourself the only one there.

As the area gets pumped with a lot of swell, the rock stacks and limestone cliffs look great at differing exposure speeds, whether that be a short burst to capture the aggression of the waves or a long exposure to capture the movement of a longer period.  

You’re bound to get something unique and different in your Great Ocean Road trip compared to others who focus too heavily on popular locations like the 12 Apostles, Gibson Steps and Lochard Gorge. 

Phillip Island

When I think of places in Victoria that I need to explore more of, Phillip Island quickly comes to mind. I’ve only touched the surface with the Pinnacles and Cat Bay but there are plenty more on offer with Phillip Island being home to some decent surf locations which always lend themselves to be decent locations for seascape photographers. 

[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]When photographing scenes like these where the light can be constantly changing, I’ll often use the Auto Exposure Bracketing tool to help me get the right exposure[/box]

The Pinnacles, Cape Woolamai


When I think of some of the best coastal locations I’ve photographed, The Pinnacles at Cape Woolamai is a location which quickly come to mind. The Pinnacles are located at the end of Cape Woolamai (roughly a 4km~ walk from the carpark) and then an awkward descent from the lookout.

When planning your trip to The Pinnacles – be prepared!

The steep descent into The Pinnacles from the lookout is down a rough track with no steps. It’s not dangerous but please take your time.

Again, coming out in the dark can be interesting. If you’re not confident with your level of fitness then maybe skip The Pinnacles for another time. There’s some other great locations in the Phillip Island area and who knows – Maybe the walk down might be improved one day.

If you’re looking to make the walk down to the Pinnacles I’d recommend throwing a head torch in your bag  (using a mobile phone as a light isn’t so fun), a warm jacket (it can get quite breezy down there) and a pair of walking shoes with good grip for walking over the wet rocks as the odd rock will move around. 

Once you’re down at the sea level, there are a few options to photograph from including a nice wide shot of the cove, looking left to the Pinnacles of the other rock formations or my favourite, the sun setting above The Pinnacles. 

Cat Bay


Located close to the Western end of Phillip Island, Cat Bay is a popular spot for surfers with its reef and beach breaks. When a location is popular with surfers this is always a good indication that the location could also be good for photography. Sometimes I’ll trawl through surfing websites trying to find different surf locations in the hope that they may translate into a good seascape photography location.

Luckily Cat Bay is one of those surfing locations that also make a great spot for seascape photographs. The sand pylyons combined with some swell make for some interesting long exposures on sunset.

Just a word of warning as this is something which caught me off guard – The area closes around the last light (sunset) to make way for the penguins and other animals entering the area. I over extended my welcome when taking the above photograph and was promptly booted by a ranger with his mega phone and car horn. Don’t be like me and forget to read the signs. Follow the rules 🙂

Cadillac Canyon, San Remo

Looking back towards Bore Beach

Located at Bore Beach, San Remo, Cadillac Canyon is located at the end of the beach and provides photographers with unique compositions not commonly found at other locations in the area.

There’s a few different compositions to be had when shooting Cadillac Canyon including:

  • At the end of the beach looking through the rock channel as waves come through (as above)
  • At the end of the beach looking back towards the beach and making use of the different rocks available for your composition
  • Climbing up the hill for some ocean views from above

Tenby Point


While not located on Phillip Island but on the way at least, Tenby Point is a popular spot for photographers with its beautiful mangrove trees and old jetty ruins in the area. The location works perfectly for long exposure photography to capture the still water and cloud passing overhead.

Facing west, Tenby Point is best suited as a sunset location but can work on sunrise provided you get enough colour in the sky.

Country Victoria / Other

Moving from Tasmania to Melbourne, country Victoria was not an area I initially gave much attention to but boy was I wrong. The area ended up becoming a surprise package for me and I’ve spent many hours getting out and exploring Victoria’s lush country scenes. From huts reminiscent of The Man From Snowy River to giant trees surrounded in fog, country Victoria is a vast place to photograph with much on offer. 

It’s worth noting that the ski season starts in early June and finishes in early October so your access in some the major snow mountains and the surroundings will be limited during this time.

Dog Rocks


Dog Rocks is a popular spot for landscape photographers who are all drawn to the lone tree surrounded by rocks. 

Dog Rocks is one of those locations that works for lots of different compositions whether it be sunrise, sunset or milky way.  

Queenscliff Pier


Queenscliff Pier was built in the late 1800’s and is one of Victoria’s most iconic piers.  Luckily the pier also makes a great location for photographers due to the long sprawling nature of the pier. 

There’s a few different ways you can shoot the pier including:

  • Looking down towards the end of the jetty (as per the right image)
  • Side on (as above) capturing the waves rushing through the pier onto the beach
  • Underneath the pier 



I almost didn’t include Mansfield in this list as it’s more of a tourist town and not a photography location but then I remembered some of the photos I captured when spending in the area a few years ago now and couldn’t resist. Mansfield is ideally situated in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and is surrounded by some of Victoria’s most stunning mountains including Mount Buller. 

What I love about Mansfield is that it’s so close to some great locations including the Howqua Valley as below, Craig’s Hut (made famous by The Man from Snowy River) and ridiculiously dark skies that are perfect for anyone chasing photographs of the milky way.

More photos from my trip to Mansfield and a far can be viewed in a past blog post ‘Exploring Country Victoria – Mansfield and Abroad’.

Howqua Valley


The Howqua Valley was an area that I came across by luck one foggy and overcast day when I drove to Mansfield only to find the ski season had started the week before and access to the mountains had closed. 

Driving along the Howqua Valley, you’re surrounded by beautiful streams as far as the eye can see. We spent the better part of half a day taking it slow through the valley and photographing the streams which are surrounded by a stunning green foliage. A must visit for anyone who enjoys getting their feet wet and photographing water streams.

Paradise Falls


We ventured to Paradise Falls when spending a few days in Mansfield and were looking for somewhere off the beaten track to take some photos. Located in the King Valley, Paradise Falls doesn’t get a huge amount of water flowing down but the drop makes it worth a visit.

Snobs Creek Falls


I’ve only been to Snobs Creek Falls just the once  in unfavorable conditions (lots of harsh sunlight and shadows). The waterfall is quite spectacular with the viewing platform being fixed to the rock face allowing you to get up close with the large flow of water that makes its way down from Snobs Creek. 

For me the highlight of Snobs Creek Falls was more the streams before the main waterfall which provide a nice opportunity to get your feet wet and capture some long exposures of the water as it travels down the mountain.  We were unlucky the day with the weather not working in our favour but I’d love to get back one day and photograph the streams under the right light. Combine a nice overcast light with the vibrant rain forest surrounds and you would be able to kill a morning photographing around the area. 

Trentham Falls


One of Victoria’s best waterfalls, Trentham Falls is one hour from Melbourne and conveniently located near the picturesque town of Daylesford.

Trentham Falls measures the longest single drop in Victoria coming in at 32 metres which makes it a great waterfall to photograph. The surrounding yellow and moss covered rocks that surround the waterfall add an interesting pop of colour to the scene.

This waterfall is best photographed in winter when there has been some rainfall however there can still be a trickle to be had during the warmer months in summer.

Toorongo River (Noojee)


Feeding in from the Great Dividing Range (one of Victoria’s main mountain ranges) allows the Toorongo River to have a consistent amount flow of water year round. 

It would be remiss of me not to include the Toorongo River in this Victoria photography location guide with the many different composition options available with this beautiful river. 

The river forms part of the 2.2km loop walk which covers both Toorongo Falls and Ampitheatre Falls. At various parts of the loop there are great opportunities to stop and take a photo of the river.  The above and photo to the right show the diverse opportunities available as you make your way to the main waterfalls.

Toorongo Falls (Noojee)


Toorongo Falls has a drop of around 25-30 meters and is surrounded by beautiful green ferns and fallen logs which make this a beautiful waterfall to stop and photograph.  Similar to other rivers and waterfalls in the area, Toorongo Falls has a decent flow of water year round thanks to the Great Dividing Range attracting rainfall.

The waterfall forms part of the Toorongo and Ampitheatre Falls walk loop.

Amphitheatre Falls (Noojee)


Like the above River and Falls, Ampitheatre Falls forms part of the Toorongo and Amphitheatre Falls Loop Walk and is at the start or end of the loop depending on which way you start the walk.

The above photograph was captured from the Ampitheatre Falls viewing platform. Trying to get other angles of the falls can be quite restrictive due to the difficulty in getting down to the water level.  With that said the viewing platform was good enough for me! 🙂

Yarra Ranges

 The Yarra Ranges is host to some of Victoria’s most stunning waterfalls and the giant mountain ash tree which is one of the tallest tree species in the world.

One thing I love about the Yarra Ranges is that its also host to some great vineyards and restaurants which makes it an easy sell if travelling down here with someone that isn’t into photography like your husband or wife 😉 Some bribery with lunch on the way back has always helped my excuse to visit the area on an early Saturday morning 😉

Steavenson Falls


Steavenson Falls is located in Marysville, Victoria, a town that made headlines with the devastating Black Saturday bushfires that ravaged the town in 2009 taking 45 lives with around 90% of the town’s buildings being demolished. Since 2009, the town has slowly developed itself back to what it once was – a booming tourist town with great pies! If you’re ever in the area on a cold wintery day and craving some warm food, the bakery is a must stop for a quick pie and coffee. Gets me hungry just writing about it 😉

I’ve only photographed Steavenson Falls the once, a year after the Black Saturday bushfires so much of the infrastructure was only just being re-built (i.e. viewing platform and tracks) so I’m sure a lot has changed since my visit way back in 2010!  

The waterfall itself very picterusque for photographs with its five cascades and a clear drop of 21 (just a little under Trentham Falls at 32 metres). The waterfall is consistent all year around and always has a steady stream of water flowing. A must visit if you’re in the area on a wintery day and looking for somewhere to photograph under the grey skies.

Rainforest Gallery


Located 90 minutes from the Melbourne CBD, Rainforest Gallery is one of my favourite places to photograph waterfalls when there’s been plenty of rain in the area. The location provides plenty of different compositions as you make your way down the river path. 

Rainforest Gallery is best photographed in either gumboots or fishing waders as this allows you to get nice and close to the action. The photos in these posts were both taken knee deep in water and only possible with some $40 waders from Anaconda or would have been a cold one otherwise..!

Cora Lynn Falls


As you make your way into Marysville to photograph Steavenson Falls, why not throw in a quick detour and photograph Cora Lynn Falls while you’re in the area? To be honest I wouldn’t plan a day out of driving just to photograph Cora Lynn Falls but but it makes an ideal spot to add as part of your itinerary if travelling to Steavenson Falls.

The waterfall is shrouded by ferns and moss-covered trees so it’s not the most open waterfall you’ll come across in your travels. If you dig deep and walk along the front like the photo above, you can get quite a good front facing angle of the waterfall without the clutter.

Taggerty Cascades


Taggerty Falls forms part of the Beeches Rainforest Walk and is a beautiful river that runs for around 1 km.  The river runs through some stunning rain forest and provides plenty of unique angles for anyone prepared to get their feet wet just mind the leeches.

The highlight for me is a pedestrian bridge (as above) that crosses the river which makes a great composition!



redwood forest warburton

Located just over an hour from Melbourne, Warburton is a beautiful part of Victoria with its stunning California Redwoods (as pictured above) and streams that run down Cement Creek. A beautiful part of Victoria and well worth a visit.

warburton cement creek



When I think of the Yarra Valley, I think of Healsville and the drive towards the dense forests of the Black Spur towards Marysville. When you combine the giant trees blanketed in thick fog during winter, this makes Healesville a beautiful place to get your foggy photography fix. 

One of my personal favourite photographs of me standing amidst the towering trees in a sea of fog (as above) was taken here. This was just one of the many spots you can find to photograph in the area. 

View all these locations in Google Maps

To make life easier for you, I’ve gone ahead and dropped all these locations as pins into a map which you’re free to use. Putting the map together it quickly dawned on me that I’ve actually not shot much of Victoria at all when you look at it all on a map! So much still to see 🙂

How to stay in touch

This isn’t the end and I’ll be hoping to add more locations to this over time. I’d love to hear from you with your location suggestions so if you feel that there is something missing from here be sure to send it through as I’d love to add it to my list.

I hope this post was useful for you. Feel free to share this post on your website or social media 🙂

Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog for updates to this post plus more landscape and long exposure photography articles.



Posted on 8 Comments

Best Travel Tripods for 2017

Planning your next holiday? Having a travel tripod is a great purchase for those low light sunrises!

After lugging a regular bulky sized tripod on my recent roadtrip to Perth, I got home and immediately started researching a travel tripod that’s less bulky and lightweight while still acting as a good support for my camera when taking long exposures.  

[amazon box=”B00COLBNTK” description=”Be sure to read my review for more details and thoughts on the Manfrotto Befree.” rating=”5″]

Manfrotto Befree Compact Tripod
Manfrotto Befree Compact Tripod in all its glory

I’ve put together this post for anyone wondering how I landed on my decision for the Manfrotto Befree and what else is out there on this competitive market. The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00COLBNTK’ text=’Manfrotto Befree Compact Tripod’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 4190e5ca-013c-11e7-bf4a-49aed99e1130′] is available from Amazon for [amazon_link asins=’B00COLBNTK’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 2e4fe4bf-013d-11e7-b27f-f594165ee6c8′] 

What is a travel tripod?

With airline baggage limits becoming more and more expensive (Australia’s airlines start at $35 for each additional bag), it’s easy to look at the tripod and think to yourself, do I really need to take this awkward and heavy thing away for my trip? By not taking your tripod, it means you miss out on taking really long exposures or shooting in low light conditions like at sunrise or sunset. This is where the travel tripod comes in with something that is more lightweight and easier to travel with.

Travel tripods don’t differ too much to regular tripods where they come with the standard three legs and a mounting head which the camera is mounted. Where they are different to a regular tripod can be the materials and mounting heads used to save on space and weight which we will look to explore in this article.

Having a tripod is essential for 30 sec long exposure photos like this one

What makes a good travel tripod?

So what makes a good travel tripod? I took my time to dig deep into travel tripods, tried them out and came up with this selection of my top five tripods based on different criteria. Simply put, a good travel tripod should be portable, affordable and adjustable. It should fit into your camera bag with ease while at the same time be stable and flexible to support your camera in all conditions.

Be compact

A good tripod unit should have about 24 inches length when folded (preferably less than 20 inches) and a total weight of about 1.3kg-2.5kg (2.8 lbs – 5.5 lbs).

The Manfrotto Befree is tiny (ignore my pasty arms..!)

The second thing you should consider is the size of the tripod when you fully unfold it. A tripod with many leg segments will squeeze down to a smaller compact unit when fully folded. This directly determines what bag you’ll have to use. If the tripod can’t fold into a small unit you may have to use a large travel bag instead of a camera bag.

Extend to a reasonable height

When stretched out, it should extend to atleast 50 inches before the center column is stretched out (preferably 60 inches when the head is mounted). This will let you extend the tripod to an average eye level height of around 60 inches without necessarily needing to extend center column.

The importance of not needing to extend the centre column comes down to stability in windy conditions. It’s worth noting that the tripod will be least stable when the center column is fully extended and more stable when all the components have not been stretched out.

Quality legs 

As the sun sets and the light fades, it can be difficult for a hand-held photo. This was a 0.8 second exposure with a tripod which would have been near impossible hand held to get the same level of detail!

When it comes to tripod legs, there are two camps – the aluminium and the carbon fibre camps. Personally, I’m too rough with my tripods and don’t put in the time to properly maintain them like removing the salt after a coastal shoot which can limit the lifespan of the tripod.  With the price of aluminium legs being significantly cheaper than carbon fibre legs, I’ll continue to shoot with aluminium until I can get a good maintenance process in place.

But for those of you that do properly look after your gear, carbon fibre does have its benefits. It goes without saying that carbon fibre legs are lighter than aluminium but more importantly, have a better strength to weight ratio over aluminium which is ideal when travelling.

If money is not an issue, carbon fibre provides you with a lighter and more durable set of legs but if you are constrained by budget, there is nothing wrong with a set of aluminium legs. Just don’t be like me and not maintain your tripod 😉

Mounting head that you can trust

Manfrotto befree ballhead
The included ballhead which comes with the Manfrotto Befree

For most people photographing with a micro 4/3, mirorless or light DSLR setup, the head which comes with a travel tripod will be more than sufficient. For those looking to shoot with a DSLR and telephoto or other heavier setups, you may want to consider a different head which is more sturdier and able to confidently hold the extra weight. With that said, if you’re looking at photographing with a heavy setup then maybe a travel tripod isn’t for you.


Top Travel Tripods of 2017

NameVanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100MeFOTO Aluminum Roadtrip TravelJoby GorillaPod SLR Zoom Tripod
Davis & Sanford Traverse TR553-P228Manfrotto BeFree Compact Carbon Fiber TripodManfrotto BeFree Aluminium Carbon Fiber Tripod
MaterialAluminium AlloyAluminium AlloyABS PlasticAluminium AlloyCarbon FiberAluminium Alloy
Leg Sections353533
Weight2.44 kg (5.38 lbs)1.6kg (3.6 lbs)551 g (1.21 lbs)1.2 kg (2.6 lbs)1.1 kg (2.4 lbs)2.4 kg (5.3 lbs)
Folded Length71.5 cm (28.125")39.1 cm (15.4")31.8 cm (12.5")30.5 cm (12")40 cm (15.75 lbs)40 cm (15.8 lbs)
Max Height1.73 m (5.67')156.5 cm (61.6")29.7 cm (11.7")134.6 cm (53")144 cm (48.4")144 cm (56.7")
Max Load7 kg (15.4 Lbs)8 kg (17.6 lbs)3 kg (6.6 lbs)4.5 kg (10 lbs)4 kg (8.8 lbs)4 kg (8.8 lbs)
Comes w/ Head?YesYesYesYesYesYes
Price[amazon_link asins='B003WKOENO' template='PriceLink' store='alexwisephot-20' marketplace='US' link_id=' 573902cc-c415-11e6-b1c1-132b618beef0'][amazon_link asins='B00BETIVWK' template='PriceLink' store='alexwisephot-20' marketplace='US' link_id=' 70ca6b45-c415-11e6-8301-ff634bc0eeae'][amazon_link asins='B002FGTWOC' template='PriceLink' store='alexwisephot-20' marketplace='US' link_id=' 7ee9fd79-c415-11e6-936c-a98ff4127599'][amazon_link asins='B00BTYOOXU' template='PriceLink' store='alexwisephot-20' marketplace='US' link_id=' 94c9cfe3-c415-11e6-bcd2-0742b688bf36'][amazon_link asins='B00M8RQKS4' template='PriceLink' store='alexwisephot-20' marketplace='US' link_id=' a65f00a5-c415-11e6-a9a1-776ec5dd6223'][amazon_link asins='B00COLBNTK' template='PriceLink' store='alexwisephot-20' marketplace='US' link_id=' 1e9a0d7b-013b-11e7-abf9-d3ab79a9dee1']
Having a sturdy tripod is essential if you’re planning on getting your feet wet!

If you are on a budget and want a multipurpose tripod, then the Joby Gorillapod at [amazon_link asins=’B002FGTWOC’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 7cfc9966-c422-11e6-8799-65fab2d2aedf’] is for you. It works well with a lightweight DSLR camera setup (think standard body and an ultra wide angle lens). Anything more and you might struggle.  

For those looking for something a bit more capable and the feel of a regular tripod then I would recommend the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00COLBNTK’ text=’Manfrotto Befree Aluminium compact tripod’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ eb10468a-013b-11e7-8155-35f83a0e9be3′] which folds down to just 15.8 inches and weighs 2.4 kg (5.3 lbs)

Manfrotto Befree Compact Tripod (Aluminium)

[amazon_link asins=’B00COLBNTK’ template=’ProductAd’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 82e4b94f-013d-11e7-a21b-678f6936be78′]

Manfrotto befree travel bag
The travel bag which comes with the Manfrotto Befree

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00COLBNTK’ text=’Manfrotto Befree’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 07fabe8a-013f-11e7-ab50-89ea852db988′] ended up being my pick for this review. As I’ve written a separate review on the Manfrotto Befree tripod in another post I’ll keep the detail short here but the reasons why I chose the Manfrotto Befree aluminium over the other tripods came down to:

  • Coming in at [amazon_link asins=’B00COLBNTK’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 37fcef46-013f-11e7-ab50-89ea852db988′] makes this an affordable tripod for everyone. 
  • The travel bag which comes with the tripod is great if you’re heading out for the day to take photos and want to sling the tripod over your shoulder when you’re walking
  • The weight of this tripod (2.4 kg or 5.3 lbs) makes this a good sturdy tripod that you feel confident with in windy conditions. Sure you could go lighter with the carbon version of the Manfrotto Befree which I review later in this post but for me, I just can’t justify that reduction in weight vs the price
  • The load capacity of the tripod of 4 kg makes this capable of holding anything (within reason of course!) 

I’m very happy with the purchase of my Manfrotto Befree tripod but like anything, it’s not perfect and I cover off some of the minor issues with the tripod in my indepth review.

You can order online at Amazon for [amazon_link asins=’B00COLBNTK’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 3d7b879c-0140-11e7-b77d-09bb973cedfd’]

Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100 

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Due to its size and weight, the Vanguard VEO 235AB sits between a travel and regular tripod and is comparable with other tripods on the market. However the Vanguard has some key features which makes it better than some of its competitors.  One of the things that appeal to me the most about the Vanguard Alta Pro 235AB is the way in which the legs fold around the centre column.

With most tripods, the legs fold around the center column, however with the Vanguard, the center column is designed to fit between the legs reducing its size when fully folded.

When folded, the Vanguard measures an impressive 21.1 inches. The center column is very flexible and works well for getting those tight angles allowing you to shoot from 0 and 180 degrees which works great with low and high angles of photography.

Other features that makes it a favourite choice are; a 7 kg (15.4 Lbs) carrying capacity, a maximum height of up to 58 inches, five-section legs made of strong aluminium and an easy to operate ball head.

A couple of things worth noting about this tripod is the weight and size which to my point at the start of the article puts it in a grey area between travel and regular tripod. The tripod weighs 2.44 kg (5.38 lbs) which is relatively heavy compared to other options in the market. It also measures 21.1 inches when folded, this length may not readily fit into your bag.

You can order for one on Amazon at [amazon_link asins=’B003WKOENO’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 573902cc-c415-11e6-b1c1-132b618beef0′]

MeFOTO Aluminium Roadtrip Travel Tripod

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MeFoto is a relative newcomer to the market launched by Benro; a Chinese manufacturer who have quietly been chipping away in the photography industry for years now. Benro are making a bold entrance into the photography market with the MeFOTO range which are both affordable and provide a different offering to competitors.

The MeFoto Aluminium roadtrip travel tripod can collapse down to a mere 15-inch piece that weighs just 1.6kg (3.6 lbs) yet it is capable of supporting up to 8 kg (17.6 lbs) when fully extended to its maximum height of 64.2 inches. More than enough to hold the weight of a Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 70-200 2.8 IS which comes in at around 2.4 kg (5.2 lbs).  

The secret to self portraits like these aren’t someone standing there pressing the trigger for me… Instead it’s a tripod with the camera on a self-timer.

One thing I love about the MeFOTO is the ability to transform the tripod into a full-sized monopod. This is handy for impromptu shoots where you don’t need a tripod fully extended and just need something to stabilise. Additionally the MeFOTO comes with rubber coated spiked feet and an Arca-type quick-release ball head with a panning lock, a bubble level and a wide tilt range. Great value for the price.

It’s worth noting that when researching the MeFOTO, there was some feedback from reviews where when the legs are fully extended that the tripod can lose some of its stability. To be honest, I rarely shoot fully extended as I don’t like shooting at the human eye level but if this is an issue for you, you’re best to attach your camera bag to the center column which will add some stability to the tripod.

Available on Amazon at [amazon_link asins=’B00BETIVWK’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 70ca6b45-c415-11e6-8301-ff634bc0eeae’]

Joby GorillaPod SLR Zoom Tripod

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An article about travel tripods wouldn’t be the same without mention of Joby’s GorillaPod range. While admittedly they aren’t for everyone, they do serve a purpose for people looking to save weight and space.

The Joby GorrillaPod Zoom is a small travel tripod with a load capacity of 3 kg (6.6 lbs) which is well suited for smaller camera setups like the Micro 4/3, mirrorless or lightweight DSLR setups. The tripod has twistable legs which can be molded to work in different environments as long as the camera is light in weight. The entire package including the head weighs just 551 g (1.21 lbs) which is easy to carry around.

Having a tripod is essential if you’re planning on visiting waterfalls on a holiday

It’s stability on rugged surface is achieved by many leg joints with foot grips and rubber-coated rings which allows the tripod to easily grip onto things. The Joby GorillaPod Zoom is definitely the best travel tripod when it comes to its flexibility size however does come with some flaws. When trying to use it on unique angles (i.e. wrapping it around a pole), the weight of your camera can make things tricky. This is where a lightweight camera excels with this setup but you’ll be challenged with more bulkier setups.

The Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom is available on Amazon for [amazon_link asins=’B002FGTWOC’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 7ee9fd79-c415-11e6-936c-a98ff4127599′]

Davis & Sanford Traverse TR553-P228

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A relative unknown compared to some of the other brands mentioned in this post, the Davis and Sanford’s Travers travel tripod is a quiet achiever. The tripod is nice and compact folding into a just twelve inches and weighs just 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs) which makes it great for anyone looking to cut down on space and conveniently fit into your baggage.

The Davis & Sanford Traverse comes with an Arca-type ball head with double control knobs and a fast release plate. When fully extended, it stretches to 53 inches and can support up to 4.5 kg (10 lbs) which is ideal for nearly all camera setups.

When researching this tripod to purchase, some of the feedback I read was along the lines of the legs sometimes being difficult to fold or extend because of the collars used on every leg. For me this wasn’t a deal breaker especially with its compactness and ability to support generally most camera setups on the market.

What put me off the Davis & Sanford Traverse was more the lure of the other brands on the market. We are so spoiled for choice with with the Manfrotto and MeFOTO providing great quality tripods for competitive prices. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the 3 brands and at the end of the day, it comes down to how much you can afford and your personal preference.

The Davis & Sanford Traverse TR553-P228 is available on Amazon for [amazon_link asins=’B00BTYOOXU’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ 94c9cfe3-c415-11e6-bcd2-0742b688bf36′]

Manfrotto BeFree Compact Carbon Fiber Tripod  

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Manfrotto have been an industry leader in the tripod game for a long time. One of their newer offerings is the Manfrotto BeFree compact carbon fibre tripod which looks great and performs even better.  

The Manfrotto is a beast of a tripod and comes with legs that extend to a maximum height of 48.4 inches. When the center column is fully extended, the tripod can reach 56.7 inches. The tripod can also provide a minimum working height of 13.4 inches. A great feat for a portable travel tripod.

When fully folded, the tripod measures just 15.75 inches and weighs 1.1 kg (2.4 lbs) making it one of the most portable travel tripods ever made.  This is made possible by the tripod using carbon fibre compared to the other tripods in this review using aluminium.

Having a tripod makes long exposure photographs like these possible. Getting yourself a light weight travel tripod can really make the difference between average and good holiday photos.

The Manfrotto BeFree can support up to 4 kg (8.8 lbs) when fully stretched which makes it more than capable of holding most camera setups. Like other tripods reviewed here, the Manfrotto BeFree comes with a ball head with an aluminium alloy quick release plate. The legs have a diameter of 22mm and can spread at either 51 degrees or 25 degrees to ensure stability of the tripod.

The only downside to the Manfrotto BeFree Compact Carbon Fiber Tripod compared to other tripods in this post is the cost. The Manfrotto BeFree Compact Carbon Fibre Tripod comes in at a price of [amazon_link asins=’B00M8RQKS4′ template=’PriceLink’ store=’alexwisephot-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ a65f00a5-c415-11e6-a9a1-776ec5dd6223′] But really, this is pretty standard for a good quality carbon fibre tripod. You are getting some serious value for money with this one.

Wrap Up

I hope that this article has been helpful in providing some guidance on how to evaluate travel tripods and the best travel tripods out there. The way the travel market has evolved in the last years means we are blessed with so much choice and almost comes down to personal preference if you’re willing to spend around $100-200.

Thanks for reading,


Posted on 9 Comments

Taking Long Exposures with an iPhone


black and white iphone long exposure
The end result from the title image. An 8 second long exposure that is not too dissimilar from that of a DSLR long exposure

As someone that loves capturing long exposures on my DSLR it may come as no surprise that I also like to explore the possibilities of capturing long exposures with my iPhone. Photographing long exposures with the iPhone is made possible with apps like Slow Shutter or Average Cam Pro(AvgCamPro).

For this article, I’ll be focusing on what I’m familiar with which is the iPhone, Slow Shutter and AvgCamPro.  Both are great apps with AvgCamPro having a slightly steeper learning curve so I’d recommend learning it before you head on out. It’s not rocket science but just requires you to sit down for a few minutes to get your head around how it works. Slow Shutter on the other hand is relatively straight forward and has become more user friendly through recent releases.

What you will need

iPhone 6 Plus and Gorilla Pod
My simple yet effective setup for capturing long exposures. An iPhone 6 Plus and the Joby Gorilla Pod

One thing I love about experimenting with long exposures on your iPhone is the low barrier to entry. You don’t need to go out and purchase an expensive neutral density filter nor do you need a cutting edge camera or lens. You just need an iPhone and tripod to support your phone. Sorry but how amazing is that?! The purpose of this section is to look at what equipment and apps are useful (in some cases not essential) for capturing long exposures with your iPhone.


No surprises! I use the iPhone 6 Plus myself and have found the camera on it great for slow shutter.  I wanted to include this section to briefly touch on the exciting development’s Apple is making by allowing developers more control over the camera functionality. Since iOS 8, greater manual control has been provided to developers as evident with Peta Pixel’s review of ProCam 2 which makes use of the new manual controls available. Hopefully we are in for some exciting times ahead.

iPhone Tripod

Like capturing a long exposure on your DSLR you will need something to stabilise your phone during the exposure. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Gorilla Pod for its portability and ability to easily stabilise your camera in an awkward position. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka I’d often just stuff the little tripod in my partners’ handbag without any issue. The convenience of being able to easily pack it and pull it out when required was great and allowed me to capture scenes that I may not have normally brought a larger tripod along for.

The table below explores some of the more popular tripods for the iPhone including a mini tripod, flexible leg tripod and different mounts that allow for you to mount your smart phone to your DSLR hot shoe or tripod.

PictureNameTypePositivesNegativesPriceAverage Review
417OQU6ld+LJoby GripTight XL GorillapodFlexible leg tripod- Allows you to set up and fix your camera in awkward positions (wrap around a tree, sit it on a rock, etc)

- Expands open enough to support new, larger smart phones such as the iPhone 6 Plus

- Great portability for travelling

- Good for being able to capture at higher angles (if you can find an object to wrap the legs around...)
- Wrap around legs aren't always stable so double check the legs are firmly placed before you take your hand off the phone

- Great for landscape mode but can be a bit fiddly for portrait mode
51HYgwSz0CL._SL1240_Mini Tripod with Bluetooth RemoteFixed leg tripod- Provides good support and stability

- Bluetooth remote useful for non slowshutter activities

- Good portability for travel
- You get what you pay for. It's good for the price but is cheap in its build

- Restricted to low angles
51D7NAJYs-L._SL1200_Trigger Trap Hot Shoe MountSmart phone hot shoe mount- Portable and easily fits onto your DSLR hot shoe mount

- Useful for when shooting with your DSLR and you want to quickly take a photo on your iPhone for social media
- Expensive for what you're getting

- Requires a DSLR for support
81LkV9v-zML._SL1500_RetiCAM Smartphone Tripod Mount with Ball HeadSmart phone tripod mount- Supports larger smart phones like the iPhone 6 Plus

- Mounts to a regular tripod allowing for better support and angles

- Provides more security/support for your phone

- Great build quality (metal threads as opposed to plastic threads)

- The good build quality increases the price slightly

- Requires a tripod for support

waterproof case for the iphone
While not essential – It’s recommended to have a waterproof case like the Lifeproof to protect your phone from the elements.

iPhone Waterproof Housing

While definitely not essential a good quality waterproof housing can be useful for protecting your expensive smart phone. The Lifeproof range of waterproof housings for the iPhone are great and highly recommended. By having a quality case like the Lifeproof this also allows you to push your compositions to the next level by not having to worry about getting your camera wet from the spray at a waterfall or the incoming tide at a beach.

[box type=”info” size=”large”]Interested in what equipment is useful for landscape photography? Don’t forget to read my recently released free guide.[/box]


For the purpose of this article I will be looking at the Slow Shutter and Average Camera Pro. These two apps are my particular favourites but there are also some other great apps in the app store that are worth a mention including (but not limited to):

While most apps are user friendly as mentioned at the start of the post, I’d recommend familiarising yourself with the app before you head out to understand how each app works.

Slow Shutter App

Slow Shutter, as the name suggests, is an app used for capturing slow shutter based photos. The application is amazing and really pushes the iPhone to the next level by easily allowing you to capture a variety of photographs not normally possible with the regular iPhone camera.  As the iPhone comes with a fixed aperture which cannot be adjusted, Slow Shutter works by capturing a burst of images for your intended duration. The app provides three different shooting modes which are all user friendly.

Slow Shutter allows you to quickly change between the available modes
  • slowshutter waterfall
    Using the Motion Blur feature to capture a waterfall long exposure. Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Sander (Drift and Wander)

    Motion Blur – Similar to shutter priority mode on your DSLR camera, Motion Blur allows you to define your exposure time (the duration of your exposure) and as the name suggests, blur the motion during the exposure. This mode is particularly useful for shooting waterfalls or seascapes where there is plenty of movement in a short period. The motion blur setting allows you to set a shutter speed from 1/4 of a second all the way up to 60 seconds and bulb mode. I generally try to shoot my exposures around the 4-8 second shutter speed length as I find any longer sometimes picks up vibration which then affects the sharpness of the final image.

  • Light Trail – Commonly used for capturing light trails. This mode is great for capturing traffic or even light painting a scene with a head torch. I’venotusedthismodemuch however experimented with it recently to capture light trails from cars passing an alley way with the photo to the right displaying street art (Chalky from Boardwalk Empire) with traffic passing by.Iwas surprised with how well it worked in the low light conditions while being able to capture the passing traffic nearby.

    Captured using the Slow Shutter App with the 'Light Trails' mode of traffic passing street art on Chapel St, Melbourne
    Captured using the Slow Shutter App with the ‘Light Trails’ mode of traffic passing street art on Chapel St, Melbourne
  • Low Light – This mode attempts to mitigate the issues of the iPhone’s low light performance by capturing as much light as possible. I don’t often use this mode however have found it to work quite well but doesn’t completely mitigate the sometimes poor low light performance of the iPhon

Where Slow Shutter really shines for me is the user friendliness of the interface. You can easily adjust the self timer, resolution and other settings from the settings interface with ease. Perfect for when you’re out shooting and just want to capture an image without getting bogged down in settings.

The clip below demonstrates how easy the app is to use with this self portrait captured by Jonathan Sander (Drift and Wander) standing on a pier. The app was set to motion blur with a 4 second exposure length and a 8 second delay. The delay is essential to avoid the vibration caused as you trigger the camera. The quick fast forward you see in the video is skipping past the self timer with the end result displaying at the end. Not bad for an iPhone…

The Slow Shutter Group on Flickr hosts some stunning images captured with the app and a great source of inspiration at the same time.

[box type=”info” size=”large”]Don’t miss my free in-depth guide on how to photograph waterfalls showing you the equipment needed, what settings to use on your camera and ideal conditions for waterfall photography.[/box]

Average Camera Pro

avgcampro settings
Average Camera Pro’s shooting mode varies slightly to Slow Shutter where you select how many images to capture rather than exposure time

Average Camera Pro (AvgCamPro) is another favourite of mine and is essential for capturing images in low light to achieve sharpness that you may not normally achieve through the normal iPhone camera app while also allowing for you to capture long exposure style images. Average Camera operates by capturing many images (as defined by you) and then layering these images on top of one another to create a long exposure effect. Some photographers such as Matt Glastonbury are going one step further and creating multiple exposures within AvgCamPro and then combining them within Pro HDR to increase the dynamic range of an image.

Where Slow Shutter allows you to capture exposures by the seconds, AvgCamPro operates slightly differently by allowing you to define how many pictures you would like to take. The higher the number means the more movement you will capture.

There is no formula here on how many photos you should take. For me it comes down to a lot of different variables including how windy is it? It can be difficult to execute a long shot if there is wind causing potential vibrations/movement to your camera. Alternatively if the movement you are attempting to capture is slow, you may need to capture a lot of pictures.

Like Slow Shutter, the #avgcampro hashtag on Instagram is a great source for inspiration for what others are doing with the app.

The Right Location

Now that you are organised with the right equipment and apps, its time to head out and take some photos. Some locations that work well for long exposures include:

  • Overpasses for busy highways
  • Waterfalls or streams
  • Beaches

For more ideas,  my article on long exposure photography ideas explores this in great depth with a list of different subjects to shoot with long exposures.

Some of my iPhone Long Exposures

Additional Resources

Be sure to check out some other articles on this blog relating to long exposures that may be of interest –

Thanks for reading,

– Alex

Posted on

Useful Equipment for Landscape Photography




This article looks at what equipment and accessories is useful for landscape photography. Whether it be photographing close up macros, star trails or capturing a beautiful waterfall, this article will touch on all the equipment needed to photograph those various situations.

In landscape photography, equipment and accessories can be a great aid when used appropriately. Whether that be a head torch for when you’re stumbling out of a location after dark or even using it to light paint a scene. This post will take a look at the various types of equipment and accessories at our disposal while touching on the vital part of landscape photography, you, the photographer.

Shouldn’t landscape photography be relatively straight forward when it comes to gear?

Star trails from the Tasmanian East Coast
Star trails from the Tasmanian East Coast

You would think as far as different types of photography go, landscape photography would be one where minimal equipment is required and a wide lens and camera body is all you need. Compared to say portrait and high end fashion photography where you need prime lenses, good lights and various studio backgrounds and accessories.

While I’m a big advocate of less is best and let’s just get out and shoot, there is quite a bit of equipment that can be useful for landscape photography. There are areas of landscape photography where you might be constrained without the right gear. Whether that being macro photography and requiring a macro lens or an intervalometer for star trail photography. But having the right equipment and knowing how and when to use it is what separates average landscape photographers and great landscape photographers.


Choosing the right camera

Well it goes without saying, a camera might help just a little… Or I guess you could just be one of those people that composes a photo with their hands?

Jokes aside, with the evolution of the digital camera we’re lucky that even your basic point and shoots provide some level of manual control over your camera. While this is great news, I’m a big advocate of using the semi manual mode of Aperture Priority.  Using Aperture Priority or AV as it’s referred on Canon cameras, allows you to restrict what aperture your camera will photograph at. So for example, if you want to photograph an image at f/16, it will select an appropriate shutter speed based on this aperture you have defined. Why is this handy?  For landscape photography where it’s important to nail the sharpness, shooting at an aperture that offers great depth of field is key. It’s recommended by those much smarter than I, that this ideal aperture range for landscape photography is around the f/9-f/16 mark.

Ice covered rock pools at Cradle Mountain, Tasmania
Ice covered rock pools at Cradle Mountain, Tasmania
Some key points to note when purchasing a new camera:
  • Does it allow for manual control of the aperture and shutter speed?
  • Are you able to change the ISO?
  • Does it allow for long exposure times? For nearly all major cameras this is 30 seconds
  • Does it have a bulb mode (used for exposure times longer than 30 seconds)?
  • Does it have any level of weather sealing? This isn’t a must but a nice to have

If I can give one piece of advice when it comes to camera selection – don’t spend the majority of your budget on a camera body. I’m still happily using my Canon 5D Mark II which is now two releases behind and I have no inclination of upgrading. In the long run, its your lenses and filters that will out live your camera body. I’m still using the same Canon 24-70 that I had when I first started shooting with a Canon 350D 5+ years ago.  So if you can, avoid spending all your bank on a camera body and kit lens. Instead, budget it so you are able to purchase a reasonable camera body but investing in the future with a semi-decent lens.

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Lenses for Landscape Photography

As indicated earlier in the post, the lenses used for landscape photography vary considerably to other styles of photography. For portraiture photography where depth of field is key, photographers often opt for a lens that is capable of shooting wide open (i.e. F/1.4). With landscape photography, you are often photographing around the F/11-F/16 range, which reduces the need for a fast lens. This isn’t to dismiss fast lenses as they definitely have their use whether that be for star photography or where there is little available light.

Chasing that golden hour light at Bicheno, Tasmania
Chasing that golden hour light at Bicheno, Tasmania

So why bother investing in expensive pro lenses if you are just going to shoot at F/11-16? The weather sealing provided in more lenses that are expensive provides much more piece of mind when shooting in the varying conditions that you will experience with landscape photography. I’ve had a Canon 17-40 L take a swim at a waterfall and it’s still working perfectly to this day.

In addition to this, your more expensive lenses do provide superior image quality and are capable of shooting at a lower aperture  which is especially useful for shooting stars.

If you are happy to make some trade-offs, cheaper lenses are still very capable of doing the job and shouldn’t be dismissed. Having nice gear in photography does help but it’s not essential. Just look at what people are doing with an iPhone and the avgcampro app. Long exposures captured with just an iPhone. Wow. Don’t feel like your equipment constrains you.

This section will be broken into four categories:

Comparing focal lengths at Rye, Victoria ranging from 24mm to 200mm
Comparing focal lengths at Rye, Victoria ranging from 24mm to 200mm
  • Ultra wide angle lens – The qeuintessential lens for landscape photography offering a wide field of view to capture all the elements
  • Mid-range lens – The perfect walk around lens. Not too cumbersome while offering you a good balance of wideness and zoom
  • Telephoto lens – Longer lens that allows for enlarging distant objects. A favourite for wildlife scenes
  • Macro lens – Great for those close up images of insects or natures footprint

In an attempt to avoid getting too bogged down in the various lens brand debates, this guide will provide a high level view of available lenses. Generally, the key elements described for each lens (focal length, aperture and image stabilisation) are available under different brands however may just differ slightly (i.e. Canon’s 17-40 may be a Nikon 14-27).


Ultra Wide Angle

Shooting with an UWA lens give you the luxury of including much more in your composition
Shooting with an UWA lens give you the luxury of including much more in your composition

Ultra wide-angle (UWA) lenses and landscape photography go hand in hand making it a fantastic landscape lens.  What is an UWA lens and what makes it so great for landscape photography? An UWA lens, depending on if you are shooting with a full frame or crop body, will generally have a maximum focal length of up to 40mm on full frame and 25mm on crop based cameras. UWA lenses are great for landscape photography as they provide more field of view and as an added bonus, give you more depth of field at any given aperture.

Prime or zoom? For me this is personal preference.

Prime lenses can provide better image quality, sometimes be cheaper and allow the benefit of shooting at a wider aperture (i.e. F/2.8). For landscape photography where you are often shooting in the F11-F16 range having the ability to photograph at F/2.8 is especially useful when photographing stars where you sometimes need all the light you can get.  One downside of a prime lens is that you are constrained to that focal length and have to ‘zoom with your feet’ so to speak.

Zoom lenses on the other hand provide you the ability to have different focal lengths available. Personally, I prefer zoom lenses especially when photographing seascapes where you may be physically constrained by objects and cannot zoom with your feet’ as you would with a prime and instead you are reliant on changing the focal length to get the right frame.


  • High field of view allowing you to capture most of your scene without having to rely on stitching panoramic images
  • Stopping down a lens will provide you with front and back sharpness. Attempting to do similar on a telephoto/zoom lens would make it challenging to get the front and back sharpness
  • As you are shooting with such a wide angle lens, this gives the illusion that the horizon seem further away than it actually is and adds to the wideness of the photo


  • Objects in the distance appear smaller
  • Shooting with such a wide field of view can result in issues of empty space
  • When shooting as wide as possible this can result in some edge distortion depending on the lens

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Getting wet at Cape Schanck, Victoria
Getting wet at Cape Schanck, Victoria

While a lot of landscape photography is shot using wide angle lenses referred to previously under the ultra wide angle lens section great photos can be had with a midrange zoom.

What is a mid range zoom? A mid range zoom is characterised by having the ability to photograph at a relatively wide angle while providing that bit extra in the zoom department which an ultra wide lens doesn’t provide. Typically the focal range of a mid range lens is 18mm at the widest end and 70mm at the longer end. In recent times we have seen the introduction of more versatile mid range zooms that still allow you to shoot at a wide focal length but provide longer reach like the Canon 18-200mm.
Why should you consider a mid range zoom? Through providing the best of both worlds of being able to shoot wide and long when required, this makes the mid range zoom the perfect walk around lens. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka, the Canon 24-70 never left my camera. Sure, at times it would have been nice to shoot wider than 24mm but being able to zoom longer than my Canon 17-40mm made it a good compromise. The focal range provided me with enough room to play with to get most travel shots without feeling the need to pull out a wider or longer lens.
  • Ability to shoot wide while having some zoom to play with
  • Great walk around lens due to its versatility
  • Most mid range lenses are relatively slow and generally will be f/3.5 at the wide end and f/5.6 at the long end. Personally speaking, I don’t see this as a huge negative however wanted to highlight this if you intend on using it as a walk around lens. Shooting hand-held at f/5.6 and onwards can be limiting in low light conditions. This is offset however through modern DSLR bodies providing great performance at high ISO levels and image stabilisation

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Using a telephoto lens at 190mm to capture this bird from a far
Using a telephoto lens at 190mm to capture this bird from a far

Telephoto lenses are a powerful tool for enlarging distant subjects to make them appear closer while also providing shallow depth of field to really direct your focus on a particular object.

Generally a telephoto lens starts at the 70mm range with most lenses extending to 300-400mm. One of the more common uses for a telephoto lens is wildlife photography where the lens allows you to get close without disrupting the behaviour of the animal. I recently took one away to Sri Lanka for this purpose and had some fun just snapping local wild life from a far. The image to the right is an example of a photo taken with a telephoto lens and shows the lenses ability to get close and isolate the subject through shallow depth of field making the bird the point of focus.

Telephoto lenses aren’t exclusive to wildlife photography and also make great lenses for landscape photography allowing you to capture compositions which are unique to that you would capture with an ultra wide angle lens. Where your wide angle lens exaggerates the depth of a photo by making things appear smaller than they appear, the telephoto lens works slightly differently by compressing the depth of the image.

The end result to Jon's image being captured to the right. Note the close perspective the telephoto lens provides Image: Jonathan Sander
The end result to Jon’s image being captured to the right. Note the close perspective the telephoto lens provides
Image: Jonathan Sander
Photographer (Jon Sander) photographing the 12 Apostles with a telephoto lens
Photographer (Jon Sander) photographing the 12 Apostles with a telephoto lens

A popular composition technique for landscape photography with telephoto lenses is using this compression of the depth of field to our advantage by composing a scene that is full of layered subject matters that are captured at different distances between one another. When executed well the effect provides great depth to an image.


  • Great for getting close when you physically cannot
  • The perspective of a telephoto lens allows you to compress the visual elements of a scene making more nearer and more distant elements appear closer together
  • Ability to isolate subjects with depth of field


  • Large lens filter diameter means that your normal filters like a circular polariser won’t fit requiring specific (and a lot more expensive) filter to suit the higher lens diameter size. Although with that being said, it’s unlikely you would put a 10 stop neutral density filter on a telephoto lens as keeping it still through a long exposure would be a nightmare
  • Generally expensive for high quality lenses
  • Large and heavy which at times will require the use of a tripod to maintain stability

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Getting up close and personal with a bee. Shot with a Canon MPE-65mm. A challenging but rewarding lens
Getting up close and personal with a bee. Shot with a Canon MPE-65mm. A challenging but rewarding lens

Macro lenses are defined by their ability to capture a subject at a 1:1 to 10:1 ratio which in plain English, means the magnification of a subject either 1 or 10 times the actual size of the subject.  This allows you to capture the details of nature which may not be possible with the other lenses in your kit.

When photographing with a macro lens, there are some limitations and quirks worth noting. Firstly, as you magnify a subject this in a sense magnifies camera shake. For this reason it is advised to use a tripod when shooting with a macro lens.  While another thing worth noting is the shallow depth of field of macro lenses.  This in turn requires you to make decisions to what should be the most in focus and how to light the subject to maximise depth of field.

Some of my favourite tools for macro photography include:

  • Canon 100mm 2.8 IS L macro – One of the best macro lenses in Canon’s lineup thanks to its excellent image quality allowing for 1:1 magnification, inclusion of image stabilisation and solid build.
  • Canon MPE-65mm  – Incredibly specialised macro lens which allows for the magnification of up to 5:1. I owned this lens for a period of time and was amazed
  • Lens reversing ring – An affordable way of playing around with macro photography by placing your lens on your camera backwards.  The system works by having a camera mount on one side and on the other, a threaded screw to attach your lens to the front of your camera. As you have the back of your camera lens exposed using this method, I’d recommend using a cheaper lens like the Canon 50mm f1.8 or even an old film lens to avoid damaging one of your more expensive lenses

    Capturing the detail of a rain drop with the Canon MPE-65mm
    Capturing the detail of a rain drop with the Canon MPE-65mm
  • Extension tubes – Another affordable way of playing around with macro photography by placing extension tubes between your camera and lens. This in turn creates an extension of your lens allowing you to get closer to your subject than close up lenses. There are two types of extension tubes on the market from those that don’t maintain an electrical connection between the lens and the camera and those that do. Tubes not maintaining an electrical connection result in your camera unable to set the aperture (unless of course the lens has a manual aperture ring). As a result, the lens aperture will be constrained to the widest aperture that means a very shallow depth of field. Spending a little more for extension tubes that include electrical connections allow for you to retain control over your aperture and not have this constraint of the cheaper tubes.
  • Macro flash  – Normally appears in the form of a ring style flash, which attaches to the front of your lens element. This allows you to capture images that may not otherwise be possible through natural light and allow you to increase your depth of field.

Admittedly this section about macro lenses only touches the surface for macro photography and for those seeking further information I’d highly recommend this article by Cambridge in Colour which is insightful and detailed on the subject.

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Filters for Landscape Photography

Using a neutral density to completely transform a scene with a 5 minute long exposure
Using a neutral density to completely transform a scene with a 5 minute long exposure

Filters come in all sizes and can provide various benefit for a photographer whether that be helping to blur the water of a waterfall or reduce the glare from water, they are hugely beneficial.

With the rise of improved and new post processing techniques, some would argue that the requirement for filters has become less and although I would tend to agree somewhat they still very much have a place in my landscape kit.

Circular Polariser

Circular polariser filters provide various benefits include the reduction of glare off reflective surfaces, acts as a semi neutral density filter by blocking out 1-3 stops of light depending on the filter and intensifies and increases the colour saturation (something easily replicated in post processing). I’m a big advocate of the circular polariser filter for its ability to reduce glare which provides a huge benefit when photographing waterfalls where you are surrounded by reflective rocks. Having the ability to minimise the glare coming off these rocks can really transform an image.

[box]Don’t forget to check out my complete guide on photographing waterfalls[/box]

Neutral Density Filters

Examples of a screw on and rectangular neutral density filter
Examples of a screw on and rectangular neutral density filter

Neutral density filters are an essential part of my landscape photography bag and I’ve become a huge fan of them over the years. Neutral density filters come in various shapes and sizes from rectangle filters like below or circular screw on filters like a normal filter. Not all neutral density filters are equal however and come in various ‘strengths’ which determine how much f-stops they block out. For most people, a 4 stop or 6 stop neutral density filter is suitable.

What are neutral density filters and why should you use them? To put it simply, neutral density filters are a dark filter you place in front of the lens, blocking out light and as a result forces your camera to capture more light to compensate. This is especially useful for when photographing waterfalls where you want a longer exposure time to blur the water of the waterfall for that mystic like effect.

One thing I love about neutral density filters is their ability to completely transform a scene. The below photograph shows you a before and after of a photograph taken with the B+W 110 10 stop neutral density filter with a 5 minute long exposure at Mortimer Bay.  The 5 minute exposure was made possible by using the B+W 110 filter which completely smoothed the water and blurred the rain clouds as they moved above during the 5 minutes. Neutral density filters provide a great way to uniquely capture a scene.

[twentytwenty]mortimer beforemortimer after


Before and After of a day time long exposure at Mortimer Bay, Tasmania. The first shot with a quick exposure and then another for 5 minutes using the B+W 110 neutral density filter More details about this photo and how it was processed can be read in my Mortimer Bay – Before and After post.

[box]Interested in how to capture long exposures during the photo above? Check out my guide on daytime long exposure photography[/box]

An example of a graduated neutral density filter
An example of a graduated neutral density filter, filter holder and lens adapter

Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Graduated neutral density filters are useful when photographing environments where the sky is brighter than the foreground element (quite common when photographing a bright sunset). Graduated neutral density differ to normal neutral density filters where the top half of the frame is 100% neutral density and slowly graduates/fades to clear. The image to the right is a Cokin Z-Pro graduated neutral density filter, the adaptor the filter slides into and lens ring which connects to the filter holder. This is from the Cokin Z-Pro neutral density kit.

Why should I use graduated neutral density filters when Lightroom offers the same? Some would argue graduated neutral density filters as irrelevant now with the rise of post processing techniques, which allow you to perform a similar function without the filter. They’re right and it can definitely be achieved in Adobe Lightroom and other post processing tools which now offer a software based neutral density tool. The tool is quite effective when you have a) shot in RAW and b) haven’t blown out the sky considerably.  Alternatively, you can apply a similar effect through the use of image blending techniques which allows for more granular control.

Using a graduated neutral density filter I was able to balance the harsh light of the sun
Using a graduated neutral density filter I was able to balance the harsh light of the sun

Personally speaking –  I use both. Graduated neutral density filters are restrictive when photographing a scene that has a large object filling part of the sky like a cliff face for example. As a result your graduated neutral density filter will gradually darken the cliff face and give an odd look to your image. In this situation I prefer to shoot without filters in this situation and use post processing techniques.  However I do love my graduated neutral density filters when the sky is clear and not obstructed by objects like I’ve just mentioned. They can drastically reduce your post processing workflow and also great for trying to balance the exposure of that bright sun peaking through the clouds on sunset.

[box]Still wanting a bit more information about graduated neutral density filters? Be sure to read my complete guide to neutral density filters[/box]

Ultraviolet (UV) Filters

UV filters reduce haziness created by ultraviolet lights and protect that all important front glass element of your expensive lens. Personally I don’t use UV filters (and maybe I should) but why add more filters to the front of your lens? Consequently this will have an effect on your image quality whether that be the introduction of vignetting or just an overall degradation to your image quality.

Do the positives outweigh the bad? That’s up for you to decide.  If you are set on purchasing a UV filter, don’t skimp on quality and purchase a decent brand like the Hoya multi coated glass filter to avoid any degradation to image quality.

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Other Equipment for Landscape Photography

Having the right camera and lens is great but you also need the right accessories and equipment to back it up. This section looks at the various pieces of equipment I carry in addition to my camera and lenses discussing the benefits and necessity of having these items in your landscape kit.


Having a good photography bag makes walking with your gear a lot more comfortable and secure
Having a good photography bag makes walking with your gear a lot more comfortable and secure

Camera bags come in all forms and sizes and I don’t think there is one right bag that fits the bill for everyone. For me, I prefer the Lowepro AW Trekker backpack that allows me to carry all my gear with a strap to carry the tripod and includes a raincoat to cover the bag in case of rain. This style of ‘backpack’ is ergonomically comfortable for those landscape shoots where you are walking a few hours to get to your location.

For those not looking for a backpack style bag and something more minimalist for shorter trips, there are also messenger/sling bags. Thee are great for those short trips where packing all your gear is overkill and you know in advanced what equipment you will be shooting with. A favourite of mine is the Lowepro Pro Messenger 160 AW  which provides the ruggedness of other bigger camera bags while offering fast access when you want to pull your camera out. One thing to note with smaller bags like this is that not all come with rain protection like their bigger brothers but really, if you are travelling lightly  make a great portable bag for those shorter trips where carrying a big bulky bag is cumbersome. As a compromise though, the easy to access on the fly and portability of these small bags make them great to have.


A tripod is a must for capturing that smooth water affect you see in waterfall photographs
A tripod is a must for capturing that smooth water affect you see in waterfall photographs

Having a tripod is an essential piece of kit when it comes to landscape photography. Largely this is due to working with a small aperture where as you increase your f-stop, less light enters your camera thus requiring you to leave the shutter open for longer to allow for more light to enter the camera.  As your camera requires this additional light sometimes the required shutter speed will be too slow to capture an image hand-held. It is for this reason we look at using a tripod allowing for a sharp image to be captured.  Sure, you can get around this by increasing your ISO but through doing so you compromise on image quality by potentially introducing grain to your image.

Not only are tripods great for ensuring image sharpness, they also allow for you to explore and be creative with slow shutter speeds. Some of my favourite uses are for waterfall and seascape photography where shooting with a slightly longer than normal exposure can transform a scene. These styles of photographs are not possible handheld and require the stabilisation of a tripod to make it possible.

Which tripod should you purchase? Personally speaking,  I tend to go the entry/mid range Manfrotto range and avoid the lure of carbon tripods. Why? I’m often shooting seascapes where my tripod gets wet and if not maintained well, can corrode the joints of the tripod over time.  Sure this can be mitigated be ensuring you clean your tripod well after a shoot but the weight difference between carbon and aluminium isn’t a consideration and I’m content with the aluminium based tripods.

Hot shoe spirit level

A hot shoe level is a little piece of equipment that is used to assist in getting your horizon straight. To be honest while I have one in my kit, I rarely (if at all) use it, preferring to get the horizon as straight as possible in camera and make any corrections in Photoshop which is a 5 second job. Shooting with a 22MP camera I am not bothered if I lose a miniscule amount of pixels to fix a tiny horizon correction. Alternatively, a new feature becoming standard on modern cameras include a virtual horizon level which from all accounts can be quite useful.

As I was writing this point I was quite curious to see the popularity of hot shoe levels amongst other landscape photographers. I note Ben Edge is a big fan of his hot shoe level but feel as if the ‘time and labour’ to correct an image in Photoshop is over stated.  For more information I put together this quick video which shows me correcting the horizon for a photograph in both Lightroom and Photoshop. As you can see below it’s literally a 5 second job. But hey, for the extremely low cost that a hot shoe spirit level costs ($6.99 on Amazon last checked) I would recommend at least purchasing one to see whether it’s right for you.

Shutter release cable or intervalometer

My Phottix intervalometer
My trusty Phottix intervalometer that has survived many accidental swims in rivers and the ocean

Intervalometers (always a struggle to spell and pronounce) are especially useful as they give you specific control over your exposure time, camera exposure interval time between shots and allow you to minimise vibrations by using a remote to trigger your camera remotely. With this control, you can then set your camera up for timelapse photography where you can configure the intervalometers to fire a photo every 5 seconds. Run this for an hour and you will have yourself enough images to compile into a timelapse. Alternatively these remotes also allow you to capture exposure times longer than 30 seconds (the maximum exposure time for nearly all cameras). The Canon TC-80N3 intervalometer is a great tool to have in your bag for this.

Another way I like to use an intervalometers is for capturing star trails through multiple exposures and layering them in Photoshop. We are all forever seeking to reduce noise in our images. Photographing long (60 minute) photos of stars moving is naturally going to create a degree of noise in your image. I use an intervalometers to mitigate this issue by setting the intervalometers to capture a 5 minute exposure and upon the exposure being complete, firing another in quick succession. The process repeats until I press stop on the intervolometer. Alternatively, you can define how many shots you want the intervolometer to take. This is great as it then gives me 12 5s minute long exposures (assuming it’s a 60 minute exposure) which I can then easily drop into Photoshop as layers.

[box]Be sure to check out a previous article written where I stacked multiple exposures using a intervalometer for a star trail photo[/box]

Head Torch

As landscape photographers, we are forever chasing that great light which often occurs around sunset and sunrise. This mean we are often arriving at a scene in the dark (for sunrise) or leaving in the dark (sunset). Don’t be like me who for years would rely on my mobile phone to emit enough light as I awkwardly stumbled my way back to the car or tent. Instead, invest in a good quality head torch that will be reliable and provide you with that extra layer of safety.

The real value in having a head torch handy though is their ability to assist in finding focus in the dark and act as a light source for light painting. Occasionally when photographing a sunset, there will remain some great colour in the sky but my foreground elements will be dark and the detail almost lost.  One way of getting around this is to light paint the objects of the scene using your head torch.  If the light source comes on too strong, I find using baking paper over the front of the light provides a nice diffusion and more natural feel to the light. Just be aware that different head torches will have different colour temperatures so not all are great for light painting. I’m fond of the Fenix range of head torches which never lets me down with its strong light throw.

Lens Cloth

Blue hour long exposures
Blue hour long exposures

If there’s one thing you should go out and purchase after reading this guide make it a lens cloth. Whether it be photographing waterfalls or shooting by the sea, you will inevitably run into spray causing havoc on the front of your lens. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as giving it a quick wipe with your t-shirt. Investing in a good quality lens cloth, like those sold at opticians, are essential for keeping your lens clean in challenging environments.  Whenever I’m out shooting I’ll always make a habit of having one in my pocket and another in my bag as a spare for myself or friends.

Moo cards

You don’t need to be a professional photographer to carry cards with your website and contact details on them. Through my journeys as a landscape photographer, I’ve met some great photographers and have found being able to quickly give them a card with my details works much better than attempting to scramble details down in the dark.

Having cards is also great for non-photography passers by who you might exchange a few words with that express interest in seeing more of your work. Having a card on hand makes you appear professional and if executed well, the card will be memorable and make them check your website when they return home.

My go to for cards is Moo Cards, which provide business cards of all shapes and sizes. I’m a big fan of the Mini Cards range, which is half the size of a business card, allow you to have multiple variations in an order and are affordable at $16.95 (AUD) for 100 double-sided cards. My preference is to run my better images for the front facing (eye catching for the recipient) and contact information on the back.  My card sit in the MiniCard Holder which are a great way of holding and safeguarding 12 cards without taking too much space up in your camera bag.

Be sure to give Moo Cards a look for their vast range of products including regular sized, square and mini business cards, letterpress business cards, letterheads and more.

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But most importantly… Yourself

Having a reliable and sturdy tripod is essential for when you want to go the extra step
Having a reliable and sturdy tripod is essential for when you want to go the extra step

I was procrastinating whether to include this as a last section to the post but really when it comes down to it, gear is over rated. Hey, doesn’t that just completely contradict the whole post I just wrote? Well no not really, you can have all the equipment and accessories you like but if you don’t know how to use it properly or know how to compose a photograph then really, what’s the point?

Where most people go wrong when first starting out in landscape photography

When you’re going out to take photos next. Stop and ask yourself some questions before you plant your tripod down and press the camera trigger:

  • What is it exactly I’m taking a photo of?
  • What parts of the composition are actually necessary? Do I really need to include that shrub to the left of the image?
  • Is there something striking in the image?
  • Is the shot balanced? Do I really need to make 70% of the frame the sky when it’s overcast and adds nothing to the image?

The biggest mistake made by people starting out in photography is their composition. I’m a huge advocate of less is best. Simplify things. This isn’t to say it’s a rule that you should simplify things. Go out there and photograph compositions that make you happy and express your creativity.

Why? Next time you look at a photo you really like, notice that your eyes are instantly drawn to aspects of the photo. Whether that be a powerful foreground image or leading lines that guides your eyes. Too often (and I won’t lie – my photography were like this at the start too) beginner photographers take too many photos without slowing down their process and considering what they are capturing. You want your viewer to look at the image and without even realising, their eyes locked on certain parts of the image.

Looking at what others do is a huge source of inspiration

Peter Dombrovskis
Giant kelp, Hasselborough Bay, Macquarie Island, Tasmania by Peter Dombrovskis

So how do we improve our composition skills? I draw a lot of my inspiration from the late Peter Dombrovskis, who used powerful foreground elements to lead the viewer into the frame.

A prime example is technique is this image by Peter Dombrovskis captured at Macquarie Island, Tasmania in 1984 (yikes!). He’s not relying on a great sunset or sunrise to wow the viewer, he has used some giant kelp to act as his foreground element which leads the viewer up through the frame.  Similar can be said about Galen Rowell who uses a similar composition technique with his images. Both are amazing photographers and I’d highly recommend you view their work.

Looking at some types of compositions that I’ve taken over the years

No doubt like you, I am my own biggest critic and I’d like to use some of my own photographs to illustrate poor composition. Looking through the 67,466 photos in my library, there are some shockers and make great examples of poor composition.

Howrah Beach, Tasmania

Let’s start with two images from Howrah Beach, Tasmania. The photos were captured on a rather dull sunset but fortunately there was some movement in the water from the tide going in and out so I hoped to use this to my advantage.

Howrah Beach, Tasmania - Shooting before I thought about the scene
Howrah Beach, Tasmania – Shooting before I thought about the scene

The first image was captured upon arising at the location and is a great example of what happens when you don’t consider what you are taking a photo of, whether there is anything striking in the photo and consider the balance of the photo.  This is a terrible photo and here’s why:

  1. Too much sky – As a general rule of thumb, try to mix up the % of land and % of water you include in a shot. You will notice in Peter Dombrovskis’ shot referred to earlier in this post, he has 20% of his image dedicated to the sky. Why? It’s overcast and doesn’t overly add anything to the image. You definitely need some sky but in this instance having 50% of the sky in the frame added nothing to the image
  2.  Uninteresting composition – There is nothing nice about this composition. As a viewer it gives me a headache looking at it. Where am I supposed to look? Do I look to the right where there is some water cascading over the rocks but hidden by another rock? The subject is uninteresting and doesn’t include any striking elements
  3. Empty space adds nothing to the image – What was I thinking? Not much clearly. When composing your image be mindful of the empty space created whether this be from a clear blue sky or the sea like in this image. Empty space can be used to your advantage

Looking at my viewfinder all of the above went through my mind and I decided to take a step back to evaluate the scene to find something interesting and simple that would grab the viewer. If you notice to the right of the image you can vaguely see water streaming over the rocks. With the sky not doing much, I decided to focus on the water flowing over the rocks as my key foreground component that would strike the viewer.

Howrah Beach, Tasmania
Howrah Beach, Tasmania – This time putting some thought in before hitting the shutter

Landscape photography is a game of patience whether it be for that light to break through the clouds of the right bit of swell to hit. After what felt forever (only really 10 minutes) I eventually got a big enough water washing through to create that waterfall effect over the rock shelf. This creates a better image to the previous as it actually gives you, the viewer, something to quickly identify as the foreground composition for the image.

Hopetoun Falls, Victoria

Hopetoun Falls, Victoria
Hopetoun Falls, Victoria

Finding a unique angle at a popular shot location that doesn’t offer much in the way of different angles can be one of the biggest challenges for landscape photographers. In the search of trying to add my own personal touch to a popular scene, I’ll often try find something striking to act as a foreground element that leads the viewer into the main attraction (in this case – Hopetoun Falls).

An example being this photo taken at the ever popular Hopetoun Falls. The waterfall is beautiful and understandably often shot by photographers. Sure, you could arrive and just take a photo of the waterfall and it would be a nice photo but why not go that little bit further and try add your own touch? Really, that’s what photography is all about. Expressing your creativity and trying to stand out from others.

With this in mind, I went about using this rock as my key foreground element capturing the water rushing past it to lead the viewer to the key attraction – Hopetoun Falls.

Mortimer Bay, Tasmania

Mortimer Bay, Tasmania
Mortimer Bay, Tasmania

Another common technique used by landscape photographers for better compositions is using leading lines.  By using lead lines in your photo, you give the viewer an easy path for their eye to follow as they start from the bottom of the frame and gradually lead towards the main subject.

Leading lines are all around us and some of my favourites include:

  • Roads that create a sense of infinity
  • Washed up logs on the beach
  • Fences
  • Bridges
  • Lines of trees

An example of this technique is this photo captured at Mortimer Bay, Tasmania way back in 2006 (how time flies!). Fencing was introduced at Mortimer Bay to protect the nesting area of the local shorebirds. The fence acts as a great leading line to lead the viewer from the right of the frame into the background elements (mountain and sunset colours).

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My landscape kit (May 2015)
My slightly worn landscape kit (May 2015)

From something that was only meant to be a small guide about my recommended gear for landscape photography slowly morphed into something much larger. If you’ve made it this far – thank you for hanging in there and I hope parts of the article resonated with you and provided some benefit. Feel free to share this on Facebook or Twitter by clicking one of the share buttons below.

For those curious, this is what’s in my landscape kit:

If I can leave one parting comment about landscape equipment which admittedly slightly contradicts this article however don’t get too caught up in the equipment. As quoted at the start of this post by Chase Jarvis

[quote]The best camera is the one that’s with you[/quote] 

Don’t get too bothered if you can’t afford the latest and greatest camera body or lens. Make the most if what equipment you have at your disposal whether this be a DSLR setup or even an iPhone. It’s how you use the equipment that’s most important.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or drop an email through the Enquiries page.

Thanks for reading,

Chasing that golden hour light
Chasing that golden hour light

– Alex

Additional Resources

  • What are neutral density filters and how do you use them – This article looks at the various types of neutral density filters out there from circular screw on to rectangular types
  • How to photograph waterfalls –  Photographing waterfalls is one of my favourite past times. There’s nothing better than standing knee deep in a stream (even if a bit chilly). This article looks at how to photograph waterfalls with samples of how different exposure times can affect the look of your waterfall and what equipment is recommended for waterfall photography
  • Create yourself a neutral density filter with welding glass – Interested in playing around with neutral density filters but not sure if it’s for you? Go the DIY method and use a piece of welding glass as explained in this guide
  • How to take daytime long exposure photographs – Curious how people take long exposures of a few minutes during the day? This guide explains the equipment you’l
  • Long exposure photography ideas – With all this talk of long exposures, what makes good long exposure photography subjects?  Be sure to give this guide I put together which includes many different types of scenes that look great with a long exposure
  • Before and After Series – An ongoing project where I share the before and after for some of my favourite photos, walking you through how I photographed them and then post processed the photo