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 Nature Photography :: Essays :: Photography at Uluru

Previously published in Camera magazine.

NOTE: Written in 2005, things may have changed since then but they won't have got any better for photographers.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta (aka Ayres Rock-The Olgas), the very heart of Australia geographically and emotionally. Who wouldn’t want to photograph this iconic landscape? The Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park houses one of the world’s most photogenic landscapes; unfortunately there are serious restrictions in place for photographers (and other artists as well) in the park.

So what can’t you do?
First let me say what you can do. As a private individual with a camera you can pretty much photograph what you like, there are a few signs around the base of the rock asking that you respect the wishes of the Aboriginal owners, but there’s not many, and luckily they are not in photogenic places.

But if you intend to use the images for “commercial” purposes the rules are a lot different. “But I’m not a pro, I don’t use my photos commercially” you say. Maybe, maybe not. If you display the photos for public viewing anywhere then that is considered a commercial use. That includes obvious venues like an advertising billboard and publication in a magazine, but also hanging prints on the local café’s wall, or posting holiday snaps to your blog site.

What are the rules?
There are too many rules and conditions for a short article like this, but the following list covers the main items.

  • No photography where there are signs to that effect.
  • No photography anywhere except as indicated on the map issued by the media centre.
  • No photographs that show people climbing Uluru, or that imply that people do climb the rock. Therefore you can climb the world’s largest monolith, but leave your camera behind as any shots taken while there, say of Kata Tjuta, or even the car park, cannot be used because they imply that you did the climb.
  • No photos at all in the Valley of the Winds. Having said that, detail shots, say of a flower, can often be used.
  • All photos that show the Kata Tjuta domes must show at least three of the domes.
  • No photos from the road between the Kata Tjuta viewing area and the car park.

How do I get a permit?
Permits can be obtained from the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park media centre. The permit will come with all the information you need, including maps detailing the areas that can, and cannot, be photographed.

With your permit in hand, and a park entry pass, you can now head off to take photos. Most people spend three days or less because that’s how long the park pass is valid for.

Once you have your photos you must submit them to the media centre for approval.

Submitting you photos
As most people are shooting with digital cameras these days the media centre is used to reviewing photos on CD. Burn all your images onto a disc, print a caption sheet, fill out the required forms, and send it all with a covering letter to the media centre, then wait a couple of weeks for an email detailing which photos have been approved.

The personnel at the centre are very helpful and will advise you how to go about things. Sometimes however they cannot tell you why a photo was rejected, as they are submitted to the tribal elders who have the final word and do not explain their reasons.

Now I know this all sounds a bit negative, but this really is a fantastic part of the world, and despite the restrictions it’s still possible to get very good images at Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

So, on the assumption that I haven’t put you off, here are some tips.

  • You can camp at Yulara, just a few kilometres outside the park; it’s close but quite expensive. Many people camp at Curtin Springs, which is free, but a 70k drive to the rock.
  • Go to the sunrise viewing area at sunset, and vice versa. This way you avoid the crowds, but also, anything you can photograph from the sunrise viewing area cannot be used anyway. By photographing there at sunset you can concentrate on silhouetting the rock, and because a silhouette shows no detail, such photos should be usable.
  • It’s generally considered to be a 2-3 hour walk around the base of Uluru, but that’s for non-photographers. Allow all day, as there is a lot to photograph. This means taking some food and water on the walk. The same applies for the Valley of the Winds walk at Kata Tjuta.
  • Try to get to the Kata Tjuta viewing platform before dawn, the first light on the domes looks fantastic.
  • While at the Kata Tjuta viewing platform look behind you, Uluru is about 40k away as the crow flies, but still looks good.
  • Don’t just go for the obvious photos of a huge rock, try looking for abstract images and wildlife as well.
  • This is desert country and therefore quite cold when the sun goes down, so rug up when heading out to catch the sunrise.

Here are some photos to show that I practice what I preach.

The walk around Uluru can easily take all day but don't just photograph a huge rock, there's plenty of detail that's interesting as well, like the interior of this overhang.

When photographing Kata-Tjuta you must show at least three of the domes.

Uluru at sunrise but from the sunset viewing area. This side of the rock is normally out of bounds for photos but as a silhouette you cannot see any detail so that's OK.

It get very cold overnight, so bring plenty of warm clothing for that dawn viewing. Seen here are a couple admiring kata-Tjuta at dawn from the official viewing platform.

This is some detail of what they were looking at. Note the three domes, an almost identical shot that was a bit tighter and only showed two domes was rejected.

Technically no photography is allowed at all in the Valley of the Winds, however detail shots that could have been taken anywhere will probably be given the OK.

Forty kilometres away but still photogenic. This view of Uluru is from the Kata-Tjuta viewing platform.


More information
For any queries or further information contact the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Media Office on:

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Media & Information Officer
PO Box 119
Yulara NT 0872
Ph: (08) 8956 1114

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