Live at the AM, award-winning photographer Luke Tsharke discusses the joys and risks of the getting the perfect shot.

Luke Tscharke
Live at the AM, award-winning photographer Luke Tsharke discusses the joys and risks of the getting the perfect shot. Image: Luke Tscharke
© Luke Tscharke

On 5 October 2016, Luke Tsharke joined a sold-out audience at the Australian Museum to chat about his most powerful images, including his submissions to the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year 2016 exhibition.

"When you go into a canyon it’s quite a foreboding place – you’re in a wetsuit, you’re going through very cold water, it can be quite claustrophobic. To get to the end and see a beam of light makes it all worth it but you have to have the courage.”

Sarah: Before we start I would like to show my respect and acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation who are the traditional custodians of this land on which we meet this evening. Welcome everyone to the second of two talks dedicated to nature and wildlife photography. I'd like to thank our partners Australian Geographic and Digital Camera Warehouse for making tonight possible.

Tonight we will be hearing from Luke Tscharke, an award-winning landscape and nature photographer. Luke travels in Australia and the world capturing amazing landscapes. In fact he just came back from an assignment on the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory. Luke will be wowing us with tales of some of his most powerful images, some of which you have seen in the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year exhibition. And if we're lucky enough he'll also talk about what it takes to capture images for the cover of Australian Geographic. Please join me in welcoming Luke.

Luke Tscharke: Thank you so much Sarah, and thank you so much everybody for joining me here tonight. I'd also like to thank the Australian Museum and Australian Geographic for the opportunity. It's amazing to have an hour where you can talk about yourself, it's not very often that sort of thing happens, but it's really great that the invite was thrown my way and I really appreciate that.

How good is the exhibition? I've seen it a few times and every time it blows me away, I always see something a little bit new and something a bit different. I'm really honoured this year to have three prints in the exhibition. I guess tonight I decided I would talk about how I got into the position of actually capturing those images because a lot of people, seeing them, it's on the wall, but how did it actually come to be?


What is it that led me to take a nature photos, what was my inspiration, how did we do it? Also I'll talk a little bit about my infrared photography, Instagram, and I'll also finish talking a little bit about what traits and things that are really important for nature photographers and what makes them successful.

So I thought I'd begin by introducing myself, so I'm a landscape photographer, so tonight's presentation is very skewed towards landscapes and not so much the macro world or wildlife so much. I live on the northern beaches here in Sydney, and my photographic interests include wilderness photography, infrared photography, wide field astrophotography and seascapes. Seascapes are very plentiful in the northern beaches, which is very handy. I've got a professional background in quality assurance, and I'll talk a bit about that. And I'm a NiSi Filters ambassador. I'll talk a bit about that too. I run private and group photo workshops.

And so generally when you are a photographer, the first thing that people ask you is what camera do you use, and so I thought I'd get that over and done with straight away. So I use a Sony a7R Mark II as my main body. It's a very high resolution 42 megapixel sensor. I use a Sony 16 to 35…or I did use a Canon but 16 to 35 is my primary landscape lens, and macro 70 to 200, and my infrared body is pretty much the same size as my main body there. So that makes it very easy when I'm hiking. That's really what this kit is skewed towards, is lightweight hiking. So we will certainly touch on those points down the track.


My tripod, I use Sirui tripods which are really great, and I also take a whole bunch of safety gear, a head torch. A personal locator beacon is really important if you are out in the wilderness and I also take rock boots as well if it's near the ocean and they've got a great grip that stops me from slipping off the rock shelves. And other equipment, things like L-brackets, spare batteries, rain covers and solutions for cleaning lenses as well. And as I mentioned, I am a NiSi Filters ambassador, so I do have a nice range of NiSi filters, and I do resell filters if you are ever interested in purchasing any.

My journey. So I wanted to tell you a bit about my background because for me personally I never actually expected to be ending up doing what I'm doing now. And so I didn't really grow up going out into the wilderness. So I wanted to show you guys how it came to be and how I ended up in this place. I actually have come from a corporate background. So I did a bachelor of science and majored in microbiology, so I'm actually a microbiologist. And I started my career in the Barossa Valley, which is actually where my family live. Barossa, that's where my last name comes from, it's very German, it's a very German area, and my family are still there, so it's a beautiful landscape, and the countryside is really amazing up there as well. And I took a few photos while I was in the Barossa, living up there, but back then all I had was an eight megapixel digital camera which was actually quite big so back then, and I didn't really have a big passion for it. I enjoyed taking photos, but I didn't have the passion, and that all changed when I moved to Melbourne for my next job.


And when I moved to Melbourne I fell in love with the skyline, I thought it was amazing. I guess living in Adelaide you don't really have that. And so I felt compelled to photograph it, so much so that I actually bought my first DSLR which was a Canon 450D, and that really began my love of photography. So I started really shooting cityscapes and I photographed all around the city. I was out most nights after work and I refined my skills learning how to photograph in the blue hour after sunset. I didn't use any filters back then, so I was reliant on the light being balanced by the blue hour. I was searching for reflections a lot of the time too.

I enjoyed my time in Melbourne photographing the cityscapes there, and it was really hard to leave, but I did actually get another job, and I moved to Sydney. So I freshly arrived in Sydney and I guess as soon as I hit the ground here I decided to do the same thing because that's all I knew and I started to search for stunning cityscapes to shoot around Sydney. I would head out on nights, weekends and any free time that I had and I would try and find different angles, looking for something different. I did that a lot heading out and shooting the harbour, but after a while it just began to feel all the same. I felt like I'd photographed it from every angle.

So what gave me the inspiration to change and find something new? Well, there's always one word in my mind, and that word is 'Tasmania'. So my love affair for nature photography started while I was on the Overland track back in March 2013. So it's actually only about three and half years ago I've worked out that I started to go out into nature like that and photograph.


So you can build up quite a lot in a short period of time. And I didn't expect to fall in love with nature photography, it sort of found me, in a way. And before I did the walk I hadn't been on a multi-day hike, I hadn't done much camping before, apart from school camps. I didn't have any equipment at all. And so I spent thousands of dollars setting all of that up. I spent a solid six months of physical training to be able to carry all of the weight that I had to carry.

So for those that don't know, most of you probably do, the Overland track is a 65 km walk from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair, so you can see that in the red line there where it cuts across Tassie. It goes across a Tassie Wilderness World Heritage area along an alpine plateau, and it has an incredible landscape. The flora and fauna are just amazing. So we set out on our walk, we set up camp at Waterfall Valley Hut, and rather than rest our weary legs we decided to climb back up to the escarpment that we had just climbed down, and we photographed the sunset. We had a really amazing sunset up there.

It was really my first experience of being out in the wilderness and actually having an amazing light. We were many kilometres away from civilisation and it was just us, just enjoying these amazing views. I guess the moment has always stuck with me and I was awestruck, and I think that's really what gave me the bug. I also captured one of my favourite images that night as well, which is Barn Bluff, that's the track that leads up to the summit of the bluff. We totally felt that the effort was worth it once something like that happened. The light continued and we found a few other compositions. When the light is good you always want to make the most of it because this was the best light of the whole trip, on the first night, so you have to make the most of it when it's there.


And then later in the walk, the third night, Barn Bluff near Lake Windermere, we did get a bit of light there too. And towards the middle of the track, Mt Oakleigh. This is the standard view from New Pelion Hut, one of the most amazing places to spend the night I think there is, and that's a moody sunrise there.

So eventually we finished the Overland track and I was definitely hooked. So this is me at the end of the Overland track near Narcissus Hut, and I'm grinning ear to ear because I had been inspired by the Tasmanian landscape. And I wanted to go back, I wanted to experience those feelings that I had felt when I was out there, because when you get back to the city and you're in a concrete jungle, all of that seems so far away. Once you've had that experience, you can't wait to go back.

I began searching through images online, I wanted to learn more about Tasmania and find other areas that I could explore. I found a lot of places on my search, but there was one place that really stuck out from all the others and that was in this image. I became captivated by this image. It was taken by a very famous photographer, Peter Dombrovskis who is probably my photographic idol. I saw it and I needed to know more about this place. And so I looked into Peter's life and his photographic work. Peter photographed on a large format technical camera, it was very heavy, it was very cumbersome and very error-prone. And he would carry this huge large format camera in the wilderness for days at a time but he would also be carrying his food and everything he needed to survive out there.


So it's an incredible feat to even get the equipment out there, and then to take images that have got him into the photographic hall of fame is quite something else. He is very famous for his image of Rock Island Bend, so this is Peter's image. He helped to save the Franklin River from being dammed back in 1982 with this image.

Peter passed away in 1996 when I was 14 years old, that was before I even began to photograph. So this was one of his actual last images that he ever took, and it's definitely one of my favourites, it's of Mt Hayes in the Western Arthur Range. These sort of scenes had a big effect on me, and I was also obsessed by the Lake Oberon image. And so we decided that we'd actually start planning a trip into the Western Arthurs, and we did that with some friends in February. We planned it for February 2015.

So the Western Arthurs is sometimes known as the hardest untracked walk in Australia. We didn't even do the hardest part when we went there, so I'll put my hand up and say that! We knew it was going to be difficult, and we began planning it a very early. So we began planning in early 2014 for February 2015, so we spent a whole year. We worked out the route we would walk, we worked out where to. We realised that what we took was going to be very important because there's a lot of climbing and a lot of elevation gain and we weren't going to be able to take all of our lenses, so we needed to keep all of our pack weights low. And so coming from a scientific background I took more of a scientific approach, and we decided to weigh everything and put it up on a spreadsheet.


In some cases we repurchased items to make them lighter as well. So I bought a new tripod, saving 500 g, for example, and my pack weight was 25 kg, but including the water and everything else it was probably well over that. I did throw a few little things in at the last minute, after all of that. We planned the hike…so we realise that also if we were going to do all of that…this isn't the full list…we were going to need to be very fit. So we planned a little hike before the Western Arthurs trip. I guess it just seemed natural that we would go back to do the Overland track again. And so a month or so before we actually left on the Western Arthurs we did the Overland track again, just to get our legs ready.

And it was a really big bonus because at that time of year the scoparia was flowering, which is a native Tasmanian plant, and it's just absolutely stunning. The flower heads are probably a lot smaller than you expect seeing this image, the lens was quite close to them but they are very striking when you look across the landscape. And along the track the alpine privet was also flowering, and the same scene at Mt Oakleigh, New Pelion Hut, was really gorgeous in the light that we got there.

And we did the hike between Christmas and New Year's, so we actually spent New Year's Eve on the summit of Mt Pelion East, and we watched a cloud in version roll down the face of Mt Ossa, which is the tallest mountain in Tasmania. So who needs fireworks when you've got that going on, I reckon. And including side trips we walked about 100 Ks over five days, so we certainly accomplished our training mission. We were happy about that, so we knew that we were ready to tackle the Arthurs. And so finally after a year of planning, on February 2015 we left to start the walk. And we had planned to be on the track for eight days. So everything that we needed to survive the eight days was on our backs, so it was our food, all of our sleeping bags, tents and, most importantly, the camera gear, and it was all in there.


We filled in the log book and we set off. And so here I am walking towards the Arthurs Plains with the Western Arthur Range in the distance. That pouch in the front has all my camera gear so that I can access the equipment quickly rather than having to put my bag down and open it up, and lifting 25 kilos up and down all the time gets very draining, so it makes it easy access. It was a hot day, it was about 30 degrees, and you would have thought that that meant that the track would have been in a nice condition, but unfortunately there was still a bit of tough spots to negotiate. Places like this, you just can't do anything about it, you just have to go straight through. I think it was about shin deep. Some parts were up to waist deep. It's just all part of the fun really and makes getting there so much better.

So we finally got to begin the climb up into the range when we hit Alpha Moraine. And so here you can see the actual track itself trailing off the back into the distance. And we finally began to climb. It was about a 700-metre climb, from memory, to get up onto the actual Western Arthurs itself, and then once you get up the top you go up and down and up and down. The whole area is carved out by glaciers a long time ago.

We walked down through towards Lake Cygnus, then we camped down at Lake Cygnus, and there's a bit of a panorama of the lake as we were coming down. And then heading out some spectacular views, and looking back towards Mt Hayes, and looking towards Mt Procyon and Mt Hayes with Mt Sirius in the distance.


And Mt Sirius is pretty much just beyond…so Mt Sirius is just there, so beyond that is where Lake Oberon is, so you still have to walk all the way down and all the way up, and then there's another down and then there's another up, and then down over that, and then you're there. That's where we were headed. That's the next lake on, Lake Ceres, they look a bit the same, and then Square Lake, which is actually a really stunning location too, that's right next to Lake Oberon. And then finally you get your first glimpse of Lake Oberon. I'm pretty happy about that, getting that far. And that is about as steep as it looks, that's about 300 metres straight down. And that little spot there is where we set up. So the hardest part of the track is actually yet to come, that's why I'm smiling here because I didn't know about it, and it was about a 10 to 15 metre vertical climb down with our full packs. It was quite an interesting thing given we didn't have any rope.

So we did get down the bottom and set up our camp and it was an amazing campsite down there, really sandy and just a really nice…had some water from the lake just nearby as well. It even had all of the mod cons, which is really hard to find out in the bush, things like a bush toilet. That was pretty good. It's amazing being out in a place like that and there's still something like that available. But it's great that they do that, because otherwise all the waste would eventually leach back into the lake, and what a terrible thing that would be.

So the next morning we got up very early, about 3am, we hiked up to the saddle between Mt Orion and Mt Sirius and it was a very hard thing to do after a long walk the day before, to get up early, but the promise of incredible images really kept us focused to get up there.


So again, you can see the campsite is down here, so we've climbed all the way up along here and then up around up the top to photograph here for sunrise. So it gives you an idea of how early, and that big climb that I was talking to you about that was hard, well, we had to do that six times throughout the time we were there.

And this is obviously the one that ended up in the exhibition. The thing I love about it is the backlit pandani. Pandani is the native heath plant to Tasmania, an amazing plant. As a photographer you just love seeing things like this in the landscape, and they light up so well in infrared as well, it looks so good. And so I saw the backlighting and so I really wanted to compose the image so that I could show that as well as a beautiful scene in the distance. And it did actually keep getting better. So once the sun rose we got a beautiful glow coming across. I love this because the shape of the pandani reminds me a bit of the Southern Cross. And yes, just the beautiful warm glow. I used a stop-down aperture just to get the sun star there as well.

And we obviously took a lot of shots while we were up there. We actually had amazing weather, we thought that we'd be lucky to get one good day, we actually got five good days. And for a place like that with such changeable weather, that's quite rare. So we've counted ourselves very lucky, we actually did literally wake up pinching ourselves that the weather was like it was.

And we finally got up to Mt Sirius, which was a little bit further up from where we took the other images. That's the other shot that's in the exhibition, so it's just sort of a zoomed-in version of that, just really focusing on the lake itself and showing the Western Arthur Range vanishing in the distance. And you've got Mt Pegasus here, and the shadow of Mt Pegasus, I call this image Shadow of Pegasus because that's the shadow of it. It was just a stunning scene.


And so we felt on top of the world up there. It's definitely one of my all-time favourite memories, being up on top, just looking down on the layers of mountains and one of the most amazing views I think you could ever see because it's one of the highest points in that whole region, so you can see 360 out to the ocean and all sorts. And as much as we love being up there, we did have to leave. And so we started to head out, and so this is just a quick hyperlapse that I did of our walk on the way out. That first mountain was Mt Hayes, and we are now walking along the ridge between Mt Hayes and walking down towards Lake Cygnus. And on the right there is Lake Pedder up the top, with Scotts Peak, and as we head down you can see Cygnus there on the left, and my friend is walking very fast.

It sort of gives you an idea of the terrain, it's actually pretty well paved, the walk, and it's great, they have put effort into it to stop all of the erosion to make sure. It is very rocky up there though too, and so…and I think I catch up with my other friends here. I don't really recommend walking with hands in your pockets, it's a bit dangerous, but that's the choices people make. So just gives an idea of the view that we had there, a bit of a cheeky grin at the end. I was happy then, but then by the time we got down to this part he was looking a bit more tired. This was the view from where we started, this is Alpha Moraine looking back over the Arthur Plains. We were ecstatic that we had achieved what we wanted to.


We'd captured images that we'd only ever dreamt of being able to take. And when we got back it really actually wasn't very long before we were already plotting to go back. And so we did plot to go back, planned to go back, and we had that scheduled in before January this year. And we did actually fly to Tasmania but unfortunately the day before we were due to fly they closed the access road to Scotts Peak Dam, which meant that we couldn't do the walk. And so we were pretty upset about that because I was going with a new bunch of friends that had never been there before, and they were pretty shattered that they couldn't see…after all of the good photos that they had seen before, that they couldn't take any of them for themselves.

So unfortunately this isn't the Arthurs, this is nearby, it's near Lake Gordon, but that was the same fire that closed the road. The bushfires ravaging the whole state, and as we arrived into Tasmania we had to work out what we could do instead. We actually went on a flight over the area. We could see the devastation ourselves and it wasn't pretty what we saw. Just old growth rainforest just burnt out. It all started from lightning strikes. And unfortunately with the climate warming, these things may be more of a regular occurrence down in Tasmania where these forests haven't been used to being so dry and had risk of fire.

So it was incredible though to see Federation Peak from the air. I'd always wanted to get up close to Federation Peak, and one day I hope to get even closer. But that's the tallest cliffs in Australia that you are looking at from the top of Federation Peak into Lake Geeves which you can barely see down the bottom there. We were starting to plot what we were going to do for our plan B.


What we decided to do was head into the Labyrinth, which is an area in Cradle Mountain, Lake St Clair National Park, it's on the southern end down near Lake St Clair, it's about three hours to Pine Valley Hut, then another three hours probably up to the Labyrinth. The scene is pretty amazing, but I could see that there was some potential in infrared, so I actually switched cameras, and that's the infrared image I captured around the same time as the cloud was coming through, and the way the pandani looked I knew that it would have been a good shot in competition, so I put it in and it made it into the exhibition. I feel like that gave it a lot more mood and emotion than what the colour image gave.

And I did the same on the following day. This is actually…photographers do like to shoot the same places more than once, and so this is the same scene, but unfortunately what happened the next day was the bushfire smoke started to come in, and so you can barely see Mt Geryon in the distance. This is the Pool of Memories area. And so, again, I switched on to infrared, and you can see that the infrared has actually cut through all of that bushfire smoke, and so that's really quite a cool thing to have in your arsenal when you're in these sort of places, to be able to do that.

And I guess on that note I'll talk a bit about infrared now, moving onto the next area. I often take my infrared camera out into the wilderness, and because it's so small really. I have had other infrared cameras but they were big DSLRs, this one is only about 450 g, which is still a lot of weight to carry around for a long time and up hills and down hills, but it makes it more manageable. So it allows me to shoot in remote places in a different way. And I guess you could say you can see nature as you've never seen it before.


Infrared photography, how it differs from standard photography is you literally are shooting in a different light. So visible light is from wavelengths of about 400 to 700 nanometres, and infrared light is about 700 nanometres onwards, up to about 900. And so you can get really dramatic, really different effects from a scene that looks maybe even mundane without that effect. And this is Mt Geryon, also in the Labyrinth area.

And you can also make the clouds look very dramatic in infrared, so you get the black sky and that white cloud contrasts, and it makes it very moody. And this is the temple in Walls of Jerusalem. All the delicate patterns show up in the clouds, and so you can really play with that, and this dead tree is on Mt Zion in the Walls of Jerusalem area. And you can also get some light reflecting off the surfaces and it gives it a sense of presence. This is King David's Peak in Walls of Jerusalem.

Snow also looks pretty good. I took it up to Kosciusko last time I was up there, and also waterfalls look great as well, and this is Belmore Falls down in Morton National Park, so I tried a bit of infrared there. It looks totally different in colour, this scene. The greens are really beautiful but I think the moody misty light that we had also works quite well in infrared as well. It also shows up lightning really well, and it's not really a nature image but this one has done quite well for me in photography competitions. So converting an old camera to infrared is a really great way of giving it a new lease on life, and so it's always something worth trying if you've got an old camera gathering cobwebs in your cupboards.


So if you're looking at getting into it, you're always welcome to send me an email and I'm happy to help.

So, the wilderness. So when I go out on a trip, where do I go? So, Kosciusko, photographing there at night has been an amazing experience. So the tor at North Rams Head, that's a pretty amazing scene to me and one that I'll never forget. A few of my friends who were shooting at that location for about eight hours straight and watching the lights change all night from the sunset to then the mist coming in to then it clearing up and then the Milky Way coming out, and experiences like that really make you want to come back time and time again.

I've been to the same place before and have a 22-degree halo above the tor. I've had it with some stars above as well, and this image was actually in the AGBig Picture in March/April, Australian GeographicBig Picture. And that's my friends there lined up, and the beams coming out is their head torch but they are actually breathing into their head torch and it's causing the light to spread. It was because it was really cold, I think it would have been at least -10, and the water in the pool in front of us was actually freezing as we were there. So as I was breathing, the water vapour from my breath would actually go onto the lens and then it would be iced up and I'd have to clean the ice off the front, so I ended up not breathing when I was shooting, which isn't advisable, but in this case if you need to get the shot, just stop breathing I guess! But it was a great experience. That was the same night as the second shot there.


And then we've got the Milky Way much better, and this was around Australia Day last year. The similar scene was on the front cover of Australian Geographicin May/June last year for their light pollution article issue. And we do go up there in snow as well, so that's my friend Jake trudging through, we go up there in our snow shoes and set up camp in the snow and actually photographed the snow gums and the amazing tors and different landscapes. It changes so much from summer to winter up there. You can shoot up there all year round. You get wildflowers in summer and in winter you get scenes like this. And the tors and South Rams Head look fantastic as well. You can see the little trig up the top there, the summit of South Rams Head.

And this is Mt Kosciusko on the left and you can see two skiers just in this area called Rawson's Pass which is at the base of Kosciusko there, and just a beautiful light across the landscape. And so it's a beautiful place to go any time of year, except maybe the midwinter when that can be a bit dangerous.

The Blue Mountains, very close to Sydney and such a remarkable place. We're so lucky, so lucky, and I think I'd find it very, very hard to move anywhere else ever again after being here because there's so much around Sydney. This is at Adelina Falls in the South Lawson waterfall circuit, and you've also got Sylvia Falls, Junction Falls as well, which is also on the South Lawson waterfall circuit. It's one of my favourites. This is in the Grose Valley, it's Baltzer Lookout looking down into the Grose Valley at about four in the morning.


I got up, we were camping right at this spot, I got up at about 4am because I'd worked out that the Milky Way was going to be in that position. I didn't know the Moon was going to be there but that was a nice surprise. And so I tried to get my friends to wake up and I was saying how there was a cloud inversion and it was looking great but no one got up. So I was quite happy that I at least got a shot, and I had to show them later, which they weren't happy about.

This is the same location, it's a hanging rock, and this place is absolutely magnificent as well, it's one of my favourites, and this shot was also put on a cover of an Aus Geomagazine, the special edition in June 2015. Then we've got the Walls of Jerusalem. So that's a spot that I've gone to more recently. I actually spent New Year's Eve this year there, which was amazing, and this is at Pool of Siloam. Walls of Jerusalem very luckily didn't get burnt out in the recent bushfires but it got very close. I think it is the largest stand of these pencil pines in the world. And some of those trees are so old, you almost feel a presence when you're around them, it's quite special. The way the light hits the faces of the mountains there at sunset is really stunning. This is Mt Jerusalem reflected in a pool down that way. And King David's peak from the temple, that's another great spot. That's quite a climb for sunrise to get up there but well worth it. And then a couple of others at the Pool of Siloam as well, just a really stunning area.


I really look forward to going back there and hopefully getting some scoparia next time. You have to include Cradle Mountain, Lake St Clair National Park, I've already talked about it but it's just an amazing area. I was lucky to do the Overland track for a third time this year and I did it in May, and luckily we actually got a dump of snow the day before we left, and so we had a winter wonderland in May, which is great. And that's one thing about Tassie, it doesn't really matter what time of year it is, you can get snow any time. So you have to be always prepared.

I really love the way that the snow framed the Overland track in these images and also you have the pandani poking its head through the snow as well. You have the…so this is Douglas Creek, and so Douglas Creek is near New Pelion Hut, it's a little area called the Grotto, and just really wonderful. Because of the amount of snowfall they'd had, it was really quite pumping too in terms of the amount of water flowing through there. And that's scoparia plant on Cradle Cirque looking towards the mountains in a guess…the Overland track walks down into all of those mountains there, so you can sort of see what you've got to walk through when you're starting the track.

You can have a meal in some pretty amazing places, like there's someone having some freeze-dried bonanza there, it's at Pool of Memories as well, and there's me standing next to some pandani plants. They are the largest heath plant in the world and really fascinating, and such a great thing to have in the landscape.


And just the feeling of being on the track as well and walking through the rainforest is really stunning. Waterfalls. I had to put another Barn Bluff shot in there because it's my favourite mountain, and I climbed it, so that was pretty cool. And that's Cradle Mountain there on the left. It looks quite different to what you'd normally see but it changes dramatically depending on the angle that you look at it, and it's really quite a gnarly climb getting up at the top of Barn Bluff, but the views are amazing.

A bit closer to home in the Warrumbungles. That's about an eight-hour drive from Sydney, it's quite a fair way away but it is doable in a weekend, we have done it as a weekend trip before. A lot of driving. But if you get conditions like this, then it's always worth it. And that is of course famous for the Bread Knife which looks amazing at sunrise when the sunrise lights up the face of the rock. I just tried a different angle there. And Belougery Spire. So there's all these old volcanic plugs that have been left behind from extinct volcanoes.

And because it's a dark sky reserve, the stars are out of this world there, and so it's an awesome place to shoot for astrophotography as well. And so I'm really looking forward to going back there next year because it's a bit late now in the astrophotography season to get these sort of shots there. And as Sarah mentioned, Larapinta, amazing spot as well. I underestimated how amazing this place is. Very, very rugged terrain. I ruined my hiking shoes, very, very ruined them on this walk. It's all rock pretty much and very hard going because it's up and down, up and down, just like the Arthurs is.


And a lot of the guides that are on the track are Tasmanian, in fact I think they all are, and they do the Larapinta Trail in the off-season because it's too cold to do walking in Tasmania, they come up, do the Larapinta Trail and then they all go back to Tasmania again. So they are all pretty hardy guys, the guides that walk those tracks.

This is a beautiful tree that I found. I should mention too, if you're not sure, the Larapinta Trail goes through the West MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. This is the last day where we climbed Mt Sonder for sunrise and we had the layers of mountains effect which is always very photogenic, and if you can find yourself a scene that does this at sunrise, it always has a lot of power.

One feature of the landscape I'd never heard of is Brinkley's Bluff which was absolutely stunning at sunset. And the colour of the light at sunset there is really quite incredible, it's like a deep red. I held up my hand and looked at it and it was just like a blood colour. And then the rock is already quite red, so you get really stunning scenes.

And that's near Birthday Waterhole, which is one of our campsites. And so a big sun star coming off Brinkley's Bluff there and ghost gums everywhere, which are the most incredible trees. And Euro Ridge which is near Alice Springs, you can actually see Alice in the distance there lit up and that's at the end of the first day of the Larapinta Trail. That's looking the other way, looking along the Larapinta Trail and more lovely light.


So I captured so many great images in the red centre, in Tasmania. There's not much point in having images like this if you can't share them. Like, I can speak about them here now, but if I didn't put them onto something like social media or get them out of my hard drive, then I am compelled to do that. I want people to share the same experiences that I've had, that really have left an impression on me, and help them to realise how amazing things are. You don't have to go overseas, you can have incredible experiences even just in Australia.

So with that I'll talk a little bit about Instagram because that's my favourite way of sharing my photography at the moment. I love posting images on Instagram because the platform is very easy to use. And I guess there's no fluff either, it's just the image, it's just the caption and it's very easy for people to engage with your work. And I never really intended Instagram to be a big thing for me, but I did take it quite seriously in terms of building a following. And I thought that I'd put together a few tips in terms of what I've done in my journey to be able to build the following that I have.

And it's really important to note as well that there is nothing wrong if you don't want to grow a following. You can have fun and social media is a bit of a game and those kind of things but these are tips if you wanted to do that. So first of all the quality of images is really the key with Instagram I think, that's how I've always approached it. I've thought if the image isn't up to my standard, then I won't post it. So it's better to post a low number of high quality images than a high number of low quality images.


That's really important because you want people to…that's what people are assessing your capabilities from. Consistency keeps people coming back, so the daily posting will grow your account really fast. I was actually doing that, I was posting every week day for quite a period of time to grow my account, and I had the weekends off, which was a relief. You also want to post at times when people are using the platform. Generally they say it's about 8pm, but whatever works really. These days because the feed in Instagram isn't chronological, they've mixed it up little bit, it probably doesn't matter quite so much the actual time you post, but that's something to consider.

And the other thing I think is really important is to engage with the community on there. There's actually quite a community and I've made a lot of friends through being on that platform. I never expected that. And to be honest pretty much everyone I have met has been amazing. So I've had a great time with it. And so you have to really comment and like on other people's images just to get in the mix and be genuine about it and just have fun.

Obviously hashtags help people find your images, so the more hashtags you put on your images, you can have up to 30 per post, so always make sure you use them. And be really careful about who you are trying to tag because you want to get noticed by feature accounts and that's really where most of your following is actually going to come from. They can get you an audience as big as 10 million. I got followed by an account recently that had 9.4 million followers, and Tourism Australia account is at 2.3 million, so if you tag #seeAustralia on an image, then See Australia will look through all of the images…Tourism Australia rather, which is @Australia, they will look through all of the hashtags under See Australia and they will pick out an image that they will want to re-share.


And so if you have your shot tagged at, then you are always in the chance of getting that, and in this case I got a share and got quite a lot of engagement from that. And what happens when you get a share is they will look through the caption and they will see who took the photo and then they will click on that person's account and then they will actually work out whether they want to follow them or not. And if you have a really good looking Instagram grid, if your page or your 3x3 grid there looks really nice, then that is often a gauge of what people use if they want to follow you or not.

Post meaningful descriptive captions. So most of your hashtags should go in the comments, so you normally just put a really relevant couple of hashtags in the actual caption and in the comments below put all of your hashtags in there. And the other thing is you have to be patient, and it can be a grind, you need to keep at it. So it's not something that is going to happen overnight, for sure. And if it does happen overnight, generally someone has bought them.

You've also got to be prepared that people are going to end up trying to copy you. This is a pretty close attempt to my image on the left versus the one on the right. And sometimes you might not get given any credit for your work. But the most important thing is just not worry about it because of the end of the day it is a game and people are going to try and maybe play dirty or what have you, but you have to just keep doing it and sticking to your thing. So this is just a bit of a quick one just to give an idea of growth on Instagram and also how long it takes too.


So this was a screenshot I took just after I got back from the Western Arthurs and this is at the end of February 2015, and I had hit 4,000 followers and I was really, really happy about that. And then at the end of May 2015 I was at 8,000 followers, and then today I am at 60.3 thousand. So it's about 18 months from when I was at 4,000, now I've got that much. So how did I do that? Well, all I really did is just keep doing everything that I just said before, but initially I did get help with some tourism account features. For example, Tourism Tasmania looked after me quite well and I got featured on their hub or their feature account and also in this article because they were talking about Tourism Tasmania's @Tasmania account getting 100,000 followers. And now 18 months later they are at 300,000.

So while some tourism accounts a quite big, there are other feature accounts that are much, much bigger. I've had one particular image that has actually driven pretty much most of my following, or maybe that's over the top but quite a lot of my following, and that's this image of Figure Eight Pool. If you look at the number of likes that has happened in the bottom there, that's over 210,000 across those three images. This image has been featured by accounts I think it's about 170 times. So if you add up the combined number of views and the amount of interaction that you'll have coming back, then you can see how much impact one image can actually make.


Unfortunately this has had a bad effect as well because there's been a lot of talk about social media encouraging people to go to Figure Eight Pool and people getting washed off rock platforms. I changed the caption of all of my images to say 'this is a dangerous area, please don't go there', but those things can happen. So your images can also have a negative impact. You can be encouraging people to get out there and explore and find the world, but it can also mean that people, rather than planning for a year to get to a place, like we would do, they decide to just to go there in their thongs and see how it all works out, and unfortunately that's what happens. So it can go both ways. But that's essentially it, if you can get big shares from big hubs, you'll get maybe 1,000 followers in a day and you get enough of that and it will climb.

So I thought I would finish off with the most important things for a landscape photographer. Anyone have an idea what the most important thing would be for a landscape photographer? Yeah, a camera is a pretty obvious one, but it's definitely family, and it's probably a little obvious to say that but the amount of effort that people like this put up with is pretty amazing. I probably won't talk any more about that one but when you're out in the wilderness for two weeks at a time and you don't have anyone to talk to or you are doing the hard yards, it's very important to have that there for you. And your friends as well. A lot of these trips I wouldn't have been able to do these trips if it wasn't for my friends coming with me because friends have been encouraging and helping me get out to these places.


I haven't done any of these trips solo. And so without their support and without their help I wouldn't even have any of the images. In fact one friend has invited me out to the Overland track for the first time. So if he didn't do that and if I didn't say yes, then none of it would have happened to start with. So they are really important. A lot of these things are not really valued as much as they should be, and to me they are very important and I put a lot of effort into building my social network because it's important to me.

Fitness is another one. It's a huge one. You only have to do a big walk to realise how important fitness is, and especially because photographers are carrying 5 kg more than most hikers do, and so you have to have…you've got almost like a handicap there in a way, you have to go over tough terrain, you have to climb. You go through a lot of pairs of shoes, and when you go for a big walk you feel it, and so you need to have that fitness. And you can really see from the size of the pack what's involved.

Planning is another huge, huge one, and no photo really…okay, they can happen by chance, but they still had to be there to start with to capture the photo. So here's an image here of me planning when the Milky Way will be at Lake Oberon. It didn't look too good, so I wasn't so happy about that. And looking at what the forecast is going to be and looking at some maps and really planning how you're going to shoot, what you're going to shoot, what's the view that you want, do you want the Milky Way, is it going to be a sunset, where's the light, all of that is thought of before we even go out there.


Because we are only there…we put so much effort to getting there, we need to know what we're going to do when we get there or else all of that effort may have been put to waste. And talking on the fitness side, you could have made it there but you could be absolutely exhausted, and so if you haven't had that fitness to actually have the energy to get up and take photos, it's the same thing. You need to plan for that.

Persistence. It's an image from Cradle Mountain, Lake St Clair, and this is about optimism, never saying die. We flew into the…we wanted to do the Western Arthurs, we couldn't do it because of the bushfires, but we didn't say 'that's it, we won't go', we found something else to shoot, and ended up getting a shot into this exhibition from that persistence.

Adaptability. This image was never meant to happen, we were meant to be in Mt Kosciusko this weekend, and what happened was the winds were too strong, so we had to find something else to photograph, and we went to the coast looking at what the Milky Way was doing. It looked good to go to this location at Horsehead Rock in Bermagui, and so we went there and captured this image. We were so glad that we did have a disappointment, we didn't get what we wanted but we actually came away with something maybe even better.

And finally, this is my last slide: courage. And that's something that's very important and it just comes from within, obviously. This is in Woolamai National Park in a canyon. And when you go into a canyon it's quite a foreboding place, you're in a wetsuit, you're going through very cold water, and it can be quite claustrophobic. And to get to the end and see a beam of light, it's all worth it, but you have to have the courage to actually be able to get there to start with.


Thanks very much for listening to me speak tonight. I hope you will learn something. My goal is to make sure that you all get inspired by what we have in Australia and the amazing landscape that we have. You can find a little bit more about me on my website if you haven't had a look, and you're always welcome to email me, I've got a whole set of my cards out there, you're most welcome to take a card if you would like to, that would be no problem. I do workshops as well. So I haven't got any to actually talk about at the moment because I'm still planning next year's calendar, but if you subscribe to my mailing list when they are announced you'll get all that information from the mailing list. So thank you so much for your time, and have a good evening.

Presented by the Australian Museum in partnership with Australian Geographic.